The minute Confluence ended, I felt a wave of disappointment: I didn't want the show to be over.
A collaboration between two British superstars - contemporary choreographer and dancer Akram Khan and composer and guitarist Nitin Sawhney - this is the big-ticket dance import at this year's Luminato Festival. And its principals are a match made in heaven.
The pair are long-time collaborators, but it seems as though Confluence grew out of a desire to revisit their work together in a new way - and the old here is transformed into something fresh, and greater than the sum of its parts.
The production contains excerpts from three shows: Kaash (2002), zero degrees (2005) and bahok (2008), as well as a new dance work to a new composition. Thematically, the duo wanted to go beyond mere retrospective. Their lofty goal, as stated in their program notes, was an exploration of the fabric of creativity, and their place as artists within it. Confluence is essentially positioned as a search for their creative identity.
Whether they succeed in this philosophical pursuit, however, is moot. On this side of the pond, we're not familiar with the three works from which the excerpts here are taken. What we see: a show that's an entity unto itself, performed by gifted artists at their peak.
The set (from Antony Gormley's design for zero degrees) contains three towering grey walls. There are also rectangular wooden blocks which function as stools. Sawhney's guitars and an upright piano are also on the stage, and his six musicians, who sit behind the back wall, are lighted as needed (part of a striking new lighting design by Fabiana Piccioli).
Because Confluence is episodic, it's experienced by the audience as a stream of consciousness moving between dance, music and both projected and spoken word. The projected quotes (an attractive addition by Nick Hillel) are about the arts, and get at notions like "a sculpture is already hidden within the stone," or "a raga [song]already exists in the air," before dissolving into abstract images.
The text in this show also draws on personal stories from Khan and Sawhney. Confluence opens with the two men describing, in synchronized speech and gesture, the trauma of handing over a passport to Bangladeshi officials, and the worry over whether it will be returned. Later in the show, two dancers, one speaking English and one not, also have a hilarious encounter with an unseen British immigration official. Identity, or its loss, is one thread in Confluence.
The dance sequences, meanwhile, are riveting. A female dancer in a state of collapse is held upside-down by her male partner, her legs fastened around his neck. When their four arms begin to undulate, they become tentacles of an alien life form. Another identity crisis?
Khan's two solos are also breathtaking, with each showing off his trademark speed and total physical control. In one sequence, he goes back to his north Indian, Kathak dance roots. Wearing Kathak's signature ankle bracelets, which have layers of bells, he plays off musician Bernhard Schimpelsberger on the cajon, the resonating percussion box used in flamenco. The speed of his footwork is staggering.
His final dance, presumably the new piece here, has him as a whirling dervish, constantly turning as he travels in a circle. As the pace of the music picks up, Khan literally becomes a blur in space.
Sawhney's score fuses world beat, jazz, north Indian and Western elements. The music is gorgeous, particularly the songs written for the haunting voice of talented singer Nicki Wells.
Whether it's five dancers driving their bodies in a feat of physical endurance, or Khan's poignant story about meeting a long-lost friend of his father's in Australia, or Sawhney and his musicians performing a gossamer musical interlude, Confluence is ultimately a parade of talented artists who touch the soul.
- Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney
- Luminato Festival
- At the MacMillan Theatre
- In Toronto on Thursday
Confluence ends Saturday, June 18.