Receiving Torobaka in Chennai

Torobaka, the presentation of Akram Khan Company, UK was received in the end by a standing ovation. This reception of what I saw as essentially a deconstructionist dance surprised me. Has the audience of Chennai finally moved beyond the confining traditionalistic viewing of arts? Or did it receive the reception it did because of good marketing by the event organisers and the dance company’s earlier international acclaim.

Don’t get me wrong, the dance production was of high quality. The artists came through in their dedication to the performance and to their audience. For an experimental production, one got the sense that each of the performers was trying to communicate to the audience instead of just creating art in vacuum. I think Akram has found the working balance between the honesty of experimentation and creating a show.

For me the first half of the production was deconstruction, the middle was exploration and the last piece was about construction of the dances – Kathak and Flamenco. Akram Khan represented Kathak and Israel Galvan represented Flamenco for most parts. A particular element of the original dance form was taken and then explored using free style and likely improvisation. For example the Kathak style spins were taken by Akram and he experimented with half curves. Israel for his part seemed to keep the clean lines of Flamenco in place, the open chest, the foot taps and then constructed a non-classical form of the flamenco. The deconstruction was a success as the audience was still able to see the resemblance to the original form.

Within the larger framework, elements seem to have been pulled out, broken down, broken and questioned. There is risk involved in this. The piece where Akram pulls shoes into his hands and dances with them on the floor probably is the most visual in terms of risk. I wondered whether this would have been the first exposure to such an act for many in the audience; Chennai follows a strict protocol to stage performance. I cannot say the piece shocked me. I do not think London audiences would be shocked either. However, it was a drama filled stage and I am sure that other things are exotic for other audiences maybe Kathak itself.

The dance duo towards the end of the performance went more completely into the form they had created. There was thrilling twirling on stage. This part to me was the dance construction. It likely left many of us viewers satisfied at our lurking doubts.

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