Akram Khan's "Bahok"

(image taken from here).

Last night Ariel and I went to see “Bahok” choreographed by Akram Khan and performed by his company along with the National Ballet of China, at City Center. I’d never seen any of Khan’s work before and was intrigued by Apollinaire’s post reviewing his other program “Zero Degrees,” which I think might have been more to my liking. I felt “Bahok,” his newer piece was conceptually contrived, but the movement was stunning. Ariel liked it, but I kind of wished he’d have told the whole story through movement, leaving out all the rather cliched spoken word.

“Bahok,” the program notes state, is a Bengali word for “carrier,” and the dance is meant to “explore the ways in which the body carries national identity and a sense of ‘belonging.'” All from different cultures and dance traditions, the eight dancers spend the hour and fifteen minute dance interacting with, misunderstanding, and trying, at times desperately, to connect with one another.

The characters are all caught in what appears to be a train station, their trains all delayed indefinitely. Throughout, various words flash over the arrivals / departures screen, including “earth,” “air,” “fire,” “water,” “phone home,” “rescheduled,” “delayed,” etc. Oftentimes the letter and number combinations are just gibberish (at least to me). At the beginning a Chinese woman sweetly tries to befriend her neighbor, a white woman, who soon scares her away by telling a story, her voice escalating in desperation, about how she awoke from a rainstorm unable to figure out where in the world she was. She spends much of the rest of the dance crying out that she doesn’t know where home is for her, her desperate shrieks alienating just about everyone.

At another point a woman and man appear to be having a conversation with a customs agent who seems to want to confiscate one or both of their bags — it’s not clear whose, nor is the reason why.

At another point a woman falls asleep onto the man sitting next to her. He can’t seem to wake her up and shake her off, so he gets up carries her around the stage, she like a rag doll hanging onto him, not letting him go. It’s funny — and a physically amazing feat — but grows silly after a while… until they start to dance. He stands with his back to the audience. Her legs are wrapped around his head, only her feet visible to us. Suddenly, they both begin making movements with their arms, holding them out, waving them, palms flat and upward, then palms down. The way she is attached to him, her arms are down by his ankles, making him look like a many-tentacled creature.

I found the movement far more brilliant than the speaking. The dancer playing the woman desperate to find her home, the brilliant Eulalia Ayguade Farro, expresses her inner turmoil through movement more compellingly than I think I’ve ever seen such emotion expressed. She took my breath away as she threw herself to the floor, propped herself up into a handstand, spun on her head, jumped, crouched, ran, all the time contorting her body in various novel ways to express her pain.

Another favorite part is shown in the picture above, when a Chinese woman, Meng Ning-Ning, decides to entertain herself and her companions while they await their never-ending delays, by ballet dancing. She dances beautifully and her newfound friends recognize this, as, tourist-like, they snap pictures of her. Another girl tries to join her, emulating her, following her patterns. Soon, an Indian man, Saju Hari, passes by and Meng throws herself into his arms, taking him on as a partner. He has no idea what he’s doing but he gamely tries to do as she wishes, catching her, spinning her, walking her around in a ballerina promenade. It’s hilarious watching this exquisite ballerina be partnered by a seemingly regular guy. Suddenly he wants to show her what he’s got, his dance style. The music changes, he stands in front of her and makes a shape, legs spread, in a deep lunge, very martial-arts-looking but with an Indian flair. In its sharp contrast with her delicate, feathery movement style, it’s jarringly beautiful, which to me is ultimately the point.

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