Torobaka – ‘bull cow’ – taken from the Maori-Inspired poem by Dadaist Tristan Zsara is a stunning, seemingly improvisational composition of Kathak and Flamenco dance. It pitches British-born Arkram Khan and Sevillian Israel Galvan against one other. The ‘bull cow’ is sacred to both traditions, setting up an animistic theme never far from the surface. The focus on the primeval is intentional.
Khan and Galvan spar, lock horns – arms like rotor-blades – as they square up to each other in a circular pool of light. Sometimes movement is fiercely contested by each under Michael Hulls’ incisive, sharp lighting design; sometimes it is playful, child-like. Both artists show a sinewy strength as they scat their way through a structured dance dialogue to reveal a shared dance pedigree, and simultaneously, divergent paths.
Flamenco’s Kathak roots – the delicacy of the circular hand gestures, pounding feet – have a common gestural language. While Flamenco’s percussive use of the body is an expressive form which Khan wonderingly explores. Yet forget clichés such as new genre, fusion or hybrid. ‘Torobaka’ is about breaking moulds: a series of co-existencies.
For Galvan the process became an internal dialogue with his ‘Master’ Mario Maya; for Khan, the essence of the flower before it has been named. And there is a palpable sense of a simultaneous present, past and future, grounded in a natural impulse to shape or re-negotiate steps. Space is expertly carved out to allow each artist singular as well as moments of togetherness; watched over by an enlarged halo of changing light.
The pair dance barefoot, beats picked up in percussive rhythm by five musicians. Yet there is a good deal of humour too. At one point Khan dances with Galvan’s Flamenco shoes on his hands; the latter picks out the intricate down-beat clapping style on Khan’s back. Skin gives way to Ghunghru bells or Cuban heels. Sound is explored through voice and the distinctive intonations of ‘deep song’ and the mnemonic, Kathak bol. The effect is a rich melee of Italianate, Arabic and Asian influences, reaching back to the origins of gesture and voice.
‘Torobaka’ is an absorbing seventy minutes where seven artists interact body and soul. Khan and Galvan ultimately draw the eye, but the interplay between them all is a dazzling theatrical display. Space expands and contracts just like its cosmic counterpart. Hands are put over mouths as if to defy linguistic connotations. Kathak and Flamenco co-exist. Don’t look for a narrative. Don’t look for a literal sense. Just experience the dance.
- Dance Theatre
- By Akram Khan and Israel Galvan
- Featuring musicians David Azurza, B C Manjunath, Bobote, Christine Leboutte
- Sadler’s Wells, London
- Until 5 July 2015
- Reviewed by Pauline Flannery
- 2 July 2015