Saturday, March 5, 2016

Aakash Odedra Company brings "Rising" to Skirball Center

I want to keep my memories of dancer Aakash Odedra killing some James Brown funk three years ago in his joyous, Bessie-winning performance at the Apollo. And I want to forget Rising--his program of solos made by Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and himself, brought to New York this week at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Back in 2011, Rising marked a turning point for this British performer trained in classical Indian dance--his debut as a choreographer and commissioner of works in a contemporary vein. It draws heavily on the lush, picturesque qualities of his dancing and onstage design. It draws and draws, in fact, until both those wells run dry which, in the absence of anything more sustaining, takes just moments.

There appears to be a formula for Rising: a haze-filled stage; murky lighting; a vaguely mystical aura; and fluidity of movement that turns, time and again, to twirling and sinuous undulation. Odedra's own Nritta is the bland template for this pattern. Khan at least attempts a somewhat different direction for his handsome comrade in the next piece, In The Shadow of Man, invoking a screaming, yipping animal self that heaves and arcs and rotates off its axis. Maliphant's Cut locates Odedra in the triangular gap between two dark, framing curtains, yet again engulfed in billowing haze, bright light catching only splashes of his busy hands or forearms in a visual flamboyance that Alwin Nikolais surely would have admired. I thought, too, of David Parsons's Caught, the signature piece and perennial crowd-pleaser where flashing strobes make a leaping soloist appear to fly and fly and fly.

For Cherkaoui's Constellation, numerous globe-like light bulbs, sort of pomegranate-sized, hang on cords suspended from the flies. Individual lights can be moved from above like marionettes. That's lovely, but the design execution and the dancer's engagement with one or another dangling star only add up to pretty display. But I could not resist this thought: How many dancers does it take to change a light bulb? Just one. But that bulb has to want to change.

Rising is closed.

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