Murmur/Inked (or rather, Inked/Murmur, the pieces performed in that order) is Aakash Odedra’s solo show (which prompted a question from a friend: is he a company of one?). Murmur is choreographed by Odedra and Lewis Major, Inked by Damien Jalet.
The evening is therefore of two halves, the two pieces of very different intent, purpose and execution. Inked came across almost somehow more like performance art than dance. By contrast, Murmur’s tone was confessional, sold to us as narrative of fight against conformity, liberation of self-expression, and was the stronger for going someway to fulfilling those goals. Both parts have their flaws, and their strengths.
Inked begins with a question. There is a man-shaped cut-out on the back wall of the stage. My friend asked “is that a cut out or a person?” Patient scrutiny told us it was a cut out, and it was not, as the eye assumed, a man standing there, for the shape was far too still. Then the cut-out began to “move”. This was Odedra squeezing into and then through it with milimetric clearance, his form briefly animating this negative space, as he will animate the performance space later. One here could usefully claim “parturition” metaphor of emergence, birth statement, but it was merely quite a cool thing to see the hole come alive.
Accompanying this emergence, the patter of Odedra’s kathak footwork, this his first discernible movement, and our first aural indication of presence. As opening statement, perhaps statement of his heritage. One wonders if the successive moments thereafter are a deliberate attempt by Odedra to distance himself from that classical orthodoxy (indeed Murmur has credit for “Vocabulary Development” by Subhash Gorania),
There followed sinuous hand movements, tumbling around in the lotus position, writhings on the floor, a “crab” or two, then the ink of the title, daubed on his body, his hands looking to have an eyes on the palms of them, which reminds of Cherkaoui’s Apocrifu, and Pan’s Labyrinth’s Eye/Hand creature (Tenome). The trend here is almost a devolution from man into creature, the process entirely completed when Odedra hunches on all fours, to reveal eyes painted on his shoulder blades. Fingers become tendrils, scapulae thrum and beat to become a kind of pulsating beast. The effect is cleverly done, but not enough to make one go “wow” as one for instance, Watson’s metamorphosis was.
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: Odedra slowly transforms back into a man. The tendrils dissolve to disappear. Odera lies supine, in attitude which suggested perhaps something Vitruvean. Slowly he rose back onto his knees as if a liminal creature, chimerical. Here, the most successful part of Inked began. Odedra had earlier head-butted a container of ink on the floor. This “pling” of paint becomes his inkwell, the floor his canvas. Odedra began to move, swirling exclusively on hands and knees only, and then involved feet and hands, these limbs and contact points drawing arcs, chords, circles, ellipses in mesmerising symmetry. The process reminded of Pollock a little, but the kineticism given more structure and the resulting patterns more geometric than Pollock’s fascinating melange.
When the floor was covered with a wonderful filigree of ink, Odedra stood on two legs as if doing so for the first time, and began twirling: this leading into what a ballet watcher would call chaine turns, as if liberated from his creation. He began revolving on the spot, his expression almost edified, looking for all the world rather like a Mehlevi dancer (and here I wondered if Kathak, with purported origins in Persia, had perhaps a common ancestor, or is a common expression of this devotational whirling.) Certainly the overall effect was arresting to the eye, but to a less transcendental goal. Indeed, the piece overall was certainly intriguing but hardly a piece to move or challenge or to promote too long a rumination. The piece was hampered slightly by being so austere in expression, and as a result was a little bereft of reward.
By contrast, Murmur was personal, human centered and biographical, and therefore more immediately appealing. The program tells us that any life problems caused by Odedra’s dyslexia and any attendant angst, find sublimation and expression in dance. Murmur has a duet with a projected doppelganger, “explosions” of light emanating from a suspended sheet when he touched it and clever A/V interaction: the floor responded to his footwork: stamping produced ripples, the amplitude correlated: hard footfall equalled more ripples. Ingenious, and by Ars Electronica’s Futurelab, very cleverly done, but the effect rather drawing attention to itself, making one wonder “how do they do that”. (Rather I would have wished to think “wow! I saw him do that”.) This first half thus a melding of light and movement as well as brief speeches by Odedra (“dramaturge” by Farooq Chaudhry).
The piece itself felt to be of two movements. The second movement was Murmur’s real core, it seemed, featuring floor mounted fans, paper scraps, A4 sheets of paper, confetti (a blizzard of it) both real and projected whirling into the air, sheets descending from the gods. At one point Odedra attempts to catch and contain the paper using a broom before giving up. The video projection begins again and contracts around Odedra’s body to become true murmuration, the image obeying uncanniness of mass movement we ordinarily see with large flocks of birds. I had thought this murmuration was composed of letters, but promo materials show they are indeed birds, looking rather like the Twitter bird: Odedra almost obliterated in the maelstrom.
One could generously suggest this is Odera being subsumed by words, tyrannised by them, and then emerging the victor and if not that, it certainly looked visually impressive. The applause here was warmer, for an artistic product better presented, more engaging and watchable. Two curtain calls in fact, where Inked had none.
Overall though, I was diverted, but not transported. Mr Odedra clearly is a talent with long years ahead of him in which to mature and grow as an artist. These pieces are youthful in statement and method. One hopes at least for more of this same energy from him in the future.
6/10 (I am not the world’s biggest modern dance fan)
(This sequence was better at Jerwood House.)