Choreography: Jose Agudo, Rafael Amargo, Nahid Siddiqui
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
There are politicians who claim that globalisation is some new damaging trend that undermines the nation-state and threatens national identity. Silk Road is a timely reminder that globalisation is as old a human civilisation: the Vikings, the Egyptians, the Romans were all globalisers. And the ancient silk and spice routes from the East to the West were part of that globalisation that continues today.
Jose Agudo launches his company with this collaboration with classical Indian dancer, Mavin Khoo. Agudo brings his own native Flamenco style – although his recent practice is rich with classical-modern Indian choreography: he has previously worked with Shobana Jeyasingh and especially Akram Khan – up close and intertwines its threads with Kathak in a contemporary fabric as strong and delicate as silk. His personal story of East meets West.
Silk Road comprises two halves: a Flamenco solo, choreographed by Rafael Amargo, and a Kathak solo, choreographed by Nahid Siddiqui, separated by a musical interlude that follows this east-west road. The second half – Full Circle – is a duet with Mavin Khoo, choreographed by Agudo.
If Flamenco and Kathak appear on the surface to be distinctly-different styles Agudo wordlessly demonstrates that they are almost the same dance seen through different cultural lenses. Both share expressive arms with detailed, narrative hands, head turns, a solid core that is either sinuous or still, and legs and feet that are strong, flexible and percussive. Dressed in black, Agudo’s Flamenco solo is dramatic and sensuously masculine, full of Spanish lines that ally posturing with combat. His stacked heels percussively drive the tempo and the impetus of this passionate and thrilling dance. But this dance is more emotionally-nuanced and investigative than the hollow machismo that can be the genre’s weakness.
When Agudo returns in white asymmetric robes to perform the Kathak solo, the staccato thunder of heels on the floor is replaced with a rain shower of gentle bells at his ankles. The aggressive but sinuous movements become less martial – more martial arts – and more spiritual: the narrative has changed from west to east.
Silk Road is a journey that embodies and gives evocative glimpses of travellers along the way: traders, monks, pilgrims, the people that live along the route from China, through the Middle East and Africa to the Iberian Peninsula: the edge of Europe.
The duet with Mavin Khoo is an exquisite and complex investigation of this cross-cultural global trade in goods, skills and cultures. This is a vivid knowledge-sharing through movement: religious practice; spirituality; combative encounters; farming; crossing oceans; making and decorating fabrics, trading silks and spices, and financial transactions. Their hands and bodies paint fleeting portraits in the air. Both dancers bring a charismatic stillness as if channelling centuries of knowledge and wisdom of things lost and things to be retained. There is a sense of veils of history being drawn, reordered and replaced as if glimpsed through smoke.
The entire show is wonderfully underpinned by the live and recorded music score. Two musicians: composer, percussionist and musical director Bernhard Schimpelsberger and guitarist Giuliano Modarelli are superb and the interaction with Agudo and Khoo is clearly focused. There is additional music and haunting vocals from Mayte Maya (Flamenco), Jataneel Banerjee and Alaha Soroor (Kathak), as well as Schimpelsberger’s impressive live Kathak vocals. The score is very well-assembled and technically crystalline in the large space of The Lowry’s Compass Room. The rather blank but generous space is lit by Jackie Shemesh with a blend of darkness and shadow, targeted areas and paths of bright white and atmospheric floods of turmeric-coloured lights that evoke sunrise and sunset and the smoky lantern-lit interiors of temples and trading houses.
Silk Road is an emotional, spiritual – and educational – journey that showcases and contrasts Flamenco and Kathak in a quietly-spectacular way. Agudo and Khoo are masters of their craft but don’t perform for effect or for applause. This show is communicative, humble and welcoming, and exquisitely put together with all the texture, strength, beauty and skill of fine silk.
Reviewed on 29 October 2018 | Image: Vipul Sangoi