Until the Lions review – lean, thrilling and beautiful

Roundhouse, London
Akram Khan dances what is likely to be one of his last roles in his supremely potent retelling of the Mahabharata

In 1987, 13-year-old Akram Khan was cast in Peter Brook’s staging of the Mahabharata. Working with Brook was a formative experience for the young dancer, and in his latest piece Khan returns to the Sanskrit epic poem. The Mahabharata, thought to have been written some 2,000 years ago, tells of the rivalry between two great families. The male heroes of the story occupy the foreground, but the women, while central to the narrative, are more sketchily drawn. It was this imbalance that the writer Karthika Naïr set out to address in Until the Lions, a collection of poems about the Mahabharata’s female characters.

Inspired by Naïr’s book, Khan has created a full-length dance-work of the same name. The story concerns the warrior Bheeshma (Khan), who abducts the princess Amba (Ching-Ying Chien) and renders her unmarriageable. Amba vows vengeance, kills herself, and is reborn as Shikhandi (Christine Joy Ritter), who magically changes gender in order to kill Bheeshma in battle. The narrative can be understood at many levels, and Khan, like Brook before him, opts for a pared-back staging in which the symbolic nature of the action is vividly apparent.

When he turns, faster and faster, it’s as if we see his enemies hurled aside by some psychic, centrifugal force

The unbending verticality of Khan’s dancing speaks of command, of absolute autonomy, of arctic detachment

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Source: Guardian Dance News

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