Route maps for lost lovers
Kubilai Khan Investigations, one of Europe's premier contemporary dance companies, explores music, dance, visual arts, lighting and even the circus
TANTALISING The performance was packed with intense layers of meaning and movement Photo: Murali Kumar K.
The stage is tantalising. Giant black rectangular box-like forms are its centre. A music stand to one side. A narrow platform with a vase of blooms. In the darkness, a form writhes forestage left. A shadowy figure, his back to us, bends over a table. What's on it? The tools of musical creation?
The lights go up on February 8 at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall. Four dancers in little black dresses begin to move in this presentation titled Sorrow Love Song, described as "a geo-poetic fiction in love with our twirling". The unusual sound-scape teases our senses, connects at some atavistic depth within, in this show presented by the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts and the Alliance Francaise.
What's this odyssey we're essaying with 1996-formed Kubilai Khan Investigations (KKI), one of Europe's premier contemporary dance companies?
Like the Coleridge poem set in Xanadu that inspired their name, this troupe explores music, dance, visual arts, lighting, even the circus. Through their identity as an "artistic exchanging post", by their own definition.
Their Toulon-based fluid cosmopolitan language draws from their cast, who stem from Japan (Rui Owada, Takumi Fukushima, Chiharu Mamiya), Spain (Emilio Urbina), Greece (Giota Kallimani), Vietnam (Cynthia Phung-Ngoc) with French artistic director/dancer Frank Micheletti, bridging oriental and occidental cultures.
Over the next hour or so, intense layers of meaning and movement draw us in. Into a world where truth and dreamscape blur, where messages draw depth from where we come from, where art is a way of seeing, of being, of belonging. From where we eventually walk out haunted by shared existential dilemmas, by the totality of expression, by the fluidity of memory.
And through the whole surges a stream of longing. As the potential sorrow that underlies every glance of desire. As the interface that is the sap of life. As the unspoken violence, the death-like joy that cadences every passion we promise ourselves to. Because this performance is inspired by iconic Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's 740-page 1994 novel Chroniques de l'oiseau a resort (English translation: The Windup Bird Chronicle). And he has been celebrated for his unmatched expositions of longing.
The audience as a subconscious entity fills in the interstices of the Zen-stark, poetic-magnetic performance. Some glimpses linger indelibly, branded in memory:
A male dancer springs from sniffing blooms onto the upturned feet of four women lying on the stage, effortlessly, perfectly balanced. A woman hangs from a loose black dress on a line held by a man, twisting, turning, struggling, suddenly passive like a puppet on a string. A dancer turns violinist, tuning into another's sad tale about her deceased sister. An excerpt from the book is read aloud from, with Owada's brilliant live music enhancing it. A man sheathes a woman's face with a brilliant red cloth, which she unravels to present to Rui onstage.
Another dancer bandages his face with a black shirt before he seethes to a life of the limb. A delicate dancer breaks into Japanese song, yet it doesn't sound exotic to our ears.
A man and a woman stand against a mat that unrolls from the stage-top. They touch and recoil, caress and connect. And the whole is abstracted and projected against the backdrop to recreate a love scene that blurs space and time, cultures and continents.
How ephemeral are our exchanges? Can we ever belong to a partner in love? Are dreams integral to our existence? Can reminiscences take on the hallucinatory patina of mirages? Through sensitive, sensorial lighting, through a magical sound-scape that combines electronic, vocal, and violin inputs, we explore these issues. And the tumult within us. As if looking for ourselves within maps for lost lovers.
KKI stands radically apart from other performances Bangalore has witnessed over the past decade. Because it respects each element that makes a performance. Because it introduces a frisson each time we think we are in sync with the unrolling, non-linear mock narrative. Because the ensemble, by superlatively mastering multi-tasking onstage, allows dancers to sing, read, morph seamlessly from soloists into moving tableaux.
Why did the whole seem fragmented, episodic, yet searingly true at the core? Perhaps because, at KKI, each participant is allowed a say in the chiaroscuro creative process. "Each one is an auteur, but not everyone is a director," explains Micheletti. "Thus, our choreography is collective, even collaborative."
But then, perhaps they take their overall cue from Murakami, who once said in an interview to Salon: "To me the subconscious is terra incognita. I don't want to analyse it, but Jung and those people, psychiatrists, are always analysing dreams and the significance of everything. I don't want to do that. I just take it as a whole... I feel like I can do the right thing with that weirdness. Sometimes it's very dangerous to handle that."
Strange. Volatile. Electrifying. Architectonic. No single word can hope to sum up the sense of "Sorrow Love Song." Its elusive quality is essential to its impact. Which makes us ask with surety: please could we share in the next Kubilai Khan investigation?
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