Murmur 2.0

Aakash Odedra, Lewis Major, Ars Electronica Futurelab

Aakash Odedra Company

The Place, Robin Howard Dance Theatre

From 20 November 2015 to 21 November 2015

Review by Rachel Elderkin

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Having struggled with dyslexia from a young age, Aakash Odedra found dance to be the language in which he could most comfortably communicate.

Murmur 2.0, the extended version of his original solo work Murmur co-choreographed with Lewis Major, is Odedra’s attempt to explain this difficulty in the best way he knows how: through the language of his body.

From the outset, Odedra embodies this struggle. Knelt with his back to the audience, he rhythmically hits his thighs, keeping time as he counts in various languages. Steadily, this grows more forceful, hurtful even, in an uncomfortable portrayal of frustration.

Odedra explains how, at the age of 21, he realised there was an additional letter ‘A’ in his name which, until that point, had eluded him. The awkwardness of this discovery manifests itself in his choreography, Odedra mercilessly pushing his body into distorted shapes. As he forces his body weight over his feet or balances precariously, and extraordinarily, on the tips of his bare toes, he utters odd words emphasising his actions.

This combination of speech and movement doesn’t seem to sit entirely comfortably with Odedra. In a work about the difficulties of communicating, this could, to a point, be seen as intentional, but more than anything it creates a sense of disconnect which, as the work progresses, never quite settles.

Even the enchanting effects of the projections do not quite dispel this feeling. Odedra has collaborated with Ars Electronica Futurelab to create a work that merges the language of an ancient dance practice, the classical Indian dance forms of Kathak and Bhartanatyam in which Odedra trained, with a technological language distinctly 21st century.

A murmuration of birds scatters across the white voile curtains of the set, Odedra repeatedly draws the letter ‘A’ and, as he dances, animations follow his movements, catching at the outline of his body. At one point, we watch Odedra’s shadow dance on the curtains, the enlarged image highlighting the subtle gestures of Kathak.

While the effects themselves can be fascinating, the attention is often divided between Odedra, glimpsed in the background, and these animated versions. A sense of disconnect remains and, as a result, what should be magical often feels contrived.

It’s in the moments where Odedra gives way to dance that the myriad elements of Murmur 2.0 fit most comfortably together. Odedra’s skill as he performs the complex co-ordinations of Kathak dance, its simultaneous arm gestures and stamped out rhythms, is incredible. As his feet trace patterns across the floor, the animations respond, as if the ground on which he moves is touch-sensitive to his steps. It is clear that this is where Odedra truly excels.

Murmur 2.0 ends in a dizzying hurricane of paper, with light beams, smoke and animated birds all muddled together in the breeze from a circle of electric fans. In the midst of it spins Odedra, his body bending like a tree in the wind. Lost in his movement, the world he has created swirling around him, Murmur ends in a cohesive and visually entrancing spectacle. Here the audience are finally immersed in the world Odedra has created.

Odedra continues to push the traditions of his dance form but at times his attempt to combine speech, movement and digital technology feels forced. The real beauty of Murmur 2.0 lies in the moments when Odedra lets go and movement takes over.