Choreography Akram Khan & Israel Galván
Sadler’s Wells

Akram Khan and Israel Galván in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
Israel Galván and Akram Khan in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
Bobote and Akram Khan in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
David Azurza, Israel Galván and Christine Leboutte in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan, BC Manjunath and Israel Galván in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
Israel Galván in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan in TOROBAKA Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez

The flamenco bull (toro) and the Kathak Indian cow (vaca) mate and produce a rare hybrid creature nurtured by the four elements, the earth and fire of Spain and the air and liquid spirituality of India. It is a spectacle to behold.

The red soil of the bullring arena turns into a silvery drum skin under Michael Hulls’s distinctive dramatic lighting. Akram Khan and Israel Galván take centre stage in silence. Galván roars like a bull and Khan stops his mouth with a simple gesture. They are equals.

Head to head, they go in a stand off dialogue of beating feet, Kathak and flamenco rhythms competing and multiplying in breath-taking mathematical complexity. Till Galván stops Khan’s mouth. They both get it. Both dig deeper. Now for the fireworks, the exchange of fire.

Bare feet—imagine a flamenco dancer without his Cuban-heels—illustrate the differences and the similarities of the different dance styles, before each returns in his solo numbers to what he knows best, Khan to his ghunghru bells and Galván to his boots. Bells give boots a run for their money. There’s a moral.

Give Khan his due, he does give those flamenco boots a go—but on his dancing hands, where they become horns that caress his face and hooves when he’s on all fours.

Flamenco palmero Bobote, singers Christine Leboutte and David Azurza, percussionists BC Manjunath and Bernhard Schimpelsberger layer on the beats and handclaps, the tabla and bols, the lyrical textures of the East and West, till Torobaka becomes more than an exploratory dance piece.

Ancient music and singing that is timeless match the footwork. The accompanists are on equal footing with the dancers. Hulls’s lighting seeks and draws them out.

Shouts and calls, seemingly organic and impulsive, give the illusion of being totally in the moment. Improvisation, or in an equivalent approximation of improvised jazz scat, Galván’s signature stylised flamenco mixes balletic terms and athletic leaps, his stick thin proud rooster body angular to Khan’s lower centre of gravity molten flow.

There is a dramatic structure to this, a narrative of exchange, cooperation and experience—the experience of the forty or so years of their lives. They come together in beautiful unison.

An Esperanto of dance, neither knows each other’s tongue, but they understand that they have created a new vocabulary if not a new language. Serious and flippant, riveting music and dance are all we need to bring us together.

As one dances the other watches from a chair at the side with tiny cymbals (symbols) to strike, not to lose that momentum. Singers come to the fore and get their turn, as does Bobote—all body language is movement after all.

Competitive rhythms spiral and spin, feet copy feet in transporting delight, until Khan falls on his back from the force of Galván’s need to kill all competition. There may have been a transfusion of blood and transcendental trade, but own blood, muscle memory and personality will out.

The yin and yang, the passive and the aggressive, the fable of the wind and the sun: the dynamic is set, but the bull will not overpower the gentle cow—he will learn from its example. And learn Galván does. His fire is not diminished; it is redirected.

Khan with his humour and humility seems to have had the greater influence overall. He has shown his opponent that he is in fact his ally. And he’s generously given him more stage time, too.

Two extraordinary men, unique forces who have carved their own idiosyncratic niches in age-old traditions, Khan bringing contemporary dance into the fold of Kathak, Galván doing a Picasso on flamenco, have produced a five-star show.

Khan has a reputation for collaborating with many world-class artists—Juliette Binoche, Sylvie Guillem, Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor to name a few—but this his latest has to be the most dynamic.

A mindboggling, heart-thumping, pulsating dazzling display, the first night audience justifiably give the seventy-five-minute no interval Torobaka a standing ovation.

Khan brings gnosis (again) to everything he touches. Together he and Galván articulate the God-given talents that blood, sweat and fearlessness have of necessity sustained.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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