Early in Samsara two hooded figures from different cultures meet in a desolate landscape, only sparsely populated by stricken metallic figurines being slowly consumed by gathering sand. What follows is a triumphant and transcendent exploration of the earthly and divine as dancer-choreographers Aakash Odedra and Hu Shenyuan present ancient traditions and timeless ideas through the prism of contemporary dance.
A triumphant and transcendent exploration of the earthly and divine
The show is ostensibly based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, the sprawling legend-based epic which sees a Buddhist monk and his disciples travel from China to India in search of ancient religious texts. The links to that original tale are broadly thematic and conceptual rather than narrative. Corporeal matters such as cross-cultural conflict, communication, and eventual cooperation evolve into dizzyingly well-realised representations of spiritual transcendence, power, imbalance and eventual harmony.
These ideas of transformation are conveyed through a series of spectacular sequences which show off the prodigious abilities of the two performers. They arrive on stage speaking different physical languages. Well versed in classical traditional dancing styles from China and India respectively, each dancer brings something different to the performance as Hu’s otherworldly fluidity and Odedra’s powerful motions interact at first cautiously amidst shifting spotlights. It’s a visually arresting piece of dance which swiftly develops into a stylised fight sequence which falls only slightly short of the ferociously energetic live drumming of prodigiously talented percussionist Beibei Wang.
This drumming, and the rest of the scoring of the piece, is another great strength of Samsara. The blend of both recorded and live performances perfectly backgrounds the dance, with beautifully articulated music creating a vital auditory substrate in which the mesmeric action of the dancers can flourish; from an ominous, drone heavy start, to soaring optimism and spiritual attainment to wistful and healing harmony, often attended to by the seemingly flawless vocal prowess of singer Nicki Wells. It’s a striking work on many levels.
Towards the end of Samsara, sand streams from above the stage, shimmering in the light as it flies from the two dancers and the show reaches an elegant and poignant finale. Maybe the sand itself is a symbolic representation of the Buddhist concept of suffering; it does get everywhere. Maybe the cycle of suffering can be broken by the exuberant power of cultural symbiosis. They’re just a couple of immaterial thoughts provoked by this frequently breath-taking display of technical skill and artistic beauty.