The young man can not imagine the old man he will become.
That spoken reflection in the opening moments of Outwitting the Devil, sets the theme for this mesmerising dance production by choreographer, Akram Khan.
The retired dancer’s first work in which he is not on stage, is an exploration of the Epic of Gilgamesh, humankind’s oldest known literary text.
There is much to enjoy in this production, not least of which is Akram’s willingness to embrace older dancers whose bodies are likewise a record of their histories, etched with scars and memories and form.
Ching-Ying Chien, Dominique Petit, Mythili Prakash, Sam Asa Pratt, James Vu Anh Pham and Jasper Narvaez work together with poise and harmony, as they embody Akram’s vision and create the mythical Cedar Forest, which is home of the gods and all living creatures.
Grand tableaux and profound expressions of grief and despair are some of the haunting elements of this work.
As the old Gilgamesh watches and interacts with his younger self, now wiser and given to remorse, we are reminded about the fragility of life and the limited vision of youth that can only become fuller with the passing of time.
As with this work’s toying with the concept of ageing and passions, it also plays with gravity; its dancers breathtaking display of slow movement causing us to wonder how such sequences are possible.
Of course, given the wild intertwining of numerous themes and ideas in this production, not even a synopsis can guide most audience members along its narrative path. Many overheard conversations were along the lines of, I loved it but had no idea what it was about.
Such is the core of dance and some poetry; there is a need to relax into the experience and sit sufficiently with glimpses of signs and flashes of intuition as the journey unfolds.
The thread that bound this experience into a whole was the original music score and sound design by Vincenzo Lamagna. It was masterful, albeit deafeningly loud in parts. There was not any moment when the sound design jarred, quite the opposite, it carried its dancers just as Akram’s wisdom would have nurtured and guided them through choreography.
It would also be remiss not to mention the beautiful interplay with the long length of fabric towards the end of the production. The way it was unwound from around the Guardian of the Cedar Forest and then laid out across the stage and brought to life, was magical and inspired.
Outwitting the Devil is an epic experience of dance.