An ancient trading route stretching from the Korean coast to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road and its connotations are steeped in centuries of history and culture. However Jose Agudo’s premiere production Silk Road felt more like a gap year trek than a cultural pilgrimage. A production of two halves, Silk Road focuses on the music and choreography of the Flamenco and Kathak styles, with a solo in each style comprising the first act. The second act brings the two together in a contemporary duet which seamlessly transitions between each style.
At least, that’s what was advertised. Instead we witnessed what felt more like a first draft than a polished performance. Upon entering the studio we were greeted with a black box stage, featuring a guitarist and percussionist. Giuliano Modarelli effortlessly brought Spain to the studio with his classical guitar technique, while Bernhard Schimpelsberger used a unique combination of percussion instruments to add to the drama. Agudo and Schimpelsberger appeared almost to be improvising as they played with the Flamenco rhythms, bringing life to the dark studio. This was interrupted by Agudo’s decision to experiment with silences, which is a gamble at the best of times. The Flamenco heel (two inches) works similarly to a tap shoe yet Rafael Amargo’s choreography focused instead on the silences between steps. This was to be the first of several flawed experiments with silence.
“[it] felt more like a first draft than a polished performance”
Agudo’s opening solo was a feat of stamina to be sure, but beyond that did nothing to push the boundary of Flamenco. We were then treated to an impressive Konnakol (Indian scat singing) performance, but after five minutes you couldn’t help but wonder where the hell the dancing had gone. When Agudo finally reemerged we were forced to spend another five minutes watching him tie his Ghungroos (ankle bells). The Kathak solo finally began ten minutes after the Flamenco solo ended, but this too failed to meet expectations. Choreographed by the internationally acclaimed Nahid Siddiqui, the solo exhibited her contemporary twist on traditional Kathak dance. However in modernising the style Siddiqui forfeited the storytelling at the heart of the tradition, relying instead upon a soundscape. This first act became then a narcissistic endeavour for Agudo, rather than an introduction to two classical dance styles.
The second act showed more promise with the introduction of a second dancer – Mavin Khoo. This duet promised to be a fusion of the two styles; east meeting west in perfect harmony, and while the score certainly achieved this the dancing sadly did not. Khoo and Agudo frequently fell out of time with each other, resulting in a piece that looked like two individuals’ interpretations of the choreography rather than a cohesive performance. Khoo explained this in the post show talk: Khoo tends to follow the classical rhythm of the music where Agudo follows the syncopated. However explaining this discrepancy neither erases nor permits it, but produces instead the image of east fighting west.
Despite these many flaws Silk Road does have it’s moments of brilliance, but they are few and far between. Agudo claims that this production not only follows the historic Silk Road, but also his personal journey of spiritual enlightenment in Southern India. This personal journey is certainly easy to see, as the production is unfortunately more an exhibition of Jose Agudo than the many cultures of the Silk Road.
Image: Sadler’s Wells