Gnosis (5 stars)

This article is from 2014


Akram Khan's tale from the Mahabharata masterfully performed at the Edinburgh International Festival

Two thirds of the way into the first half of Akram Khan’s programme he stops to talk to the audience. Softly and carefully he explains that the rhythms of the Kathak dance he has been performing so virtuosically are based around mathematics. He introduces the musicians, telling us he believes one of the percussionists to have the soul of an elephant for his wisdom and elegance. This deeply tangible, scientific and spiritual connection to the music, along with a humble desire to share his knowledge, is one of the things that make spending an evening watching Khan at work so very special.

The other is his absolute mastery of the form.

In the first half he presents two classical solos and an improvisation. The movement – the first piece is choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi, the second by Khan’s guru Sri Pratap Pawar – seems as if it flows straight from his bones. He spins, flame-quick, pulling and plucking the air. The filigree details of his hands are mesmerising on their own to watch.

Gnosis, Khan’s contemporary interpretation of a section of the Mahabharata, comes next, telling the story of Hindu goddess Gandhari, who lived blindfolded through empathy for her blind husband. Taiwanese artist Fang-Yi Sheu dances the role of the goddess, her angular opening solo – feet fixed wide – crafting a portrait of inner strength. When tangling together with Khan – portraying her son Duryodhana – they slip and slide so quickly around, under and through each other’s bodies that the power and grace is spellbinding.

Drenched in boiling red light the drama pushes towards its climax. When it comes, it’s one of those moments in theatre where you can’t quite believe what you are looking at to be true.

Kings Theatre, run ended.


  • 5 stars

Dance piece looking at the idea of the 'knowledge within' and the inner and outward battles of human characters.