By Israel Galván and Akram Khan
Performed by Akram Khan
Presented by Canadian Stage
Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto
March 9 to 12, 2016
After a knee injury forced Spanish flamenco dancer Israel Galván de los Reyes to stand down from his collaborative show with British dancer Akram Khan, Torobaka became Toro (meaning “contest”). Re-envisioned without Galván it is not half a show, and not exactly a solo dance, but given the flamenco dancer’s virtuosity, generates less excitement than the original.
Conceived as a conversation between two classical dance forms and two giants of contemporary dance, Toro is set in a circular stage reminiscent of a bull ring. Flamenco has its roots in India and it is easy to see the parallels in the northern Indian kathak dance form in which Khan was trained. The stamping of the feet, the heavy percussive beat of the music and the dominance of the male are common to both.
Akram Kahn is a phenomenal performer and doesn’t disappoint. His four musicians take up the part of the missing flamenco dancer, coming into the circle either to partner Khan, as does palmero Bobote in an opening scene of clapping and flamenco foot-stamping, or to perform duets of their own, as do countertenor David Azura and contralto Christine Leboutte. Indian percussionist B.C. Manjunath holds the whole show together, with his drumming and his recitation of the hard-consonant sounds of the rhythmic “bols.”
Reformatting the duet involves improvisation and has prompted some playfulness. Returning to the stage on bent knees, Kahn wears Galván’s white flamenco shoes on his hands tapping out the rhythms to build to a crescendo. The singers’ interactions at times invoke the chatter of the spectators at a bull fight and at others they seem like birds in call and response.
The most impressive aspect of Toro is Kahn’s embodiment of flamenco and kathak in the complex, high-energy choreography. It is hard to separate the dancer from the dance.
Most frustrating, for those to whom Sanskrit and Spanish are a mystery, is the impossibility of understanding the storytelling that is so basic to these dance forms. Toro makes a wonderful platform for Kahn, a dazzling and precisely expressive dancer, but doesn’t quite coalesce into a unified piece.
Photo of Bobote and Akram Khan by Jean-Louis Fernandez