Akram Khan’s iTMOi (in the mind of Igor) is a finicky piece of contemporary dance, right down to its acronymic title, a reference to Khan’s thematic springboard: a conceptualisation of Igor Stravinsky’s emotional state as he created his iconoclastic chef-d’oeuvre The Rite of Spring. Disarming and chaotic, iTMOi endeavours to explore the personal circumstances informing the Russian composer’s masterpiece and recapture the shock that struck the first audiences to hear it a century ago. Whether the piece achieves these goals is debatable. iTMOi is arresting to be sure, but its structural and tonal incoherence is such that its deconstruction of the man behind the music never feels fully fleshed out.
Khan’s MO is to launch an assault from all ends. The music is deafening, the imagery wild, the choreography frenetic. He consciously avoids using Stravinsky’s score and instead commissions Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost to produce a rich, lurching musical accompaniment that juxtaposes melodious strings with industrial clatter, mixing in various Indian and folk-inspired overlays. The composers evince a great deal of talent between them, but their orchestrations are strangely paced and suffer from rather abrupt transitions.
Accordingly, the dancing appears disjointed and never quite feels like it’s heading in a discernible direction. Instead of a central narrative iTMOi relies on the motif of sacrifice as its linchpin, a premise initiated by a gasping, growling demon who recounts the allegory of Abraham and Isaac, and sustained through appearances by a delicate, erotic woman reminiscent of Rite’s the Chosen One (Ching-Ying Chien). Other key figures include a formidable empress in an enormous hoop skirt (Catherine Schaub Abkarian) and a serpentine horned beastie (Nicola Monaco).
These characters offer some splendid performances, Chien in particular, who is urgent and pliable in her swoops and slides, her spastic quivers succinctly encapsulating her fateful impotency. That said, the highest praise belongs to the chorus, who skip and spin in quick tandem, energy coursing up and out of their limbs. The movement quality, littered as it is with falls and twists, is extreme in its demands, a neat reflection of the vigorous mood. Towards the end Chien unfolds into a perfect arabesque, one of only a few classical poses in the piece.
The atmosphere oscillates between calm and disturbed for most of the performance, then morphs into violent for the final phrase. Chien is smeared in chalk and set upon by her cast mates, who chant a menacing incantation as they circle in on her, throwing her around by her hair. A grotesque man is then born of the tragedy and subsequently ensnared and flogged, a scene so vicious it prompted a few audience members to walk out early on opening night. Provocative stuff, but again herein lies the failure to connect with Stravinsky himself, who explored a kind of brutality in Rite certainly, but not one with a sadistic edge. Had Khan toned down the carnage and focused more on the electrifying choreography he does so well, iTMOi might leave a better taste.