Outwitting the Devil at Sadler’s Wells
Outwitting the Devil is an ambitious, moody dance piece that seamlessly combines traditional kathak and contemporary movement. Receiving its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells, it is also the first of three productions in Carnival of Shadows, Akram Khan’s latest contribution to the world of dance. Yet, with ancient literature at its root, the performance seems to stray a little too far from its source material, making for a narrative that is, at times, confusing.
The piece is based upon the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, where a young king is punished for “destroying a legendary cedar forest and killing its guardian Humbaba”. While the central themes of this poem – mortality, mistakes and residual sorrow – remain present within the performance, a clear narrative thread appears to be missing. As the show opens and closes, some lines of French dialogue are transcribed on screens throughout the theatre – a dramaturgical tool that could have been better used throughout, as opposed to being a bookend, to create more cohesion between the original text and finished product.
That being said, if one considers the poem to be merely a starting point for the show, then there’s no denying that it is something to marvel at. It has all of the qualities that, for decades, have cemented Khan as one of the greats in terms of both choreography and performance. Here, his artistic visions are brought to life by a team of talented dancers, whose movements appear spontaneous, unplanned and natural, proving that the body can often say more than the mouth ever can. The result is an 80-minute dance piece that leaves the audience feeling as though they have stumbled upon it organically, that it is not a structured performance designed to be set before spectators – they have simply happened upon a magical moment in time.
Throughout, the production is underscored by original music and sound design from Vincenzo Lamagna, which add grit and tension through the inclusion of “ferocious industrial undertones, haunted melodies and cinematic soundscapes” – something of a staple in his work.
In short, while there may be some call for a stronger narrative in Outwitting the Devil, one cannot deny that the production is, in its own way, mesmerising. As a result, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Outwitting the Devil is at Sadler’s Wells from 23rd November until 27th November 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for Outwitting the Devil here: