Review of “Vertical Road” by The Ruminating Squirrel

I just received news that the Singapore Arts Festival will take a hiatus next year. While I puzzle over that decision, am grateful for yet another guest review on a recent dance performance at the arts fest. This review was written by my friend and colleague, The Ruminating Squirrel!  

Title of performance:  Vertical Road

Dance Company:   Akram Khan Company

Date of performance:   1 June 2012

Performance Venue:  Esplanade Theatre

This is not so much a review of Akram Khan Company’s “Vertical Road” as an attempt to capture in words the depth and breadth of what I witnessed. Contemporary dance rarely impacts me as much as theatre, but this performance seared my consciousness deeply with its sheer visceral quality, raw physicality and palpable spirituality. Drawing his inspiration from the work of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, Khan’s work fused the traditions of classical kathak, Asian martial arts and elements of Sufism. “Vertical Road” tells the story of a journey from one state of being to another. The journeyman is a solo dancer that encounters and interacts with seven other dancers, as he moves from one state to another. We the audience, borne along on this journey, were relentlessly pulled up on evolving cycles of lyrical movement, suffused with Nitin Sawhney’s evocative and compelling soundscapes.

The cast of 8 dancers, drawn from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, individually and collectively sculpted tangibility and meaning out of their spaces to weave stories of life and death; creation and destruction; power and submission; love and loss; oppression and liberation; cyclical migrations between opposing states of being. These were layered with the repeated motif of the whirling dervish, the Sufi mystic abandoned to the ecstasies of the God-consciousness, simultaneously receiving and giving sacred influence with outstretched arms; an intermediary between the Divine and the earthly.

Draped in pale, monochromatic robes that lent them structure and fluidity at the same time, the dancers’ controlled athleticism was breathtaking to behold. Their movements were flowing and precise, with hardly any gratuitous or superfluous gestures. They weren’t merely going through the motions of blocked and set pieces; the dancers seemed to manifest an inner motivation – a personal search for meaning, perhaps – in their interpretation of the choreography. Their performance was set within a minimalist context – a bare stage with a translucent plastic sheet that the dancers interacted with in their storytelling. The stage lighting was sensitively designed, heightening the emotion and tension of the performance to great effect.

A well-respected actor and director once said to me: “The mission of the performer is to unite the house.” My feeling was that Khan and his cast, in taking us through the journey of the dance, succeeded in unifying us in a state of wonderment and introspection that would remain with us for no short period of time.

PS. Thanks to KS for having the foresight to pick this gem to watch.

Vertical Road performed at the Esplanade Theatre on 1-2 June 2012, as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. 


The Ruminating Squirrel is a practising lawyer who tries to cram what little spare time she has with reading, art, music, cooking for friends, coffee, and running…

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