Akram Khan (left) in Until the Lions, which received its Asian debut at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

Dance review: Akram Khan dazzles in Until the Lions’ Asian debut in Hong Kong

Thrilling dancing from Khan and two fellow performers and striking theatrical effects mark star choreographer’s latest production, which earns standing ovation from a packed Cultural Centre audience

International star dancer/choreographer Akram Khan has built a loyal following in Hong Kong and his latest production, Until the Lions, was greeted by a standing ovation from a packed house. The piece is performed superbly by three dancers including Khan himself, together with four musicians including Vincenzo Lamagna, lead composer of the lively score.

While this is not Khan’s most profound or moving work it is consistently entertaining and bears his hallmarks – thrilling dancing, striking theatrical effects and the organic integration of music and musicians into the performance – as well as paying tribute to his roots in Indian dance.

The scenario by Karthika Nair is based on an episode from the Mahabharata reimagined from a feminist perspective in Nair’s book Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata. (The title comes from an African saying that until the lions can tell their story, it will always be told from the hunter’s point of view.)

Akram Khan displays commanding presence and dazzling footwork in Until the Lions. Photo: Laurent Ziegler

After being abducted then released by the warrior Bheeshma, Princess Amba finds herself rejected by her lover, her family and even her abductor. She dies praying for vengeance and is reincarnated by the god Shiva as a man, Shikhandi, in which form she becomes a warrior herself and takes her revenge by slaying Bheeshma.

It’s ambitious to tell such a complex story in one hour with a cast of just three dancers and this aspect doesn’t entirely come off – the narrative is confused and it’s not always clear which character is which, with two female dancers portraying different incarnations of Amba. However, the role of women as warriors and heroes comes across strongly and the killing of Bheeshma at the end is terrific theatre.

The show is dominated by Chien Ching-ying’s magnificent performance as Amba, dancing with such blazing energy and commitment she seems almost possessed. As Shikhandi, Christine Joy Ritter produces extraordinary extensions and long-held balances, while Khan displays his commanding presence, dazzling footwork and spectacular spins as Bheeshma.

Until the Lions, Akram Khan Company, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

Reviewed: November 19