Kadamati, dance

At The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Weds 22 Aug 2018.

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Kadamati is a site-specific Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) dance performance set outside the gold and glow of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in which 200 plus school children clad in black, perform Akram Khan’s choreography for us in the mellow Edinburgh evening.

We all arrive early, queue, and then parade around three sides of a huge square to wait patiently behind looped rope as if we are the precious cabinets and chamber pots awaiting the tourists’ gaze. City Council dignitaries from all over the world, Nicola Sturgeon amongst them, troop in afterwards, winning their civic brownie points by showing off like this. (There is a Cultural Summit in Edinburgh taking place at the Scottish Parliament across the road).

The teddy-bear-coloured stone round-tower is all that remains of the abbey-palace-prison-barracks first built in 1128 and it somehow stands in stark contrast to the “themes of identity, migration, connection and hope which mark the end of World War I”. The EIF lot loiter in their yellow T-shirts, the security in neon orange, walkie talkies a-chatter, as the tension builds for the six minute spectacle.

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Rows of performers, some on foot, some in wheelchairs, stand guard for the get-go. At last they swarm in groups of 30 or so, settling in five banks, backs to the churtling fountains and they collectively raise their hands, outstretched, in a blessing. Bowing, humble, a great respiratory sound breathes through the loudspeakers and myriad bodies subtly tilt backwards as if in recognition of something bigger than them, a great exhaling being.

When the orchestra starts, heads are thrown up; and when the drums beat, backs undulate. Arms sweep forwards, out and up, the rhythm builds. Faster they wave adding lunges and steps to move gradually out towards us, drawing us into their sphere. It uses Indian dance imagery of course, with wrists crossed, turning now with inviting gestures. Some Step Dancing  reminds of Scottish tradition, and then they cover their faces with their hands, all the time making figures of eight with their torsos, as if, for all the world, they are trying not to look at the outcome, or avoiding the inevitable.

It is moving, meaningfully danced, wonderfully rehearsed, lovingly drilled. One of the most tricky things to choreograph is a massive team of varying ages and abilities, but Khan obviously knows what to do. To show each person as an able individual and also to manage to inspire a common cause so that they watch and listen acutely to each other (which is what must happen to achieve such a staging), this is an art.

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