The production is an adaptation of poet Karthika Naïr’s book Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata, and Khan uses kathak (a form of Indian classical dance) and contemporary dance to tell the tale of Princess Amba, who is abducted then invokes the gods to seek revenge.
There are only three dancers (Ching-Ying Chien, Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Rianto) and four musicians (Sohini Alam, Joseph Ashwin, David Azurza, Yaron Engler) to tell this tale, but their physical strength, precision, musicality and beauty are astonishing.
The setting is an enormous slice of a tree, complete with three deep cracks breaking the timber into segments. The musicians powerfully and rhythmically drum on the wood as the dancers ritually work with spears and dance superbly over the stage.
We witness Princess Amba’s rejection, shame and isolation, and her gradual strengthening into a warrior with the aid of the gods.
The fusion of dance with the incredible score is mesmerising, and the dancers’ abilities to stretch and sustain movement and convey the full range of human feeling is captivating.
Until the Lions is a modern dance interpretation of an ancient tale, but ancient tales can be reinterpreted and, in this case, the perspective is from the young woman’s point of view. She is wronged by society and to find freedom she has to break rules – just as the timber set itself is breaking – defy taboos and determine a new destiny for herself.
The fate of Princess Amba will resonate especially with a female audience but Until the Lions is a magnificent production that creates a lasting impression on all who are fortunate enough to experience it.
Until the Lions was performed at the Dunstan Playhouse on Friday and Saturday as part of the OzAsia Festival.