REVIEW | Outwitting The Devil

Photos Jean Louis Fernandez

Sophisticated Interpretation of An Ancient Story by Acclaimed UK Company

Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide, November 2

reviewed by Amy Donohue

I attended the recent performance of Outwitting The Devil by visiting UK contemporary dance company, Akram Khan Compoany, as part of the OzAsia Festival 2019. Outwitting the Devil was inspired by one of the oldest works of literature – The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The choreographer Akram Khan and writer Jordan Tannahill focussed on a violent period in young Gilgamesh’s life, which was narrated and recalled by his older self.

Throughout the piece, older Gilgamesh appears to be peering through a window on his former life, which was reminiscent of the narrative structure of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Although this element of the story was clear, the history of Gilgamesh required some research after the performance to fully comprehend the storyline, due to an overcomplicated synopsis in the written program. A simplified synopsis in the program would have made it easier for those unfamiliar with the story of Gilgamesh to identify the characters and the events within the narrative.

The soundscape written by Vincenzo Lamagna was eerie and suspenseful and was synchronised perfectly with the choreography performed by the dancers: Ching-Ying Chien, Dominique Petit, Mythili Prakash, Sam Asa Pratt, James Vu Anh Pham and Jasper Narvaez.

Earplugs were given out to audience members with an advanced volume warning; however, the explosive and dramatic sound design was appropriate for the setting of the piece. At the beginning of the piece a voice over was utilised in another language to signify Gilgamesh reflecting on his life. This was paired with a translation in English that was projected and created by Visual Designer Tom Scutt. This voiceover was also used intermittently throughout the piece without the translation; therefore, this left what was being said to the imagination.

The Lighting Design (Aideen Malone), Dramaturg (Ruth Little) and Costume Design (Kimie Nakano) were minimalist, which was beneficial as it did not detract attention from the performers. The lighting primarily cast down upon the dancers from above, highlighting their muscle tone and added to the suspense provided by the soundscape. The costume design could have been improved by adding something to the original costume when the dancers changed characters, this way the audience would have been able to identify when the performers changed roles.

It was clear that all of the dancers had a strong classical and technical background. This was demonstrated through their weightless jumps, beautiful beats, effortless turns and extraordinary développés. There was a variety of floor patterns utilised and stimulating ways of travelling around the space. A highlight was the dancers’ sleek and neat floor work, which was animalistic and fluid in nature. Partner work, which consisted of counterbalancing, was also very impressive and well rehearsed. The facial expressions demonstrated by the dancers not only added to the choreography but also highlighted the violence present in Gilgamesh’s life.

The cohesion of the music score, choreography, outstanding performance of the dancers and the lighting created a phenomenal piece, which gained a well-deserved standing ovation.

Post performance, and after reviewing The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, it is easy to identify the characters present in Outwitting the Devil. However, this could have been avoided by a streamlined synopsis upfront. Overall, Outwitting the Devil  was a seamless and quality addition to the OzAsia Festival, and showed that the Akram Khan Company are deserved of their global praise.