Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking ballet and orchestral work The Rite Of Spring had its premiere in Paris in 1913. A century later, Akram Khan Company’s In The Mind Of Igor (iTMOi) celebrates the chaotic energy and vibrant spirit of Stravinsky’s original, while creating an entirely new work. “Akram wasn’t interested in creating another carbon copy of this well known work,” dancer Hannes Langolf explains. “He wanted to take the themes and interpret them in a whole new way. Stravinsky’s work broke convention and tradition in classical music, and Akram’s work does the same to Stravinsky.” iTMOi riffs on the themes of pagan rituals, rebirth and sacrifice, but also celebrates the idea of breaking away from the original to create something entirely new.

Hannes Langolf was born in Germany, but moved to London a decade ago to study dance. He had long been an admirer of choreographer Akram Khan and his forward-thinking approach, and iTMOi gave them their first chance to work together. “I’d been curious to work with him for a long time, and I feel very privileged,” he says. “What I really admire about Akram’s work is that he has a real commitment to movement, and he likes to push the body in certain ways. I’m at a point in my life where I feel like this is the last time I can do that to my body. You get to a certain age as a performer when you realise that if you want to do something really physical, the time is now. It was perfect timing, because I wanted to challenge my body while I still could, and Akram’s work really allows me to do that.”

In Stavinsky’soriginal a sacrificial virgin is chosen, and at the conclusion of the work, dances herself to death, in a ritual that celebrates the annual renewal of spring. In this version, Langolf’s character, a young man, steps in at the last minute to be sacrificed himself, a gesture that is intended to break the tradition of sacrifice. “As you can imagine, there’s definitely a physical challenge to portraying a sacrifice,” he says. “You have to find that place inside you that has that emotional response you need – you need to find desperation, you need to abandon control.”

iTMOi is all about breaking from tradition and abandoning control, and for Langolf as a dancer, the need to break away from the familiar proved to be the biggest challenge. “Control is always one of the things that I seek,” he says. “I’m someone who likes to do things right, who likes to practice things, to really understand them. Abandoning those concepts was a real challenge. In the end, I felt I was freed from the inhibitions of performance. Usually, when you’re on stage, you’re doing exactly what you’re told, and you’ve analysed the movements to much that you know them intimately. It was very difficult to break away from that.”

iTMOi features a musical score created by contemporary musicians Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost – they’re three different composers from very different backgrounds, and yet, in a show that’s all about breaking away from traditional concepts, their individual contributions somehow fit together. “Stravinsky’s music was complicated and unpredictable, which is why it caused an outrage at the time,” Langolf explains. “The score for this work shares that unpredictable quality. It’s not built directly on The Rite Of Spring, so you won’t hear familiar themes or melodies, but there are elements there. For instance, we use a rhythmical pattern from Stravinsky’s work, but break it down into text, so you hear his rhythms coming through in speech instead of in music.”

BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN

In The Mind Of Igor is showing at Sydney Opera House from August 28 – September 1.

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