Earlier this year, a billboard in Beirut depicted a bloodstained and ripped wedding dress with the slogan attached: 'A white dress doesn’t cover up rape'.
This was part of global campaign by women to overturn 'marry your rapist' laws that exist in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The rationale behind such laws is that they protect the 'honour' of the victim. Akhram Khan’s 'Until The Lions', based upon an extract of Kathika Nair’s retelling of the 'Mahabharata', is an exploration of how such distorted notions of what is honourable became the norm and an attempt to redress the gender imbalance South Asian mythology.
On an elevated circular stage, perhaps akin to an arena or a field of battle, three dancers exerted themselves for an hour with little reprieve. Java’s Rianto proud and brave warrior Bheeshma muscularly merged dance with martial arts; the animalistic Joy Alpuerto Ritter bounded like a lion on the hunt; while Ching-Yien Chen, as Amba, was tasked with embodying a remarkable character journey; from innocence to despair, from seeking vengeance to attaining it; oh and some self-immolation, reincarnation and gender swapping too. It is an intricate and dastardly complex narrative, even on paper and so conveying that nuance entirely though movement is a tricky task.
The four-piece musical ensemble, though, was as spectacular in their virtuosity as the dance trio and their soundtrack aided in giving meaning to each moment. Sohini Alam, a London-born vocalist of Bangladeshi descent, imbued every note with passionate intent.
This production was initiated by a network of round artistic venues, while the Dunstan Playhouse is a traditional theatre. It is difficult to approximate to what extent this quite important alteration to the staging of the piece impacted upon the audience’s experience. If anything, viewing it in the round would perhaps have accentuated the intimacy of the deeply personal work. This work – and OzAsia Festival – generally, though, is essentially about seeing the world from a new perspective. It is a piece that will resonate, no matter where it is viewed.