Isn’t it wonderful when dance gives you goosebumps and brings tears to your eyes? It doesn’t often happen to me. Not because contemporary dance is historically rooted in abstract movement, but because I don’t come across dancers like the phenomenal and extraordinary Ching-Ying Chien.
Until the Lions, by Akram Khan tells the story of princess Amba, abducted on her wedding day. The struggles and conflicts between Amba and her abductor are extrapolated throughout the production with only three dancers: Rianto, Ching-Ying Chien and Joy Alpuerto Ritter. Behind me, the sound composition travels around the theatre leaving a trace of despair. ‘curse’ is the word left in my ears, and my eyes see a princess struggling to accept her terrible circumstances: a fighter refusing to stand down and to obey.
Award-winning Chien demonstrates the agility of an athlete with impeccable dance technique while she portrays emotions that seem truly genuine as Amba. Standing on one leg, she throws the other one up to the skies never losing her balance. The feet are flexed, Chien transforms into a compelling heroine with long-loose black hair swaying in the wind. She changes from a wild animal-like attack quality into a calm and vulnerable woman that wants to run away from a pre-planned future.
The set is the bottom section of a chopped tree, a dark-brown veiny wood segment – I can imagine a village on stage, and this is where this formidable dance piece unfolds with mesmerising live vocals, percussion, and guitar. The group of musicians moves with the awareness of trained dancers, and they also act – bringing this performance tightly together. Lighting plays an enormous role in Until the Lions. Michael Hulls lighting design lets me imagine a ray of sunshine piercing through a cloudy grey day to illuminate the unprotected soul of Amba as she fights to exhaustion running away from the village.
What is also striking in Until the Lions is the seamless set transitions. I never really see them, the tree trunk moves up and down in the shadows whilst dancing contaminates the audience finishing with an immediate standing ovation from the stalls and a tear of sadness, joy, and admiration in my eyes.