Until The Lions unleashes primal, urgent dance theatre

UNTIL THE LIONS choreographed by Akram Khan (Akram Khan Company/Luminato). At the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre (227 Front.

UNTIL THE LIONS choreographed by Akram Khan (Akram Khan Company/Luminato). At the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre (227 Front East). Saturday (June 17), 8 pm, Sunday (June 18), 4 pm. $32.77-$94.92. luminatofestival.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Of all the performing arts, dance has the greatest power to tap into something primal and urgent in the human spirit. Thats certainly the case with Akram Khans Until The Lions, a not-to-be-missed show on at Luminato until Sunday.

The UK-based Khan, whose eclectic pieces blending Indian kathak and contemporary movement have wowed local audiences over the past decade and a half, is working on an ambitious scale here. The show is inspired by poet Karthika Nairs reimagining of the lives of several oft-forgotten minor female characters from the epic classical South Asian epic the Mahabharata.

Theres a synopsis of the tale in the program, and it involves a wedding, an abduction, a suicide, reincarnation, gender transformation and, finally, one helluva revenge sequence. But dont be upset if you cant follow the narrative literally. Its best to immerse yourself in this production and let its sights and sounds work their magic.

And what sights and sounds! The audience sits around and above Tim Yips raised circular stage area, which suggests the cross section of a tree trunk and everything that implies: long stretches of time, the cycles of life and death. Around the circumference of the disc-like stage are four other artists (Sohini Alam, Joseph Ashwin, David Azurza and Yaron Engler), who add haunting vocals and, most effectively, group percussion effects that bore right into ones soul with their primal power.

Khan himself plays the impassive, forthright figure of Bheeshma, whose abduction of Amba (Ching-Ying Chien) sets the story in motion. While Khan is always watchable, especially in his focused and hypnotic whirling movements, its the two women (Chien and Joy Alpuerto Ritter) who emerge as the more fascinating figures, whether theyre reincarnated into fierce, spear-carrying warriors or clawing and writhing on the floor like inhuman creatures, biding their time until they can get their revenge.

While Until The Lions works on a mythological level, its also possible to read something meta into it as well. Khan began his remarkable career back in 1987 as a teenage dancer in Peter Brooks legendary production of the Mahabharata. Now, with rumours of his retiring as a performer soon, hes offering here his own unique take on the story through an Asian and feminist lens.

Talk about coming full circle.

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