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The Accountants

Keith Khan, Xie Xin, Terence Lewis & Mahrukh Dumasia

Xiexin Dance Theatre, Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company

Aviva Studios, Manchester

May 7-11, 2024: 1 hr 30 mins

Scene from The Accountants at Aviva Studios. cr Tristram Kenton
Humanity rehabilitated: Scene from The Accountants at Aviva Studios. All pics: Tristram Kenton

A banner showing a four and a half star rating

“A dance phenomenon…” – Factory International pre-publicity for The Accountants.

“It’s not a dance show…” director of The Accountants Keith Khan, in the show’s programme booklet.

Oddly enough, both statements are right. The first part of the production is so dominated by ever-changing big-screen projected images and recorded voices that the 12 dancers can hardly compete to be noticed; in the second that is transformed, and we see some lyrical and eloquent choreography that speaks powerfully for itself.

The other most notable thing about the show is that, in that second half, the breathtaking depth of view that Aviva Studios’ theatre (aka The Hall) can furnish, by stretching the stage right back to the far wall of the Warehouse space behind it, is revealed – for the first time, I think, in a major performance. It was one of the exciting potentialities of the building we were told of when it was under construction, and the sight of it in use is quite something. (If English National Opera ever get to put on a really big production in this space, it could be spectacular.)

But this is not an opera: it is, as Khan puts it, a collusion of sound, dance and video. It’s the kind of hugely ambitious, internationally conceived, genre-bending creative work that the Manchester International Festival has become known for, with two troupes of dancers, six from India and six from China, combining and even fusing their styles in support of a concept that attempts to encompass vast questions about the world we live in.

At the heart of it is a story: young Josh, with Chinese heritage, and his “not-real aunty”, whose parentage is Indian, are in touch by voice messages on their phones as he tries to make sense of what it means to be Asian and north west British, too. He goes to Asia on his quest for identity – but has to return after bereavement and finds he’s “coming back exactly the same”. The voices are those of Josh Hart and Shobna Gulati – she, in particular, investing her recorded role with all the characterfulness we’ve known from her TV and theatre work.

At the same time, the projections (created by Manc outfit idontloveyouanymore) bombard the audience with facts and statistics: data about China and India from their earliest history to the present, deliberately overwhelming in its detail and intensity. There’s a point to that (though it does overwhelm the contribution of the dancers), which is that we live in a world of big data, in which everything is priced and quantified – hence The Accountants. The pounding soundtrack (by Somatic) is equally mechanical and heartless.

Then, after the interval, with the vast perspective of the back-to-the-rear-wall stage, humanity is rehabilitated. Josh wonders whether we should get rid of texting and do all our communication in pictures, and the language of dance comes into its own. The sound becomes musical: lyrical and expressive (with recorded bamboo flutes and sitar music by Daniel Tsz-Shing Lei and Tommy Khosla), and the choreography opens into moving patterns and intimate relationships (with follow spots and much more of brilliance from lighting designer Simon Corder).

Background material tells us how the whole spectacle was created mainly by rehearsing two companies on two continents, communicating by Zoom, and it is remarkable how the performers, as well as the styles of the Indian (Terence Lewis and Mahrukh Dumasia) and Chinese (Xie Xin) company choreographers, have been integrated and eventually combine.

It all offers a genuinely uplifting and optimistic ending. If the title puts you off, forget it and go see.

More info and tickets here


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