Can This Place be a Temple? By Akshay Sharma a sensory feast

Words by Pagan Hunt.

Soft white shirt, draped over a muscular form, warmly lit. 

Unfurling gold foil, reflecting shimmers of light across exposed brick walls. 

A rich, liquid melody soaring over a deep drone, steadily growing in volume.

Can This Place be a Temple? is a sensory feast; 60 minutes of melodious, almost meditative beauty in the form of solo dance, poetry, and singing. Choreographer and Performer Akshay Sharma carries us gently in the palms of his expressive hands through a series of evocative scenes, inspired by both personal experience and myth, to explorenotions of fear, belonging, and freedom.

Arms flit and swirl through the air above a grounded and responsive lower body. Sometimes seeming to float through the hazy space, other times darting in sudden bursts of speed and precision, Sharma’s unique movement language is richly textured with dynamic and rhythmic qualities. Drawing on a background in classical Indian music, there is a definite sense of composition and purpose to every action, even the subtle hand gestures that illustrate his indulgent vocal melodies.

Accompanied by Nicole Robson’s complex, layered score, each section of the dance evokes distinct emotion, but there is no narrative to follow. The piece drifts, dreamlike, between movement, song, and original poetry, as Sharma ponders the moon’s position between the Sun and the Earth (“What a dreadful position to be in for her”), the concepts of Zero and Infinity, and a palm reader’s declaration that he would one day have three wives (“I want three husbands”). There were times when I felt lost within this ever-evolving landscape, but the work is so well-rehearsed and conscientiously performed that it held my attention despite its measured pace.

Cracking, knocking, the deep groan of cello strings; even in darker moments when the menacing sound seems to press in on audience and performer alike, Sharma’s hands flutter through the air like nimble birds, growing wilder but never losing control completely.

Sharma is an incredibly expressive and engaging performer, and while bathed in the intimate yet dramatic lighting design of Ryan Joseph Stafford, it is hard to take your eyes off him. Even a seemingly pedestrian, functional moment like lowering a disco ball and unclipping it from the theatre’s rigging became a tender and compelling choreography. He is equally as engaging when discussing his work in the post-show talk, softly spoken and thoughtful.

“The work answers the question.”

Where do you find your refuge? What spaces are safe? Can this theatre be a temple?

Drawing together the careful balance of art forms, and with delicate direction informed by Eva Martinez and Shivaangee Agrawal Can This Place be a Temple? feels like an antidote to the hard, abrasive world we face every day, offering its audience peace, trust, and freedom through artistry.

Header image by Camilla Greenwell.

About the writer: Pagan Hunt is a north-east based artist and writer. To read more of her writings, subscribe to COMMOTION.