Three years ago, Akram Khan had found himself in an unfamiliar position-his feet up on a stool and his dancing shoes packed away. The internationally-renowned dancer, and one of Britain’s most influential choreographers, had ruptured his Achilles tendon while rehearsing with ballerina Sylvie Guillem for a performance of Sacred Monsters. He remembers how anxious he had felt, his confidence shaken. It was also then, he says, that he realised his dancing days could be numbered. “As you grow older, your body takes a lot longer to heal. I couldn’t dance for over six months. Now that I’ve hit my 40s, I know I can’t keep pushing it. And I don’t want to compromise with my dance,” says Khan, adding, “In four years, I plan to transition into a full-time choreographer.”
This tip-off makes his India tour this month all the more special. Khan will be presenting Torobaka, a 70-minute performance, his new collaboration with Spanish flamenco dancer Israel Galván, as part of The Park New Festival, to be held across six cities.
A new language
He says he was never keen on doing a fusion of flamenco and kathak. “People told me ‘look at the connection’, but that wasn’t enough,” he explains. Things changed, however, when he caught a performance by Galván in London. “It was unique; he was like a wild animal on stage, but sophisticated,” Khan reveals, adding how he’d felt that the Spaniard had shattered the tradition and reconstructed the form. “While I’m interested in bringing beauty out of chaos, he is the opposite.”
The admiration did not always translate into calm rehearsals though. “He had never collaborated with anyone and being in each other’s territory was challenging.
We had plenty of arguments-polite ones in English and more aggressive disagreements in our own languages, with me speaking Bengali and he Spanish,” Khan laughs.
“As you grow older, your body takes a lot longer to heal. I couldn’t dance for over six months.”
In fact, ‘movement’ has been a part of Khan’s life from an early age. A fan of Michael Jackson (“I never walked down the street, I danced”) and Fred Astaire, he says his mother enrolled him for kathak classes with Pratap Pawar, a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, to give him “a sense of discipline, rigour and a way to channel my energy”. But it wasn’t until he went off to college, at De Montfort University in Leicester, that the direction of his life changed.
Having opted for contemporary dance, despite not knowing what it was, Khan says he had rented a couple of videos-DV8 Physical Theatre and Pina Bausch - to prepare for class. Watching them, however, made him angry. “The question that popped up was ‘why did I not know of this dance form?’ That made me upset,” he remembers. However, he made up with hours of practice, where his classical training merged with his new-found love to create a new language. Performances and accolades culminated in 2000 with him teaming up with arts manager Farooq Chaudhry to launch the Akram Khan Company.
“Choreography is not limited solely to my body. And by then I wanted to explore it in other bodies, too,” says Khan, who confesses to being inspired by the late Chandralekha, kathak dancer Kumudini Lakhia and Pina Bausch.
Lessons from the crib
Today, he has an impressive body of work-both with his own company (like Desh, the biographical work that won the Olivier Award in 2012) and high-profile collaborations with artistes including sculptor Anish Kapoor, actress Juliette Binoche and singer Kylie Minogue.
Up next for the choreographer is Until The Lions, a revisiting of the story of Amba from the Mahabharata. To premiere next January, this work, he is certain, is going to be an epic. “With three dancers, including me, and four musicians, it is my first feminist piece (inspired by the poetry of Paris-based poet Karthika Nair). Since I had my daughter, I’ve tried to see the world from her perspective, and it is scary. This is one of the reasons I returned to something close to my heart, the Mahabharata. I’ve always been struck by the female characters who are pillars of strength, endurance and intelligence,” he says.
With participation by Tim Yip, the Oscar-winning art director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he promises a visual spectacle that will incorporate different genres of movement, including some inspired by kalari. With rehearsals going late into the night, who brings the voice of reason? “My wife, Yuko Inoue, gives me intelligent and often brutal opinions,” he says.
A dancer in her own right, Inoue, has never performed with him “because she never thought I was worthy enough,” he jokes. Also in the pipeline is a production of Giselle for the English National Ballet. There is a hush-hush film, too, along with the Big Dance (a first-of-its-kind event at Trafalgar Square with 1,000 dancers) and a short film based on Desh, which he will direct and act in. Catch Torobaka on September 27, at 7.00 pm, at Shilpa Kala Vedika.
The Other Acts
An evening of music, dance and theatre-that’s what’s being planned for the ninth edition of The Park’s New Festival. And this year, India’s private contemporary performance arts event-organised in collaboration with the Prakriti Foundation-has a new segment, literature, in the form of Karthika Nair’s new book of poetry, Until The Lions.
The headliners are below:Enflightenment
Twenty characters, all given ‘voice’ by one man. That could sum up Rupesh Tillu’s Enflightenment, a devised piece of physical comedy, but that would be too simplistic. “These are stories I have experienced, and through the character of Mr R, we will go into the prison cell of the mind, and deep under water to the subconscious and out to space to defy the gravity of patterns-to try and make sense of the surreal world we live in.
It’s a 75-minute an allegory that comprises mime, magic, movement and music,” says Tillu, who recently moved to India from Sweden, where he worked with several theatre companies. On September 26, 7 pm, at ODC, The Park.
The Colliding Worlds Project
Aditya Prakash was pursuing his Ethno Musicology graduation at California’s UCLA, when one of their parties sparked off an idea. “During a jazz jam, my friends asked me to sing. So I did my ragas and aalaps. The musicians matched what I did, and I started changing how I sang based on their harmonies,” reminisces Prakash, adding that they loved the fresh sound so much they created the band in 2011. “Our music is not typical fusion, where different pieces are brought together for the sake of doing something new. Our sound is more organic,” he says. With a repertoire that includes poems by Meerabai and Tukaram, besides works in Sanskrit and regional languages, they are considering debuting in Tamil. September 25, 7 pm, at ODC, The Park.
Until The Lions
Karthika Nair was always fascinated by the tales of the marginal characters in the Mahabharata. “I wanted to see what the epic looked like through the lenses of people as diverse as foot soldiers, an abducted princess, a handmaiden or a god in his female form,” says the poet. Using the medium of verse, the book has been five years in the making. With 19 voices finding expression, she has used several literary traditions-from the pankti and padam to si-harfi and triolet-to tell her tale. September 28, at ‘7.00 pm, at School of Humanities Auditorium, Central University Campus.