Akram Khan: “Dance-Based Reality Shows Are A Lie”
In what seems like a game of tag they’ve been playing over the past three years, Akram Khan will follow past collaborators, artist Anish Kapoor and musician Nitin Sawhney with a long-awaited series of shows in India this month. The British-Bangladeshi dancer and choreographer, who has been hailed for his distinct form of contemporary dance based on the North Indian classical style of kathak, is currently on a six-city tour of the country jointly organised by the Prakriti Foundation and the British Council. Khan, whose long list of collaborators also includes author Hanif Kureishi and actress Juliette Binoche, will present his critically lauded 2009 production Gnosis during the tour, which reaches Mumbai on Tuesday, September 11. We spoke to Khan—who last performed in India in 2003 when he staged his Kapoor-Sawhney collab Kaash—about Gnosis, his opinion on reality TV shows, and his most rewarding collaboration yet.
Of all your recent works, why did you choose to bring Gnosis over to India?
I felt it would have the most impact here. The first half is classical, while the second half is contemporary. I thought it would be nice to have a performance to show the journey I have taken [because] I don’t perform here too often.
Did your decision have anything to do with the fact that it’s based on an episode from the Mahabharata?
Well yes, but mostly I want to share this journey I have taken. Everybody will recognise the stories and the nuances. The reason I was fascinated with the character of Gandhari and her relationship with Duryodhana was that they are two opposing forces that are connected and that affect each other. There are two battles, one is the external battle, which is the physical battle of the war, and the other is Gandhari’s internal war, where she knows that as a queen, she’s responsible for the people but she’s also a mother. On one hand, she knew Duryodhana would be the destroyer of the clan, but as a mother, she loves him. All my work features opposing forces.
You were recently in the news for expressing your displeasure about NBC airing Ryan Seacrest’s interview with Michael Phelps instead of your performance at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. Are you still upset about what happened?
No, not anymore. I was upset at the time because it was a shock. It happened probably because they weigh quantity over quality. They [probably] felt it was too artistic. I’m speculating here. They [NBC] never responded.
In both the US and India, reality TV shows have become the main vehicle for bringing dance to the masses. What’s your take on them?
There are opposing forces in my opinion on reality shows. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that people get to see dance but on the other hand, it’s a lie, it’s superficial. The intention is wrong; it’s about becoming famous. When you become a dancer, your intention is to become a profound artist. In Hollywood, it’s all about actors and pop stars. [I really like] the Olympics and I’m so happy that people are merited for their achievements; those athletes became the gods of the world. They inspire people because of the right values. There’s a danger in reality shows because they are manipulated like any media to entertain the audience. Many years ago, I was invited to be a judge on an Indian reality show and I said no because I don’t understand what I can offer there.
You said in a 2000 interview that you were still figuring out what contemporary kathak means. Have you formed a clearer definition of the form you’ve created?
It means nothing, that’s what I’ve come to the conclusion of. I use kathak as a base. It is only a definition [that] doesn’t hold much value for me but people want to know what they’re going to see. Is it ballet? Is it hip hop? It’s just the way the world works. You can call it an evolution [because] it borrows from something. It’s not a fusion. Fusion is something you do with food, not with dance or music either. [Besides] contemporary dance means something else here. Every place has its own interpretation. My producer says that contemporary is a like a poem, because it’s so ambiguous, there are multiple layers of meaning between sentences, while classical is like a novel, it has a structure. I’d rather call it a journey that you’re coming to see.
Gnosis, which features a duet with Taiwainese dancer Fang-Yi Sheu, is another collaborative work. Of all your collaborations, which has been the most rewarding and why?
Most rewarding? That’s a hard one. I would say [the collaboration] with myself, Desh the solo I made. It was the most rewarding because I had to confront myself. I had been avoiding it. You’re always terrified at what you might see in the mirror. That and the collaboration between my producer Farooq [Chaudhry] and me.
The British Council is giving Mumbai Boss readers three couple passes for the Akram Khan show on Tuesday, September 11. For a chance to win, email your name and mobile number to email@example.com remembering to put “Akram Khan” in the subject line. The winner will be notified directly via email. The giveaway is only open to readers in Mumbai. Winners will have to travel to the venue at their own expense. The last date to enter the raffle is Sunday, September 9.
St. Andrew's Auditorium
LocationSt. Dominic Road
Phone022 2645 9667
Relevant DatesTuesday, September 11
Ticketing & Price InfoRs500, Rs1,000 and Rs1,500