The lord of the dance who made a real name for him­self

Akram Khan is one of Bri­tain’s – and the world’s – most pop­u­lar con­tem­po­rary dancers. Nick Ahad spoke to him.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE -

DANCE UK mag­a­zine re­cently printed an ar­ti­cle by Jonathan God­dard, a dancer with Ram­bert, one of Bri­tain’s lead­ing con­tem­po­rary dance com­pa­nies.

In the piece God­dard com­plains about the anonymity con­tem­po­rary dancers face and it is true that, un­less you have an in­ter­est in the art­form, you are un­likely to be able to name any dancers from the field.

It is strange to think Akram Khan might be­long in this group, un­known by the wider public.

The Bri­tish-bangladeshi, Leeds-trained artist has be­come one of the con­tem­po­rary dance world’s most fa­mous prac­ti­tion­ers and is one of the UK’S most suc­cess­ful ex­ports in the field.

A South Bank Show was ded­i­cated to Khan in 2002, he’s won awards ga­lore. Chan­nel 4 re­cently screened the doc­u­men­tary Home­land, which fol­lowed Khan back to Bangladesh to cap­ture the cre­ation of his most re­cent piece of work, Desh.

He has danced at the Na­tional Theatre with Juli­ette Binoche, col­lab­o­rated with Nitin Sawh­ney, Antony Gorm­ley, Anish Kapoor and Hanif Kureishi. He also chore­ographed part of Kylie’s 2006 world tour.

He also re­veals, when we speak as he heads into his London com­pany’s head­quar­ters, that he is about to col­lab­o­rate with Danny Boyle on the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Olympics – and a na­tional news­pa­per, just this week, said of him: “He is now one of the most im­por­tant Bri­tish dance­mak­ers, with an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion and a sub­stan­tial body of work.”

To list all that, which only re­ally scratches the sur­face of what Khan has achieved, and con­sider that he is one of the dancers per­form­ing in the ‘anonymity’ God­dard de­scribes, is strange.

“A few years ago, I be­came re­ally aware that we hadn’t per­formed in York­shire,” says Khan, who is per­form­ing his solo piece Desh at Sadler’s Wells this au­tumn.

“So I got some­one from the com­pany to call a big theatre up there and the re­sponse was that they had never heard of me. My com­pany wanted to push it and get us in, it made me a lit­tle sad, but I didn’t want to put the ef­fort in if the the­atres didn’t want us.

“At the time we were tour­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, so it wasn’t like we needed to come to York­shire and bring the work.”

The rea­son Khan was par­tic­u­larly sad­dened that the name of his com­pany didn’t mean more here was be­cause York­shire played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the de­vel­op­ment of the dancer who com­bines tra­di­tional In­dian Kathak style dance with con­tem­po­rary dance. He grad­u­ated from the Leeds-based North­ern School of Con­tem­po­rary Dance in 1998, with fond mem­o­ries, he says, of the Chapel­town area where the school is based.

It is this as­so­ci­a­tion that brings Khan, in spirit, back to Leeds tonight.

Although he never nor­mally al­lows oth­ers to recre­ate his work, Khan has al­lowed a sec­tion of his crit­i­cally ac­claimed work Ver­ti­cal Road to be per­formed by NSCD. The 20-minute piece will be per­formed by Verve, the school’s post-grad­u­ate per­for­mance com­pany.

“I have been say­ing for four years that I would let the grad­u­ates per­form a piece. When I was there the prin­ci­pal, Gur­mit (Hukam) gave me enor­mous sup­port and from the day I left, I wanted to keep the prom­ise to him that I would bring a piece back,” says Khan.

Although Hukam re­cently left the school as prin­ci­pal, Khan has stayed true to his word and Ver­ti­cal Road has been brought to the school as part of the New Worlds part­ner­ship an Imove­funded project. Imove is the Legacy Trust UK’S cul­tural pro­gramme for York­shire and part of the Cul­tural Olympiad.

SOLO SHOW: Akram Khan’s work Desh. He is per­form­ing this solo show at Sadler’s Wells this au­tumn.

CREATIVE FORCE: Akram Khan’s Ver­ti­cal Road is be­ing per­formed tonight by stu­dents of the North­ern School of Con­tem­po­rary Dance.

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