Akram Khan: 'My mind has been dancing'

Akram Khan: 'My mind has been dancing'

A snapped Achilles tendon has not stopped choreographer Akram Khan working on the Olympic opening ceremony, he tells Sarah Crompton.


Akram Khan finds himself in an unaccustomed position. A dancer and choreographer best known for movement so fast you can barely see it, yet so precise that he seems to control each tiny muscle and tendon, is now becalmed.

Early last month he was rehearsing in Paris with Sylvie Guillem for a performance of their acclaimed collaboration Sacred Monsters. And his Achilles tendon snapped. “I just felt Sylvie kick me. But the thing was, she was on the other side of the room. Then she noticed I was walking funnily. I was in a lot of pain, but as dancers we are constantly in denial about pain. I kept saying, ‘I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine.’ ”

A scan revealed he had a 4cm gap in his tendon. An operation to knit it back together followed. “I could have walked again without the operation,” he says. “But I could never have danced at the speed that I do. I would have had no power.”

So now he is sitting in his quiet south London home, keeping his leg up for the requisite three weeks, and then facing a long haul back to fitness. He seems both serene and anxious. “I am completely destroying my whole body, all my technique and strength,” he says. “It will come back, it’s like riding a bicycle, but I will have to start from scratch. It’s a bit traumatic.”

Movement — and daily practice — have been ingrained in Khan’s body since he was 10 when, at his mother’s urging, he started to train seriously in the Indian classical art of kathak. Later he both worked with Peter Brook and studied contemporary dance, and the combination of these disciplines has forged his unique style.

Such a serious injury — unknown, he remarks wryly, in the 400-year history of kathak — would have been dismaying at any time. “It’s been really horrible, because emotionally it has been tough and I can feel that psychologically it’s going to be tough. The confidence has to come back.”

But it is particularly upsetting now, since Khan has just been announced as one of Danny Boyle’s collaborators on the Olympic opening ceremony. He is sworn to secrecy about every aspect of his participation, but is clearly excited.

“I immediately clicked with Danny because he is very, very human and he has absolutely no airs about him. We’re very good as artists at pretending to be humble, but Danny really is. It was the same way I felt with Kylie, actually.” He is talking about Kylie Minogue, with whom he worked on the Showgirls tour. “When she is onstage, she has to be the star. But offstage, the vulnerability of this person is unbelievable. I felt the same with Danny. I immediately felt this was a proper collaboration because he was asking questions. We all hope it is going to be wonderful.”

He seems surprised by those who are saying that spending £27 million on an Olympic opening ceremony is a waste of money. “I think art has the possibility to transcend very, very difficult times, and if it is a form of escapism and it allows you to be in a place, just for a brief moment, where you can dream, that’s wonderful and I think that’s very important for the country.”

He talks about the opening ceremony in Greece, which he remembers as an inspiring, moving moment. “I think that is what Danny is going to do. And I like the fact that he keeps insisting this is the people’s ceremony. It is made for people.”

Khan says he has noticed, in his conversations with arts commissioners around the world, that economic confidence is seeping away; people are cautious in committing money to the arts. He describes this as unnerving, but not necessarily bad. “It’s really tricky now but it is also a good time because I think the arts have been fed too much money. It is important to start from restrictions again. I think there needs to be a tension and that tension was getting less and less.”

In terms of his own work, it is not only the economy that will change things: his injury means that he is having to reconsider how he works.

Vertical Road, which is about to start a European tour, is a compelling piece of choreography for his company. He does not perform in it, but he admits: “Everything has to come out of my body. The older I get, the more fascinated I am conceptually with things, but my first instinct was always to move. The truth is in movement. It is not from my dancing. It’s from me.”

Now, he is thinking about methods that will allow him to bring the best out of his dancers without always channelling the steps through himself. “The only good thing about this is that my mind’s been dancing a lot. I have been creating a lot.” He is working not only on the Olympics but also on a piece for Sadler’s Wells in 2013 which will commemorate the 100 years since the first night of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

So he has immersed himself in Stravinsky during his lay-off. “His rhythm patterns are so close to me, in the sense that they’re Indian.” Then he roars with laughter. “That’s such an Indian thing to say. It’s just like my father.”

Khan himself is touring India with his company in October, some nine years after he last visited the country. “It is a very important moment for me because India has always been important to me. I just felt that the audiences weren’t ready for my work.”

He worries that kathak and other forms of Indian classical dance are dying out, being replaced by the popular appeal of Bollywood. “People find that’s the way to be get famous and that annoys me a little bit, because the concept of discipline, of devotion, is somehow lost.”

For himself, as soon as he can dance again, he will. Kathak dancers generally continue to perform well into their fifties. “You get better after 35,” he says. “Careers are over by then in Western dance, but that’s the beginning in Indian classical.” At 37, then, he has many years in front of him, once his injury has healed.

“I can push it up to 45,” he says. “But I think something is changing in me. I want to invest more in the choreography.” Whatever direction he decides to go, Khan will always be worth watching: there is no one quite like him in British contemporary dance. The Olympics, and the country, are lucky to have him.

Link requested by Anim Rahman | Original Source at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/9096608/Akram-Khan-My-mind-has-been-dancing.html

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