Khan's relationship with
producer Farooq Chaudhry
The role Farooq plays, but more importantly, the relationship we have formed and are still continuing to define, is not something one can formulate or try to assimilate into a book.... It is far more instinctive than any formula and is constantly redefining itself.... Basically, it is alive and mutating and not a static or defined one.
However, in reflection on the past, his role as a manager and later a producer, has been crucial for the support I needed, to move forward with a sense of clarity and artistic strategy. Farooq has been a partner, in terms of strategy, planning and artistic goals for the company. He has been a support in the most profound way.
His purpose is a unique one, because he encompasses many important roles, such as a manager, friend, an advisor, and even a student at times... all these different responsibilities are needed for any artist/choreographer, at different stages in their career.... But in my opinion, the most important aspect lies in our collaboration as friends; that was and is still the key to our progress...it is something much more organic and real for it to be perceived as a formula.
Our collaboration gives me an opportunity to bounce thoughts, doubts, frustrations, ideas and opinions against. I feel privileged to have the gift of another artist by my side, constantly whispering into my ear when solutions need to be found. Not always does Farooq come up with a solution, but to know someone is close to you, ready to support and protect your vision, is sometimes more comforting and useful than finding the solution itself.
This kind of relationship with my producer, has allowed me to excel in my career at a very fast pace. However, it is not the speed of growth that was most striking, but the concrete foundation we were leaving behind in our trail... It’s logical to look where you are going, when travelling at rapid speed, but our instinct was always to look back at times and reflect on our progress, by testing our past, in which I mean to say, that the solidity of the ground behind us, was equally as important as the future, because it reflects our own artistic vision. The vision in my work was always to investigate tradition and modernity through the present body. Somehow, this concept became our example for all the other areas in our work together....
Farooq is a producer with no formulas; that is his formula. He adapts and constantly re-evaluates every decision and choice he makes. However, his principles are strongly embedded in the decisions he makes, and the way he conducts himself with me. His principles are simple but powerful. Honesty, loyalty, perseverance, ambition, and most importantly, humility are some of his principles that we can all learn from, in the art world that we live in today.
An Artistic Journey: In the beginning…
Akram was born in London in 1974. His mother introduced him to Bengali folk dancing and when he was seven, she took him and his sister to the celebrated Kathak teacher, Sri Pratap Pawar.
A childhood enriched with dance and drama
Akram toured in his first professional acting role at the age of ten in a production supported by the British Arts Council, The Adventures of Mowgli. In 1988 as a teenager he traveled the world in Sir Peter Brooks’ play The Mahabharata. In between these commitments he attended Rutlish High School in Merton Park and studied A-Levels (Bengali and mathematics). He became Pawar’s disciple and in 1992, aged eighteen, gave his debut solo recital (Manch Pravesh) in London. Akram received an Aditi Scholarship for Higher Training in Kathak and in 1994 was awarded the Senior Diploma (First Division), Prayag Sangeet Samati, by the Dance Board of India.
Higher Education - a degree in dance
In 1994 he went to De Montfort University in Leicester to study for a BA (Hons) Performing Arts (Dance). It was his first experience of ballet and contemporary styles. After two years he transferred to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, graduating with the highest marks in performance ever awarded. Thus he added classical ballet, Graham, Cunningham, Alexander, release-based techniques, contact improvisation and physical theatre to his dance experiences.
Launching a career as a solo artist
In 1995 he choreographed a short solo, Loose in Flight (subsequently filmed for Channel 4 in 1999) and a Jerwood Choreography Award gave him the opportunity to make Fix. This was a more substantial piece. It had lighting design by Michael Hulls and music by Nitin Sawhney. The unusual style of these dances quickly drew attention from the media and the public.
First Dance Umbrella
In 1996 X – 10 – DED, a mixed bill, was performed for both Woking Dance Umbrella and the main Umbrella Festival at the Cochrane Theatre in London.
The significance of Jonathan Burrows
In 1999 Akram attended Choreolab, the choreographer’s exchange (supported by Sampad and DanceXchange). He also made several works: Saint; No Male Egos (a duet with Mavin Khoo) performed at the Purcell Room, London; and Desert Steps (a collaboration with Jonathan Burrows) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Akram stated that working with Burrows was pivotal in his coming to understand the manner in which the two genres, Kathak and Contemporary, were generating new information in his muscles. He also teamed up with Farooq Chaudhry (currently Akram Khan Company Producer) who encouraged him to go to the X-Group in Brussels.
The X-Group Project
In 2000 a Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship took Akram to study at Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s P.A.R.T.S (Performing Arts Research and Training Studio) school in Brussels where he participated in the X-Group project for six months. This is a prestigious choreographic platform for young choreographers to develop their own movement language. He experimented with material using four dancers. This concluded with the presentation of Rush as a work in progress. During this period, he also performed the solo work, Loose in Flight (1995) at British Dance Edition in Newcastle.
Akram Khan Company and Contemporary Kathak
Rush (2000) became Akram’s first work, a trio, for his own small company. Interest in this new venture was widespread; Rush was funded by Dance Umbrella, Yorkshire Dance Centre, Dance East, Birmingham DanceXChange and Sampad. Michael Hulls again provided the lighting. The company achieved quick success. Akram was winner of a Critics' Circle National Dance Award as "Outstanding Newcomer" for his unique style; the critics having previously come up with the term Contemporary Kathak to describe this. In January of the following year, 2001, Akram was also winner of a Time Out Live Award for best newcomer and was nominated for a South Bank Show Award.
Solo Kathak Artist and Actor
Akram continued to perform Kathak solo recitals which he kept separate from his company work. In 2000 he performed Half and Nine at the Lillian Baylis Theatre, London. In 2001 for his inaugural recital as Choreographer in Residence at the Royal Festival Hall he premiered Polaroid Feet in the Purcell Room. He also acted in Sir Peter Brook’s film of Hamlet.
First full length work
Akram was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta to create Related Rocks (2001). It was a test run for Kaash (2002) his first full length work for his company. This was an ambitious collaboration; Nitin Sawhney again provided music and the internationally renowned artist/sculptor, Anish Kapoor, made the designs. The work was premiered in the Exit Festival Maison des Arts in Creteil. Akram received nominations for a South Bank Show Award (Dance Category) and a Njinsky Award from the Monaco Danses Forum. Kaash was awarded the Best Dance show in France by the magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Akram was also the subject of a full length documentary for ITV’s South Bank Show.
Associate Artist at the Royal Festival Hall
In 2003 Akram made Red or White for Matthew Hart, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn of George Piper Dances. The same year Akram’s tenure as Choreographer in Residence was changed to Associate Artist at the Royal Festival Hall, a two-year appointment and the first time a non-musician has been afforded this status. This has involved two more Kathak performances; Ronin (2003) and Third Catalogue (2005).
An expanded company
In 2003 Akram collaborated with the writer Hanif Kureishi on a piece, A God of Small Tales, for a group of mature women commissioned by Royal Festival Hall Education. This provided a background experience connecting to his second full-length dance for an expanded company of seven dancers, ma (2004) and is his largest and most ambitious project to date. This also involved text by Hanif Kureishi. One section included Akram performing classical Kathak material and thus incorporating this into his Contemporary Kathak work for the first time. Akram was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by De Montfort University for his innovative contribution to the UK arts community. He and ma received awards from the Critics' Circle for Best Choreography (modern section) and the International Movimentos Tanzpreis (Berlin) for 'Most Promising Newcomer in Dance'. In 2004 the company was also made a fixed term client of Arts Council, England. In 2005 ma received a South Bank Show Award.
Cross Cultural Collaboration
Akram is shifting perspective a little, although he still has a commitment to make work for his own company. In 2005 he created a duet with the choreographer/performer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; zero degrees premiered at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. What is unusual is the interest in exchanging choreographic information rather than just working within recognised languages. Familiar by now with using text, Akram himself provided this. The collaboration had music by Mercury Award winner Nitin Sawhney and lighting by Mikki Kunttu. The Turner Prize winning sculptor Antony Gormley provided life-size casts of the two dancers thus turning the piece ostensibly into a quartet. The dance was nominated for an Olivier Award (Best New Dance), a Time Out Award and a Critic’s Circle Award (Best Choreography – Modern).
Akram Khan MBE
In 2005 Akram became an associated artist of Sadler’s Wells Theatre and was awarded an MBE for his services to the UK dance community.
The above sections have been contributed by Lorna Sanders.
Past Cultural Collaborations
Vertical Road (2010) is Akram Khan's contemporary ensemble work. A host of performers and artist from East and West were brought together to explore the interface between different cultures and creative disciplines.
In Gnosis (2009) Khan returns to his classical Indian dance roots, bringing the opposing worlds of tradition and innovation face-to-face. Accompanied by world-class musicians from India, Japan, Pakistan and United Kingdom, this promises to be a technically virtuosic, thought-provoking piece. Gnosis was premiered at Sadler's Wells, London in November 2009 as part of Svapnagata, a two-week festival of Indian music and dance curated by Khan and composer Nitin Sawhney. Fang-Yi Sheu joined the production in 2011 as guest artist.
bahok (2008) a collaboration with National Ballet of China and composer Nitin Sawhney, was premiered in Beijing in January 2008. It gained international acclaim on its subsequent world tour.
Akram's recent duet In-I (2008) was a collaboration with Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche, visual design by Anish Kapoor and music composition by Philip Sheppard. It premiered in September 2008 at the National Theatre, London and undertook a major international tour in 2009.
Sacred Monsters (2006), a duet with Sylvie Guillem, explores the boundaries between two classical dance forms, Kathak and Ballet and has additional choreography by Lin Hwai Min, Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. In 2007 a reciprocal collaborative arrangement saw Akram working with Cloud Gate: Lost Shadows which premiered in Taipei, Taiwan.
Variations, a collaboration with London Sinfonietta to celebrate the 70th birthday of composer Steve Reich, premiered in Cologne in March 2006.
Akram was invited by Kylie Minogue in summer 2006 to choreograph a section of her new Showgirl concert which opened in Australia in November 2006, and toured to the UK (London and Manchester) in January 2007.
In 2005 he created a duet with the choreographer/performer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; zero degrees premiered at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London.
Present Cross Cultural Collaborations
After five years of collaborations with artists like Sylvie Guillem, Sidi Larbi Cherkoui, Juliette Binoche, Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley, Akram Khan’s artistic journey brings him back to a desire to reconnect with his own cultural roots. DESH (2011), a new full length modern dance theatre solo inspired by his homeland of Bangladesh, had its premiere at Curve, Leicester in September 2011. In this production Khan teamed up with visual designer Tim Yip who received an Oscar for his scenography in the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. He also work with award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, composer Jocelyn Pook and co-writer Kathika Nair.
Future Cross Cultural Collaborations
To be announced.