Kathak innovator Akram Khan: "The end of classical ballet is nigh"

August 2007 -

"I always produce movement to music. That is the product of my close ties to the kathak tradition. It might be interesting to devise choreographies without music, but that is impossible for me." The words of Akram Khan, who at 34 has the world of dance at his feet. In 2000 he was still training on Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's dance course in Brussels. Just seven years later he is a celebrated choreographer in his own right. Born in London to Bengali parents, Khan's style has been described as 'contemporary kathak': a blend of modern dance with the 500-year-old classical form from northern India. That is best known for its dialogue between the dancer and the percussionist, but Khan's take on it is a million miles from Indian folk tradition.

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Third Catalogue, Image (c) Carl Fox

"I use it [kathak] as the basis for my contemporary work," Khan explains. "But that does sometimes make me feel lost. Of course, that's also because in England I'm an Asian and in India I'm seen as British. But that's something from which I'm distancing myself more and more. When I'm in India, most of what I see is MTV culture and Bollywood. That also means that I'm actually becoming increasingly indifferent as far as interculturalism is concerned. That was always the case for me, I don't know any different. I'm producing my next production with dancers from China, Taiwan, South Africa, India and Spain.

It will mainly be about languages of movement, but for me that really goes without saying. It is universal, and that is what is so good about it. You don't need to come from any particular background to find it beautiful. I see that in my audiences. Although I have noticed that in Paris the audience is more familiar with the kathak tradition. There they clap after a solo by the tabla player. That rarely happens elsewhere in Europe. The intercultural movement which is under way in dance is interesting, but also has its down side. Nijinsky produced his last ballet in 1919. Since then, there has been hardly any innovation in classical dance. The end of classical ballet seems to be nigh."