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Classical dance needs an Usain Bolt


Akram Khan is among the giants of the contemporary dance scene in the UK. The Bangladeshi artiste has a strong foundation in Kathak which he learnt from Pratap Pawar. His dance may have transformed into something non-traditional, but, says Khan, it is deeply and inseparably rooted in Kathak. Excerpts from an interview.

What do you plan to present on stage during the India tour?

There will be two halves to the performance. The first half will be purely classical and the second half will be contemporary but centred around an Indian theme. We will look at the mythical characters of Gandhari and Duryodhana. But the pathway from classical to contemporary will be clear. I take the classical and its vocabulary with me at all times;it isn't a separate entity from my contemporary dance.

How do you react to the rather cantankerous classical vs contemporary debate in dance?

I honestly have no time to stand around talking about things. I follow my instinct. Yes, I feel a deep sadness for the classical arts, there is no money for it anymore. Through the '60s, '70s, '80s and the '90s there was a lot of scope for classical artistes to present dance around the world. This infrastructure has now reduced drastically and has been overtaken by modern dance. In fact, it has been taken over by Bollywood dance. If you ask me, it is not the contemporary that is eating into classical spaces, it is Bollywood. There is huge money for ballet but not Indian classical.

So what is the nature of this problem?

When I was growing up and dancing, Pandit Durga Lal visited London. There was so much excitement around his trip. But somehow it took so little to host classical events then. And the art was all within the family - ghar mein (at home) - very easy to handle and finance. Now that has changed.

Has the excitement gone out of classical dance in the UK?

If you watch the Olympics, you see the kind of energy Usain Bolt generated. Men like him can change an entire generation by inspiring youngsters to follow their lead. We need artistes who can inspire youngsters, blow them away, push them to go beyond the obvious and predictable. We need larger-than-life individuals to take classical art to that point. Classical dance is a lot about sacrifice and people don't want to sacrifice anything any more.

What kind of sacrifice?

My mother has been watching this dance series hosted by Hrithik Roshan and I sometimes catch snatches. All these kids are driven by a hunger for fame. Why do they dance? Do they need to be better dancers? These aren't the questions being asked. Parents are pushing children into quick fame, the whole intention behind learning dance has shifted from the art to the individual. There is so much talent, real talent, but they are happy to be a jack of all trades, a bit of this, a bit of that.

Did you move into contemporary because you were rattled by these issues?

I did years of classical dancing before I moved to contemporary. Now they will learn Kathak for one year and say we will do contemporary dance.

Do you host events for Indian arts?

In 2010, I did this festival called Svapnagata which was very successful. I talked about doing it every two years but I have been so busy I've not managed to keep to that.

Is it special to perform Kathak for an Indian audience?

I am really nervous because I have seriously ruptured my Achilles tendon. I wasn't meant to dance anytime soon. The injury was treated, I have begun walking and then going to the gym. My physiotherapist is not too happy about the tour. I only recently resumed Kathak but I won't ever be 100 per cent okay again. Kathak in India - that is such a big thing, I hope I manage.

The Akram Khan Dance Company will perform in India from Sept 1 to 17. For details, go to www. britishcouncil. org

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