I had never heard of Akram Khan up until very recently. This is shameful, I’m sure, because it turns out he is pretty famous and clever and good and everyone likes his work very much which is very good. Wikipedia tells me that Akram Khan is an “English dancer of Bangladeshi descent.” (God, I hope I am never introduced as a South African dancer of European descent – yikes). He fuses classical kathak dancing and contemporary dancing and has own company and his own website (complete with an impressive array of photos of himself so that you know what he looks like) over here: http://www.akramkhancompany.net/html/
So am I not familiar with his work. I have only watched some short YouTube clips and one full-length piece of his (If Not, Why Not?) which was made in 2002 and is just over twenty minutes long.
Here is a picture from the piece If Not, Why Not?’
You can find it where I found it (and where I find almost every dance film I write about, because it is one of the few places that show full-length pieces, at UbuWeb, over here: http://ubuweb.com/dance/khan_if.html )
I can’t seem to find out too much about this piece in particular on the InterWeb. But I think it was most certainly made for film and I have a feeling that it might not have been a piece initially choreographed for the stage. (Anyone is welcome to correct me, here). Initially I thought it was a bit dated, but then I realized that it was made over ten years ago. For some reason if I see something made in the 2000s I assume it is still current. Which it isn’t at all because time marches, does it not?
When I watched the piece, I had no idea where or who or why or anything about the choreographer. I really like doing this, walking into an art piece with hardly any background knowledge and then doing a bunch of catch-up research afterwards. And then going back to the piece again, this time with pre-conceptions and prejudices in place so you can see what you ‘really think’ about it. There were moments of this piece that I really didn’t like, that I thought were awkward and melodramatic. After reading about Khan and his work though, those melodramatic moments became sincere and those awkward moments became honest. We’re all suckers for status.
What interested me the most about this piece was that in a strange way it reminded me of a certain South African contemporary dance aesthetic. Now, I know that in the small dance community here – the idea of a cohesive or coherent ‘South African dance aesthetic’ has been debated and discussed and argued with no clear result or conclusion. The idea of ‘fusion’ or ‘cultural diversity’ and all those precarious terms in South Africa naturally come into play when you combine the tumultuous history of South Africa with the frothing issues of art and art-making in South Africa. I am not going to pretend that I know what South African dance looks like, because I don’t. I don’t think anyone really does. But this piece reminded me of certain elements of South African dance works although I’m not quite sure if I can fully say why.
Something about the insistence of movement in this piece reminds me of South African dance, the movement begins slowly but certainly develops and the movement vocabulary itself has an exciting sort raw edge to it that reminds me of a few local pieces that I have seen.
This is not usually the kind of dance I am drawn to. For someone who sincerely is quite interested in dance, I find contemporary dance generally to be quite dull and have realized that (for me) it is not the movement that makes a piece interesting, but the people in the piece and the bodies that fill a space. The kind of dance that I have recently begun to value, has been the one that manages to use stillness to express emotion and that somehow is able to use movement sparingly and wittily.
Sometimes I bemoan a personal hypothesis that South African dancers view themselves as sportsmen who are there to simply perform physically as opposed to create new thought-spaces and introduces ideas with their bodies (a weak hypothesis, mind you, that is based solely on personal experience as opposed to objective fact). But dance is there for many reasons and to fulfill many roles, is it not? I think what I am trying to say, is that although this piece does not approach dance in the way I would, I liked it very very much.
I think perhaps the parallel that I am trying to draw between this piece and South African dance is too vague to really expand on and defend as legitimate. A small personal stab of familiarity that is too elusive to fully point out. But it is still there.
My, this was an obscure and badly written post. I have been trying to write it for about one week. Hence the delay in other posts. If I don’t get it out, I’ll never write another thing on this blog. So forgive my vague rambles and fuzzy disconnected observations. The next one will be better, I hope.