Experimental cinema of the ’60s meets contemporary kathak and flamenco

  • Poorva Joshi, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 03, 2015 01:38 IST
(Kathak exponent Akram Khan teams up with Israel Galvan for his latest productoin, Torobaka)

American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi thriller 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the dystopian film, A Clockwork Orange (1971), are widely considered as expressionist masterpieces. Similarly, American director David Lynch’s surrealist approach to filmmaking as evident in his psychological thrillers such as Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986), which spawned a cinematic movement. “Now, imagine if Lynch was a flamenco dancer and Kubrick was a kathak dancer. How mystical and bizarre will their production be?” says London-based Bangladeshi dancer Akram Khan, his voice almost shaking with excitement.

It is 10.30am, and Khan is speaking to us over the telephone from Bangalore. He is in between rehearsals. As absurd as a dance-off between Kubrick and Lynch sounds, you will witness that in Khan’s latest kathak-flamenco collaboration — Torobaka — set to premiere in Mumbai on October 8. Torobaka will be a part of NCPA’s Nakshatra Dance Festival.

An internationally acclaimed dancer, Khan is known for his unique dance style that blends contemporary dance with kathak. His choreography draws inferences from his personal life and his perceptions of society. With Torobaka, Khan teams up with Israel Galvan, a Spanish flamenco exponent.

Khan defines Torobaka as a fusion of Indian and Spanish customs along with global dance forms. “Toro means bull and baka means cow, in Spanish. These are sacred symbols for both cultures, so I have used them to critique the devaluation of tradition in society,” says Khan.

Akram Khan (right) a contemporary kathak dancer, teams up with Israel Galvan (left) to showcase sacred symbols from Indian and Spanish culture (Jean Louis Fernandez)

Back to the beginning

Khan was introduced to kathak at the age of seven by his mother, whom he considers his biggest strength and source of inspiration. “I took kathak very seriously after I started training with my guru, Pratap Pawar. He imbibed in me a spiritual perspective towards dance,” he says.

In college, defying parental expectations to study medicine, Khan opted to study contemporary dance at the De Montfort University, Leicester. It led him to later develop his signature style as a fusion of both the traditional and contemporary dance forms.

His first break came in 1994, when he was cast by English theatre and film director Peter Brook in The Mahabharata. “I grew up on the Mahabharata. My mother read me stories from it. It has had a significant influence on me as a person,” he says.

Khan may be a kathak exponent but while growing up, his heroes were Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Charlie Chaplin. He grew up listening to his mother’s records of Welsh singer Tom Jones, while his father watched Bollywood films in the same room. “I come from a vibrant but a chaotic household,” he reminisces.

Reel inspiration

Speaking of influences, one can also find traces of cult films such as Pulp Fiction in his dance style. For instance, for his production titled Ma, Khan took inspiration from the film’s non-linear style of editing. “Films are an integral part of my artistic development. I appreciate

simplicity in cinema because it demands a great deal of sophistication. Maybe that is why I am such a big fan of Satyajit Ray,” he says.

Fittingly, he has drawn inspiration for his latest production from the works of Kubrick and Lynch, two of the most prolific filmmakers in cinematic history. A non-thematic choreography, the production is a shift from the more serious themes he has explored in Desh, his autobiographical dance recital, and Zero Degrees, an act that delves into his identity in the light of the July 7 (2005) London bombings. The plot of Zero Degrees revolved around Khan’s character being harassed by border guards and depicted him sharing a train carriage with a corpse.

Coming full circle, the dancer will return to the Mahabharata after Torobaka. “I want to share the story of Bhishma, Shikhandi and Amba. My inspiration for this production is Karthika Nair’s book, Until the Lions, which is a poetic reinterpretation of the epic,” he sums up.

Akram Khan (right) a contemporary kathak dancer, teams up with Israel Galvan (left) to showcase sacred symbols from Indian and Spanish culture (Jean Louis Fernandez)

NCPA Nakshatra Dance Festival 2015 begins on October 8 and continues till October 11 Torobaka will premiere at

Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point, on October 8, at 7pm

Call: 2282 4567

Tickets: Rs 500 onward on bookmyshow.com/events

Other highlights of NCPA’s Nakshatra Dance Festival

Bharatanatyam performance by Padmashree awardee VP Dhananjayan and troupe

On: October 9, 7pm

Experimental Theatre

Tickets: Rs 400 onward

Odissi by Ratikant Mohapatra and his troupe Srjan

On: October 10, 7pm

Experimental Theatre

Tickets: Rs 400 onward

Manipuri and Kathak by students of The Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Akademi and Rajashree Shirke, respectively

On: October 11, 7pm

Experimental Theatre

Tickets: Rs 400 onward

A Mohiniattam workshop by

Dr Kanak Rele

On: October 10 and October 11, 10am to 4pm

Sea View Room

Register on sdasgupta@ncpamumbai.com or call 98691 12010

Tickets: Rs 1,500

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