"For nomads, home is not an address, home is what they carry with them." (John Berger, Hold Everything Dear.)
When the 2008 Adelaide Festival line-up was announced, I had a "wish list" of three potential interviewees. I wanted to speak with -- in alphabetical order -- Cohen, Glass, Khan.
Lennie, well, dream on. Phil I haven't given up on. I've been promised (vaguely) a chat for later in the year. Yeah, I'll believe it when it happens, but I'm cramming already!
Asking for Akram was just as optimistic. He's is a hard man to track down... too busy actually creating
to fritter away time talking. But given that he's coming to Australia with superstar ballerina Sylvie Guillem, I guessed (more or less correctly) that the MSM would be frothing at the mouth over her and ignoring the star which is about to go supernova.It's perfectly clear who the bigger star is, here.
Next year, incidentally, Khan is bringing French film actress Juliette Binoche with him to the Opera House, in February. (Not, though, as Fergus Linehan was boasting earlier this year, part of the 2009 Sydney Festival. The Opera House Trust had the rights wrapped last year.) So it's gonna happen again... the superstar "fluffer" thing, that is.
Khan and Binoche are collaborating on the third part of the trilogy that began with Zero Degrees
, another Sydney-only affair, continues with Sacred Monsters
(Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane) and ends with the yet-to-be-named piece with Binoche. ("It will be about angels and humans.") [UPDATE: The collaboration between Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche has the working title Inside I
Opportunities to interview Khan are few and far between and, as I discovered, tend not to come with anything so prosaic as advance notice. I was a 'widow' of opportunity on a couple of occasions. A day or two before his most recent piece opened in Beijing, a half-hour gap appeared in his schedule... which I blithely slept through. (C'mon guys, I need some time to plug in my goddamn cassette recorder!!)
I finally caught up with Khan when he arrived back in London, between an encounter with his accountant and one with Binoche in Paris, the first in their creative development. And the conversation was as unexpected as the opportunity.
This gentle and softly-spoken young man (he turns 34 this year) is no stranger to Adelaide, where Sacred Monsters
begins its all-too-brief Australian tour tonight. He first visited as a boy. He was a cast member of Peter Brook
. And, well, he's had a crush on Kylie Minogue for as long as he can remember.
"I used to hate Jason Donovan," he confesses. Sheepishly.
Minogue, in fact, sat in on Sacred Monsters in its early development. And Khan, improbably enough, went on to choreograph a twenty minute section of Kylie's Showgirl tour.
The one question at the top of my list -- how does one make highly intimate works for the increasingly vast venues necessitated by his collaborations with superstars -- is the one I don't finally get an answer to. More of a "yeah, good point" expression of regret.
Brisbane -- not one of Khan's favourite places -- is the lucky city this year. In Adelaide and Sydney, Sacred Monsters is being staged in 2000-2500 seat theatres. Brisbane gets it in the cosy Powerhouse. Lucky bastards.
As a Muslim Briton whose parents hail from Bangladesh, Khan is understandably obsessed with identity and origin. Over the course of a choppy half hour, we talked about gangs, grounding and the recent 'duet' trilogy.
But first up, we talk about choreographing for Kylie.
[Akram Khan:] We were speaking a lot about her experience in -- I think she went to the South of India for a holiday, after her operation. She said it was amazing because she was with these children who didn't know who 'Kylie' was -- on the beach -- and they wanted to show her how to do a dance properly. They were dancing for her and wanting her to do it. They were teasing her.
And, for her, it was an incredible experience. She felt so relevant to these children. She was touched by their spirituality first of all. They were children, but had this huge knowledge of this inner spirituality. She could feel it around them.
These people don't even know her and yet they were playing with her, they were... they come from a very different background in terms of lifestyle also. And so when she told me that, I was very touched and I thought it would be lovely to work with her in some way. So we decided to do a twenty minute section in her new world tour.
[CHRIS BOYD:] WHICH HAD AN INDIAN THEME, NO?
It was based around temples. It's difficult. It was difficult for me because I think the audience are very different, the market is very different.
In a way, I had to give in to the direction it would go towards. My source material had to be packaged in the right way so that the audience could handle it.
In that respect it was a learning experience because it's not something I would naturally go towards, but working with her was fantastic. That was my greatest joy really.
I'M CURIOUS TO KNOW HOW YOU KEEP GROUNDED.
I think my parents were great. I owe the ground -- the sense of being grounded to them. My mother particularly...
For her an artist is not just about the work but how you conduct yourself in life.She really tried to instil that into me. I had a really tough time for about two years when I came home [after the Mahabharata tour]. I couldn't adjust to normal life. It was too mediocre or normal for me. But somehow my mother being there, being such a strong anchor, really guided me through that. I learned a lot from her about having to deal with it.
DID YOUR KATHAK TRAINING, THAT DISCIPLINE FROM AN EARLY AGE, HELP YOU GET BACK INTO THE SWING OF THINGS IN LONDON?
I think so.
I trained from a very young age. And then I did Mahabharata and I lost training. Then I came back and I started training again. That was key to my sense of direction, of me still being in the arts. My mum insisting that I continue with Kathak. That was my saviour if you like. Otherwise I think I would have been part of a gang. My area is a very notorious area.
SOUTH LONDON ISN'T IT?
But I grew up in quite a rough neighbourhood. Now we live in a very nice neighbourhood, but I grew up in a rough neighbourhood.
There was a point when I did join gangs. In the evenings -- it's so bizarre -- I'm telling my gang members that I have to leave early today I have to rehearse for a performance. And they would all laugh. Eventually I got sick of saying to them and I quit with them because I felt like I keep on having to justify and people keep on laughing at my face of me going to dance and they just couldn't comprehend why I would -- they thought dance was such a feminine thing. I got sick and tired of it and I moved towards dance.
IF YOU'D BEEN IN CHICAGO THEY WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD. THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY PROUD OF YOU!
Kathak has been an integral part of my work and it still is. In all my work. For me it's old knowledge. That's what it is. And for me in all my work, it's all about...
For me to acquire new knowledge, I have to review the old knowledge. That's what I do consistently in my work. It's about taking tradition to understand tradition and taking it and using it in order to create new knowledge or acquire new knowledge.[..]
I SAW ZERO IN SYDNEY LAST YEAR. I HAVE A VIVID IMAGINATION. WHEN YOU WERE DOING THAT VERY INDIAN CLASSICAL STAMPING, I SAW SOME JAPANESE SUZUKI TOUCHES. WAS THAT ME PROJECTING?!
No, no. It wasn't. That's very interesting. The new piece which I've just done [a collaboration between the Akram Khan Company and the National Ballet of China] called Bahok is about searching for the origin. And what's incredible is I was working in this piece as a Japanese dancer who is a Kathak dancer.
There's a South African dancer who studied contemporary dance. There's a Korean dancer who's actually a contemporary dancer but studied break dance also. So what is the origin of all these? And most importantly, the National Ballet of China dancers. They're Chinese but they're doing ballet. And ballet is not from China.
And so the piece is about origins, it's about searching for the origin. What is our origin?
My parents are from Bangladesh, but their parents were from Pakistan, and their parents were from India. And their parents may have been from Nepal so, maybe, their parents were from China... So where does it end? Or where does it begin? And so with each generation, the information gets evolved.
So that stamping I was doing... it's very Kathak, but who says it came from India? Maybe they borrowed from Flamenco. Or maybe the flamenco dancers... There's a huge connection between Kathak and Flamenco historically.
There was a trade route from India to Spain. The Flamenco movements and gestures and mathematics and circular movements of the wrists and the arms... it's very Kathak.
YES, I SAW THAT IN SIDI LARBI'S MOVEMENTS.
IF THE SUBTEXT IN ZERO DEGREES WAS CULTURAL IDENTITY, AND THIS KIND OF INTERCULTURALISM, IS THE SUBTEXT OF SACRED MONSTERS SOMETHING ABOUT GENDER IDENTITY?
No. No, no. It's not about gender identity. It's about identity for sure, but it's about how we are perceived in the classical world and the contemporary world. It's very personal stories of Sylvie and I, little anecdotes of how we shifted from classical into contemporary and how we were perceived. So it's more about personal stories.
Zero was my story from this journey that I did eight, nine years ago. But Sacred Monsters they are also very personal, real stories, but from both Sylvie and I.
THE REASON I ASKED, I NOTICED THAT HWAI-MIN CHOREOGRAPHS ON SYLVIE AND GAURI ON YOU.
It might have happened subconsciously but, for sure, not consciously. We asked Lin Hwai-Min because we were both very curious about him as an artist and his movement language. Sylvie's a huge fan. Also I'd known him a while so I invited him.
HE'S A BEAUTIFUL MAN ISN'T HE...
I really have a lot of respect for him. And Gauri's a very close friend of mine. She's made a lot of classical solos for me over the years. She's a colleague. A very good friends of mine.
And also I didn't have the schedule time with Sylvie. So I felt, okay, the time I'm not around maybe somebody else could make a solo on you. And the same with Gauri, she could make a solo on me when [Sylvie's] not around. And the actual duet and everthing of putting it together, I will do. So the whole idea of putting it together was mine, but the solos were very kindly given and created by those two artists.
CAN I ASK WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO COMMUNICATE IN THE DUET YOU'VE CREATED?
It's very obvious what we're trying to communicate... She's tall. I'm short. You see the struggle.
ANOTHER GENDER IDENTIFICATION ISSUE, I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT! [LOL]
Well maybe, yes! Exactly. I put them in subconsciously! No, but it could be there. But it's, for sure, our body types. We're both [classically] trained. Mine is very earthy. And hers is about air. Ballet is about air. It goes from the earth to the sky. Mine is going from the earth into the earth. So even though they're both classical, we're shifting from the centre, but she's going up, I'm going down.
So for me it was about exploring these two characters of Sylvie and myself and how the bodies are so difficult in terms of compatibility. But how the struggle becomes our harmony, how we share a language through the struggle of our bodies. of our differences of our bodies.
HOW DO YOU KEEP THE WORK FRESH? WHEN I SAW ZERO DEGREES, IT WAS THE FINAL NIGHT AFTER SEVERAL MONTH TOUR --
We'd done it for two years. It usually has a "sell by" date for me. All my pieces. About two years. Sacred will also be another year, now, cos Sacred was made a year later. And Bahok will be [touring for] almost two years.
The cycle seems to be two years, by the end of the second year or middle of the second year you start to feel: okay, I've explored as much as I can in this piece.
And there's two types of journeys. The journey which is about the structure, the responsibility towards the piece, and then there's an inward journey throughout those two years. Where you start to explore deeper inwards, as an artist. And so (in) Zero and Sacred...
Once you feel settled with a piece and the messages and the structure of it, you start to then explore within it and your own character and how much more you can get deeper into it and so I think that's how we keep it fresh. You still continue to find the boundary from within.
Sacred Monsters is at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide, March 11 & 12. Then the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall (March 17-19) and Powerhouse, Brisbane, March 22 & 23.
UPDATE: Khan and Guillem will speak at the Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre at 2 pm on March 16.
The collaboration between Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche (which has the working title Inside I) has an exclusive season at the Opera House Drama Theatre (woo hoo, a playhouse) in February 2009.
Labels: Adelaide Festival, Akram Khan, Fergus Linehan, Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Juliette Binoche, Kathak, Kylie Minogue, Lin Hwai-min, Peter Brook, Sylvie Guillem