Akram Khan (right) conducting a workshop for aspiring dancers on Thursday at The Park
Hours after one Bengali achiever is felicitated on a giant stage with, among other things, a routine Chhau recital, a British-Bangladeshi star who made the grand London Olympics opening ceremony his stage will set out to conquer Calcutta.
First, President Pranab Mukherjee.
Then, dancer Akram Khan.
One of the biggest names in contemporary dance and choreography in the world today, and Danny Boyle’s collaborator for the Olympic opening ceremony, where he also performed, Khan has brought his latest work Gnosis to a town where he can easily talk his talk.
“The Bengali I speak is very similar to Calcutta Bengali,” Khan told Metro on Thursday afternoon, sharing his excitement of “one hour and 10 minutes” of uninterrupted chat in “only Bengali” with the driver from the airport to The Park hotel.
“I haven’t spoken at a stretch, even in English, for that length of time. I got to know all about him and his family. I was just so happy to be speaking in Bengali,” smiled the 38-year-old visiting the city after nine years.
Combining his roots in both classical and contemporary styles of dance, Gnosis is inspired by the story of Gandhari in Mahabharata, particularly her journey as the wife of Dhritarashtra after she blindfolds herself for life.
Following performances, talks and workshops in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, Akram will take centre stage at Kala Mandir from 8pm on Friday in the opening act for British Council India’s initiative of bringing down a season of contemporary dance, titled Impulse.
Khan’s Friday performance is also a part of The Park’s New Festival, and so he spent Thursday morning at a two-hour workshop with aspiring dancers in the city, also attended by local veterans like Tanusree Shankar, a long-time friend, and Sharmila Biswas.
“When I’m on tour I don’t go around the place. I love to meet artistes through master classes and workshops and my exchange happens on stage. I learn about a particular city and its people from my interaction with the audience after a performance. That’s my only encounter with them,” said Akram, who had roots in Kathak before moving to the language of modern dance.
At the workshop attended by the likes of Dipsha Das from the Ananda Shankar Centre For Performing Arts — who felt that “his tips on detailing would help any dancer with any form of dance” — and Mitul Sengupta — who started learning contemporary dance after watching Akram Khan in performance in 2003 — Khan explained the importance of turning a negative into something positive.
“I was short and I was tight. I realised that I wasn’t a natural because I couldn’t even touch my toes. But I decided to use that as an advantage and work harder. When you’re tight, your dance is tighter and my signature became explosive energy.”
Reminds you of another not-so-tall Bengali, who is now President?