Berkeley Talks transcript: Dancer Akram Khan on performing the unimaginable, theater of war

Peter Glazer:                So welcome everyone. Before we get started with the program today, I have a couple of quick announcements to make. I’m Peter Glazer. I’m a professor in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, and I’m co-teaching this class with Stan Lai. And every Thursday, we meet Tuesdays and Thursdays as a class, 70 students from UC, Berkeley. And on Thursdays, we opened the class to the public and have special guests to talk about specific work about their own practices and such. And we have a very exciting performance to talk about today in a very exciting group of people to discuss it with you.

Before I do that, I have a couple of things to say to the students. Because of Akram Khan’s presence in Berkeley this weekend, there are a number of other events about his work, some workshops, a variety of different things that Cal performances are organized. And, later today, by maybe this evening, I will be sending an email to all of the students in this class to give them … to announce those events soon that are taking place this weekend in case any of you are interested in attending them. This is not a requirement, but those of you who’ve got interested in this work might enjoy learning a little more about it.

                And I will also say to the class that there’s the possibility that some additional tickets will be opening up for students to see the Akram Khan piece. And so, if that’s true, I will email you about that as well so check your emails today. Also, have everyone picked up tickets, Christian? Yes. All right. So all of you who are attending the performance on Sunday have picked up your tickets. Thank you very much. There’s also a handout that if any of you are interested, you can pick up at the end of class that Christian will have, just some more information about Akram Khan and about what’s happening at Cal performances.

Let me introduce our two guests today. Rob Bailis is a musician, executive producer and performing arts’ curator living in his native Bay Area. Beginning his career as a classical clarinetist, Rob has performed with orchestras chamber ensembles and is a recitalist, across the U.S., Canada, Asia, and the U.K. In 2003, he was named director of ODC theater, San Francisco’s leading experimental incubator for dance and contemporary performance. During his nearly decade long tenure, he elevated the feeders platform from regional to national and international visibility, and was instrumental in the theater’s multimillion dollar expansion of its facility.

In 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle named him MVP in dance presenting describing his curation as smart, instinctive, and infectious. He’s commissioned over 80 new works in a variety of genres and has served as an artistic pure of review panelists and policy consultant for foundations and arts funding organizations. In June of 2013, he was appointed associate director of Cal performances where he programs and produces the dance theater and world’s stage platforms and is the lead designer of the institution signature curatorial and commissioning initiative, Berkeley Radical. In 2018, he was appointed interim artistic director curating Cal performances 2019/2020 season.

Akram Khan, our other guest, is one of the most celebrated and respected dance artists working today. In just over 18 years, he has created a body of work that has contributed significantly to the arts in the U.K. and abroad. An instinctive and natural collaborator Khan has been a magnet to world class artists from other cultures and disciplines, including actress Juliette Binoche, writer, Hanif, Kureishi, and composer Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney and Ben Frost. His work is recognized as being profoundly moving in which is intelligently crafted. Storytelling is effortlessly intimate and epic.

Described by the Financial Times of London as “an artist who speaks tremendously of tremendous things.” A highlight of his career was the creation of a section of the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, which the students in the class have seen on video, that was received with unanimous a claim. He’s received numerous awards including the Laurence Olivier Award, the Bessie Award, which is New York dance and performance award, the International Society for Performing Arts Award, distinguished artists award the Fred and had Della Stair Award, the Herald Archangel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival and on and on, and on.

He was awarded an MBE for services to dance in 2005. We’re thrilled to have him here today. Xenos performing at Cal performances this weekend marks his final tour as a dancer. Please welcome Rob Bailis and Akram Khan. Welcome everyone and welcome Akram Khan.

Akram Khan:                 Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Rob Bailis:               There’s so much to talk about today, but I wonder if we could just dive right in by starting off with the genesis of your dance career and starting off as a young person and kathak.

Akram Khan:               I was three when my parents had moved to London, straight off to the independence of Bangladesh. So they had experienced war in a horrific scale between Bangladesh and Pakistan. So when they moved in early ‘70s, I was born three years after the independence. And so they really wanted me to keep up with culture, their culture not because that’s what they fought for and lost family for. And so, they forced me, I would say, I don’t remember it, but I think they forced me, as a three year old to play different roles. And that was fine.

They would dress me in a sari, they would dress me in a lunghi, which is like a male skirt traditional to Bangladesh. And I would re-enact to all these kind of different folk dance. And then at seven I saw … well, not kind of I saw Michael Jackson and I think…

Rob Bailis:               What do you kind of see Michael Jackson?

Akram Khan:                No, that’s true. And it was Thriller and I thought I was quite blown away by the idea that not just by Michael Jackson himself, but just the idea of is this theater? Is it storytelling or is this dance, or is this music? And they were quite inseparable that piece of that film, actually MTV film of Thriller. And so my mother, I think got, got a bit freaked out, because MJ is very far away from Bangladeshi culture and then said, “You know what, maybe he should do Indian classical dance.” And then took me to class, which was kathak. And I started with him and kathak was the beginning of my journey of let’s say serious training.

And then 13, I’m trying to cut it down, 13. I was very lucky to work with Peter Brook on the Mahabharata and that really … I think that really shaped my thinking today. The way I think today is because of Peter, I would say. He had a huge influence and I was very moldable at that time. I was 13. I had no opinions. I was literally absorbing everything like a child does. And then later I came back and couldn’t adjust to normal life after the tour. And so, I went more heavily into kathak again, it was either theater or Indian classical dance. And I felt more pulled towards kathak.

And then, I went to university and discovered contemporary dance, for the first time, I’d never ever heard of contemporary dance. And yeah. And though Choudry who’s my producer of the company, we formed a company in 2000 of that, so.

Rob Bailis:              When you were talking about Michael Jackson there for a moment, and the way that that struck you, that is this dance, is this theater, is this music? And in an interesting way, that’s a great metaphor actually for kathak, right? That it’s equally a musical form and narrative story telling forum or an abstract story telling form, and its dance. It’s all of those things. And I wonder if you might talk a little bit about the way the practice of those elements coming together in that form? If you feel that that’s actually permeated how you’ve gone about becoming the creative artists that you’ve become and if they’ve remained those essential draws to how you make.

Akram Khan:              Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s … I would say that I see things through kathak eyes, yeah. Occasionally, I would take those glasses off and put William Forsythe glasses on. It would permeate, it would change between the two. And I say William Forsythe because he had a huge watching him and his work. And then he became a mentor to me. I think somebody connected me with William Forsythe that they knew him and they knew I was just coming out from the block, and they said it would be great if you could spend time with William Forsythe.

And so I have this relationship with Bill, which is really weird because he never talks about dance. He only wanted to mentor me in homeopathic medicine and I have no interest in homeopathic medicine or at that time I didn’t. And it was just a really unusual relationship. But anyway, what was interesting was his … the way he analyzed, the way he brought a kind of a science lab approach to movement was something that fascinated me and not a way that I’d worked with before.

And so, looking at music, I mean music, dance and theater, I think as a kathak dancer or as an Indian classical dancer, you have to be a musician if you’re a dancer. So when I was hearing music, it didn’t matter if within the dance concert, if there was no dance at that moment because it was movement anyway, the music was moving. So long as it’s moving something, moving you or moving the audience, or there’s movement in everything. And even the storytelling, the story has to move forward. And so in a sense, they became equal partners for me. I use that kind of approach.

We don’t work in a vertical system. I think that’s quite old and it still exists, of course because it’s patriarchal, we work more on a maternal approach. So the collaborators are, it’s like a horizontal, it’s like a King Arthur’s round table where everybody has an opinion and is open to influence the work and to change the direction of the work. Of course, in the end, I have the final say, but I don’t intervene very often until we get closer to the end of the process. So the composer has a very, very important voice in the work and so does the scenographer, and so does the drama talk, particularly the drama talk.

Rob Bailis:              It’s interesting with both Peter Brook and Forsyth, both famous users of silence and of empty space. Particularly, Peter Brook’s famous notion that the theater emerges from the blank space and that it doesn’t get put in it, it comes through it. And I think in some sense, the way that you have pulled together these obviously very much through your own lens and through the experience of your own lived, your own lived experience and your own body, and your own artistic vision, these components that really seemed to have been there from the very beginning.

That there is a musical essence to the work, that there is always the need to be in communication and in a loop with an audience and not just before them. And that the dance is actually a place, it’s actually a thing that didn’t habits as opposed to presents. These things really seem to be driving the conversation for you and really has a consistent line through all of the work.

Akram Khan:               I think my mother had a huge influence in the way I thought because my grandfather, my mother’s father was a genius mathematician. He was two times gold medalist of India in mathematics. And so when my mother was born, the entire Bangladeshi community thought, “Oh, it’s a woman. No, she’s not good at maths.” And my mother being the feminist that she is, and strong, powerful woman that she is, she said, “Well, fuck you. I’m not gonna even do maths because I don’t wanna prove to you if I’m good or not. I’m not even gonna go in that direction because I have nothing to prove to you.” And she went into literature.

And so, she became super … she absorbed herself in Greek mythology, Hindu mythology, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, all these myth. She just researched and studied for her own, I think in a sense to rebel against the community. But then she fell in love with the subjects and the subject itself, literature. So when I was born, we grew up in south London and there was really this entire Bangladeshi community in south London that believed that I was God of maths. And it’s really difficult because you don’t understand why people are treating you in such a sacred way. But after a while, you just take it as norm that yes, I must be God of maths.

And so, it just simple things like it really affects, especially when you’re a child, it really affects you in some way. So when we’re having a party and no kid can start with the food unless I have taken first and the aunties would say, “No, no, no, him first, him first, the god of maths.” And so, what was interesting was when it came to A level, I did my a maths and I failed, and I got a U. And I don’t know if you’ve got the same system here, you’ve got A, B, C grades A, B, C, D, E, F I think. And then U is unclassifiable, it’s that bad. It’s not even what. I got a U and I was so shocked, like I said to Mike, “I think you know, the people who mark it must have got it wrong. So I’ll do it again.” So I got a U again.

And the third time I got a U, I went to when my mum and said, “I think the community’s got it wrong. I don’t think I’m good at maths.” And I went into dance, to study dance at university because I was gonna study maths. I think by default what was interesting was, I became … because I believe that I’m so good at maths, I became infatuated with patterns and rhythms, and mathematics on a more spiritual way. And so, it’s interesting by imagining … by living a lie, my truth then came out, which actually I was quite good at patterns and geometry, and structure. So that had a huge influence.

So my mother, it all stems back from my mother, really. So again, that’s connected to William Forsyth because of his scientific approach. Because the body for us in Indian classical dance, it’s a spiritual body, it’s a sacred body. And William Forsyth really saw it as a tool, to dissect, to open up. It was a scientific body. It was something to explore and experiment with. And so, to have those, the tension between the two is determined a lot of my own research and my own work.

Rob Bailis:               I mean, there’s certainly that powerfully mathematical element of kathak. So, we’ll leave that one right there. But I wonder if that’s where you’re beginning to talk a little bit about, influences and partnerships, let’s step a little further ahead in your career. We’ll come back a little bit to this moment of synthesis that was going on for you in university. But let’s step a little bit ahead and talk about a couple of partnerships that you’ve sought out to frame this work and to collaborate with.

Throughout your career, you’ve always said that it’s a team, that there is a huge team around you, an enormous amount of support and that you as a director are operating as a visionary within that team, but it’s very, very involved with other people. So I wanna speak a little bit about collaboration and talk about that in your work. And specifically, I wanted to maybe start off talking about TOROBAKA and talking about sacred monsters. Maybe let’s start off with Israel Galván and talk a little bit about TOROBAKA, and about the relationship with Flamenco and kathak, and both of you being extremely experimental artists in your own right and in these fields.

Akram Khan:             Israel Galván is a rebel. He’s there to make sure that you fall over, that’s his personality. He’s there to make sure that if we are calm, I think his natural instinct is how can I start a fire and create chaos? And I’m the exact opposite of that. If there’s fire, the first thing I’m trying to do is to get water and to extinguish it out. So you have two opposites. He’s a mad warrior and I’m a pretend or suing monk. And so, the both of us came together in the beginning and it was quite complex because we both had to learn from each other how to listen again.

Because even though Flamenco and kathak shares the same roots, previously our masters have done it before, they’ve presented kathak and Flamenco. And I always found it superficial. I was fine fusion superficial, because it’s not going from a deeper place than the form itself. It’s just about I do one pose and the Flamenco dancer does a one pose, and it’s similar, in the similar direction, and it makes it fusion. I’m being crass about it, but that for me it wasn’t ever enough. I’m doing kathak footwork, somebody is doing tap, but doing the same rhythm or we’re doing question and answer, it does not interest me.

There are fundamental questions I’m interested in of the human condition. What is the story, the deep story of a Gypsy flamenco artist? What is the deeper story of me training in kathak. I was always interested in the person. And so working with him was fascinating because every time I tried to find some kind of balance, he would tip it over, and I realized that actually, he lives on the edge of the unknown. And I create an illusion of the edge but live in a very controlled, situation like Xenos. Xenos is everything is planned and thought out.

Once you’re on stage, you’re not in control, but still the surrounding your nature, everybody who’s working towards that piece, whether it’s the lighting or the people who were throwing earth over, or the prop and the people … the technicians pulling the ropes, everything is calculated. And then because I’m the author and the only performer, I can manipulate it. I can change it if I want. But I know that even if I change it, I know that my technicians are going to … I’m gonna arrive at a place where it’s always gonna be consistent where the technician has put the prop that I need for the next scene. Whereas with Israel, he’s so courageous that he could walk into a performance with no baggage not knowing what he’s going to do.

Rob Bailis:              Very Peter Brook.

Akram Khan:               Yeah. Yeah. And with me, I would walk in with something in my head prepared like, “Okay, now I’m gonna do this composition and that composition.” So he’s closer to an animal in many ways, a wild animal, extremely instinctive because he trusts his instincts. And I work more emotionally and psychologically. And so, I do a lot more preparation in a different way to him. So I learned a lot from him actually because it allowed me to trust the more instinctual part of being a dancer.

And one of the things we … it was interesting because we couldn’t come to an agreement of what is going to be the deep narrative of the show. So we compromised and said, “Okay, you know what,” in a good way. And we said, “We’ll do a concert, so it will be, I do a number, you do a number, and then we do something together. And we will play with the idea of absurdity.” Because when we came together and people heard about it, they were like, “Oh my God, there’s this young master of kathak and there’s a young master of Flamenco.”

And so, we looked at it like this, if David Lynch was a kathak dancer and Stanley Kubrick was a flamenco dancer, what would that relation, what would they create together? And so we thought, “Well, let’s play on the absurdity of that.” So we came on, this was our first preview. So we came on and we stand on stage, and its silence, and the audience then, and then I’ll say, “Master, you begin.” And he’d say, “No, no, you’re the bigger master. You Begin.” And I said, “No, you’re the biggest master, you begin.” And this went on for about eight minutes.

Rob Bailis:              You didn’t resurrect God of maths.

Akram Khan:               No, but eight minutes of doing this was that was the absurdity of people’s expectation we were playing on. In the end, we watched a video and we said, “No, we’re going to cut that. That’s just entertaining ourselves. Nobody else got it.” People were about to walk out. So, for me working with him was interesting because if he was very similar to me, I don’t think I would’ve learned much. I like to work with collaborators who think very different to me, which brings its own challenges because you’re creating a baby together really. And if you’re gonna create a baby together, you do wanna get on with the person you’re creating the baby with.

And there are, of course, divorce does happen after the baby is born. It was very tough working with Juliette Binoche. That was a really tough project. But I learned so much from it. It was probably my most important collaboration because it was the toughest because we had very different views. Nobody was … I’m not saying I was right or she was right, or I was wrong or she was wrong. It was really about we had different expectations. And so, when I go into a project now, as we do more and more duets or collaborations, I try to understand where that person is and what they want to achieve from this collaboration.

And not just completely fall in love with each other’s ideas project, the idea of working together. That’s not enough. We have to question where do you wanna go with this process? And that’s a tougher question. Yeah.

Rob Bailis:            Can we talk a little bit about the work with Sylvie Guillem and Sacred Monsters that came here, and another duet and another thing that was, what is that, of an extraordinary nature.

Akram Khan:               Yeah, that was … it was a beautiful experience with, with Sylvie. She’s an artist, so she has an opinion about … she cares about everything. Even the lights, even the costume, even the dramaturgy, and she immerses herself in every aspect of the work. She’s not a dancer. That’s the difference between a dancer and an artist. A dancer is there that you work with to execute or to tell your story. But an artist is completely challenging all your decisions and choices. They’re more 360. And so, working with her was really fascinating because she comes from a classical training, ballet. I come from classical Indian dance training and so, we shared the similarity.

What’s similar between both of us in a sense is that we shared this love for ritual of rigor of training, and power without control is nothing. You need control over that power. I wish the politicians understood that. That’s another story. But control only comes when you submit to a discipline. And that’s what we shared. But at the same time, we had a similar kind of history where she was not thrown out, but she was a little bit pushed away from the classical when she wanted to explore contemporary or more modern with working with contemporary choreographers and modern choreographers. And then the classical both went, “Oh, well you’re not a classical dancer anymore.”

And the same thing happened to me where once I shaved my hair, that was it. Yeah. You don’t represent kathak anymore because, as a kathak dancer, my gurus and the previous generation all had curly hair or long hair, and you’re not resembling anything like Krishna. I wanted to talk about those stories on stage. Hers was Sally from Charlie Brown and she was fascinated by Sally, and I was fascinated by Krishna, partly because I didn’t have hair. So this sense of trying to attain the image of Krishna and then I realized it’s not about the hair, Krishna’s much, much more than that.

And do you become … do you stop being an artist of a particular form because your appearance changed? Because you don’t … so that’s culturally connected. And I think it was Peter Brook. Again, I go back to Peter Brook because Peter Brook did the Mahabharata in a way that I don’t think Indian directors would have done it because Peter Brook saw it differently because he comes from a very different culture. And he was interested in the essence of the narrative, not about the codifications.

And the codifications of a person and their mannerisms, and their identity is informed by a particular culture. That’s not what he was interested in. He was interested in the essence of the story. And really, Mahabharata is about families. And it’s about … it’s there to be an example of what can go wrong and right in families, it’s about relationships. And again, that was Peter’s influence on me. And so, working with Sylvia was really about trying to talk about us both being thrown out of the classical world and then trying to find the classical in what we do. You can’t not be a classical dancer.

Rob Bailis:              No. I think once you, as you say, submit to either discipline or technique or whatever, whichever those tools you want to speak to, it’s a permanent embodiment. I think it’s there forever, the body remembers. The body always knows. How you wanna work with that aesthetically becomes the journey and how that becomes a process of filters and of lenses, and of ways that you’ll apply a point of view, that takes on an entirely different shape. As does the whole nature of how you’re making, whether you’re making through improvisation, whether you’re making through a much more scripted or dramaturge view of how you’re going to handle space in time over the course of a performance.

But it’s interesting to me that you always choose the most disruptive route. You always seem to go to that place where you’re going to be specifically the most challenged and to take your incredible toolkit and really unduplicated aesthetic and all the things that are just with you every day always to that place where they’re the most challenged. And I think that that certainly comes from a certain amount of safety in terms of having a really incredible team around you. But the challenge, artistically, in each work is really dramatic.

I wonder if that’s a moment for us to actually step into what you’re gonna be doing here and to talk about Xenos a little bit and this being, as you said, the end of a performing art for you as a soloist. And what the piece is carrying both for you personally and as its own artwork.

Akram Khan:                Well, Xenos means it’s a Greek word, which means stranger or foreigner or even guest actually. But in 2017 when we decided to work on my last full length solo, I was curious about doing something on Prometheus. I’ve always wanted to tackle Greek mythology. And Prometheus permit this was a rebel, especially against his father. And I was like, “Oh, that’s me against my father.” There was stories of him stealing fire, of course, and giving it to mankind and me stealing fire matches from my dad’s Indian restaurant and burning the living room.

But I was young, it was not my fault. It wasn’t my fault, but … anyway. What happened was my sister said, “I dare you to…” Oh, we were watching something on TV and there was fire and I was like, “Oh, I can create that. I can create that.” I went to the kitchen downstairs, because we lived above my dad’s restaurant. I took the matches and I was trying to spark it. And, unfortunately, I got my sisters’ socks on fire and she was six and I was 10 and then I was freaked out by fire but the same time as infatuated by it. And my sister going, “It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s hot.” I was, “Oh, okay.”

I took the socks off and then put it out on the floor but except that it was carpeted. And so that was an experience. But, anyway, Prometheus was something I wanted to explore. And, I think in 2018, we were … Well in 2017, we were invited by 14/18 Now, this incredible organization, a powerful organization that wanted to commemorate. And they commissioned artists to make something about the First World War, which was in 1914 to 1918. And so it was 2014, 1800 years on. We were like, “Okay, let’s have a look at this. Let’s see what’s in there.”

And as we were delving into it in 2018, loads of articles were coming out about the colonial soldiers. And to my horror 4 million colonial soldiers had fought for the British Empire and 1.4 of those were Indian sepoys. And I was very angry because I never studied that history because history is predominantly written by western. His story is written by the Western man, the white man, because they are the victors predominantly in western history of course. It really upset me that their story was admitted or edited out of history.

And it’s interesting because history is fasciststic. It’s a fascist concept. Mythology is what I’ve always been fascinated by. It aligns itself closer to democracy. It’s more democratic than history because mythology, the etymology of myth means to speak. I was just talking about this yesterday but it means to speak so it’s about remembering the telling of it and then you keep it to memory. History is about writing it down.

You have experts and suddenly you have these specialists who enforced that for it to be history that is more sacred than myth, you have to write it down and then it becomes history. But who’s the person writing it? Who’s the person holding the pen?

Rob Bailis:              Write it down and have it agreed upon. Right? Write it down and have it codified in a whole different manner.

Akram Khan:               And so we wanted to look at the archives of the First World War, all the archives. And then we started discovering nitty little stories. We had a Jordan Tannahill who’s this incredible young Canadian writer-

Rob Bailis:               Fantastic play writer.

Akram Khan:               And with Ruth Little and all the collaborators. We were just digging stuff out and unearthing stuff. And so, we wanted to tell the stories of … we wanted to represent the colonial soldiers that were omitted out of history basically in a more mythological way. Because they say that history is the truth. John Cocteau said history is the truth but over a long period becomes a lie and myth is lie but over a long period becomes the truth. And, we were also wanting to play with timelines because the soldier is a shell-shocked soldier.

And so it was very much, at least psychologically for us based on time, “Am I living in the present? Am I living in the past? Am I living in the future?” And now I always use this example because it’s so beautiful. People perceive time differently. Different cultures, perceive time differently. Children perceive time differently to adults. And there’s an Amazonian tribe where … There was an American journalist photographer who came across this Amazonian tribe and he offered them his idea of time, the western time.

And he said, “Well, in clock time, in Western civilization the future is in front of you. You go towards the future and the past is behind you because it’s gone.” And the chief of the tribe said, “Oh, it’s interesting because for us, the past is in front of you because you can see it. The future is behind you because you cannot see it.” The idea of time, the concept of time, I think that’s the biggest clash we’re having in our civilization right now … one of them. Because, you have the feminine time, which is the spiral time, which is the emotional time, which is the nature time, which is feminine time, which is ritualistic time, which is life and death time.

And then you have the clock time, which is Christianized time, which is westernized time, which is masculine time, which is industrial time, which is money time. And I was just saying this yesterday in 1913 when we had the audacity to tell the world that everybody must follow a global time from the Eiffel Tower in 1913 the first beep, beep, beep, beep, went out. But it was funny because I was reading, in another article, that Stravinsky of course did rite of spring also in the same year.

On the very year, in 1913 where we are saying that everybody must be forced to follow our time, the global time, we are going to determine what the time is, Stravinsky was making rite of spring, which was about sacrificing the human for time, for nature, time to move forward. And in a sense I think that’s where we’ve arrived. I think humans have to be sacrificed for the earth to continue. We’ve positioned ourselves in such a way and I think that’s what … I’m constantly amazed about … Amy is my assistant and I love her to bits, she’s brilliant, but at the same time we’re always talking about the lunch breaks.

And we have become obsessed with dividing time so 10 minute toilet break, five minute coffee. Even within the lunch breaks, we’re all doing it. We are dividing time because it’s almost arbitrary. It has no organic-ness to it, it’s not real. It’s an illusion. It’s mathematical so we’ve lost our sense of nature time. And so I’m always struggling with dealing with this kind of system of clock time which is controlling my life. But at the same time when I see my children they’re in eternal time.

Our ego apparently lasts … No, our sense of the present last three seconds. We think in the present for about three seconds, that’s the Max and our egos is of course, associated with that present. But children don’t see past and future yet. They don’t see forward and back, especially small children. When I say to my children, “I’m going to the airport, I’ll be back.” Two weeks later, they don’t know if that’s a day or it just feels forever for them that I’m away. Their perception of time is different there. They’re the ocean time, they’re closer to ocean time, which is the old time and which is eternal time.

And so, in a sense, a lot of my work is becoming about time even particularly starting with …, not starting with Xenos. All my work has always been about time to some degree or not.

Rob Bailis:               I think the elimination of time is it’s a profoundly musical idea. It’s, sort of, this is what rhythm is. It’s an organization of space, it’s not a declaration of it. There are other ways in which if you’re thinking about a form that’s driven by music or driven by rhythmic occurrence or organizations of sound in time, in a sense, it’s also taking away the power of that progress and owning it for a completely different expressive purpose. That opens the window of the imagination, opens the window of possibility to creation.

You’re right there in your own creation myth when you talk about the essence of rhythm. That’s it. And I think that that’s … Certainly, to me, that’s one of the great draws to watching dances, that you get to see the embodiment of all of. And for me coming to it with this as a classical musician, or at least that was my entry point. That was certainly a huge effect on me in watching dance initially. It’s that I had a way in because I had a deep understanding of rhythm. Not that bodies were literally moving in time but that the understanding of what it is to relate at an aesthetic level to the manipulation of space is something that we get.

And I think as we’re all viewers, that’s the invitation to each of you, that when you’re looking at something you’re not responsible for understanding it. You’re not. You’re just there to actually experience it and whatever windows open and you are actually opening, that’s it. That’s what’s going on for you. The artist doesn’t own that, the stage doesn’t own it, the producer doesn’t own it, you do. That power and that opportunity … For me, the work I love the best is the work that that really challenges me to do that when I’m sitting in the theater or offers that opportunity to just bend time and space in that way.

Akram Khan:              It’s really beautiful what you said because, in a sense, what happens on stage or in the theater is that you bend time and you go closer to another kind of time away from your everyday time clock time. In Burundi they have this, time is characterized, it’s not three o’clock, four o’clock. In particular times of the year when it’s pitch black, they call it a who are you night? Who are you night because they can’t see you. It’s so beautiful that they have a character, it’s characteristic. And I think dance and music is able to do that as well. It characterizes time away from the clock time, this mundane mechanical false thing.

Rob Bailis:               Let’s come back to Xenos for a minute. And I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the work and it’s just extraordinary and I hope all of you will be with us over the weekend. I wanna talk a little bit about the fact that, just at a surface level, it’s one of the more, actually, classical works. Amongst the solos, it really relies heavily on going back to two routes and cut talk. And I was actually surprised to see that. I expected something to be quite different and it’s just remarkable. But I wonder if you would talk about the presence of that. And did you feel like that was more of a cultural inheritance that belonged in that work or was it just the aesthetic that got called out to you?

Akram Khan:                No, that was my ego. I wanted to finish what I started. I wanted to the finish my last full length solo where I started to pay homage. And because I’m the director, I could manipulate the story. Actually, most of my collaborators kept fighting me on it. They said, “Why would the Indian colonial soldier … Why do you wanna do Indian dance? How will that connect to the colonial soldier in the trenches?” I said, “We’re gonna make it, we’re magicians. We’re storytellers.” The storyteller can never tell the story the same way, it will always change the second time they say it. We can manipulate it and we can transform it.

And what we discovered was that the soldiers, all soldiers not just colonial soldiers but all soldiers, have another life before they were brought into the war. Some of them are bakers, some of them are engineers. And the Indian colonial soldiers were predominantly there to lay cables because it was the most disorganized war of all time. It was the first world war so-

Rob Bailis:               They were not good at it yet.

Akram Khan:               No, and not efficient at all. The Indian colonial soldiers were that to literally lay cable so they could have communication between one group and the other group because nobody knows what the hell was happening. And I thought, “Well, actually, maybe this particular colonial soldier that I’m inhabiting was a kathak dancer in the courts and that’s what it became. That was my excuse to do kathak again. There was a very personal reason why kathak was there but at the same time it couldn’t just be kathak.

It had to be affected in some way for it to be … In the work it had, of course, I can’t just do kathak for the sake or because I want to do kathak. It has to relate to the narrative. It has to serve the narrative, not serve me. Then we started to affect the kathak so we started to deconstruct it a little bit and make it feel like, “Is this a memory or am I in the past? Has this happened or is this a dream while I’m laying on the trenches,” of the time that I want to be a kathak dancer or was I a kathak dancer?

And so once the classical part ends, you start to see that, I won’t say too much about it but, all the furniture in my memory starts to disappear and I’m called to the trenches. We had to really invest a lot in transforming the kathak or the intention of every movement that it was suspicious. Every kathak movement I did was suspicious because I’m not sure if I’m living in the present or if it’s happened or if I’m dead now. Am I dreaming about it? Is this a spiritual dream and in the afterlife? I had to create that doubt because as a kathak dancer you’re not as cocky or macho is flamenco dancers. Kathak has still the humility.

Rob Bailis:               Usually Maharaj.

Akram Khan:                Yeah.

Rob Bailis:              Might be.

Akram Khan:               Yeah. But it’s interesting because that’s coming back to Israel Galván. When I met Israel Galván, the first thing he said after my show, he comes with the choices. He’s very sweet and he goes, “Oh, Akram, it’s so nice to meet you. You’re master. You’re master but if we danced together, I stab you. I kill you.” And I was like, “That’s a really shocking thing to say in our first meeting, maybe two meetings later you could have said that.” I was quite traumatized by that. And he said, “No, no and then if the audience threatened me then I kill them too.”

And that is his perception of his approach of Flamenco. You are absolutely a warrior, you are the bull. And, for me, it’s about running away. I’ve always been the run-away guy. I used to play rugby and whenever there was a confrontation… It was strange that I was playing rugby with my physicality, but they used to keep me there because I used to run like hell. And I would be running around the pitch and they would be saying, “Go this way, not that way. Go this way, this way.”

And I asked, “Why did you keep me?” Many years later I came back to the school because I had to do a talk and I said to my PE teacher, “Why did you keep me?” He said, “Because nobody could catch you.” And I was like, “Well, if you give me a ball and you have six foot guys chasing me and we’re running to protect my body because I have cut the class in the evening.” And so I was a very fast runner but… The point I’m trying to make is it’s not about running away but it’s more about when you enter the studio to learn kathak or the place you’re going to learn, in a classroom, you touch the floor first so already a sense of humility and the space becomes sacred.

It’s a very different approach to Flamenco, it’s not fireworks. You can be fireworks but I feel that’s more of a … I think the firework element, the showmanship element, has never really interested me. Partly perhaps because my own guru really instilled that in me, the showmanship, the fast turns, the footwork. That for me is just one part of it, let’s say. It’s to get claps from the audience, it’s to see how impressed … It never impressed me. It never really touched me. I’m interested in the human condition, the human narrative so their submission, the sense of sacredness, was very important.

Rob Bailis:                Certainly all forms have their pageantry that creates that attraction. And one would always hope that that’s all that it is and that behind that, of course and everything, there’s human potential, human action and human contribution.

Akram Khan:               Flamenco, I would say, is extrovert in its approach.

Rob Bailis:              Absolutely.

Akram Khan:               And the way I look at kathak is its introvert.

Rob Bailis:              You said something just a minute ago and I wanna come back to that about just walking into the studio. And it would be great to talk a little bit about what in your practice have you ritualized and what in your practices is different every time?

Akram Khan:               I probably do the same thing every time. Every day I will train for an hour and a half in a very intense tempo kathak but the same thing and it’s probably the most simplest thing at a very fast speed. And because I was always fascinated by Pandit Birju Maharaj, who always said he just had started, just a very simple footwork pattern and he’s trying to hear God whisper there. Maharaj for many of his amazing qualities, his footwork is so musical. It’s never acrobatic, it’s pure music and you could close your eyes and listen to him.

Rob Bailis:              Also a lot of silence.

Akram Khan:                A lot of silence, yes. And so, in a sense, I practice something very, very simple. I never do [inaudible 00:52:10], I never do complex compositions, because I know it’s in my body already. I do the fundamental basic things. And then, unfortunately, I have to train with Jim Work for an hour and a half so it’s all strengthening, it’s all preventing injury. And that’s the bit that I really hate because it’s not something I enjoy. It’s just carrying your weights and doing lifts. And because my body is … unless I changed the way I move and I still have a big ego as I dance so I wanna still keep the way I move.

I still wanna do the way I move as I used to do 10 years ago but the body is saying no. And when you push me to that space, I’m gonna kick you. And so I do a lot of training to silence the body, to calm the body down. There’s a lot of caressing the body, “I love you. I love you. Take your time. You’ll be fine. Please say for me onstage. Don’t let me go.” And it’s funny because Israel Galván and I, there’s a five minute ritual before the show where we’re completely fucking terrified to the point where every show we would come meet before the show, when we say, “Do you think we could tell Rob that one of us has injured so we could not do the show?” Because we’re so fucking terrified.

We both suffer the same symptom. And so we would every night make an excuse to ourselves. We didn’t dare to say it to the producers but we needed to say that. We came up with some really inventive excuses of why we should cancel the show. And then the musicians who knew us well by that point said, “Oh, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.” And then we would go behind them and were facing opposite ends and the moment we stepped on everything disappears, all fear disappears.

Because what we realized was that when we’re worrying about it, we’re actually thinking in the future of what might go wrong and we’re thinking about the past of what has gone wrong. And the moment you enter the stage, you’re in the eternal present. And so you wouldn’t think really that just a few minutes before we were trying to cancel a show.

Rob Bailis:               I’ve been backstage with a lot of people who do that, so-

Akram Khan:               Oh, really?

Rob Bailis:           -I’m not surprised. Let’s talk a little bit about, just to be a little more abstract, just about your process in general. And you’ve mentioned the things that you do physically but there’s a lot of layers in your work in terms of working with Dramaturge or any other form of dramatist, working with all of your design elements and pieces which are just as meticulously crafted as every element of the dance. I wonder if you’d talk a little bit about that and even specific to Xenos and working with Jordan and those kinds of questions.

Akram Khan:               It’s really hard to talk about process. I find it really hard and partly because … I don’t know. I can try to talk about it. It’s so instinctively driven, the process, even though I prepare a lot. But once I entered the space with another person, whether it’s in the office or room or in the studio, I completely let go in a sense. Completely meaning to my mind I let go of everything I’d been preparing. And then the process begins only when dialogue begins, when a movement happens between two people. I can never work alone.

I was in Williamstown before I was here. I don’t know if you know Williamstown, it’s in Massachusetts. It’s really in the middle of nowhere and there was snow and it’s a beautiful place but there was nobody there. It was like a ghost town. It’s beautiful but I was alone. And my team left because they wanted to come to San Francisco. They had a week so they wanted to come here. I said, “No, I’m an artist. I’m going to contemplate and be by myself.” I was freaked out the first day I was alone, almost crying like, “Nobody loves me. I’m alone. I need to talk to someone.”

So I started collaborating with the receptionist but the receptionist was not very interested in what I had to say. I went back to my room, I did some research and so, for me, I begin work the moment I engage with someone. That, for me, is the beginning of anything. Everything else I do in isolation, I take it in and I just absorb and then I let go. If it stays, it stays. It’s not important. What is the most important is the moment I start the conversation.

The lighting designer, the composer, the first thing I say is, “I don’t want anyone to bring their title with them.” Ruth isn’t a dramaturge; I’m not the director or the choreographer. Michael Hall’s is not the lighting designer. [Mirella Vine Garden 00:57:33] is not the sonographer. Jordan Tunnel … Which means the walls are erased. You don’t have to wait for your turn to talk when it’s only about lighting if you’re a lighting designer. You can say what you need to say if you instinctively … You’re a creator.

If you have an opinion about the composition, tell me about the competition even if you’re a lighting designer. Suddenly, you have this kind of traffic of everybody talking about all the elements so you don’t treat dance special or lighting special. It’s whatever serves the narrative. If I can’t dance it, that part of the story, and actually the lighting is saying it better, then, the lighting is the body telling the story. However, I do choose people who are much better than me. That is a rule. I work with people who I feel I can learn from. The collaborators aren’t people that I’m teaching.

Usually I’m learning from them and so there is this kind of wall-less place, a roaming ground. And from there we collect information, collect ideas, thoughts, to the point where nobody can claim them. Mirella Vine Garden, the stenographer, cannot claim she did the set just as I cannot claim that I did the choreography. We say it officially but it’s a really, really different way of working and I love this. This is my way of working. I just completely love it.

In the end … Like, for example, Until the Lions is a piece that I’m made and Ruth Little … Timmy Yip is a sonographer. He said wonderful sonographer who won the Oscar for a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He did this integration for that. And so there was this huge bark of a tree in Until the Lions, Tim can’t claim for that. He can’t claim it, even though he’s the title. It was Ruth but … Yes, Tim is responsible for guiding it to that vision but Ruth … Tim said something that then Ruth went, “What about bark of a tree? What if that’s the stage?”

And so that became the stage and Tim said, “That’s it.” But it couldn’t have happened without Tim and it couldn’t have happened without Ruth and it couldn’t have happened without me. It’s really through dialogue we arrive in a place where you forget who was the origin of that see.

Rob Bailis:            And is that dialogue, is it being done as table work or is it being done literally in the studio as you [crosstalk 01:00:25]?

Akram Khan:               The dialogue continues all the way through but the first year is collecting. It’s about gathering collaborators and then the second half of it is really about, I plant a seed, a formalist hunch that Peter Brooke would call it, which is a smell or a color or an image or an idea. And that seed would then be nourished by the collaborators collecting poems, images, stories, anything really that relates to that one seed, even if it’s at a huge tangent. Then the second year would be going into a studio for about six weeks usually and six weeks would be research so it’s playtime.

And that’s expensive to call it playtime but we invest a lot in that playtime. We stick up all the stuff on the walls usually in that playtime, all the things that we’ve collected over that six months or a year before, and then we just go, “Okay, why don’t we start with this? This looks …” One of the answers might say, “Oh let’s start with this.” And we play with no commitment and the more absurd it is, the better because I’m interested in the child body and the child mind because we are educated out of creativity as we get older. That is the education system.

It is to educate us out of creativity, out of individuality. It is to conform us to society. And so I tried to return back to the child body and so anything is possible in their six weeks. It doesn’t mean it’s all gonna go on stage but that’s not the point. It’s just literally to see what would happen by accident if a magical thing happened, something that we would not have thought of if I felt that, “Okay, now we have to make a piece.” That’s why that six weeks I call it just playtime. And then we spent two or three months in creation working towards something that’s going to go on stage.

Rob Bailis:              So, really, it’s almost a two year process for you?

Akram Khan:              Three, actually. I’ve just narrowed it down to two years, but the collecting the collaborators as a huge dialogue, a dialogue that happens over a whole year before we get into it. Because the people you work with, you’re gonna be spending a very intimate amount of time. You’re gonna to be talking about your baby that you are going to make together so you have to know that that’s the person you wanna work with and you have to feel that they have the same commitment.

I do work with collaborators … I’m very, very grateful because I worked with collaborators who immerse themselves so they shut off from the rest of the world. And these days it’s really difficult to do that when you’re famous. And if you wanna work with a big name, they give you a certain amount of time and say, “Well, look, I can give you two weeks.” Even I do that when people commission me. But then when people work with me, I have double standards. I’m like, “No, you’re either in it all the time…” I don’t know why I’m doing an Indian accent. But, anyway, “You’re either in it all the time or we’re not doing it.” It doesn’t matter how famous you are.

Rob Bailis:              This is a big, big week for you in the U.S., not just for Xenos but also this wonderful commission of yours from the English National Ballet that you’re Wonderful Giselle is being performed in Chicago, just an incredibly massive work and a massive undertaking. And it’s kind of a funny thing when you think about English National Ballet, Akram Khan, and Giselle . All of these things are so far apart from each other in certain respects. I wonder if you would talk just a little bit about the making of that piece and how that side of your process works and then we’ll open up for some questions.

Akram Khan:               Well, Giselle , it was a bit weird because I was in Japan and an artistic director contacted me from a ballet company, I won’t say which one, and they asked if I would consider making Giselle . And I said, “Oh, Giselle ? that’s a ballet piece. it’s the one of the most romantic valleys. I’ll do some studying … I’ll study it. Within the same … I was still in Japan and then another phone call came from another artistic director of another valley company who said, “Would you do Giselle?” I’m like, “What is this thing about Giselle I’ve never been asked to do a ballet piece, let alone twice Giselle.”

The third time it happened, I started to get suspicious. It was three artistic directors within the same month asking for to do Giselle. And I said, “Fuck it, I’ve got to see this Giselle. What is it? They think I look like Giselle? I don’t know what it is.”

Rob Bailis:              If you run lunches out.

Akram Khan:               Yeah, maybe. The fourth time it was the Tamara and she was the last one of the four in terms of the timeline. And she said, “I’d love you to do Giselle.” And I said, “Well, I’m definitely gonna see it.” And I remember having a guess, after seeing it, why they might have asked me. And so I went back to Tamara and I went back to another, two artistic directors, Tamara, and another one. And I said, “Why do you think that I would be …?” He and she said for the second half. Both the and this guy said for the second half.

I said, “What is it about the second half? Is it the spiritual?” And they said, “Yeah, because all your work is about life and death and about time and about the spiritual. It’s the spiritual side. And they knew that I was a huge fan of Rumi all my life really so they thought I could perhaps, maybe, add something to the second half to use that as a starting point. And so that’s how I came across doing Giselle. I saw the original classical version and doing Giselle in England, if you’re going to tamper with something being brown skin …

Giselle is the English romantic, the most dramatic, the most sacred ballet out of all the ballets, especially in England so there’s this patronage that comes with it to the point where the critics come to me and say … I remember the critics who’ve known me for years, they were just like, “Why are you doing Giselle? And I’m like, “Because I was asked to and I said, yeah.” “But, why you?” They could not understand the connection of why Giselle me. And that really made me think, “This is a reason to do Giselle.”

Because there’s something, not racist, but there’s something going on here where it belongs to a particular community of people. And the classical ballet world is definitely a community of people that is very different to the contemporary. And the classical world has opened up to the contemporary because they need us because the classical ballet world serves the rich. It is for the richest society. It reflects the culture of the rich. Contemporary is the underground. It was really interesting to even feel that from a critic that, “Who are you?

You’re an Indian classical dancer, you’re a contemporary dancer. We love you, we give you awards, but who are you touch our sacred Giselle. This is the classical ballet world.” But, the ballet world has picked up that they cannot survive if they don’t start asking contemporary choreographers to revitalize or to bring in new stuff, new information, new ways of doing things. I came at a moment where it was really great for me because I thought, “Well, this is an opportunity to see what would happen with what I do.”

But then when I met the ENB, I realized that this group of warriors, because they’re highly skilled and highly trained ballet dancers, it’s like military. I wish we could have as many classical Indian dancers support infrastructure for those Indian classical dances the way the ballet dancers do. It’s very wealthy. There is really this … Yeah, I was in awe of them but I made a decision. Before I went into the studio the first day, I said to myself, “If I create something that when I see them or people see them, people go, well, actually Akram Khan’s company dancers would have done it better,” than I would have failed.

So am I gonna impose everything as I would do with my own company or shall I meet them halfway because they have a language that I have not explored yet. I’ve worked with Sylvie but that’s not a ballet company. She’s this very specific special artists. I said to the dancers, “Okay, let’s meet halfway.” But I made a bit of controversy in the beginning because the first day we were in the studio there was a lot of people so it was quite intimidating. There was not just the 65 dancers. The max we go with contemporary is what? 10, 12, 16. You have around 50 to 60 dances.

You had the entire staff of the NBA, which was about 70 or 80 people. Then you had some of the orchestra people so it was a very stuffy room, there was a few hundred people there. And the first thing I said was, “Okay, so there’s no hierarchy. Everyone is a Giselle.” And in the ballet world there is a real vertical, patriarchal-

Rob Bailis:               There can be only one.

Akram Khan:               There can … yeah. Principals, soloists and it just goes on and on. And then there’s the quarter ballet and then there’s the character as well, character performance. And I just turned it, tilted it this way on the opening night. Open first day of rehearsal and I said everyone is a Giselle. Of course I knew that I was going to take one person has the main character but what I was trying to say was I was trying to liberate the others to say you matter to me equally as much as. Every single part of the show matters to me as much as Giselle does, if anything more than Giselle does.

The problem I find sometimes is we look at the main character because it’s like a film. The camera says, “I want you to see this.” If the director wants you to see this, the camera will pin on just this. What I’m always interested in is everything around that so whenever I see the main character, I never watch the main character. My mother always says to me, because we used to watch Bollywood films when we were growing up. My mother used to work in Decca records … There used to be records in those days and LPs. And so she used to steal, I think.

But she didn’t say steal. She says they gave it to me, but I’m not sure that’s true. But they used to give her these records that she used to come home with from work that were scratched. They were not properly made. And so, above my dad’s restaurant, my dad’s playing Bollywood films on one side of the room, the living room, my mother is playing Tom Jones and Cliff Richards and all those kinds of artists. And, Abba. Wow, Abba. And so you had this clash between Bollywood and Abba that was really fascinating.

But my mother and I used to watch Bollywood films as well. Sometimes we would give in to my father and we watch Bollywood films but we would turn the voice off because we’ve seen the same video so many times. We would start adding the voiceover and changing the story. So if it’s Shole at some point, the baddy … Shole is a kind of Indian-Western, Spaghetti Western kind of thing, spaghetti-Indian thing film. And, I would slowly deviate towards ET because ET was a big thing for me at that time.

It was the first of its kind. But we would time it perfectly because we knew that the Hindi perfectly, we had seen it so many times. I’ve lost why I’m talking about ET.

Rob Bailis:              The focus on a main character.

Akram Khan:               Yeah, so my mother would always say, “Look at everything around the main character” It’s not the main character that matters. The main character is only the main character because of its surrounding. You are who you are because of your surroundings. I’m brown when I’m in the playground of my school in Wimbledon but I’m a son when I’m in my parents’ house. The moment I exit my parents’ house I become British. Inside I’m Bangladeshi, the moment I exit I’m a British boy. I’m a leader when I’m with my company in my office, I’m a choreographer, when I’m at ENB.

                 Your identity changes and transforms or is specific depending on which environment you’re in. For me, she was always telling me, look at everything else around the main character because that’s what makes the main character who they are. And so I’ve always … That approach, that way of thinking, is what I announced to the ENB staff and the people. And of course there was this, “Ah.” The principals were like, “Oh my God.” They didn’t say it like that but I don’t know why I did that. But they were really flustered.

There was a lot of anger and worry but the ENB is such an amazing … Tamara has really created a wonderful environment and I was really surprised. I love working with ENB because they were like, “Oh my God, oh I God, but let’s do this. Let’s do this.” And they really believed and they really trusted me. And that’s really hard because it’s somebody who does something else. Its Xenos. I’m a Xenos to them. I’m a stranger because even though I’ve done classical Indian dance, I haven’t spent my life doing classical ballet. And here’s this guy coming in to lead us. And at the same time the…

But the first thing I say is, “Can you teach me?” Because the moment I give them permission, the moment I say can you teach me, they don’t close their fists or their body. They open their hand to extend their hands out to me and that’s my tactic, if you like, my way of bringing people into the project. Because it’s too easy for me to go, “I know what I’m doing, you’re just here to serve,” and that’s too easy then it’s not collaboration. Collaboration means different things to different generations as well.

Rob Bailis:              We had a very famous quote happen on our stage from the composer John Adams when he was sitting with his collaborators, listening to Childs and Frank Gary talking about available light. And he openly said to an audience, among artists short of murder or suicide, the worst thing any two people can do to each other is collaborate and that one stuck with me for that reason. And on that note-

Akram Khan:               That’s very … that’s exactly … He summed it up.

Rob Bailis:              He absolutely summed it up.

Akram Khan:              Because that is a particular-

Rob Bailis:           It is the hardest thing in any form to accomplish.

Akram Khan:              It is a particular generation, I think. Crystal Pike, we’re a different generation, a different breed because we grew up with … Contemporary dance masters like Martha Grim, they’re not superstars. They’re only superstars in their own field. But it’s our generation that embraced other genres. We started stepping out of contemporary dance. We’re the first generation that stepped out of contemporary dance where visual arts people know us, theater people know us. Do you know what I mean? Because we grew up with this kind of MTV world.

We grew up with Michael Jackson. We grew up with Charlie Chaplin. We grew up with Bruce Lee. We grew up with Muhammad Ali. And we recognized craft in all of them so stepping out of contemporary dance doesn’t demeanor or doesn’t lower what we do even if it’s more accessible. Relatable or accessible or universal doesn’t mean … Because I grew up and when I went into contemporary dance there was this elitism that I hated where with the elite and if a taxi driver can understand what you’re doing you’re not making good art.

And I remember preparing for the Olympic opening ceremony and I was taking a taxi and this one particular taxi driver said to me, “Oh, what are you doing over there in the thing?” I said, “Oh, I’m doing dance choreographing.” And I didn’t wanna talk too much about it because I didn’t know what he would think. And he said, “What kind of dance do you do mate?” And I was like, “Contemporary dance.” And he went quiet on and I thought, “Okay, that’s the end of conversation.” As we arrive to the stadium to do the rehearsal he said, “I know what dance you do.”

And I said, “You do?” And he goes, “Yeah, it’s the dance you don’t get.” That was my challenge to say, “Well, how do I make something that can affect this person because why is he any less knowledgeable or less sophisticated than anybody else?” That’s our generation.

Rob Bailis:              I hate to do this. It’s 1:30 sorry but you are amazing folks. It’s been amazing to have you here and hear you talking. Shutting you down is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in my life in addition to murder or suicide. Thank you both so much for what you had to say today. Thank you everyone for coming. I’m very grateful.

Akram Khan:               Thank you. Thank you.