- Akram Khan: Dancing New Interculturalism by Royona Mitra
Royona Mitra introduces a theorization of new interculturalism by providing seven case studies of Akram Khan’s performances. Khan is a London-based second-generation British Bangladeshi Muslim, trained in kathak physical theatre and at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Leeds), who locates aesthetics in between or inside outside. Written clearly in lucid language for the advanced reader, the book provides an understanding of Akram Khan’s choreographic practices.
Collaboration between Khan and Farooq Chaudhury, his prior freelance manager, resulted in the creation of the Akram Khan Company in 2000. This alliance forged “creative” and “close dialogues” (p. 51) with other South Asian artists such as Salman Rushdie and Hanief Kureishi, sculptor and painter Anish Kapoor, musician Nitin Sawhney, and choreographers and kathak dancers Shobana Jeyasingh and Sonia Sabri. Such interaction through practice resonates and outlines the ways in which Khan moves beyond the “field” dancing through negotiating with past.
The preface provides a chronological trajectory of Khan and Mitra as a British South Asian dancer and British South Asian scholar, respectively. This interconnection helped Mitra to formulate her doctoral thesis and this book, a revision of her doctoral thesis.
Summarizing the limitations of theoretical arguments on intercultural theatre, the introduction aids the reader to understand better her intervention. A broad reference to “Western” intercultural theorists and practitioners and its criticism by postcolonial scholars such as Rustom Bharucha is then narrowed down to Peter Brook’s intercultural theatre to contextualize Khan’s response to such theatre. [End Page 525]
Mitra demonstrates the ways in which Khan achieves new interculturalism through corporeal and visual language. This new interculturalism is “an interventionalist aesthetic and an embodied, political, and philosophical way of thinking and being within oneself and ultimately shapes interactions with others” (p. 15). Mitra’s theorization has six features: (1) It manifests as an embodied corporeal language with a conscious rejection of text in order to keep significations both ambivalent and ephemeral. (2) It is an auto-ethnographic, self-refential inquiry. (3) It is Khan’s perpetual identification with a state of in-betweenness at many levels and coexistent of them in him. (4) It is engendered by Khan’s privileged mobility and flexibity to travel as a world citizen with a strong attachment to London. (5) It is a queering of normative understandings and expectations of Khan’s diasporic South Asianness, of South Asian arts and contemporary dance. (6) It dismantles the concept of othering as a process which blurs binary “us” and “them” (pp. 29–30).
The first feature is examined in the course of performing Gnosis in 2001. Gnosis explores a mother-son relationship between Queen Gandhari and Prince Duryodhana from the Mahabharata. Instead of relying on the source text, as Brook did in his adaptation (1985, 1989), Khan engages with corporeal imagery inherent in Gandhari’s blindness, vulnerability, and strength without narrating the actual story. Physical interactions between two bodies suggest a mother-son relationship from the birth of a son, his refusal to accept maternal commands, and his transformation into the villain of the epic, leading to his final death in the Great War, and the mother’s anxiety, despair, and sorrow from her son’s childhood to his death. The embodied corporeality of movements provides “unfixed and open-ended” (p. 65) interpretations of the source text.
Khan’s pluralistic training creates physiological and sociological tensions, laying the groundwork for the second aspect of Mitra’s new interculturalism explored in Loose in Fight (1999), a collaboration with the British filmmaker Rachel Davies. This begins with “Khan’s face pressed against the window screen narrowing his vision of the landscape of London’s Docklands. … The camera cuts … vast warehouse. He appears in the centre … dressed in a black pair of loose trousers, a black fitted t-shirt and black socks or thin black jazz shoes. His upper body is slumped over his unlocked knees. His arms hang loose without any tension in them and appear almost to touch the floor. His feet are in the...