Dancing into people’s hearts

July 31, 2012

London Olympics 2012
Dancing into people’s hearts
Akram Khan looks sheepish. The question that he has been asked is one to which he feels he must say yes, but he is not sure yet how best to express himself. He thinks for a moment, and then does an excellent job.
So, is performing in the opening ceremony the biggest honour in his life so far?
“It’s too early to say,” Akram tells The Daily Star Sport in an exclusive interview. “All I know is that I’ve never felt that way before. I felt awe; it was really overwhelming and emotional. Working with Danny (Boyle) and his team on the opening ceremony has been an exciting and humbling experience.”
It might have been a humbling moment for Akram, born in London to Bangladeshi parents, but it was a dramatic one for the 80,000 people inside the stadium lucky enough to witness it. Akram’s breathtaking dance routine accompanied by Emelie Sande’s haunting score of “Abide With Me” was one of the show-stopping highlights of Friday’s opening ceremony. No wonder then, that it was met with rapturous applause and critical acclaim.
Akram spoke of how Danny Boyle had been inspired to include him in the opening ceremony after watching a performance of the dancer’s Vertical Road. And Boyle’s brief to Akram was just one single word.
“Mortality,” says Akram. “I thought he was joking. Mortality at the Olympic Games? I thought it would be a downer.”
But after mulling the idea over with his producer Farooq Chaudhry, they got hooked. “The idea of mortality is great because it represents a lot of the vision of the ceremony itself. We are all normal people and whether we’re superstar athletes or the guy next door, we’re all going to die and leave something behind. That concept is very powerful and very compelling for the audience.”
Akram’s section featured 50 specially-selected professional dancers, a 9-year-old boy and Akram himself. Set to the voice of Sande, the piece was ‘a moment of reflection and contemplation following the vibrant and astonishing, high-tempo proceedings’, says Chaudhry. Boyle was responsible for choosing Abide With Me, the popular British hymn.
The most difficult part of the ceremony, recalls Akram, was choreographing 50 dancers to do a 360-degree show in front of 80,000 people.
“We are used to doing shows for 3,000 people. We do two-hour long shows as well. Condensing everything to just five minutes was a big challenge,” admits Akram.
But challenges are Akram’s by-word. He began dancing at seven and studied with the renowned kathak dancer and teacher Sri Pratap Pawar. He began presenting solo performances of his work in the late 1990s, maintaining his commitment to classical kathak as well as developing modern work.
So does Akram think that the London 2012 opening was the best in recent memory? Akram shrugs off the question. “Each ceremony is beautiful in it’s own way. Beijing for me was majestic, Athens was poetic and London; for me, London was human.”
In his final word, Akram raised the possibility of future collaboration with sporting events.
“It seems almost natural for arts and sports to sit side by side,” says Akram.
“In both we desire to test the very limits of what we’re capable of doing. In sports, human endurance, in arts, human imagination.”

-With The Daily Star input

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