Akram Khan Company marks 20 years with The Silent Burn Project

David Mead

In July 1999, in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, an animated and curiosity-filled conversation took place between the young gifted dancer-choreographer Akram Khan and an ambitious former dancer and just recently graduated arts manager Farooq Chaudhry. That meeting laid the foundations of the Akram Khan Company, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on 4 October 2020.

To mark the anniversary the company will present a live streamed programme of work celebrating its 20-year history. The Silent Burn Project will combine storytelling with personal experiences from the many who have contributed to the company’s work over the last two decades. All the content, including dance and music short films, panel discussions, touring memories and documentaries, has been produced and created exclusively for the milestone.

The stream launches at 12.00 noon (UK) on Sunday October 4, the will be accessible free on the company website, YouTube channel and Facebook Live.

Ching-ying Chien and Akram Khan in Until the Lions Photo Jean Louis Fernandez
Ching-ying Chien and Akram Khan in Until the Lions
Photo Jean Louis Fernandez

The programme will feature short films with Akram Khan Company dancers Yen-Ching Lin, Ching-Ying Chien, Theo TJ Lowe, Kristina Alleyne, Sadé Alleyne, Kennedy Junior Mutanga, and Akram Khan himself; as well as musicians Sohini Alam, Nina Harries, B C Manjunath, David Azurza and Chitra Poornima Sathish.

The event will also include Symphony of Fingerprints, a three-episode documentary that highlights unseen and rare moments of the creative process from various productions, with stories told by Khan’s close collaborators, dramaturg Ruth Little, composer Vincenzo Lamagna, creative associate Mavin Khoo, and dancer Joy Alpuerto Ritter.

The first of two panel discussions will focus on ‘otherness’, with special contributions from American ballerina Misty Copeland, British poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Indian cultural critic Rustom Bharucha, South East Asian cultural activist Eddin Khoo and British lecturer in theatre Royona Mitra. A second conversation will examine perspectives on God, gathering the views of British anthropologist Jerome Lewis, Indian dance researcher Jayachandran Surendran, and Indonesian writer and activist Ayu Utami.

Akram Khan in >i>Chotto Desh (2015)Photo Richard Haughton
Akram Khan in Chotto Desh (2015)
Photo Richard Haughton

The company has also released The Fury of Beautiful Things, a photo book looking back at its two decades in dance. The monograph is the first devoted to Akram Khan Company and is made up of outstanding photographs of the twenty-six works Khan has created since the company was founded, alongside personal essays written by Khan and Chaudhry.

This autumn, Khan will also be featured in a new portrait documentary produced by Netflix. Released as part of MOVE, a series on contemporary dance directed by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, it will air worldwide on October 23.

Originally trained in kathak, Khan’s hybrid dance language emerged organically when he encountered contemporary dance in his teens. A vision for a new company began to form, fuelled by a desire to learn and create through collaboration with the best people across all disciplines. His rules are simple: take risks, think big, explore the unfamiliar, avoid compromise and tell stories through dance that are compelling and relevant, with artistic integrity.

Since then, Khan has created an influential body of work including XENOS, Until the Lions, Kaash, iTMOi (in the mind of igor), DESH, Vertical Road, Gnosis, zero degrees, and Outwitting the Devil. His work has brought many dance awards, and in 2005 he was awarded an MBE.

Akram Khan in XENOSPhoto Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan in XENOS
Photo Jean Louis Fernandez

Akram Khan says, “We are in the midst of a seismic change and so I feel, this may be an opportunity for all of us to collectively unearth our past. A past that we may have buried away in the earth and in our bodies, always silently hoping that it would remain in the past. So much of this past was and still is, rooted in the ideas and actions of separation, neglect, hope, fear and denial. And it has slowly and inevitably melted into the themes and narratives within the work that I have created over the last twenty years at AKC.

“But to look back, requires courage. And in my journey as an artist, I must continue to shout loudly: I was never alone in unearthing these challenging stories.

“And so here we are, at a moment in time where we are forced to stop travelling, to stop moving, to just stop. But stop to me, doesn’t mean stop. I like to believe it just means pause.

“Hence, after these twenty years of unearthing, discovering, and retelling through new lenses, this is a moment for me to reflect and to look back at the footsteps that we at AKC have taken collectively. It has enabled me to appreciate all the footsteps that have been following us, and at times leading us but most often, walking with us, so we never had to feel alone on this ever-lonesome journey of an artist, whose voice, body and skin always belonged to the earth and not to the sky.”

Farooq Chaudhry, producer and co-founder of Akram Khan Company promises The Silent Burn Project will be a joyful reflection on the company’s past, “a moment to be still in the present and an unflinching gaze into the future.  All in the uncertainty of a pandemic that has left us bereft of our dearest and closest friend – the physical space.

“The Akram Khan Company story has been a journey of at least one thousand talents to whom I am profoundly grateful. When we’ve been at our very best our art has invited audiences to lose and find themselves exactly at the same time. Throughout, we’ve sought to learn and grow from every creative act and person we’ve engaged with and that gives me an immense sense of pride and what I personally consider our greatest achievement.”

The Silent Burn Project
From Sunday October 4, 2020 at 12:00 noon (UK)
Website: www.akramkhancompany.net
YouTube: www.youtube.com
Facebook Live: www.facebook.com/AkramKhanCompany

The Fury of Beautiful Things
by Akram Khan Company