Vertical Road by Laurent Ziegler 2010.

Akram Khan Company, one of the most innovative and internationally respected contemporary dance companies, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on 4 October 2020. The company, formed in 2000 by Akram Khan and Farooq Chaudry, has become renowned for its imaginative, highly accessible and profoundly moving productions where the storytelling is at once epic and intimate. Khan has become recognised around the world as one of the most important choreographers working today.

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 multiple voices and talents 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. Launching worldwide at midday (BST) on Sunday 4 October, the stream will be accessible for free around the world on the company websiteYouTube channel and Facebook Live.

Akram Khan Company -Outwitting the Devil by Jean-Louis Fernandez 2019
Akram Khan Company -Outwitting the Devil by Jean-Louis Fernandez 2019

With The Silent Burn Project, the Company invites the audience to embark on a journey of dance and music with international artists around the world. 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, Chitra Poornima Sathish.

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

This programme is finally an opportunity to explore questions fundamental to the Company’s values, and to create a space of dialogue with artists and thinkers as part of two panel discussions. The first 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 compelling views of British anthropologist Jerome Lewis, Indian dance researcher Jayachandran Surendran, and Indonesian writer and activist Ayu Utami.

Akram Khan Company - Kaash Revival by Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan Company – Kaash Revival by Jean-Louis Fernandez

The company has also released The Fury of Beautiful Things, a photo book looking back at their last 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 created since his company was founded, alongside personal essays written by Khan and Farooq Chaudhry. A selection of images from the book and the last 20 years can be downloaded here.

In 1999, inspired by Khan’s early training in the South Asian classical dance form Kathak, and the hybrid language that organically emerged when his training 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 in the arts. The rules were to be simple: take risks, think big, explore the unfamiliar, avoid compromise and tell stories through dance that are compelling and relevant, with artistic integrity.

Akram Khan Company - Until the Lions by Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan Company – Until the Lions by Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan Company - XENOS by Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan Company – XENOS by Jean-Louis Fernandez

Since then, Khan has created an influential body of work including XENOSUntil the LionsKaashiTMOi (in the mind of igor), DESHVertical RoadGnosis and zero degrees. His work for the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was met with unanimous praise and his solo production of DESH in 2012 was Olivier Award-winning. He has also been honoured with the Outstanding Achievement in Dance award at the 2019 Lawrence Olivier Awards for his last solo piece XENOS. In 2005 Khan was awarded an MBE for services to dance.

The company has collaborated with a range of world-class artists including Juliette Binoche, Sylvie Guillem, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel Galván, Kylie Minogue, Florence and the Machine, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Tim Yip, Hanif Kureishi, Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost.

This autumn Akram 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 23 October.

Akram Khan Company - Chotto Desh by Richard Haughton
Akram Khan Company – Chotto Desh by Richard Haughton

Akram Khan, Artistic Director and co-founder of Akram Khan Company said: “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 said: “How do I sum up the meaning of last twenty years? I can’t but our digital anniversary celebration The Silent Burn Project will do it for me. It’s a joyful reflection on our 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.