Akram Kahn’s Until the Lions
Curve associate artist and acclaimed choreographer and dancer Akram Kahn is heading to Leicester with a startling new work which he can describe in just three words. “Love, betrayal, revenge,” he says of the story of Until The Lions, writes Lizz Brain.
The piece began life in summer 2015 in Leicester but returns to Curve as a full-length production, both choreographed and starring Kahn, and providing local audiences a chance to see him in his own work.
“I’ll do this until probably April but will then replace myself in the piece as I’ll need to focus on other projects,” he says. “But it’s great to be coming back to Curve. I love the team there: both Paul Kerryson and Nikolai Foster have been fantastic, so different yet both so caring and so passionate about the arts and people and relationships and audiences and the community. It feels long time since we tried some of this before an invited audience there but I’m thrilled to be bringing it back.
“The piece is based on a story from the Mahabharata in which Amba is abducted on her wedding day and stripped of her honour. She goes to real extremities to get her revenge, but so many of these tales are told from the male perspective it’s great to see this ancient mythological tale told from a female point of view.
“We’ve distilled the story to its very essence and focus very much on the extremities of the revenge; I think it’s true that the amount of hate you can have for someone is equal to the amount of love you had, because if you didn’t have that love then they wouldn’t have been able to hurt. “
With three dancers (including Akram) and four musicians, and a running time of circa 70 minutes straight through, the piece heads to Hong Kong after its run in Leicester and then tours for two years worldwide, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada.
But as a father of two young children (a daughter aged three and an 18-month-old son), Akram knows the importance of trying to keep a life balance.
“I owe everything to my wife,” he admits. “I’ve had to adapt and accept that it would be tough, but there’s a world of difference between one child and two, and at times it has been overwhelming and a nightmare. Having children and being with children is beautiful, but the process of being an artist means I owe everything to my wife who makes it possible for me to do what I do, in fact she does everything. It’s mostly about learning to find that one quality we seem to have lost, and that’s patience. If I’d stuck with the way I worked as a soloist it wouldn’t have worked, but I’ve had to adapt to a new set of structures every day.
“At times I feel like I’m in the grandparent role in that I’m the one who turns up for a short time and then go away again: not that I’m away a lot, I made a conscious choice to change things when we had children, but now I’m away maybe six months of the year instead of ten, but now at least I’m based in England and if I’m creating a show for somewhere else in the world, it will now be created in London, not where it will be performed.”
“We’ve distilled the story to its very essence and focus very much on the extremities of the revenge.” - Akram Kahn
He also admits that age has made a difference to his perspective. “Dancing at 40 is obviously harder than dancing at 20. Keeping the joy is harder except when you’re on stage or watching someone inspirational. For me what’s important is how I keep well – I’m having to train meticulously, I have to be regimented about it because as I get older, it’s much easier to become injured.
“It’s crucial to maintain discipline. I’d like to say I’m just as rigid about diet but it would be the biggest illusion of my career,” he laughs. “My wife is Japanese, but I can honestly say I’d never seen anything green on my plate until I met her. Now it’s lots of green and occasional meat, but when I think back to how I used to eat, it’s scary. Obviously I drink lots and lots of water to stay hydrated, but my diet has become much better in the past few years.”