Akram Khan: The world at his feet

Akram Khan: The world at his feet


In short

Bengali boy from south London learns Indian dance, tours with a British theatre director based in France, studies in Brussels, then goes global. Now the world’s his oyster.


Born in south London, 1974, to Bangladeshi parents, Akram Khan began dance at the tender age of three. He was taught Bengali folk dance by his mother and at seven, began studying kathak with teacher Pratap Pawar. The initial push to train came from his mother; at the time, Khan preferred watching ‘Knight Rider’ on TV, or perfecting his Michael Jackson routines.

It was while performing with the Academy of Indian Dance in 1984, that Khan was spotted by the legendary director Peter Brook. Still only in his teens, he later went on to tour internationally in Brook’s epic production ‘Mahabharata’.

At a loss for what to do after A-levels and under pressure to get a degree, Khan opted for a contemporary dance course at Leicester’s De Montfort University. He transferred to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance to train more rigorously as a dancer — and graduated with the highest marks ever awarded by the school.
Khan’s first solos quickly attracted attention — not only was he bold and inventive in his experimentations with kathak, but he was a mesmerising performer. After appearances at the Dance Umbrella festival and a spell performing with acclaimed choreographer Jonathan Burrows, he joined the X-Group project, a creative programme for young choreographers at Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s PARTS school in Brussels.

Building on work he created there, Khan returned to London later the same year and founded his own dance company. A meteoric rise followed. Just two years later in 2002, Khan made his first full-length work. He also began touring internationally, was the subject of ITV’s ‘South Bank Show’, expanded his company and picked up a string of awards both in the UK and beyond.

Alternating with his company work, Khan continues to present solo recitals of classical kathak dance. In addition to this, he has made pieces for the Ballet Boyz, Cloudgate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, and Kylie Minogue (he choreographed a section of her 2006 Showgirl tour).

His schedule seems endlessly packed; when he sat to have his portrait done last year for the National Portrait Gallery, artist Darvish Fakhr said that Khan would “fall asleep immediately, because he never has any down time.”