Akram Khan Tackles Kung Fu for Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise

The cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise in rehearsal. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed

Akram Khan loves to dive into genres he is unfamiliar with. While his own movement vocabulary is a hybrid of kathak and contemporary dance, he has choreographed a new Giselle for English National Ballet, collaborated with flamenco artist Israel Galván and made a dance theater duet with film star Juliette Binoche. Now, in between touring Xenos, his final full-length solo, and several other projects, he's found time to tackle kung fu. Khan is part of the collaborative team behind Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a blockbuster musical based on themes of migration and the fight for survival, running June 22–July 27. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring a score that remixes songs by Sia, it's part of the inaugural season of The Shed,
a new venue in New York City.

What attracted you to this project?

I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee when I was 13 or 14. What attracted me was his spiritual approach to martial arts, not the macho approach. I don't consider martial arts as necessarily a fighting tool. I consider it a spiritual tool.

What do the dancers need in order to do this work?

Graham. Strength in the center. But what is more important is the mind-set. I want them to embody the spirit and focus of the martial arts—to be able to dance, move, but not give away that they're dancers.

The cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise in rehearsal

Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed

How did you bring in the kung fu vocabulary?

Last fall we spent time with Zhang Jun, a former Shaolin monk who is the martial arts director of the production, and learned some kung fu, like the Tiger [tightens his hand into a claw]. But I've added things. This is Indian [shows the traditional lotus shape]. Also, I asked Jun to give me 30 images—30 Instagram positions. So there is choreography, but I want the audience to feel like they're watching somebody possessed.

Sia is a commercial artist and The Shed is huge. How do you navigate that from your point of view as an artist?

I think my generation of artists is one of the first to break out into other genres. We grew up with Michael Jackson. When I hear Sia, her craft is unbelievable, her poetry is beautiful. Artists like Hofesh Shechter, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, myself and Crystal Pite, we're not afraid of other genres. We're already out of the box. We don't belong only to the dance world anymore.

Khan (left) and Alex Poots, artistic director of The Shed

Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed

You are also doing your own new work, Outwitting the Devil, in July in Stuttgart. Is there a storyline for that?

I love the painting The First Supper, by Susan Dorothea White; it's all women of different cultures. It's a takeoff on Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which I couldn't relate to because they're all white. In Susan's painting, an aboriginal woman sits in Jesus' place. The one in Judas' place is a white woman with a Coke can. It's about resources, food and water.

Who's the devil?

The devil is us—humans, our species. We are the cancer for the earth. We're so arrogant in our belief that we can control nature. Something about the rich and the poor is going into Outwitting the Devil. Who gets to sit at the table is the question.

Are you relieved to not be dancing the full-length Xenos anymore?

I can't stop yet! I tour with Xenos until November 2020.

Courtesy Macy's, Inc.

As you're prepping your Thanksgiving meal, why not throw in a dash of dance?

This year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is stuffed (pun intended) with performances from four stellar Broadway shows, the Radio City Rockettes and students from three New York City dance institutions.

Tune in to NBC November 28 from 9 am to noon (in all time zones), or catch the rebroadcast at 2 pm (also in all time zones). Here's what's in store:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Sergei Polunin. Photo by British Broadcasting Corporation and Polunin Ltd., Courtesy Sundance Selects.

Last week, Variety reported that Sergei Polunin would reunite with the team behind Dancer for another documentary. "Where 'Dancer' looked at his whole life, family and influences," director Steven Cantor said, " 'Satori' will focus more squarely on his creative process as performer and, for the first time ever, choreographer." The title references a poorly received evening of work by the same name first presented by Polunin in 2017. (It recently toured to Moscow and St. Petersburg.)

I cannot be the only person wondering why we should care.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox