Choreographer, film director mingle their artistic outlooksAkram Khan grew up in the United Kingdom to Bangladeshi parents. Like many immigrant families, his parents valued the importance of learning about one’s heritage, so his mother enrolled him in an academy, where at the age of 3, he began learning kathak, one of seven classic dance forms.
Today, he is one of London’s most celebrated choreographers and the founder of the Akram Khan Company. He was in Korea recently to host a workshop for dancers, and to perform “ma,” a modern dance piece that tells the story of a barren woman yearning for children, along with the story of Mr. Khan’s search for life answers.
In the piece, a Pakistani vocalist, a percussionist on the mridangam, a South Indian drum, and a cellist set a haunting mood with a mix of ethnic and Western classical music.
As Mr. Khan’s multicultural vision continues to expand and reach others, he said he’d like to one day collaborate with a certain Korean director to create a dance film.
“Modern dance has very human qualities. And of the seven classic dances, kathak is more imperfect, in a positive way,” Khan told the audience at a Q&A session following his performance on Sunday for the Seoul International Dance Festival.
“I’m interested in human qualities. A lot of my reaction at seeing dancers in the West, it’s a little bit arrogant. I like when there’s a sense of humbleness. It gives more space for things to happen,” he said.
In the audience was Kim Ki-duk, an unconventional film director who won the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival in September for “Bin Jip” (Empty House). He also won the Silver Bear Award for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival in February for “Samaritan Girl.”
At Mr. Khan’s invitation, Mr. Kim came to the performance in Seoul from Bonghwa, his home county in North Gyeongsang province, which threw him a congratulatory party last Saturday.
At his workshop last week in Seoul, while sharing his artistic vision, Mr. Khan called Mr. Kim one of his favorite directors. A film teacher friend in the United Kingdom had introduced him to Mr. Kim’s work, such as “3-Iron,” “Bad Guy” and “The Isle.”
After the Q&A session, Mr. Kim, Mr. Kahn, festival artistic director Lee Jong-ho and a few others sat down at a nearby coffee shop where they had a discussion through an interpreter. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
Kahn: With Kim Ki-duk films, I can tell there’s honesty. It’s not judged by financial, but artistic integrity. I think he’s not afraid to hide things or to do things. I’ve seen very little. I’d like to see more.
Kim: During the Q&A after the performance, Akram Khan said insecurity and imperfection are beauty. Mistakes are honest and to show mistakes is beautiful.
Lee: (Speaking to Mr. Khan) I think the ideas you have shown are ones that people have after going through difficult times. Have you been through difficult times?
Khan: In kathak, Krishna has a lot of hands, which I don’t. He has the most beautiful face. Kathak is often a celebration of Krishna.
What I realized, he has beautiful imperfections. He makes mistakes all the time, and it makes people love him more.
I went through a struggle with my society. I didn’t have hair. [My skin] wasn’t fair.
Kim: When I saw “ma,” what I felt was sadness, but it was beautiful. Most people think in creating, the beginning and end are hard. He’s totally different, he knows.
And he’s good looking from up close.
Lee: (Speaking to Mr. Khan) What’s your first impression of Kim Ki-duk?
Khan: He’s not god like. Usually great artists are very human. They have no insecurity because they have no arrogance to push forward.
Kim: I feel the same way. Artists are pilgrims, and seekers of truth. Your fight is not with the world, but with self. It’s easy to be hurt.
Khan: I’m also fascinated with dance and film. A lot of people make film for dance, or a stage version for film. A lot of the time, it’s made badly. But I’m interested in a project which is purely for film.
Time in theater is different from time on film. People make that mistake. For me, a good director like Kim Ki-duk [maintains] honesty of sense of time for that film. It’s almost like instinctive breathing from scene to scene.
I’m also curious to know, sometimes I collect mistakes and make a piece from it. Do you do the same?
Kim: As you know, I’m famous for not throwing anything out. One scene, one take. But I’m sure there will be some scenes I don’t use ...
If you shoot dance, by the time you frame the shot, the moment has passed. Watching a performance on stage in real life, you are actually watching the dancers from many variations.
Khan: For me, [meeting Kim] is not just to share, but to learn from him and exchange ideas. Maybe one day, we’ll just talk, and maybe by then, I’ll have learned Korean.
If we want to work together; it never should be because of anyone or anything external. Honesty is in the intention of why we work together.
Kim: I don’t know how dance and film can meet, but I do want to mix genres and I want to work in Europe. If there’s an opportunity, I’d love to talk.
by Joe Yonghee