Recorded for the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT) Blog, associated with the TDPT academic journal to connect to their special issue on Martial Arts and Training.
Conducted on Zoom between Los Angeles and London on Tuesday, 24 January, 2023, this was an opportunity to explore, through a conversation between Janet and Akram, two practitioners of Brazilian ju-jitsu, the nature of the practice and its relationship to training for performance. This was inspired by the piece written by Akram Khan for the Financial Times in December 2021, ‘Akram Khan on Brazilian jiu-jitsu and his beautiful midlife crisis’, and suggested by Paul Allain, a co-editor of the special issue.
Akram Khan (he/him) is one of the most celebrated and respected dance artists of today. In just over 22 years he has created a body of work that has contributed significantly to the arts in the UK and abroad. His reputation has been built on the success of imaginative, highly accessible and relevant productions such as Jungle Book reimagined, Outwitting the Devil, XENOS, Until the Lions, Kaash, iTMOi (in the mind of igor), DESH, Vertical Road, Gnosis and zero degrees.
As an instinctive and natural collaborator, Khan has been a magnet to world-class artists from other cultures and disciplines. His previous collaborators include the National Ballet of China, actress Juliette Binoche, ballerina Sylvie Guillem, choreographers/dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel Galván, singer Kylie Minogue, indie rock band Florence and the Machine, visual artists Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Tim Yip, writer Hanif Kureishi and composers Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost.
Khan’s work is recognised as being profoundly moving, in which his intelligently crafted storytelling is effortlessly intimate and epic. Described by the Financial Times as an artist “who speaks tremendously of tremendous things”, a highlight of his career was the creation of a section of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony that was received with unanimous acclaim.
As a choreographer, Khan has developed a close collaboration with English National Ballet. He created the short piece Dust, part of the Lest We Forget programme, which led to an invitation to create his own critically acclaimed version of the iconic romantic ballet Giselle. Creature is Khan’s latest work for English National Ballet.
Khan has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout his career including the Laurence Olivier Award, the Bessie Award (New York Dance and Performance Award), the prestigious ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts) Distinguished Artist Award, the Fred and Adele Astaire Award, the Herald Archangel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival, the South Bank Sky Arts Award and eight Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. Khan was awarded an MBE for services to dance in 2005. He has recently been announced as the new Chancellor of De Montfort University, and he is also an Honorary Graduate of University of London as well as Roehampton and De Montfort Universities, and an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Laban.
Khan is an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells and Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London and Curve, Leicester.
Janet O’Shea – Department Chair, Professor, UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.
Janet (Jay) O’Shea is author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (2019, Oxford University Press) and At Home in the World: Bharata Natyam on the Global Stage (2007, Wesleyan University Press), . She is currently writing a book on emotion, corporeality, and activism entitled Bodies on the Line: Physicality, Sentiment, and Social Justice. She is a Professor in the department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.
Facilitator: James McLaughlin – Associate Editor of the TDPT journal
Dr. James McLaughlin (University of Greenwich) is an improvisor, actor and lecturer/researcher of theatre and intercultural performance. He also curates the TDPT blog.