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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 17 APRIL 2007— Anticipation was high at the Theatre des Abbesses and the attractive Parisian theatre was packed for Third Catalogue, the third programme in a trilogy of classical Indian dance works featuring Akram Khan and his musicians. Spectators knew they were going to see something magical, and they did, for Khan is a mesmerising performer whose very presence on stage is felt even as he stands motionless in shadow.

His quick-fire arm movements and the sweeps and spins faster than the eye can see, distilling pure energy, are of an indescribable beauty and although on this occasion, three of the pieces were by other choreographers, the interpretation was uniquely his own. Khan takes elements of classical Indian dance and transforms them into something which goes far beyond traditional Kathak, thus making it difficult, he told me, to perform in India.

"People in India would treat me as an alien", he said over lunch in Montmartre when we met to discuss his recent collaboration with French ballerina, Sylvie Guillem. "My style is unique to myself and my repertoire is presented in an unacceptable way because I've manipulated it to suit myself and what I like. Moreover, when my hair started to go a little thin at the front a few years ago, I decided to shave it off, which is something just not accepted in the classical world. As well as dark skin, Krishna had long curly hair…. I haven't performed my classical work there since."

Akram Khan: Third Catalogue
Photo: Carl Fox

Third Catalogue was the last chapter of a trilogy begun in 2001 with Polaroid Feet, a work based on Shiva which was conceived and choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi. This was followed by Ronin in 2003 to a text by Hanif Kureishi, and completed by Third Catalogue in 2005, works which were based upon three figures, all masculine, of Indian mythology.

Third Catalogue is about three warriors, a favourite number with Khan. The programme opened with Ardhanarishwara, which is an extract from Polaroid Feet carrying references to Shiva, while the following piece was concerned with Arjuna who is a warrior in Mahabharata. At the moment of going into battle, he suddenly realises he is about to fight his own friends and family, the people he grew up with. Horrified at the war which sprang up between the two families and filled with remorse, he questions Shiva but it is Krishna who explains to him the importance of doing his duty and why he must go into battle.

Akram Khan: Third Catalogue
Photo: Carl Fox

Chakravyuh, with choreography by the Kathak master, Kumudini Lakhia, tells the story of Arjuna's son, a rather naïve character called Abhimanayu who is a powerful young warrior. Via music, dance and theatre, we learn of how he inevitably dies trying to prove himself to his father.

However, perhaps the most spectacular part of the programme came at the end, in an improvised piece by Khan and his musicians called Unplugged. There was a conversation with numbers, and a conversation with ankle bells displaying all the mime, music and rhythm long associated with Kathak performers. Stamping virtuosic footwork exaggerated by the bells replied to the insistent melodies of the musicians. Indeed, one of the most striking things was the use of music and rhythmic syllables in an exciting creation of Khan's own making.

Akram Khan: Third Catalogue
Photo: Carl Fox

It has become virtually impossible to describe the beauty and excitement of actually seeing a performance of Akram Khan, dancer, choreographer and interpreter. Neither is it important to read a programme or to have seen any Indian dance before, for Khan has the unerring gift of creating atmosphere by his merest gesture. The incredible lightning sequences of movement together with his grace, lyricism, and absolute control of his body are sensed as much as seen. On a bare stage with no other décor than his five musicians along one side, Akram Khan, head erect and dark eyes blazing, spun and stamped in a highly intense and emotionally charged dialogue which left his spectators spellbound. And breathless.  

Akram Khan will be appearing at the University of California, Berkeley's CalPerformances on May 5 - 6 2007.

June will see him in Amsterdam, and Singapore, with an appearance in Lyon, France on June 19 – 23rd, Barcelona, Spain, 26, 27, and Athens, June 30th, July 1st.

In August, he will be in Stockholm. For further information:

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

Related CK Archives

Interview: Akram Khan and Ma

Dance Review: Akram Khan Company

Akram Khan: Beyond Kathak

Zero Degrees: Double Triumph for Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

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