Akram Khan: Defining Dance


Watching the Akram Khan dancers demonstrate choreography was one the most inspiring parts of the Akram Khan residency. There is a quality about the movement that I could not place at first. I stood amazed at their grace, and was eager to learn how to move in the same way.

My learning process began with imitation of the physical movement. Half of my attention focused on analyzing the movement of Young Jin Kim and Eulalia Ayguade Farro, the Akram Khan dancers. Another quarter focused on imitating those movements, and the last quarter focused on checking myself in the mirror to make sure that my form was correct.

It wasn’t until about halfway through the residency that I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things. The body does have to be physically trained to create the forms that the Akram Khan choreography demands. However, the mind also requires training. My conception of the mind-body connection is both dualistic and monistic. The mind and body are two entities that are inseparably attached and interwoven. The Akram Khan choreography highlights this fact. The beauty of the dance comes from both physical and mental prowess. The body and the mind are heavily exerted in equal amounts. The mind is engaged in an active stillness. This stillness comes from the heightened connection between mind and body. When the focus of the mind is heightened the dance becomes more beautiful. The same is true when the abilities of the body are stretched to their limits. When both the mind and the body are used at their optimum capacities the movements become art. For myself, the key to learning Akram Khan choreography was to identify the way Eulalia and Young Jin were thinking about the choreography, and then to find a way of thinking for myself to follow.

One of my favorite moments of the Akram Khan residency was when we started rehearsing in the Coop High School Theater. I watched as the first group performed the choreography on the stage. Something in their dancing was different from three weeks ago. It was more than just physical. The energy of the dancing had a different quality. It was if we had all undergone some sort of small transformation over the past three weeks. The steps were no longer just steps, but movements instead, connected by the thread of the dancer’s energy. The energy gives the steps power. This energy stems from the connection of the mind to the body.  It keeps the art transient and makes it beautiful. Every moment lasts only a moment, and will never happen again. This is the essence of dance. The Akram Khan choreography is so liberating to dance because it highlights energy in its practice. When dancing I am both extremely aware of my physical presence and in tune with my consciousness.  The energy of the dance stems from the intense focus of my consciousness. My consciousness is focused on the manipulation of the body in time and space with music. You would expect mirrors in the room to heighten this focus. However, this is not the case. Mirrors draw the attention away from the self and onto how the self is perceived by others. This hinders the focus and draws away the energy of the dance. So, when performing in the Coop theater without an audience, I felt the strength of the connection between my mind and my body at its highest.

Performing the choreography for an audience was more difficult. I felt that the audience was similar to the mirror. I have not yet mastered how to both keep my own mind and body connection strong and connect with other dancers and the audience. I believe that attaining the skill requires practice and even greater mental focus.

This project has informed my dance practice. I now have a better understanding of what dance is. I now understand that dance is created when the mind and the body are at equally exerted and the connection between them is at its strongest. 



One thought on “Akram Khan: Defining Dance

  1. Dalton

    “I have not yet mastered how to both keep my own mind and body connection strong and connect with other dancers and the audience.”

    Very interesting post. Two things struck my attention, the use of the term ‘beautiful’ and the above quote. How do you define beautiful and how is that different from the Kantian notion of Beauty?

    What I teach dancers to do is one thing that helps them to develop understanding of the body-mind conundrum I relation to the audience connection–> surely you understand the Fourth Wall…(?) it is imaginary. Well, so is the audience, in a sense…. But that is another discussion…

    Understanding the inseparability of body and mind I say is not unrelated to what you say, you have not yet mastered how to both keep your connection with the audience and other dancers. I developed that performer-audience connection the same way I developed my undstanding of the body-mind connection. I am not separate from the audience or other dancers. The notion of ‘one and the same’ is a common philosophical underpinning applied in aesthetics. When we dance we must develop the awareness of we are One. My audience is not separate from who I am. Likewise, my mind is not separate from the day to day functions of my body. Even if I think my mind is wandering and wondering, my body is somehow still connected and mirrors this wonder-ful wandering. Even when there is no physical audience there is always a witness, who is That? Understanding there is always a witness, even when you dance in private, can develop your comfort and connection with other dancers and your audience.

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