akram khan choreographer of kaash at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), from Tuesday (November 4) to November 8 at 8 pm. $21-$37.50, stu/rush discounts. 416-973-4000.
Akram Khan has michael jackson to thank for his fanatical interest in dance. As a hyperactive young child of Bangladeshi immigrant parents in London, England, he was thrilled with Jackson's kinetic videos.
"But I didn't imitate him," says the acclaimed choreographer on the phone from Ottawa, the second-to-last stop before his latest show, Kaash, comes to Toronto Tuesday.
"I liked how he addressed the audience, how he could hold people's attention and transport them to this magic world. There was something fast and sharp about him."
Fast and sharp are two words you'd definitely use to describe Khan's own electric stage presence.
Trained in kathak - a northern Indian classical dance - since the age of eight, the sleek, shaved-headed dance guru can twirl with the jaw-dropping speed and conviction of a dervish.
"I have Jackson to thank for that," he laughs. "I was always better at spinning than other aspects of classical dance."
Kaash, a Hindi word for "if," looks at the concept of Shiva, the Hindu mythological god of dance. It's inspired by the cyclical nature of life as reflected in war, its aftermath and the rebuilding of life.
"We used that as a starting point," says Khan. "The theme exists more for us, the dancers, than for the audience. There's no narrative, even though kathak by its very nature tells emotional stories."
Khan, who as a kid toured in Peter Brooks's epic production of The Mahabharata, combines elements of classical Indian and contemporary dance.
Many critics have used the "f" word in describing his work.
"The word 'fusion' is so superficial," sighs Khan. "I prefer 'confusion. '"
The choreographer admits that when he studied contemporary dance in university, his body literally became confused.
"It felt like something alien was brought into it. It started making these decisions for itself. My teachers noticed. They were unhappy because I wasn't purely classical or purely contemporary."
Although lots of choreographers are mixing up genres on the stage, the globe-trotting Khan hasn't seen anyone else who does what he's doing.
"On paper, a lot of those other works sound great, but in reality nothing melds with anything else. You see one art form with another art form in the same theatre."
And will the masses ever embrace dance? Will there ever be a Bend It Like Khan?
"I think dance can reach the public, but no one's found a way," he laughs.
"I'd love to take someone watching football or a game show on one channel and have them turn the channel and watch some dance.
"I'd love to do a couple of tasteful adverts. Contemporary artists feel that if you're not struggling you're not making good work. I don't believe that. Dance can be financially viable."