14/12/2016 HARDtalk


14/12/2016

Stephen Sackur talks to newsmakers and personalities from across the globe.


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Welcome to HARDtalk, I'm Stephen Sackur.

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In every culture on earth, dance is a physical, joyful form of

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expression and communication. It is in a way the world's most basic

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common language. My guest today epitomises the ability of dance to

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cross borders of time and space. Akram Khan is British by birth,

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Bangladeshi by family heritage and now globally renowned as one of the

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great contemporary dancers and choreographers. His performances

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weave together influences from east and west, past and present. How

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would he define his dance? Welcome to HARD it is talk. Thank

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you. So many of the great professional dancers have been

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raised in one very strict discipline, one cultural tradition,

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but that isn't quite true of, is it? No. I was born and brought up in

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London. Already I was exposed to many, many different cultural

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activities from very different backgrounds.

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But, my mother wanted me to learn something from her roots and not

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just language because language was very crucial to her,

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because of the independence of Bangladesh, the movement

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originally started for the war to fight

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between East Pakistan and... So, the Bengali identity,

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Bangladeshi identity was hugely important.

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I did, because she refused to speak to me in English.

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She knew I would learn English in school because I was born

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She wanted me to be in touch with her language,

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her culture, but also something that was classical.

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That was close to her culture and classical Indian dancing

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was the right thing, so that's what she forced me

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It is Kathak, exactly, north Indian classical dancing.

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So, as a kid, you were living in South London, your dad

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running a restaurant, but were you told that you would be

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going to dance lessons, the Kathak traditional

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Yes, it was more of a bribe, if I went I would get

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something at the end of it because I was a kind of, of course,

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when you are exposed to so many different things,

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I was heavily into Michael Jackson...

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Is it true that you won a prize at school for the best

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version of Thriller, the Michael Jackson routine?

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Yes, it was two things it was Michael Jackson,

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I did a routine, and it was 5-star which is a group in that period that

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I used to love and they used to be inspired by Michael Jackson,

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So I guess even, I don't know if we're talking what,

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ten, 11, 12 years old, you were becoming a sort of fusion

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in a way of different influences and I wonder whether that when

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as you progressed through adolescence and you became very keen

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on different forms of dancing whether there was a tension

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in you about which direction to go, to follow?

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I think the tension, yes there was, but the tension comes

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from my community and social constructs of my parents' community,

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because academics was really important for them,

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because they were recently independent as a country,

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they felt education was the way forward and dance was a hobby,

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so up to this day, I mean, my community is great

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and wonderful and supportive, but I do get the

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occasional, "what do you do as a real job?"

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Obviously, your parents were from a Muslim tradition.

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Was that in any way relevant, was there any religious impulse

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to go in one particular tradition or direction rather than to embrace

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No, my mother was extremely open, she is a very open,

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she studied literature, Bengali literature,

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but she also studied mythology from Greek mythology,

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Hindu mythology, she was fascinated by stories, narratives,

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and she kind of coached me into it and guided me into it

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Many people from around the world will probably be familiar

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with the Billy Elliot story of the kid Northern,

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industrial town, a mining sort of town who is a brilliant natural

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dancer and then has to struggle with himself and his family

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and his community about getting into the right sort of dance school.

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That isn't quite what you're telling me.

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It wasn't that, sort of, having to escape.

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No, first of all I don't, I wantto be very honest,

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I was not naturally, I'm not naturally talented.

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What I am is, I have one talent and that is I,

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when I get obsessed with something I commit to it in a very

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extreme way, I can go into my parents' garage,

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which I did at the age of I think, just after GCSEs, I was lost

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for a while and I went into my parents' garage

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So, for a year I was hiding out in my dad's garage.

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Training in Indian classical dance and that is my talent,

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Wow, entirely in secret, private just for yourself?

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I just wanted to get really good at it, I just became obsessed by it,

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I was fascinated by Kathak, north Indian classical dance.

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And yet, if we fast forward a little bit to get to where your career

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begins to take off you actually entered a very different environment

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you went to one of the UK's top contemporary dance schools and then

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you started to get work which was beginning to make your name,

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not in the strict Kathak tradition but by actually finding a dance

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language which combined some eastern traditional expression with a lot

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of very, very contemporary, edgy, current Western dance.

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People like to call, used to call the work fusion,

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but I preferred to call it confusion, because really my body

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was very confused at the time and I think out of that confusion

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Your identity, in a way, which you're exploring,

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But, it could have been writing, or music or whatever,

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but you you were very much autobiographical in a way.

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A lot of my work is autobiographical.

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I like to touch, there is a lot of questions

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As I said, Michael Jackson wasn't the only person,

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I loved Charlie Chaplin, I loved Fred Astaire,

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Buster Keaton, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, all these people

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I thought HARDtalk, who's harder than Bruce.

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It's a great cue, actually because we want to show everybody

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a little bit of your dance, some of the stuff you have done.

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Perhaps your most autobiographical work was Kaash, which took you,

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Let's just enjoy 30 seconds or so of this.

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For me, it's fascinating on so many levels, here you are,

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the movement I love it so expressive, but also there's

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a longing in it and a relationship between you and Bangladesh,

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I'm trying to figure out whether it's actually,

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in a sense, sad or whether it's a very positive thing.

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In a way, I started the show with hammering this kind of grave.

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So, when I told my father that, look, the show is kind

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of about you and me and he was excited.

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I said hold on, I have to tell you something you're dead

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at the beginning of the show and he said, "you've killed me off

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already and not even dead in real life."

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So he was taken aback by that, but it's very much about my,

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about how my father or how fathers from a different culture,

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when they're in another environment, they start to question

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what they want their children, which direction they want them to be...

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He kept on saying to me when I was a teenager,

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I was imitating a lot of Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee,

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all these people who were my superheroes, and he said,

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I still to this day don't know what that means.

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It was really something in his own mind that he believed in.

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Partly you are exploring your relationship to him, but in terms

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of your own relationship with the culture you grew up

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in in London and then in the dance world in the West,

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but also very regularly visiting Bangladesh.

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Did you mean, and do you feel like an outsider, actually,

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I never felt an outsider in Britain as much as when Brexit happened.

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In Bangladesh I always felt like an outsider.

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I feel more British when I'm in Bangladesh and I feel more

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Bangladeshi when I'm in Britain, so for me it's about no borders,

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really, a home is where for me, where family is and where

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I'm interested that you say you never felt more of an outsider

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in the UK than you do today, because just from reading things

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that you said in the past there were difficult experiences

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Your father's restaurant sometimes was visited by pretty

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Yes, we went through a really bad period.

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And I think many people from the Bangladeshi community

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and others would say, actually there is less

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overt racism today then there was back then,

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I wonder why you feel more of an outsider now?

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With Brexit I think things are changing.

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I think that racism has an open door now, somehow, a bigger voice,

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the sense of creating walls with other cultures,

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xenophobia, fear of the other, fear of the foreigner, from me a lot

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You weave that into the stuff you are doing.

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Because that's my reality, I explore things that happen to me

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Coming back to the point about mash up and fusion,

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and want to bring in another clip because it seems so relevant

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You took a classical ballet, Giselle, you worked

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with the English National Ballet and gave it a contemporary twist.

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When you talk about walls and talk about immigrants coming

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you re-imagined a love story taking place with Giselle

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who is active garment worker, a very poor girl and let's

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just look at the imagery that comes from your Giselle.

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Again, stunning images, very different from the clip

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What was it like working with the English National Ballet

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and with Tamara Rojo who is one of the great contemporary dancers?

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It was extraordinary, I mean, you know, particularly working

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with the English National Ballet, I have not worked with

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other ballet companies, and English National Ballet,

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I was always apprehensive of working with a ballet company...

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To what you were bringing which is probably very different

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to everything they have worked with before.

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That is why I was apprehensive about if they would be open.

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They were extraordinarly gernerous and really daring,

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they really support of the entire process and kudos to

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Tamara and her team, they are extraordinary.

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It has a lot of weight, so I could feel the weight.

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And Giselle is a very loved piece, and it's

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So, to take it and then have the audacity to...

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I was going to say, you said very modestly at the beginning

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of the interview the secret was you weren't very talented

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I don't think anybody watching that would believe that,

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Could you imagine now, you're so experienced

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in the world of dance, if you had gone in a different

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direction, could you have been a classical ballet dancer?

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I don't think so, I used to love Nureyev and Baryshnikov,

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they were also one of my heroes, both of them were extraordinary

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ballet dancers and I always dreamed of being like them.

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Personally, I don't have the body for it,

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I don't have the flexibility, but it depends because maybe

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as a child perhaps if I had started early enough,

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but, you know Nureyev started much later, but still, I mean,

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So, you use your body in a very different way.

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I'm interested in that, I'd like you to determine

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-- tell me a little bit about how, the mechanics of how you tell

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What are the great gifts that you need, what kind of flexibility

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and what kind of expression can get out of your body?

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For me, the flexibility idea with is an illusion,

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I don't truly have an immense range at all, physically, but I'm fast,

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that is one thing I've always been, because of my training in Kathak

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because you have to wear these very heavy belts around your ankles

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and you train for hours and it is like having

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The moment you take them off you're like Speedy Gonzales.

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So, I think, also fear, fear of revealing I'm not flexible,

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So, things will become a blur, so you would be

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And, so in a way my stylistic development came out

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of the necessity of hiding what I was not good at.

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Well, when you tell me about the things you took

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from your Kathak tradition, it also reminds me that on this

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journey of yours through different dance traditions and fusing things

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together you have, in recent years, gone quite regularly to India

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and I guess to Bangladesh, as well to put on some shows

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and I know, that there has been a resistance to you.

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People felt you had betrayed the tradition, but that

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seems to have changed, because now you get huge acclaim

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They now more open minded, do you think?

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I think, always the traditionalists will be a little bit negative

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or a bit difficult, with absorbing what I do or accepting what I do.

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But, it has changed and got a lot better.

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I have to say the younger generation are amazing,

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In India it's so exciting, I love performing in India

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Dance strikes me as, I guess I said it in the introduction,

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it's such a sort of elemental art form, because in the end

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you are communicating through your body and I can see that

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one of the implications of that is that as you age,

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and as your body becomes perhaps, you know, less powerful,

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less potent, it affects your ability to tell stories and express

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I would say, technically yes, I think, you know, it depends

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if you look at it from a Western perspective or an eastern,

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In Kathak the real masters are when they are at their

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Everything else before that is preparation.

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I think in western classical dance form it is much earlier because,

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it's not just about having strength it's about knowing how to use that

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strength in a poetic way and a deeper way.

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For me, the older I become the less, of course I have to abandon

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the reality that my body cannot do some of the things that I would love

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to do when I was 30, but then I find other things

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and I find other ways to express that same movement.

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You do less dancing now and probably more...

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Right, so you have to actually train more.

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The reason why I think it is important, when discussing

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dance, to get into the physicality of it, is because it is so important

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and you'd said, and they think there were three of you,

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leading to in contemporary dance in the UK he wrote

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a letter not long ago, an open letter, saying that the,

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as far as you were concerned the new generation of young,

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contemporary dancers in the UK were not disciplined enough,

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not hungry enough, not training hard enough to be the very best and that

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a lot of the best young dancers you could see and that

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you want to work within your own company were actually

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We were talking more specifically about the training,

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perhaps selfishly geared toward our company's work,

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so I always needed very strong, technical dancers, and I felt that

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at that time, the dancers that I was singing coming out

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of the colleges were not geared towards the kind of dancers I was

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looking for and perhaps the same for the other two choreographers.

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It's not a basic hunger thing, you're not saying that

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With so many different forms of entertainment and art and culture

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around them are not dedicating themselves to dance in the way that

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I think in any form if you really want to have a profound impact on it

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you have do become obsessed by it and I do believe, deep down,

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that whatever technique it is, it has two inprison you,

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you have to learn it so much, you have to learn about it so much,

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you have to do it so much that eventually that imprisonment,

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you find freedom out of that imprisonment, you find freedom out

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of that form that you have been trying to perfect.

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But, it means you go through an awful lot

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Yes, pain of course, but everything is pain,

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anything is hard work, if you want to be good at anything

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you have to work hard, you have to sacrifice stuff

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and you if you feel it is a sacrifice then

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If you consider you, to be where you are,

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you had to put in many, many hours of work,

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you have to do it, you have to go through it.

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What now, then, for you, because you do an awful

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I'm just going to make other people go through it now.

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I'm done doing it. Going through the pain.

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You mean, you're seriously contemplating quitting

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I think and slowly winding down, yes, for sure,

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Maybe a few more years and then I may do a small role,

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But, I love to dance for my children, you know,

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I love to dance in the living room, I love, these days, the training

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part is the bit that I don't like any more,

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used to love it before but it hurt so much.

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It's like running, when you were born at 20,

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it's different to anyone at 30, go for a jog, the spring changes

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the way you run changes, and when you run at 40 it's

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different from the way you run at 30, you feel it, and so,

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I feel a huge different is what I felt at 20 and 30,

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so I enjoy the performance part of it but not the training part

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I just wonder whether you're going to be happy when you have quit

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dancing professionally, because you've said,

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sometimes you feel overwhelmed with the amount of stuff,

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politics, administration that comes with running a company and doing

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all of the stuff that means that you can get your shows around

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the world, but not actually involving you dancing on the stage.

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If that becomes your life, will you find that deeply frustrating?

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I think I will, but I will still keep dancing in the privacy

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I love to explore the ideas that I cannot do in my own body

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Like working with English National Ballet, their extraordinary ability

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facility that they have, pushes the language further and,

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they come already with a very solid training of ballet so this kind

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of connection between what I do and at the ballet body,

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And what women can do one point, it's just extraordinary,

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I've seen it before, but until you work with them

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directly you truly, really, you really respect it because it's

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What it did was transform the material that I usually create

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To end, any thoughts on the next big sort of theme

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You've talked a lot about immigration and though walls

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that people build between cultures, what's the big theme that

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Definitely the body, but I'm interested in the mythological body,

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Akram Khan, it's been a pleasure to have you on HARDtalk,

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