One of the highlights and must-see events of this dance season is the much-anticipated performance of “bahok” by the Akram Kahn Company at Northrop Auditorium on Wednesday evening. A 33-year-old British choreographer, Khan has already generated a significant body of work that’s been critically acclaimed, in part because of Khan’s facility with intercultural collaboration that speaks to the changing aesthetics, politics and culture of our 21st-century world.
Born to Bangladeshi parents in living in London, Kahn began dancing at the age of 7 with kathak teacher Sri Pratap Pawar. When he was 14, Kahn was cast in Peter Brook’s legendary production of “Mahabharata” — the theatrical and televised versions. As he began studying contemporary dance, Kahn started blending classical kathak (a classical dance of north India) with more modern dance disciplines. His early, best-known original solos include “Polaroid Feet” (2001), “Ronin” (2003) and “Third Catalogue” (2005).
Then came the intriguing collaborations. We’ve heard about his performances with Sylvie Guillem, the French prima ballerina; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a Flemish-Moroccan contemporary dancer; and Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche. Kahn also choreographed for pop singer Kylie Minogue. But his large-scale, 80-minute “bahok,” touring throughout the world, is generating the buzz.
A collaboration with the National Ballet of China, “bahok” (Bengali for “carrier”) includes three dancers from the Chinese ballet company and five dancers from the Akram Khan Company. Their performers’ backgrounds: Chinese, Korean, Indian, South African, Slovakian and Spanish. (Khan is not dancing in this work.) The dance disciplines incorporated: Chinese folk dancing, Kathak, ballet and contemporary movement blended into Kahn’s uniquely fast and acrobatic, intelligent and evocative dance style.
The setting is a departure lounge in which delays inspire the global cast of characters to burst free of their inhibitions and communicate with each other. The personable and articulate Kahn explains the multicultural genesis of “Bahok” (it all started in an elevator) here. The video includes a delightful section in which a ballerina enlists a startled — but not unwilling — partner.