I let my blood boil for approximately 45 minutes and then sat down, more calmly, to write this:
Akram Khan is wrong.
Akram Khan is deeply wrong and for more than a handful of reasons.
Akram groups together Martha Graham and Pina Bausch as though they are in the same generation of women choreographers. The same generation which he presupposes, excluded male voices. With an over 50 year gap between their births, it’s not only unfair to lump the two women together but also proves that Akram’s understanding of women choreographers and their role in developing this art form is paltry at best.
Let’s get back to Akram’s presupposition and remember that Isadora Duncan created a space for the purposes of locating freedom. More particularly for the freedom of moving, female bodies that were restricted, codified, and rejected by ballet. Martha (and her actual contemporaries) similarly worked with initially female ensembles because women in dance abounded; women seeking training and performance opportunities; women who were told no; women who knew the inherent potentials of their bodies in resistance. These women didn’t deny male choreographers, they created a space for themselves as a result of being rejected by a different space.
Akram continues to assume that men are just now shifting into greater prominence because of roles they were allegedly denied early on. Consider this a friendly reminder that decreased male participation in concert dance is primarily due to patriarchal values impressed upon boys and their parents. You know what the least productive way to challenge those values is? Continuing to justify male prominence in all areas as just and deserved. A better avenue would be the consideration of reasons why women, in a field of their own creation, are given significantly greater scrutiny than their male counterparts and simultaneously fewer opportunities.
I could give a laundry list of men who were also seminal in the formation of modern dance but that would be as limiting as Akram’s grouping of Martha & Pina. Instead I will simply add that if a list were to be created and tallied, yes there would be a statistically greater number of women involved in choreographing, performing and teaching concert dance. Such a list is precisely the reason why the dwindling numbers of highly supported women in the field is a gigantic and troubling scenario.
Major critics often employ comparison as a way to describe for their readership the material they are documenting. It’s not enough that women are denied opportunities to create but also that when they do, it’s put against an all-too-frequently male barometer. I’m willing to wager there isn’t one review that pits Akram’s work against a female contemporary but more than ten which do the inverse to British women in the field.
- Akram Khan is afraid. Being atop the power structure of concert dance is still pretty powerless in a broad picture of our world. His fear ultimately manifests in the idea that audiences don’t really need to see better representation of art-making, that it’s simply un-important. His position is one that further insulates and denigrates a form once created by brave and wild women.