Report: UK premiere of Torobaka by Akram Khan and Israel Galván

Article first appeared on narthaki.com on 10th of November 2014.

"One brings a knife...one brings prayer beads.” Akram Khan is considering the differences between flamenco and Kathak, two dance styles which are believed to link back to Romani people migrating between India and Spain in the 14th century and the focus of his latest collaboration Torobaka (literally “Bullcow”) with Seville-born flamenco artist Israel Galván. Khan, the British dancer of Bengali background, spoke at the post-show discussion with Galván following the UK premiere of Torobaka which took place at Sadler's Wells on 3 November 2014.

Subversive, humorous and raw, Torobaka sees two exceptional artists playing with rhythm, ideas and each other's respective dance styles from the moment they step onto the orange-lit ring on stage. Galván is the brazen, aggressive counterpart - known for his deconstruction of flamenco - to Khan’s measured, yet powerful grace. This is not about mimicry they stress, but about gaining an understanding of the art forms and using that language to communicate whatever it means to them.

Variously in the performance, Khan takes on the form of a bull wearing flamenco shoes in his hands, Galván flirts with South Asian bols and absurd bird-like movements to comic effect and the entire performance is punctuated by the clamping of each other’s mouths. Khan states it was all a part of discovering the roots of these art forms and what Kathak, flamenco and music were before they were given these particular names. The musicians also play a key role in Torobaka and the gender-defying notes of David Azurza and Christine Leboutte cut through the audience. Khan was initially reluctant to attempt to combine Kathak and flamenco feeling it was “too symmetrical”, but was however convinced after seeing Galván perform at which point the possibilities of performing together started to become clear.

When asked about whether the concept of "duende" in flamenco, the moment when you lose yourself in the moment or reach an elevated state, applies to Kathak, Khan stated it is "not specific to a dance form" and reflected that "Kathak is a prison in structure and form...(but) great dancers like Maharaji break from that prison and start forgetting about form...That is the power of the artist."

Despite the many differences in their styles, Khan and Galván concede that each had an effect on the other beyond Toroboka, and there’s a playfulness and palpable chemistry between them. Galván said following the work on Torobaka he became more "human" and Khan said he was “more of a warrior" - albeit a "peaceful warrior.”