Akram Khan: The Choreographer Series

1st December 2021

Akram Khan: The Choreographer Series
Maria Hanlon

Maria Hanlon

If want to learn more about contemporary choreographers, then one of the most highly respected and notable choreographers of today is Akram Khan. We’re going to take a journey through his career including where he learnt to dance, his work so far and what dances he has choreographed. So, let’s go!

Who Is Akram Khan?

Akram Khan was born in south London in 1974 to Bangladeshi parents. Khan began dance at the young age of just three years old. He was taught Bengali folk dance by his mother and at seven he began studying kathak (a classical dance style from north India) with teacher Pratap Pawar. The initial driving force for his training came from his mother, as at the time, Khan preferred watching Knight Rider on TV, or practicing his Michael Jackson routines.

Whilst performing at the Academy of Indian Dance in 1984, Khan was spotted by the legendary director Peter Brook and later went on to tour internationally in Brook’s epic production ‘Mahabharata’. But where did Akram Khan train? Well, after the tour, Khan chose to study a contemporary dance course at Leicester’s De Montfort University and then transferred to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance to train more rigorously as a dancer. Khan graduated with the highest marks ever awarded by the school.

Khan’s first solos quickly attracted attention, as he was bold and inventive in his experimentations with kathak and was a mesmerising performer. After appearances at the Dance Umbrella festival and a few performances with acclaimed choreographer Jonathan Burrows, Khan joined the X-Group project, a creative programme for young choreographers at Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s PARTS school in Brussels.

akram khan choreographer

Akram Khan Company

In just over twenty years, Akram Khan Company has proven itself to be one of the most innovative dance companies in the world. Embracing an artistic vision that both respects and challenges Indian kathak form and contemporary dance, Akram Khan has created a beautiful body of critically acclaimed work that ranges from classical and modern solos to artist-to-artist collaborations and company productions. The Company has a major international presence with tours reaching out to many cultures and people across the globe.

Akram Khan’s Giselle

Akram Khan’s Giselle is an iconic ballet, reimagined. The acclaimed version by Akram Khan portays the story of love, betrayal, and redemption. Since its premiere in 2016, the Akram Khan ballet, Giselle has resonated with audiences around the world.

akram khans giselle

Why Do We Dance?

In a five-part documentary series Akram Khan asked the question, `Why do we dance’. In the world around us, movement is a powerful tool that often transcends the spoken word. Through the exploration of different dance forms across different countries and cultures, Akram discovers the motivations that keep the world on its feet and dancing. He shows how dance boldly pushes boundaries, but also creates intimate connections between people from all generations and cultures.

akram khans why do we dance

zero degrees

zero degrees is an exciting collaboration between Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi, in which they work with sculptor Antony Gormley and composer Nitin Sawhney. Khan and Larbi first met in 2000 when they quickly discovered strong similarities in their work.

Both are sons of Islamic families brought up in Europe, and both draw upon this meeting of cultures, combining complex Indian Kathak dance with the speed and precision of contemporary movements. zero degrees was born out of their desire to work together and follows the pair on a journey to seek the reference point, the source, the ‘0’ at life’s core. The story was inspired by their own dual identities, and they search for this middle point through opposites, becoming/death, light/dark, chaos/order. 

Antony Gormley created the perfect environment for this story to be told and worked closely with the two dancers. Gormley causes his designs to reflect on the concept of duality explored in zero degrees. The music is by composer/producer Nitin Sawnhey, who was specially commissioned for this. The performance is a rare chance to see four of today’s greatest artists join forces to create something truly magical, you can watch it here.

akram khan and sidi larbi zero degrees

What Dances Has Akram Khan Choreographed?

Jungle Book Reimagined

A brand-new work based on the original story by Rudyard Kipling coming in April 2022.

Carnival Of Shadows

Chotto Xenos

Inspired by the award winning final full-length solo XENOS, Chotto Xenos is a captivating dance production that takes young audiences back in time, exploring the often forgotten and untold stories of World War 1 colonial soldiers, to shine light on our present and future. Chotto Xenos first premiered in February 2020, DanceEast, Ipswich.

Outwitting The Devil

‘In a landscape of broken tablets and fallen idols, its six characters trade their remaining wealth and stories, seeking to make whole the fragments of ancient knowledge lost and forgotten over time.’ The world premiere of Outwitting The Devil took place in July 2019, Stuttgart.


In this production, Akram draws on the archives of the 20th century, and gives voice to the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the First World War. The premiere for Xenos was in February 2018 in Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens.

akram khan

That’s All You Need To Know About Akram Khan

Akram Khan is one of the most loved and highly respected dance artists and choreographers of today. In a very short space of time, he has created a body of work that has contributed significantly to the arts in the UK and worldwide. Khan’s incredible reputation is a result of the success of his imaginative, accessible, and relevant productions including XENOS, Until the Lions, Kaash, iTMOi (in the mind of igor), DESH, Vertical Road, Gnosis and zero degrees.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the work of the talented Akram Khan, check out our website for more articles from The Choreographer Series.

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