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Letters of the week

Akram Khan. Photo: Tristram Kenton Akram Khan. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Open letter to Akram Khan

We, contemporary dance artists, members and supporters of the international dance community, take issue with your comments in The Stage concerning the imbalance of female and male choreographers.

Your considerable influence and visibility in the dance sector, both professionally and in national curriculum education, gives institutional weight to your opinion. Statements can easily be taken out of context by the press to sensationalise stories; this we understand.

This is not meant as a personal confrontation, but rather a necessary response to the issues raised. However, you, and others in positions of power, must be aware of the context and responsibility of your position, and the damage that you can inflict. Therefore, it is our obligation to address our concerns publicly.

You acknowledge inequality as an issue worth discussing; however the suggestion that imbalance merely fluctuates over time undermines the experience of those affected by it. You quote two famous female choreographers (who lived nearly two generations apart) as proof of a historical “imbalance for male choreographers”. Given how many male choreographers of these eras received much acclaim (Laban, Jooss, Cunningham, Ailey, Forsythe, Morris and more), this is hardly plausible.

In The Stage, the problem is referred to as “the lack of female choreographers”. This is inaccurate; there is no shortage of choreographers who are women. The real issue is the need to redress the gender biases steering the channels of support for artists, which negatively affect the number of women who achieve certain levels and types of representation. Failure to acknowledge this subtle, embedded imbalance will create a long-term silencing of women’s artistic voices.

For someone whose work has exemplified how dance can be a site of cultural resistance and critique, your comments demonstrate a failure to acknowledge the ongoing importance and multi-vocality of cultural critique.

More than 400 signatories, including Siobhan Davies, Wayne McGregor, Tim Etchells and Shobana Jeyasingh
Click here for the full list of signatories

Akram Khan responds

I wanted to respond both to my colleagues from the dance community who have written a letter to me and to the wider community about some comments that I made in an interview that have been taken very much out of context. I sat down to do what I thought was a short interview about the new show and as part of it I was asked the question: “Do we need more female choreographers?”

I answered: “We don’t need more female choreographers simply because they are female, we need them because they are brilliant at what they do.” Why did I say this? For the first five years of my career, I had a suspicion I was getting work because I ticked a box. There was a sense of tokenism – that my racial background was getting me jobs. As this was happening, I had the words of my fiercely feminist mum ringing in my ears: “Akram, success should come for you on merit and because of your skills, not because of your race, colour, gender or age.” So I have tried to live my life with that advice at its core. I am a believer in talent getting its just reward.

If the comments that I made, that have been taken in isolation and out of their proper context, have caused offence, I sincerely apologise. However, I would hope the work I have done throughout my career to help support anyone with talent would demonstrate to those that don’t know me well, and to my colleagues in the dance industry that do know me, that those comments are simply not where my heart lies.

This is clearly a debate that needs to be had. But let’s do it collectively, and in the right arena. Let’s stand together and fight for the art form that we all love so much.

Akram Khan

ATG is top of The Stage 100?

I am surprised and appalled that Amabassador Theatre Group has been awarded top place in The Stage 100. It is one of the most-hated theatre companies by the public for its rip-off prices and surcharges. Looking at the “ambitious expansion plans”, it clearly has a gluttonous addiction for empire building. It’s all about possession. Will this bring down prices?

Always, we find, the bigger the company, the worse the service.

M Lightfoot

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