Akram Khan and Israel Galván talk ‘Torobaka’

At Montpellier Dance Festival June 27th and 28th …
British dancer Akram Khan and Spain’s Israel Galván talk about their contemporary dance piece, Torobaka. The two were coaxed into a collaboration by Francesc Casadesús, the director of Barcelona’s contemporary dance space Mercat de les Flors, and admit that the prospect of combining their two highly-independent dance forms made them nervous! Yet, contrary to expectations, this happy experiment in music and movement has left both dancers keen to work with each other again…

Publicity Poster Sadler's Wells Torobaka November 3 - 8, 2014

Francesc Casadesús: Who’s going first?

Khan: He can go first.

The process

Galván: It was all down to Cesc (Francesc Casadesús)! I’m used to working alone, which made this scary. At first we envisaged it as a conversation in movement, but pretty quickly I thought, ‘well, this is a disaster! We’re misunderstanding each other completely!’ It was only when I saw video recordings of what we were doing that I thought, ‘Wow! This is cool!’ The experience when you’re on the stage is … as if something is being taken away from you, as if we’re encroaching on each other’s personalities. But it’s something we have to do in order to get somewhere, to reach an agreement.

Khan: Yes, Cesc’s to blame! Without him this wouldn’t have happened. We talked about it and to be honest, I was reluctant… but then when I saw Israel dance I knew that if there were anyone I could collaborate with from the world of flamenco it would be him. There was… space in his solo, which made me think, this is the person to do it with.
But we don’t speak the same language, verbally I mean, so we had José, a translator there as a bridge between us. But even so there were so many misinterpretations… but then it was exactly those misinterpretations that took us somewhere new. Lost in translation…. literally. In fact, had we spoken the same language we would not have got to this new territory; so he’d say ‘green’, I’d say ‘blue’, and we moved forward with a mix of the two.

The movement

Galván: It’s not an easy fusion of styles! It’s as if we require a more precise choreographic language when we dance with someone else. Kathak brought a whole new rhythm to the dance; the accents are totally distinct from those of flamenco. The whole process was so unfamiliar, so strange… I could no longer master what I did – I became blunt, creaky! For me kathak is like a nasty tasting medicine to my flamenco … but it works in a good way! It gives me strength. It’s makes me move ‘faster’…

Sadler's Wells publicity poster

Khan: But the piece is not thematically heavy. And that was a conscious decision, to take it aside from that intense theme of flamenco. So at times we dance alone, at times in exchange with each other or with musicians. And there’s a lot of personality in it! We wanted to understand each other … and our childhood is what makes us who we are today. So we spoke a lot, not just about flamenco and kathak but also about who we were: about our backgrounds, our families, which form the basis of what we create. Israel is a very funny guy … so there’s a lot of humour in the piece too.

The music

Khan: The music we have for the piece is incredibly varied: flamenco, Italian, Indian, world music. Initially, Israel was searching for something that was… going back to music’s origins. We imagined a time before it music was connected to movement; imagining what it would be like before it became the music for kathak, the music for flamenco… what that music would be like…

Galván: A time even before music were called ‘music’; when it was noise; sound.

Publicity poster for a forthcoming performance of Torobaka in... Greece?

Khan: There are six musicians in a sense, including Israel and myself and we’re all different percussive instruments: be it the body or the hands, the drum or the voice. These are all brought together, and exchanged. Because what’s wonderful too is that we have literally swapped musicians for our solos.

The audience

Khan: Flamenco, as with any form of dance, is both introspective and about showmanship. What was interesting about when I saw Israel perform his solo was that he creates his own world that exists within that world created by the expectations of the audience – he’s not a ‘showman’ though, it is the audience that has to step in. So, in a sense, it didn’t seem matter whether there was just one person watching him or a hundred, he’s completely in control, and it is as if we are pulled towards him like a magnet… There are very few artists in the world that I’ve encountered who can do that.
What’s interesting too was the change in the audience; when we performed in Madrid the first night it was a flamenco audience, because they were clapping every time Israel did something special … and then by the third night they were contemporary, because they were silent to the end. It was really interesting to see the reaction.


Galván: They didn’t know what to expect … It’s a piece in a language that doesn’t belong either in the flamenco camp or the contemporary camp. I mean, we deliberately tried to come up with a language that didn’t obey the rules of one or the other, even the rules of dance itself! To take us all back to a level of ‘innocence’.

Khan: With kathak we never look to the past. But when I saw Israel dancing, it was like he looks to the past to then take him into the future. When I saw this I thought it really very beautiful, to look back to find a more neutral ground, free from associations and paraphernalia, a ground from which to create again.

Torobaka / Israel Galván & Akram Khan

The above is a part translation (of Galván) recorded in a press conference held in Barcelona on 2nd October, 2014. I’m hoping I got it mostly right! The pictures are all publicity images.