Akram Khan: Performing the Third Space

Royona Mitra

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis theorises the practice of the performer and choreographer Akram Khan through Homi Bhabha‟s conceptual framework of the „third space‟, and examines the relationship between his identity and his art. It argues that Khan‟s meteoric rise to stardom within the contemporary British cultural milieu is worthy of academic scrutiny, and situates his performance aesthetic at the interstices between the politics of diasporic identity and the syncretic genre of physical theatre. Consequently, the thesis challenges popular perceptions of Khan‟s language as „Contemporary Kathak‟ by suggesting that instead, his aesthetic makes a significant contribution to the field of physical theatre, due to its concern with embodied subjectivities, interpersonal politics and socio-political legibility of movement. As a result it is not so much contemporising kathak, as it is changing the landscape of physical theatre by injecting into it fundamental philosophies of kathak, through a reconfiguration of the principles of abhinaya and rasa as laid out in the Natyashastra, the ancient Indian dramaturgical treatise.

The Introduction outlines research questions addressed in the thesis and the methodological approaches undertaken, before providing a critique of the label „Contemporary Kathak‟ and a genealogy of the physical theatre genre. Chapter 2 identifies interlinked biographical circumstances, creative choices and socio-political conditions that have fuelled Khan‟s rise to success. In Chapter 3 Khan‟s placement of his corporeality within the landscape of London‟s Docklands is analysed as an auto-ethnographic enquiry in his televised solo Loose in Flight (1999). Chapter 4 compares Khan to Peter Brook as an intercultural performance maker through an analysis of Gnosis (2010). In Chapter 5 Khan‟s multiple evocations of third space are explored in zero degrees (2005). Through Chapter 6 Khan‟s directorial debut in Bahok (2008) is examined as a commentary on relocated subjectivities as travelling homes. Finally, the Conclusion theorises Khan within the framework of cosmopolitanism. It then cements the ways in which Khan draws on his predecessors in the physical theatre genre, before identifying how he contributes to it by infusing into its remit the principles of abhinaya and rasa, thereby lending it a unique cultural syncretism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance
  • Cohen, Matthew, Supervisor
  • Gilbert, Helen, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011

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