Richard Raymond has teamed up with internationally renowned dancer and choreographer Akram Khan to bring his directorial debut DESERT DANCER to the big screen. The British film stars Slumdog Millionaire’s Frieda Pinto as well as Reece Ritchie and Tom Cullen.
Set in Iran, where dance is illegal and punishable by prison – DESERT DANCER is the incredible true story of Afshin Ghaffarian who risks everything to fight for his dreams.
The story follows Afshin as he hacks into YouTube (also banned in Iran) and teaches himself how to dance by watching music videos – everything from Michael Jackson and Bob Fosse to Pina Bausch, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. With YouTube as his teacher, Afshin starts an underground dance company at university with his friends. As their skills develop the group put on a secret dance performance deep in the desert. Their story plays out against the 2009 protests, when the passion and defiance of a young generation lit the flame of revolution still sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
Director Richard Raymond said: “When I first discovered this story, I immediately connected with it and felt compelled to share it with the widest audience. It’s a story that provokes unity and reminds us of the hope to be found in human resilience and in the simple determination to fight for what is right.
“This film reflects a belief that we should all have the same rights and basic freedoms, no matter where we come from. And most importantly, we should all have the opportunity to realise our dreams.”
He added: “It has been a privilege and a great experience to collaborate with Akram, whose interpretation of dance is not just visually mesmerising but also beautifully spiritual and it is a testament to the passion and love surrounding this film that such a talented and dedicated cast have worked so hard in training with us.”
Choreographer Akram Khan said: “This film is the beginning of the end of a tradition of trying to capture dance… Because this film is not just about dance, but about the very purpose and reason why dance is so important in our lives.
“I am extremely excited to be working alongside the vision and passion of Richard, where at once, he sees and captures the true essence of the body. Not only is the story an inspiring one about the struggle to free oneself from a political regime through dance, but it is also the very freedom we all have a right to have, regardless of what country, what nationality, or what culture we come from. Dance transcends these boundaries, and film allows us to witness the fleeting moments of the soul in action. I feel this film reveals just that.”
DESERT DANCER also stars Nazanin Boniadi, who is an official spokesperson for Amnesty International USA and has campaigned against the unjust conviction and treatment of Iranian youth, women and prisoners of conscience.
The film will start Principal Photography in Casablanca on October 17th 2012, before moving to London and then finally Paris. DESERT DANCER will be released in the UK in 2013.
Renowned British artist Akram Khan choreographed a prominent section of Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. The brief from Boyle to Khan was one word – ‘Mortality’.
The section featured 50 specially selected professional dancers, a 9-year-old boy and Khan himself. Set to the voice of Emeli Sandé singing Abide With Me, the piece was a moment of reflection and contemplation following the vibrant and astonishing, high tempo proceedings.
Khan’s work brought an infectious stillness to the London 2012 Ceremony, a reminder of our own mortality and the transfer of possibilities and hopes between generations. Danny Boyle invited Khan to choreograph the section after watching a performance of his piece Vertical Road – which explores similar themes.
Throughout his career Akram Khan has captivated audiences all over the world with his unique way of storytelling that cross cultural boundaries.
Following his performance in Isles of Wonder Akram Khan said: “Working with Danny and his team on the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games has been an exciting and humbling experience. I was daunted but always felt honoured and proud.
“I have tried to reconnect our intimacy and creativity to this gigantic world, to all our roots and to our hopes for the future. It seems almost natural for arts and sports to sit side by side: in both we desire to test the very limits of what we’re capable of doing. In sports human endurance, in arts human imagination.”
Following the Opening Ceremony, Akram Khan Company will resume a global tour. Akram’s Olivier award winning solo production DESH will go to Rome, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Athens and Paris before returning to London’s Sadler’s Wells in October. His other multi-award winning works Gnosis and Vertical Road will be touring Germany, India, Taiwan, USA and France.
Opening ceremony with TV commentary
Currently on the last leg of their North American tour, Vertical Road has reached critical acclaim around the world. The Guardian describes it as: “The dance is beautiful and harrowing, and draws us into a strange, potent world of memory and self discovery.”
Recent accolades for the piece include winning the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award 2011 for Best Modern Choreography.
Vertical Road is Khan’s latest contemporary ensemble work realised by an eclectic cast drawn from across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. With a specially commissioned score by long-term collaborator, composer Nitin Sawhney, Vertical Road draws inspiration from the Sufi tradition and the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi.
Exploring man’s earthly nature, his rituals and the consequences of human actions, Vertical Road becomes a meditation on the journey from gravity to grace. The piece explores these ideas in a ground-breaking work of contemporary dance, choreographed by Khan himself and performed by eight hand-picked dancers from around the world led by the uber talented dancer/choreographer Salah El Brogy, who plays the role of the traveller. El Brogy has been mesmerising audiences across the globe with his moves and is proving to show that dance portrays a deeper meaning that can really touch the soul. El Brogy is an artist with a message who continues to make a mark in his field.
Vertical Road sees Khan returning to pure movement in his choreography, eliminating the text and dialogue that have featured in recent works such as DESH and zero degrees. Rooted in his classical kathak training, but informed by his experience and virtuosity in contemporary dance, Vertical Road has strong Middle Eastern influences, and continues Khan’s interest in exploring the interfaces between different cultures and creative disciplines.
Check out what Boyle had to say below:
Khan, who’s work Vertical Road won “Best Modern Choreography” at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards last week, is recovering well from a tendon injury sustained earlier this month. His performance at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony will be his first public performance in 2012.
Khan said: “It is a thrill and an honour to be collaborating with Danny Boyle on the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“The eyes of the world will be on London, in what will be one of the most watched performance events of all time. To be able to contribute is one of the most rewarding and exciting moments of my career.”
“My work has always been about courageous and ambitious experiences, that take audiences on a unique journey that crosses cultural boundaries and I look forward to bringing all these qualities to my Opening Ceremony performance.
“I am recovering well from my recent injury and am looking forward to getting back to preparing for this incredible event,” he added.
Renowned performer and choreographer Akram Khan presents his new full length solo, DESH at Curve Theatre, Leicester, which started last night until Saturday, 17th September. DESH, which means homeland, sees Khan reconnect with his Bangladeshi roots.
Here’s what Khan has to say about DESH:
This production, according to the show’s producer, Farooq Chaudhry, is possibly the biggest collaborative project Akram Khan Company has done so far. For this solo performance, Khan has teamed up with Oscar-winning Chinese visual artist Tim Yip, who is production designer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist and lighting designer Michael Hulls; dramaturg Ruth Little; Indian writer and poet Karthika Nair and Olivier Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook, whose impressive credit list includes Brick Lane and Eyes Wide Shut.
Check out Khan on his DESH collaborators:
Sneak preview during rehearsal:
Mesmerising, stunning, breathtaking and wonderful were just some of the words the audience uttered after watching the world premiere of Akram Khan’s much anticipated ensemble work, Vertical Road, which took place at Leicester’s Curve Theatre. A lot commented about the intense and high energy performance from the eight dancers on stage as well as the brilliant music composed by Khan’s long-term collaborator Nitin Sawhney.
In Vertical Road, Khan draws inspiration from universal myths of angels that symbolise ‘ascension’ – the road between the earthly and the spiritual, the vertical road… this piece as he says on the video below, is very mythical.
(Thank you to IDFB for the video)
It was also good to see friends Salah El Brogy and Ahmed Khemis perform on stage. I met them during IDFB 2010 and it was great to see elements of their solo work come alive on stage once again. Both are very strong performers and wish them all the best in their two-year Vertical Road tour. Based on last night’s reception, this production is going to be well-received.
For tour dates, click here.
Director/choreographer: Akram Khan
Composer: Nitin Sawhney
Producer: Curve with ADACH, Sadlers Wells, Theatre de la Ville, Paris, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, and Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
Eulalia Ayguade Farro, Konstandina Efthymiadou, Salah El Brogy, Ahmed Khemis, Young Jin Kim, Yen-Ching Lin, Andrej Petrovic, Paul Zivkovich
Running time: 1hr 10mins
Continuing to keep the online presence alive for International Dance Festival Birmingham means that I get to track Festival alumni. I heard from Beirut-based Maqamat Dance‘s very busy season. Last week, I also managed to catch up with Akram Khan, Ahmed Khemis and Salah El Brogy. They are all working together in Khan’s latest ensemble work, Vertical Road, which premieres in Leicester’s Curve Theatre on 16 September.
To see the IDFB blog post on Vertical Road, click here.
Below are their interviews. Khan talks about the various concepts of Vertical Road as well as the significance of lighting and costume in the production. El Brogy, who plays the lead role of the traveller, talks of his journey with the company so far (one version in English and another in Arabic) and Khemis also shares his Vertical Road experience so far in English and French. Both dancers, from Egypt and Tunisia/Algeria respectively, have been handpicked by Khan and are part of an eight-strong cast of world-class performers from Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Four weeks. More than 100 performances. World-class artists. That was International Dance Festival Birmingham 2010. I’ve had such an amazing time working as a Marketing and New Media Officer for the Festival. Not only did I get to work with such an amazing team from DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome, I have met some of the nicest and talented people in the world of dance such as the beautiful Rosie Kay, renowned British choreographer Akram Khan and Arthur Pita to name a few. The good news is that I am continuing with the online presence for IDFB and am very much looking forward to working more on this project.
I felt quite privileged to see such an extensive range of dance styles from renowned artists from all over the world. It was interesting to hear from the Arab artists about their shows and about how their dance is very much connected to their spiritual side. Here are a couple of videos of two talented artists from Tunisia/Algeria and Egypt from the IDFB channel on YouTube:
Ahmed Khemis, Tunisia/Algeria
Salah El Brogy, Egypt
Utopia and (in)visible / visible dancin’ were two great outdoor performances that were part of the Festival. These both proved how dance is increasingly becoming popular as the public have received them very well.
visible dancin’ – May 9, 2010, High Street, Birmingham
IDFB has reached canal networks, has been out and about in the region and has touched many around the world (thanks to being online). I very much look forward to the next one in 2012. Watch out for other news via its Facebook group. Really pleased to have seen it grow to more than 1,000. Check out its Flickr page too. The video packages, which I helped produced, will also be out soon. In the mean time, I leave you with a bit of Put Your Foot Down!
Put Your Foot Down! Finale – May 15, 2010, Bullring, Birmingham