400 members of the UK dance sector have responded to Akram Khan’s controversial comments about female choreographers with an open letter published in The Stage. Khan gave an interview earlier this month in which he acknowledged the lack of female choreographers at the top of the profession, but said there should not be more, ‘for the sake of it.’
In the letter, the signatories said that, ‘Gender imbalance is deeply embedded in society at large,’ and that Khan’s comments, ‘suggest that in dance it exists by chance rather than because of sexist infrastructure,’ something they described as, ‘disingenuous and misleading.’
Khan’s work over the last decade has been widely acclaimed with his shows like KAASH and DESH touring internationally and receiving rave reviews. As such, the signatories say he is an important voice for the dance sector and that he, ‘must be aware of the context and responsibility of your position, and the damage that you can inflict.’
In his original interview Khan cited Pina Bausch and Martha Graham as examples of a time when female choreographers were at the fore, and said that the lower numbers at the moment might be a natural fluctuation. This argument was refuted in the letter, as it pointed out that male choreographers were also prominent during the careers of both Bausch and Graham.
The Observer’s dance critic Luke Jennings also weighed in, stating that, ‘No woman has been commissioned to choreograph a main-stage ballet at the Royal Opera House since the 1990s.’
Signatories to the letter included Siobhan Davies, Wayne McGregor, Tim Etchells and Shobana Jeyasingh. As well as being published online the letter was given to Khan in person.
Khan’s latest piece Until the Lions received its world premiere at London’s Roundhouse Theatre on 12 January. The show is touring to France and Holland later this year, with an appearance at Brighton Festival in May.