Sadler’s Wells Theatre 29 May – 9 June 2018
Xenos, Greek for foreigner. The title refers to the estimated 1.4 million Indian soldiers and the 4 million soldiers from the British Empire that fought in the First World War alongside Britain. But it is also a comment on the discourses of foreignness thrust upon many of those living in the United Kingdom today in the wake of the turn towards nationalism ignited by the Brexit vote. Commemoration is as much about the present as it is about the past and Khan’s performance speaks to today.
As the audience takes their seat they are greeted by two traditional Indian musicians (Aditya Prakash, vocals and B C Manjunath, percussion and Konnakol), mid-recital. The sparse stage is furnished with luxurious rugs, cushions and soft lighting, creating an enchanting atmosphere. But this is soon ruptured as you notice the ominous noose-like ropes running up the steeply sloping stage designed by Mirella Weingarten. A string of bare electric bulbs suggestive first of fairy-lights, or perhaps the street lighting of a festive market until they crackle and flicker unexpectedly. This is first sign of the technological horrors of war about to cut short the lives of millions of men. Khan enters wearing a white salwar kameez and ankle bells, carrying the burden of a large rope; a telegram wire calling the men of the empire to war?
‘Do not think that this is war. This is not war. It’s the ending of the world.’
Khan mesmerises as he performs traditional kathak dance accompanied by Prakash’s vocals and Mannjunath’s percussion. The pace quickens, drumbeats and vocals reminiscent of machine guns reach a crescendo as the set is slowly dragged up the steep slope, his world literally pulled from beneath him. Khan is left alone on stage, the traditional bells around his ankles unravel as the world of the soldier in a strange land unravels, transforming first into the puppet master’s strings, and then into two slings of shells wrapped around his body.
Photos: Jean Louise Fernandez ©, Tony Lewis ©.
We follow Khan’s soldier to war, the stage now covered in the soil of the trenches, Khan himself clad in the mud-encrusted clothes of war. He is relentlessly shot down and relentlessly resurrected to face the guns again, like the Promethean myth that inspired the production. As Dramaturg Ruth Little writes, “The Great War was fought between nations, but its acts and outcomes were centred in the human body. For all its infamous battles, it was a war of exhaustion, labour, discomfort and boredom, punctuated by indescribable periods of carnage.” Through Khan’s performance, both effortless and tortured, we are confronted with the embodied experience of the war for the individual. A gramophone at the top left of the stage recites the names of Indian soldiers so often left out of the popular narrative of the Western Front. Khan crouches before the gramophone evoking the image of His Master’s Voice; a wry critique of the colonial master’s calling the Empire to fight its imperialist war.
Images: His Master’s Voice, Khan in Xenos, Alastair Muir ©
If Khan’s choreography and performance are a tour de force (and they are), they are surely matched by Vencenzo Lamagna’s compositions and Julien Deloison’s sound design. Traditional Indian music is periodically interrupted by radio static, blending in the satirical wartime song, ‘Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire’, a comment on the perception that senior officers were often safe ‘miles and miles and miles behind the line’, while their battalions perished on the barbed wire of no man’s land. At the top of the slope Khan is periodically joined by the five musicians that accompany the performance, witnesses to the horror of trench warfare.
Photo: Cal Performance ©
As the performance builds to its close the gramophone transforms into a searchlight, futilely scanning the no mans land of the audience. Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor builds the tension to fever pitch as the stage is bombarded until there is nowhere left to move, yet this death is not one of peace and rest. Like Prometheus who was condemned to his torture day after day, this was not ‘the war to end all war’ and we are left with the impression that Khan’s solider will be doomed to endure this torture for an eternity.
Akram Khan has said this will be his final solo show, it is not to be missed. For information on future dates and tickets visit: http://www.akramkhancompany.net/productions/xenos/
For the extended trailer Xen visit: https://vimeo.com/273229256
Director/Choreographer/Performer Akram Khan
Set Designer Mirella Weingarten
Lighting Designer Michael Hulls
Costume Designer Kimie Nakano
Original Music Score composed by Vincenzo Lamagna
Dramaturg Ruth Little
Writer Jordan Tannahill
Rehearsal Director Mavin Khoo
Dancer Akram Khan
Musicians Nina Harries (double bass & vocals), Andrew Maddick (violin), B C Manjunath (percussions & konnakol), Tamar Osborn (baritone saxophone), Aditya Prakash (vocals)
Producer Farooq Chaudhry
Associate Producer Lindsey Dear
Technical Director Richard Fagan
Production Manager John Valente
Stage Manager Marek Pomocki
Lighting Engineer Stéphane Déjours
Sound Engineer Julien Deloison
Technician Russell Parker
Project/Tour Manager Mashitah Omar
Props made by Louise Edge from LFX props & special fx
The original music score was devised in collaboration with the musicians, and contains extracts from Requiem in D minor K. 626 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire (traditional composition), Tu Karim (traditional composition), Chhap Tilak (Amir Khusro), Babul Mora (Nawab Wajid Ali Shah), Naiharwa (Kabir).
Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary
Co-produced by Onassis Cultural Centre – Athens, The Grange Festival Hampshire, Sadler’s Wells London, New Vision Arts Festival Hong Kong, Théâtre de la Ville Paris, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, National Arts Centre Ottawa, The 20th China Shanghai International Arts Festival (CSIAF), Centro Cultural de Belém, Festspielhaus St. Pölten, Grec 2018 Festival de Barcelona, HELLERAU – European Center for the Arts Dresden, Edinburgh International Festival, Adelaide Festival, Festival Montpellier Danse 2018, Julidans Amsterdam, Canadian Stage Toronto, Romaeuropa Festival, Torinodanza festival / Teatro Stabile di Torino – Teatro Nazionale, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts New York, University of California Berkeley, Danse Danse Montreal, Curve Leicester.
Sponsored by COLAS
Supported by Arts Council England
Akram Khan is an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells London and Curve Leicester.
Produced during residency at The Grange, Hampshire and Onassis Cultural Centre – Athens
Special thanks to Katia Arfara & the OCC team, Michael Chance, Michael Moody, Nigel Hinds, Jenny Waldman, Sarah Goodfellow, Hervé Le Bouc, Delphine Lombard, Béatrice Abeille-Robin, Mr. & Mrs. Khan, Yuko Khan, Sayuri & Kenzo Khan, Dannii Evans, Zia Ali, Es Devlin, Zena Edwards, Tim Freke, Ronan Harrington, Daniel Hernandez, Amit Lahav, Jerome Lewis, Confucius MC, Vahakn Matossian, Camilla Power, Ella Saltmarshe, Murray Shanahan, Zahed Sultan, Temujen Gunawandera, Jess Balla, Chris Timpson, Paul Evans, Robin Leonard, Florian Stagliano.