Akram Khan’s Xenos at Sadler’s Wells
Dedicated to the millions of nameless soldiers who died in foreign wars at the hands of colonialism, Xenos, Akram Khan’s last performance, is a triumphant display of skill and energy. The choreography reflects the dancer’s signature style, in which his body is the narrative through which we ask vital questions about the human condition and its capacity for suffering and abuse.
Under playwright Jordan Tannahill, the production tells an othered tale in the Beckettian style of short, almost disjointed, yet thoroughly effective narrative through a wearied gramophone that sings the names of the forgotten soldiers 100 years on. The performer honours each with the delicate sway of his fingers, which point to his heart, crying, “dard hai yahaa” (There is pain here).
Khan’s body is Prometheus, who is created using elements from different stories, forming a disoriented soldier who is simultaneously nuanced and universal, and who recalls being a dancer.
The dancer’s declining faith in his own physical ability was to be challenged by the tabor player, especially, who tempted and provoked him, demanding, “chale!” (let’s go). Unsatisfied with his response, the musician then mocks Khan, asking, “bool gaye, kya?” (Have you forgotten?), forcing him to forget his doubts and push his body beyond its limits.
The conflict in identity, both in terms of the performer’s body and in terms of his otherness – given that he is depicting myriad soldiers who fought and died in the wars of other countries – is depicted in the ropes which the dancer tirelessly yet pointlessly pulls. The ropes lead him nowhere but up and down the mountain, like Syssaphis, until he is rolled into what could be a mass grave of the unknown colonial soldiers – or the trenches where the soldier is forever stuck. However, not even the earth falling upon him can end his struggle, echoed at the conclusion when he finally asks, “when is my end?”
Xenos is a thrilling and intelligent exhibition of Khan’s resistance to colonial history and the politics of the present which reflect a loss of humanity and logic. The interweaving of Kathak and contemporary dance movements give this performance a timeless quality that celebrates the ferocious energy and the poetic sensibility with which the dancer narrates. Through trembling lips pressed tightly together, he tells tales of a complex and selective past.
Photo: Alistair Muir
Akram Khan’s Xenos is at Sadler’s Wells from 29th May until 9th June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a clip from Xenos here: