Akram Khan is renowned for his combination of Indian classical dance and modern Western movement.
Xenos is a Greek word for ‘stranger’, and his latest work, the last he will appear in as a solo dancer, is a reflection – meditation would imply a quieter tone than this sometimes violent, savage work possesses – of how Kahn feels about the world today. His inspiration came from the more than a million colonial soldiers, particularly Indian sepoys, who fought for the British Empire in World War I and the text by Canadian Jordan Tanahill relates the dreams of a shell-shocked sepoy in no-man’s land.
Mirella Weingarten’s set slopes steeply from halfway back, with ropes spreading fan-like down to the stage where a few chairs stand front right, a low table with dirt on it down left, together with a suitcase, books, and above them a swing. A string of lightbulbs hangs in an irregular line above the centre and beneath them as we enter the theatre, a drummer and a singer are in full flight. The lights flicker, thunder rolls. It happens again, and again. Khan enters, uncoiling a thick rope. He is in immaculate white, with anklet bells. A burst of thunder sends him to the floor, knocking over the table and dirtying his tunic. The drummer begins again and Khan dances, running, bending, spinning, suddenly stopping rock still. He raises his arms to the sky, points to the ground, his hands and fingers fast and fluent. His movements seem dictated by the drum.
The lights flicker and he falls again, but rises to dance with foot stamping and bells shaking. The long ropes begin to draw the chairs, the table, up the slope; unavailingly he tries to stop them, but manages to reach the top. Dim light reveals a five piece band, violin, bass, singer and saxophone, standing at the top of the slope then fades as clods of earth roll down, and he with them. He crawls to the table, takes some mud and builds a small pile downstage centre.
Later shots boom out, and at each one he falls, rising to stagger in a mockery of his former dancing. He is now in dirty white pants, shirt and coat, his hands and legs besmirched with the mud of the trenches. But he persists, once again drawing himself up to the top. Now a radio with a large horn sits on the opposite side. He ties the rope he has drawn in again to a lead from the radio, and songs and talking interrupted by static are heard. They cease, and are replaced by Mozart’s Requiem. Now with torso bare, Khan slowly makes his way down, as pine cones tumble around him and scatter across the stage. Slowly he climbs the slope again, and sits, hunched, as darkness descends.
This is a strange, emotional and compelling work, enlivened by Khan’s brilliant dancing.
Xenos was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Friday, March 16.