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Akram Khan to retire from full-length dance performance

Posted on October 10, 2017

Akram Khan has announced his final full-length solo production. XENOS, which will have its premiere at London’s Sadler’s Wells in May 2018, is inspired by Greek mythology and by World War I. It will mark Khan’s final performances as a dancer in an evening-length work.

Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the World War I centenary, will draw on the story of a shell-shocked Indian soldier trapped in a trench. This event will be seen in terms of the myth of Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. XENOS, meaning “stranger” or “foreigner”, will have a text by playwright Jordan Tannahill, with a movement language that shifts between classical kathak and contemporary dance.

Khan said: “I want to explore our connection with our past and our future, investigating specific questions that confront me more and more every day, such as how does ‘myth’ play a part in today’s society? XENOS explores the central question at the heart of the myth – was Prometheus’ gift the blessing or the curse of mankind? And at its centre is a colonial soldier, one of over 4 million men mobilised on behalf of the British empire. 1.5 million of these recruits were Indian, mostly peasant-warriors from North and North-Western India, and they fought and died in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Many sepoys were buried abroad, while those who returned home, often mutilated and traumatised, were estranged from their own histories, homelands and countrymen, becoming xenoi.

“So, do we need to tell other people’s stories just in case they vanish? Who are the ‘other’ people? Are stories of human journeys told and retold again and again, so we can eventually learn from our mistakes? Who are ‘we’, a collective or many individuals? What makes us human? Are we still human?”

Akram Khan’s XENOS. Photograph: Nicol Vizioli

As in his 2011 solo work DESH, Khan will work with dramaturg Ruth Little, lighting designer Michael Hulls and costume designer Kimie Nakano. The set will be designed by Mirella Weingarten.

Khan will be joined on stage by percussionist B C Manjunath, vocalist Aditya Prakash, bass player Nina Harries, violinist Andrew Maddick and saxophonist Tamar Osborn. The music will be composed by Vincenzo Lamagna, who created the scores for Khan’s Until the Lions and his Giselle for English National Ballet.

Co-produced by Sadler’s Wells, XENOS will have its UK premiere performances from May 29 to June 9, before an international tour. The London performances will also open the 14-18 NOW commemoration season. Tickets will go on sale on November 6.

In November, Khan will present a new Channel 4 documentary on living with robots, exploring the impact artificial intelligence is having on human relationships. Travelling from the UK to Japan and the US, he meets robots already coexisting with humans and scientists harnessing artificial intelligence and advanced robotic mobility techniques to make machines for the 21st century. The film’s finale will be a new work with dancer Ching-Ying Chien, portraying the emotional tensions and connections in human-robot relationships. Directed by Hannah Berryman, the film has the provisional title Can We Live With Robots?.

 

Top: Akram Khan. Photograph: Jean Louis Fernandez

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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