XENOS | The Observer | ★★★★★ review
8 September 2022
As Vincenzo Lamagna’s fine score builds in volume and intensity, Khan gives us the failing body, the breaking body, the body as repository of physical and psychic pain.
- Luke Jennings
In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire and gave it to mankind, enabling human progress and civilisation. For this the gods punished him. He was shackled to a rock where, every day, an eagle tore out his liver, which then grew back overnight. Around this grim allegory Akram Khan has fashioned a profoundly moving new work, Xenos. A solo performance of an hour’s duration, danced by Khan himself, the work reflects on the suffering of soldiers in the first world war, and particularly on the experience of the Indian colonial troops, many unrecognised and unnamed, who answered the empire’s call.
The piece opens at an Indian wedding, where a Kathak dancer is to entertain. The setting is spare and ambiguous, the lighting provided by a makeshift tangle of wires and bulbs that references the trenches as well as Indian wedding decorations (lighting design is by Michael Hulls, to whom unstinting praise). As Khan’s dance unfolds, there are power cuts and brownouts, and the crackle and rumble of artillery bombardment. The dancer, we learn, is a former soldier, reliving the horrors of war. The wedding scene dissolves. The dancer’s world is now bounded by a rampart of earthworks, and the decorations are replaced by a searchlight scanning a frozen no man’s land. The percussion becomes a series of reports from a sniper’s rifle, which repeatedly lift Khan from his feet and pitch him to the ground, limbs akimbo. Five musicians, meanwhile, occupy an Olympian dais behind the performer. “This is not war,” a voice track announces hopelessly. “It is the ending of the world.”
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