Akram Khan Company’s XENOS is “a dark, raw and visually arresting piece”

Akram Khan - Xenos. Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez

On the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Akram Khan presents XENOS – a dark and raw journey of a single man, who becomes one of the million Indian soldiers who fought for the British Empire.

Akram Kahn’s compelling solo performance explores the traumatic and soul altering experience of war and the deep impacts on the mind and body.

Akram Khan - Xenos. Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan – Xenos. Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez

XENOS opens with two men sitting, signing and beating drums in a homely scene that’s set against a backdrop of an impressive, full-sized red hill built on the stage. But it’s not long before the innocent moment is pulled apart, as the chairs and low lying tables (attached by ropes) are literally dragged over the hill with dark sense of foreboding that life is about to change.

Akram Khan - XENOS. Photo by Nicol Vizioli
Akram Khan – XENOS. Photo by Nicol Vizioli

Performed over 70 minutes, Akram Khan’s physical transformation is profound. He begins with the classical kathak movements, his ankles adorned with small bells as he rhythmically beats his feet, his expressive arms and fast spins show the essence of who he is as an individual. But as war approaches, he unwraps the bells as he prepares to become an anonymous solider, readying for battle.

The scene transforms and the genius of the visual concepts and staging is revealed. The performance moves to the top of the hill, where Akram happens upon a gramophone that he electrifies in a lighter moment that showcases Akram’s acting and storytelling abilities.

Akram Khan - Xenos. Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan – Xenos. Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez

The story darkens as war falls; Akram rolls over the hill and down onto the stage, his body ravaged by combat, exhaustion and untold suffering. His physical transformation is punctuated with hunched movements, his body reduced, concave and pained. Each step reveals the soldier’s harrowing experience of a man who has lost himself. It is this ability to reconstruct his body and physical presence, blending kathak and contemporary dance that makes Akram Khan a true master.

It is the end of the soldier’s story and the final scenes that makes XENOS a visual triumph. Covered in dirt the soldier tries to climb out of the trenches, he claws at the hillside as a landslide of endless heavy rocks literally roll down the hill. It’s a captivating end to a traumatic story that Akram brilliantly told in his final solo performance.

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 30 May 2018.

Akram Khan Company, XENOS run until 9 June 2018.