Review: Akram Khan Company – Chotto Xenos

Akram Khan Company - Chotto Xenos

Inspired by Akram Khan’s full-length solo XENOS Chotto ( meaning ‘little’) Xenos ( meaning ‘stranger’) was commissioned by 14-18 NOW:WW1 Centenary Art Commissions. Aimed at young audiences it tells the forgotten and often ignored stories of colonial soldiers who fought in WW1.

Over the past few years as we have remembered the many who fought and died in WW1 I have reflected on the lives of my own three sons, all in their twenties who would surely have been lost or maimed in the horror of this conflict. 

One graceful dancer narrates his story in Chotto Xenos which is emblematic of the stories of many thousands like himself. It is a story told by his body in choreography which is wonderfully clear and simple to understand. Using humour and body language that is both familiar and often childlike we are all too quickly engaged in the horrors of his experience. Some simple props, including an old gramophone player with its disturbing horn and a gas mask morphing into a pet dog, engage us in an ever-deepening relationship with this one special soldier. 

A powerful film projection moves the work seamlessly between the personal and the universal. It depicts collaged newspaper cuttings, animated WW1 aircraft, numbers and statistics, hands that burn and hands that hold, shifting mud and images of the trenches.

Chotto Xenos portrays the dreadful nature of war; the desolation, the destruction of humanity, the fear and the panic, the relentless noise and chaos. We see this in the movements of the dancer, in his eyes and hands and frenzied feet and then reflected again in the imagery of the film with its threat of fire, burial and suffocation. 

At the heart of the piece, there is, however, absence; the women who did not tell their story; the mothers, daughters, wives and lovers and their silent loss. But in the final moment as a figure rises from the fallen soldier there is hope that he at least has told his story. This is a deeply moving work and ‘lest we forget’ we will now remember them.

Reviewed at DanceEast Ipswich on Friday, February 21st