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Carnival of Shadows – ‘Xenos’, ‘Chotto Xenos’, and ‘Outwitting the Devil’ – Emerging into the light, Akram Khan Company marks 21 years…

Carnival of Shadows –  ‘Xenos’, ‘Chotto Xenos’, and ‘Outwitting the Devil’ –  Emerging into the light, Akram Khan Company marks 21 years…

Several productions, old and new, return to the UK…

THERE’S a chance to see Akram Khan’s much acclaimed ‘Xenos’ – his solo dance piece about an Indian soldier stuck in the trenches in the First World War.

He performs ‘Xenos’ from this evening (Tuesday, November 30) through till Saturday (December 4 – check listings below) at Sadler’s Wells in London.

It premiered in 2018 as part of the 14-18 anniversary commemorations and won Khan huge acclaim, securing the 2019 Lawrence Olivier Award for outstanding dance achievement.

It is in some ways a farewell piece to solo performing – preferring as he does now to creating original pieces and choreographing them.

Akram Khan in ‘Xenos’ ©JeanLouisFernandez

Next up and on a grand scale is ‘Jungle Book Reimagined’ – which will have its world premiere at Leicester Curve theatre on April 7 next year. It was announced earlier this year but the Akram Khan Company, which produces all his work is still in the middle of its Carnival of Shadows, a collection of work connected in theme and timing with different productions, both here and abroad and also marking the company’s 21 years of existence.

“The final bits of the tour of ‘Xenos’ got cancelled because of the pandemic, so Akram is finishing off what he was set to perform last year,” explained Mavin Khoo, Akram Khan Company creative associate and close friend, speaking before the discovery of the new Omicron covid variant.

Akram Khan

Audiences at Sadler’s Wells were treated to Khan’s ‘Outwitting the Devil’ performances last week.

It was the first time the production had come to the UK, having premiered in Stuttgart, Germany in July of 2019. It too like ‘Xenos’ was presented as part of the Carnival of Shadows, which began on November 24, with a series of open dance classes for professionals.

“‘Outwitting the Devil’ is really about surrendering to mother earth; it’s about the arrogance of the human race in relation to nature. All these works are tangible to our spirit now.”

For Khoo too, it is re-statement of pressing concerns: humanity, the environment, isolation, human neglect and abandonment, division, strife, conflict.

“What is interesting to me is that so many of Akram’s works lend themselves to a truth the world is having to encounter and face up to,” explained Khoo.

Mavin Khoo

The most graphic illustration of this, for Khoo, is in Khan’s adaptation of ‘Giselle’ for the English National Ballet, first premiered in 2016.

“Akram decided to have a wall as part of the set that would determine the context of the division between the people and the aristocrats and landlords. And then a few months later Donald Trump announced that was he going to build a wall (between the US and Mexico).”

The power is both in the quality of the dance production itself and the epic storylines that often mix myth and magic, nightmare and fantasy, romance and loneliness, tyranny and freedom.

“It’s poetic,” Khoo described,”it’s not aggressive in its agenda”.

It is also about bringing hidden, neglected, or discarded voices to the fore – foregrounding and platforming them.

Also coming to Sadler’s Wells as part of the Carnival of Shadows is ‘Chotto Xenos’. It’s a work adapted for children by director Sue Buckmaster. It premiered last year before the pandemic struck in February and returns now to the smaller theatre at Sadler’s – the Lilian Baylis Studio on Thursday and Friday this week (see listings below).

Dancer Kennedy in ‘Chotto Xenos‘ ©JeanLouisFernandez

The children’s adaptation and the original ‘Xenos’, which acv has seen, bring the forgotten voices to the fore with enormous pathos. The Indian soldier, Khan essays, was once a court dancer, doing what he clearly loved, and then he finds himself deep in the trenches, fighting someone else’s war – the contrast is stark and unforgettable.

Khoo explained what at bottom motivated Khan to create ‘Xenos’.

“He himself felt when he was growing up that he didn’t see anything in History that talked about it (the men from the Commonwealth who fought for Britain in 1914-18). So, it is very important then to develop a work where children can share that story.

“For the children who come to watch there is an identification with their own grandfathers and family,” Khoo said.

He stressed that the company’s ability to work and perform was all from a place of “privilege” – that drawing attention to the plight of others was important but done from aa position where they could still perform and do work.

Aware of global inequalities and the scale of suffering the pandemic has brought everywhere, Khoo said both he and Khan were deeply upset by what occurred in India this Spring as the Delta covid variant caused a huge rise in disease and death.

‘Outwitting the Devil’ on tour currently ©JeanLouisFernandez

In the summer, the company along with Anoushka Shankar and Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna raised funds through a special digital show entitled, ‘Trespassing Humanity’. It was in many ways a recognition and celebration of the creative spirit the artists had found in India. Khan trained in the Indian classical tradition of Kathak, while Khoo learnt Bharatanatyam, another classical style that originated in South India and received further training in India, having started out in Malaysia.

Khoo agreed that the Carnival of Shadows was a rebirth of sorts – a return to performing and what the company termed, the Sacred Space – the theatre.

Carnival of Shadows represents 21 years of the company founded by Khan himself and former dancer and manager, Farooq Chaudhry in 2000 after first meeting the year before at the Southbank Centre.

For the company to be back on the road and in front of audiences and aware that they have come through one of the most challenging times is also a blessing and an inspiration, intimated Khoo. Carnival of Shadows is about a re-awakening, being both mindful of past and the future.

“We feel we have a particular responsibility in telling these stories and providing an example to a new generation of artists and dancers,” Khoo stated.

“We don’t shy away from that responsibility – we take it on. We are strong believers in putting into action what we say through our bodies and our art.

“Carnival of Shadows is culmination and immersion into art – within him, Akram, carries a layered, complex construct of histories and it’s about that culmination of 20 years – and a way too for us to look into the next 20 years and see wherever that may go…”

Pictures: Courtesy: Sadler’s Wells & Akram Khan Company

Xenos Today (Tuesday), Wednesday, Friday, Saturday (December 4) – 7.30pm – Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN

Chotto Xenos
Thursday and Friday – Sadler’s Wells, check performances (twice daily) times


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture