XENOS, a solo work created and performed by Akram Khan, gives voice to the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the First World War, revealing the beauty and horror of the human condition in its portrait of an Indian dancer whose skilled body becomes an instrument of war. Shifting between classical kathak and contemporary dance, XENOS takes place on the border between East and West, past and present, mythology and technology, where humanity still stands in wonder and disarray.

The sole dancer in this “triumph of energy, empathy and intelligence” (Telegraph UK), Khan is accompanied onstage by five international musicians: percussionist BC Manjunath, vocalist Aditya Prakash, bass player Nina Harries, violinist Clarice Rarity, and saxophonist Tamar Osborn.

The title XENOS means “stranger” or “foreigner” — Khan and his world-class team of collaborators draw in this new solo work on the archives of the 20th century, unearthing the experience of colonial soldiers in the First World War. Over 4 million non-white men were mobilized by the European and American armies during the conflict. Around 1.5 million of them were from India, mostly peasant-warriors from North and North-Western India, who fought and died in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In service to the myths of Empire, dislocated from their homelands and cultures, their stories have until recently remained in shadow. As Khan himself writes: “I will investigate specific questions that confront me more and more every day, like a shadow constantly following me, haunting me, whispering to me… Do we need to tell other people’s stories in case they vanish? Who are the ‘other’ people? Are stories of human journeys told, retold, and told 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?”

Khan’s XENOS asks a question which first arose 100 years ago during the global cataclysm of the First World War, and has continued to haunt our civilization ever since: what is it to be human when man is as a god on earth? Drawing on the archival traces left by some of more than a million Indian soldiers who fought for the British Empire and experienced slaughter on an industrial scale on its many fronts, XENOS is a lament for the body in war, and a memento mori for our own times of violent estrangement from one another and our world.

Khan received the Lawrence Olivier Award 2019 for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for XENOS, and the Outstanding Male Modern Performance Award at The UK Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards 2018.

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