XENOS (4 stars)

This article is from 2018


credit: Jean Louis Fernandez

Intense and all-consuming performance from the celebrated dancer / choreographer

First premiered a few months ago in Athens, Akram Khan's solo work, XENOS (meaning 'other' or 'foreigner' in Greek) is billed as one of the last, full-length performances that the celebrated dancer / choreographer will make.

XENOS looks at the tragedy of World War One from the point of view of a shell-shocked Indian soldier, trapped in the trenches. The themes of colonial oppression, conflict and either the death or mutilation of many young, Indian peasants – while serving the Empire – were never going to make for an uplifting piece, but Khan hoped the audience would find ambiguity and metaphor in the abstract story of loss and hope.

The tone is solemn and lachrymose, with a soaring score by Vincenzo Lamagna, played beautifully by a spotlit, almost floating quintet of musicians, with hypnotic, rolling classical drumming and traditional Indian singing giving energy to the opening section.

The set also sees everyday normality literally pulled from under Khan's feet, as wooden chairs and musical instruments are dragged by ropes up a sloping back wall, that later doubles as a claustrophobic battlefield trench, and a lookout point for lighter moments, when Khan manages to spark an abandoned gramophone back into life.

Khan's combination of bendy, contemporary movements and hyper-expressive kathak dance, which uses rippling arms, exaggerated grimaces and stamping feet with ankle bells to tell the story, makes for a flailing, fluid, deranged and bird-like mix of grace and despair. A celestial choir joins him for the final sequence, giving a hard hitting end to Khan's intense, all-consuming performance.

Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 17 August. Run ended.


  • 4 stars

A new solo work by Akram Khan, marking the great dancer's final performances in a full-length production. XENOS means ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’. It confronts the tragedy of the First World War through the eyes of a shell-shocked Indian soldier in the trenches, forced to fight in a conflict that is not his. Around 1.5…