XENOS | Hong Kong, Cultural Centre

Celebrated British choreographer Akram Khan brings his latest work, also his final solo, to Hong Kong, as part of a world tour. XENOS was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, in 2018. Khan draws on WWI archives, and gives voice to the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier: an Indian dancer, whose skilled body becomes an instrument of war.

Akram’s movement language shifts between classical kathak and contemporary dance, and it’s the push and pull between these that creates some of the strongest moments. Khan’s character longs to whirl about like a whirling dervish, but keeps falling over, or is too stressed that his limbs tense up all together, or flop into jelly.

Composer Vincenzo Lamagna’s score is melancholy and sublime. At times, the skill of the musicians and the passion of the music outshines the choreography. Timing with Khan’s removing strings of bells from his ankles, traditional Indian percussionist B C Manjunath and vocalist Aditya Prakash give way to lamenting western strings from bass player Nina Harries and violinist Clarice Rarity, hovering above the action like ghosts.

Dramaturgy (Ruth Little), writing (Jordan Tannahill), production design (Mirella Weingarten; Kimie Nakano) and lighting (Michael Hulls) offer some extremely arresting zero-budget coups de théâtre that lift the piece beyond the realm of the dancer. Despite Khan’s immense skill as dancer and choreographer, sometimes this piece needs it. Seems to have worked though: the show gets an immediate standing ovation.

Akram Khan and company are currently on a world tour.

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