Akram Khan Company


2018-10-11 19:30 2018-10-13 21:30 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Akram Khan Company


Akram Khan is irrefutably one of the most innovative dance artists in the world. His highly collaborative interdisciplinary works shift between classical kathak and contemporary dance. For his new solo, he tells the tale of an Indian colonial soldier in the First World War, expressing both the beauty and horror of the human condition. XENOS takes place on the border between East and West, past and present, mythology and technology, where humanity stands in wonder and disarray. Don’t miss...

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Babs Asper Theatre,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
October 11 - 13, 2018

≈ 65 minutes · No intermission

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Last updated: October 3, 2018

It's always such an absolute honour for me to share with you a world of dance, shaped by some of the most gifted and innovative artists working across a broad spectrum of styles and influences. I am committed to bringing the best and brightest dance companies to Ottawa and I hope you will join me throughout the season on this extraordinary journey of life in motion!

I am thrilled we are opening the season with this brilliant work by Akram Khan. What makes Akram such an ingenious artist is the beauty and uniqueness that emerges from his marriage of contemporary dance and Indian Kathak. This final, very personal solo performance superbly showcases his signature technique!

Enjoy the show!


Akram and I first met in 2001.

Akram performed his first solo at the National Arts Centre in 2001.

He and his company have since performed six times at the NAC.

Akram choreographed the latest Florence and the Machine video for Big God. (Check it out online!)

Word from Akram Khan

Out of all the creations I have been blessed to be involved in, XENOS is the one that I find to be the closest in line with my personal journey as an artist.

The themes of reflection, death, rebirth, time, alienation, identity, memory, are all part of this creative process, and together with some incredible collaborators, I have embarked on this challenging journey, to give birth to XENOS.

Essentially, this work is a reflection of how I feel about our world today. It is about our loss of humanity, and how, through past and present wars, we are yet again confronted by the burning question of what it is to be human. How can we as humans, have such ability to create extraordinary and beautiful things from our imagination, and equally, our immense ability to create and commit violence and horrors beyond our imagination.

Prometheus saw this in mankind before we, as a species, ever recognized it.

Word from Ruth Little

Akram 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.

The Great War was fought between nations, but its acts and outcomes were centred in the individual human body. For all its infamous battles, it was a war of exhaustion, labour, discomfort and boredom, punctuated by indescribable periods of carnage. It was a war of the hands, from the endless work of entrenchment to the digging of graves and tending of wounds, from the bayonet charge to the laying of barbed wire and communications lines, the lugging of provisions, the manufacture of artillery, and its relentless dispatch over hundreds of miles of incrementally shifting front lines.

The text for XENOS, by acclaimed Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill, gives voice to the shell-shocked dream of a colonial Indian soldier in no-man’s land. Many of the sepoys who died in conflict were buried abroad, while for those who returned home, often mutilated and traumatized, another form of erasure followed, as their stories were interred in archives following the rise of Indian nationalism and the rejection of colonial rule. Separated from their own histories, homelands, and countrymen, they became xenoi.

XENOS reveals the beauty and horror of the human condition in its portrait of an Indian dancer whose skilled body becomes an instrument of war. ‘X’ is no man and everyman, the unknown and the eternal soldier, alone in a foreign land, a stranger to himself and to an enemy he does not know. XENOS is a portrait of Homo deus brought back to his human origins in clay and fire. In the end we surrender not to gods, tradition or empire, but to the earth itself.

Akram Khan’s movement language shifts between classical kathak and contemporary dance on Mirella Weingarten’s precipitous and symbolic set. His sepoy is a warrior-child, victim-perpetrator, maker and destroyer of myth, defying categories of duty, loyalty and gender. XENOS takes place on the border between East and West, past and present, mythology and technology, where humanity still stands in wonder and disarray.

Direct experience of conflict in the First World War is no longer known on earth. With the death in 2011 of the last surviving combat veteran, our own connection with the felt experience of the War is now possible only through indirect accounts: archival film, photographs, interviews, museum collections and inherited story fragments. But humankind has another archive in art and culture: the deep and shared reservoir of memory, beauty, and the hope that we may together find our way home.


The title XENOS means ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’. Akram 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 four 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 Akram 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?”

Whose war?
Whose fire?
Whose hand is this?
— Jordan Tannahill, XENOS

Creative Team

Akram has brought together a stellar creative team. Along with dramaturg Ruth Little and acclaimed Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill, he teams up with set designer Mirella Weingarten, award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, costume designer Kimie Nakano, and composer Vincenzo Lamagna.

Akram will be joined on stage by five international musicians: percussionist B C Manjunath, vocalist Aditya Prakash, bass player Nina Harries, violinist Clarice Rarity, and saxophonist Tamar Osborn.

This is not war. It is the ending of the world. This is just such a war as was related in the Mahabharata.

— Letter home from a wounded Indian sepoy

Message from COLAS

Who decides to put a rifle in the hands of a dancer? Who takes hold of a single destiny and decides to break it? For his last solo work, Akram Khan embodies the voice of Indian soldiers engaged in WWI, anonymous soldiers killed in the trenches, confronted with the absurdity and randomness of a fight that was not theirs.

Dedicated to the forgotten soldiers of all wars, XENOS reflects Akram’s characteristic style. From the story of an individual slowly emerges the question of the role that history plays in the development of humanity. What do we learn from our tragedies? Even more than in his other works, Akram’s body is vector of thought, pointing us to a perpetual question: the two facets of the human condition, one noble and one black.

Colas and Akram Khan Company have been paving a path together for almost ten years now. I met Akram in London before I had ever seen his work. That evening, we talked about our respective journeys, our lives, as well as the meaning and value of the social link that roads provide. From each of our individual viewpoints, the link between populations and people seemed obvious to us. So, over the years, we have shared our worlds, thus forging a close personal relationship.

Hervé Le Bouc
Chairman and CEO of Colas


  • akram-khan-c-max-barnett
    Artistic Director, Choreographer & Performer Akram Khan
  • ruth-little
    Dramaturg Ruth Little
  • michael-hulls-by-gavin-evans
    Lighting Designer Michael Hulls
  • vincenzo-lamagna-by-jean-louis-fernandez
    Composer Vincenzo Lamagna
  • mirella-weingarten-by-olivia-flister
    Set Designer Mirella Weingarten
  • kimie-nakano
    Costume Designer Kimie Nakano
  • Writer Jordan Tannahill

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees