Akram Khan interview: 'History is written by the victors'

Arriving in Adelaide for one of his final performances, dancer and choreographer Akram Kham speaks about XENOS while looking back on his distinguished career

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 3 minutes
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Xenos
Published 01 Mar 2018

Akram Khan's been getting ready to say farewell to his career for some time now, but that doesn't make it any easier.

"What's really hard is knowing that your body can't do it – it's like taking away your voice and I'm still grappling with it, it's a hard process." The rigours of the profession are such that, at 44, he feels it's time to step away from solo performance.

For Khan, with a reputation as one of the world's greatest dancers, the future lays in collaborating with others, as he did when choreographing Until The Lions, which was part of last year's OzAsia program. That piece retold a portion of the epic Mahabharata through the eyes of a minor female character. Now arriving at Her Majesty's Theatre, XENOS also visits a well-known story from a new perspective, portraying the experience of an Indian soldier fighting for the British in World War I.

"History is written by the victors and we take that for the truth but we never get a 360 degree perspective. Enough's enough with the world always telling stories written by the most powerful people, by the richest people. There were huge amounts of foreigners fighting for the Brits and it was hardly mentioned – it was omitted from history."

Khan collaborated with a writer and dramaturg for his final work. The result is a rich narrative that incorporates currents of the Prometheus myth and gives voice to those disenfranchised by history. XENOS means 'outsider' or 'friend' depending on the context, and the protagonist can be either of these. But on a broader level he reflects trends that are still shaping our world.

With great upheaval – mass population movements and reactionary scaremongering – across large parts of the globe, trends that preceded the period when XENOS is set, Khan is all too aware of history repeating itself. "It's very strange to be in a situation where we're creating a piece about the First World War and yet the same things are happening now, a hundred years later so it's a pretty scary time right now."

On a personal level, XENOS is also an archival piece in the sense that it serves as something of a career retrospective. "We're picking out a lot of materials I've made in the past and exploring them. So it's not just about the Indian soldiers, it's also about me looking back at the body of work that I've made and revisiting some of that – there's one scene that actually is from the first piece that I ever made."