Akram Khan Company Announces Outwitting the Devil

Outwitting the Devil © Jean Louis Fernandez
Outwitting the Devil © Jean Louis Fernandez

Akram Khan Company have today announced a brand-new production from the multi award-winning choreographer and dancer Akram Khan. Outwitting the Devil will premiere in Stuttgart in July 2019. The announcement comes six weeks ahead of Until the Lions’ homecoming to the Roundhouse in London, Khan’s first ever work in the round and one of his most haunting, which he will dance for the last ever time.

Both pieces of work will explore old myth and reinterpret them in a contemporary context, in a way that Khan has become renowned for in his career over the last two decades. Brand new images for Until the Lions have also been released today. Outwitting the Devil will premiere at COLOURS International Dance Festival, Stuttgart, running 13-14 July. Until the Lions at the Roundhouse runs from 11 – 17 January 2019. Tickets for Until the Lions are now on sale.

Khan’s inspiration for Outwitting the Devil came from Leonardo da Vinci’s mural ‘The Last Supper’, depicting the final meal that, in Gospel accounts, Jesus shared with his Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. Khan recalls studying the painting as a small child at school and feeling unable to see himself reflected in it. Later in life he encountered the radical reinterpretation of the work, ‘The First Supper’ by Australian artist Susan Dorothea White, portraying 13 women from around the world. The figure in the position of Leonardo’s Christ is an Aboriginal woman, and Judas is the only white woman in the painting. This inspired him to create a piece challenging and redefining this oldest of human rituals, the coming together to share food in a time of limited resources.

Khan reunites with some of his close artistic collaborators: dramaturg Ruth Little, composer Vincenzo Lamagna, writer Jordan Tannahill, rehearsal director Mavin Khoo, costume designer Kimie Nakano – joined by lighting designer Aideen Malone and visual designer Tom Scutt. He gathered an international cast of six extraordinary performers to bring Outwitting the Devil to life.

Akram Khan said: “As I arrive at the end of my dancing career, I have awakened to a new way of dancing. And that is to dance my ideas through the bodies of others, including older dancers, who carry their histories and complex emotional experiences within them. One of the seeds of inspiration for Outwitting the Devil is Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic mural of The Last Supper. This image has haunted me since I first laid eyes on it as a child. As a young British Bangladeshi boy growing up in South London, I remember seeing The Last Supper on a printed A4 page in my art class. I was told it was one of the most famous paintings in the world, and was asked to draw my own version of it. I now realise that at the time I was uncomfortable and confused by the depiction. I could not see anything of myself in it, or of the culture and religion I grew up in. It was foreign to me. Or perhaps, I was foreign to it. It did not reflect me, or the people in my street – who came from many different cultures – in any way I could relate to. Many years later, I stumbled across another version, The First Supper by Susan Dorothea White. This radical interpretation astonished me, and gave me permission to free myself from the classical version. And in this new, anti-colonial depiction, I recognised an artist’s journey and challenge to convention which was parallel to my own. Ever since I entered the classical Indian dance world, I have been searching for a way out…. or perhaps more truly, I was searching for a new way in.

Until the Lions will return to the venue where it received its world premiere – London’s Roundhouse – for just six performances in January 2019, with Khan dancing the role of Bheeshma for the final time. Created for the unique setting of the Roundhouse in January 2016, the inspiration for the piece which Khan choreographed and performs in is taken from poet Karthika Naïr’s book Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata, an original reworking of the ancient Sanskrit epic. Tapping into his classical roots, Khan combines the Indian dance form kathak and contemporary dance to explore the themes of gender and time. Until the Lions is a battle for justice and liberty, following one of the unsung heroines of the Mahabharata: Amba, a princess abducted on her wedding day who seeks revenge from the gods. This theatrical piece marks Khan’s return to the epic tale, having begun his professional career performing in Peter Brook’s own decade-defining production in 1985. Khan will perform alongside two remarkable dancers, Ching-Ying Chien and Joy Alpuerto Ritter, and four live musicians: singers Sohini Alam and David Azurza, percussionist Yaron Engler and guitarist Joseph Ashwin.

As one of the dance world’s most respected figures, Khan has created an influential body of work, collaborating with an impressive range of performers and artists including Juliette Binoche, Sylvie Guillem, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Nitin Sawhney. Khan’s work for the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was met with unanimous praise. Khan’s recent final solo show XENOS and his production of Giselle for English National Ballet both opened to critical and public acclaim.

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