Edinburgh International Festival: Dance

Chotto Xenos

Mary Brennan

four stars

At the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival, Akram Khan performed his last solo creation: XENOS. In it, he delivered a visceral reminder of the horrors of war and - most especially - of the part played (and often forgotten thereafter) by the thousands of Indian Sepoys who fought for Britain in the First World War.

Now director Sue Buckmaster has distilled core themes from that original work into Chotto Xenos, a 50 minute work aimed primarily at young audiences - it has been streaming as part of this year’s EIF, able to be watched at home. Even if ‘chotto’ translates as ‘little’, Buckmaster hasn’t shied away from the big issues that thrum through Khan’s choreography, and in Kennedy Junior Muntanga’s solo performance the soul-destroying, wasteful nature of wars are conveyed with an intensity of emotional intelligence and a nuanced physicality that morphs from humorous games-play to fraught, fragmented terror under fire in the trenches.

Animations and projections give slivers of context to Mutanga’s journey from gung ho playground battles - fist fights, make-believe shoot outs and so forth - to the harrowing truths of a conflict that saw millions of recruits from the then British Empire shipped off to fight and die in distant foreign fields. The numbers float across the backcloth, watched by Muntanga who is himself soon under orders and marching into clouds of mustard gas. There is an economy of props, but a wealth of imagination in how they’re used - not least when an old gas mask becomes a puppet-puppy, nuzzling Muntanga’s face and offering much-needed warmth and affection. Perhaps watching this as a film distances the viewer from the searing immediacy of the action but Chotto Xenos nonetheless remains a poignant, powerful experience.