Dance performances

Akram Khan retires from dance feature films | Akram Khan

Akram Khan, one of the UK’s most beloved contemporary dancers, is to retire from feature films with a piece marking the centenary of the First World War.

The 43-year-old dancer-choreographer said he would always dance smaller roles and cameos, but the physical rigors of performing solo on stage for over an hour were getting too much.

Khan said his body was changing and becoming more injury prone. “It’s just a different stage in my life…it’s the reality and I have to accept it,” he said. “Not everyone is Sylvie,” he added, referring to Sylvie Guillem, who retired from performing at age 50.

Akram Khan playing with Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters at Sadler’s Wells in 2006. Photography: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

He said full solos “put a huge strain on your body”. He started feeling it in 2011 while performing one of his most acclaimed works, Desh. “I realized as the time was near, the clock was ticking.”

Khan is one of the UK’s most famous and prolific dancer-choreographers and came to prominence to a much wider audience when he and his company performed as Emile Sandé sang Abide With Me, at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games by Danny Boyle.

His last complete solo work will be a new production called Xenos, commissioned as part of 14-18 Now, the artistic program marking the centenary of the First World War.

Khan expected it to be emotionally difficult: “The transformation is always violent, even if it’s not physically, it’s emotionally violent. The important thing is to know what you want to do before you change. If I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I would just be lost.

He said stepping away from full work would allow him to focus more on choreography. He also hopes to do more television work and will be seen on Channel 4 in November presenting a documentary exploring the impact of robots and artificial intelligence on human relationships.

Xenos will have its world premiere in Athens in February, followed by performances in Australia at the Adelaide Festival in March, Europe, North America and Hong Kong. Xenos will premiere at Sadler’s Wells in London in May, 16 years after the start of Khan’s first full production, Kaash.

It is inspired by the story of a shocked Indian soldier trapped in a trench and is told through the lens of the myth of Prometheus.

A scene from Dust by Akram Khan from English National Ballet's Lest We Forget, 2014, which also commemorated the First World War.
A scene from Dust by Akram Khan from English National Ballet’s Lest We Forget, 2014, which also commemorated the First World War. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Khan said: “Xenos explores the central question at the heart of the myth: was Prometheus’ gift the blessing or the curse of mankind? At its center is a colonial soldier, one of more than 4 million men mobilized on behalf of the British Empire. One point five million of these recruits were Indians, mostly peasant warriors from northern and northwestern India, and they fought and died in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

“Many sepoys were buried abroad, while those who returned home, often maimed and traumatized, were estranged from their own history, homeland and compatriots, becoming xenoi.”

Xenos is part of a new Spring 2018 season at Sadler’s Wells which will include the return of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch with a performance by Viktor, and Vancouver-based company Ballet BC with a triple program of works by female choreographers – Sharon Eyal, Emily Molnar and Crystal Pite.

Sadler’s Wells also released its latest annual review which reports that in 2016-17 there were 912 performances to a total audience of 700,000 people worldwide.

Xenos will be presented at the Adelaide Festival for three performances only from March 16 to 18, 2018

This article was updated on October 11 to clarify Xenos’ tour dates.