Buy tickets


Akram Khan Company

1st October 2021. / 20h

Serbian National Theatre, Novi Sad

Outwitting the Devil

artistic direction, choreography: Akram Khan
dramaturgy: Ruth Little
lighting design: Aideen Malone
visual design: Tom Scutt
original music score, sound design: Vincenzo Lamagna
costume design: Kimie Nakano
writer: Jordan Tannahill
creative associate, coach: Mavin Khoo
material devised and performed by: Luke Jessop, Jasper Narvaez, Louis T. Partridge, Mythili Prakash, Elpida Skourou, François Testory
executive producer: Farooq Chaudhry
technical manager: Tina Fagan
production manager: Rich Fagan
stage manager: Samuel Collier
lighting engineer: Zak Macro
sound engineer: Phil Wood
tour manager: Mashitah Omar
rehearsal directors: Azusa Seyama

duration: 80’
premiere: Stuttgart, 2019

co-production: Théâtre de Namur – Centre Scénique, CENTRAL – Centre Culturel de La Louvière, Festival d’Avignon, Théâtre de la Ville – Paris, Sadler’s Wells London, La Comédie de Clermont-Ferrand – scène nationale, COLOURS International Dance Festival 2019 – Stuttgart, Attiki Cultural Society - Athens, Greece

Supported by Arts Council England Produced during residency at CENTRAL – Centre Culturel de La Louvière, Théâtre de Namur, and Festival d’Avignon. Akram Khan is an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells and Mountview in London and Curve Leicester.

Night after night I have the same dream: I am young, immortal, an axe in my hand. The young man cannot imagine the old man he will become.

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. But what remains unchanged is my passion for exploring old and new myths in the context of our times.
Akram Khan

The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece, they looked at it and thought they had the truth.

“Outwitting the Devil” is inspired by a fragment of the 12 broken clay tablets which together make up one of the world’s oldest great works of literature, the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Akram Khan’s new work embodies a violent chapter in young Gilgamesh’s life, read and recalled by his older, dying self. It tells the story of Gilgamesh’s domestication of and friendship with the wild man Enkidu, their journey to the vast Cedar Forest, home to wild beings and spirits, and the slaughter of its guardian Humbaba. Fuelled by strength and pride, Young Gilgamesh determines to establish his fame and fortify the city of Uruk as a monument to himself. But the killing of Humbaba and destruction of the forest and its animals angers the gods, who punish the young king by taking the life of his beloved Enkidu. Confronted with the truth and sorrow of human mortality, Gilgamesh passes into history, to become a fragment among the broken remnants of human culture and memory. “Outwitting the Devil” is a myth of all times, for our times. “Outwitting the Devil” began around a table, with an image of the “Last Supper”. Or rather, it began with Australian artist Susan White’s response to Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting, which she titled “The First Supper”, and which depicted women of many cultures gathered at a table. White’s intention was to challenge the assumptions of a patriarchal religion. Khan saw an image of the painting as a schoolboy and was struck by the diversity of bodies and cultures depicted there. How we tell the stories of our myths matters: our systems of belief and our forms of power are defined by the question of who sits at the table. Central to Tom Scutt’s design for “Outwitting the Devil” is a large black wooden box; it suggests a table, and also a tomb - the first as well as the last supper. It is both a meeting place and a monument, and it sits among hundreds of fragments and remnants suggesting the ruins of human culture and the despoliation of the natural world. The idea of the first supper took us back to the origin stories of one of the world’s first ‘civilizations’ – that of ancient Sumer – recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh some 4000 years ago. Gilgamesh may have been an historical king of Uruk in Southern Mesopotamia. His rule coincided with the rise of large walled cities, stratified urban culture, slavery, warfare, literary writing, and the creation of historical records. His culture was patriarchal and hierarchical; his gods took human form and were thought to have made mankind – like the tablets on which scribes recorded his timeless deeds – out of clay. But people, like clay tablets, like the great city of Uruk and Sumerian civilization itself, fall and break. Among the fragments of the Epic unearthed in Iraq in 2011 was a clay shard containing 20 previously unknown lines from Tablet V. They describe Gilgamesh’s awe at the abundance and biodiversity of the great Cedar Forest, and Enkidu’s shame at having reduced it ‘to a wasteland’. This is, in effect, the world’s first environmental poem. “Outwitting the Devil” is at once a memory and a confession, a puzzle pieced together in the dark that contains the story of who we once were, and may again become.

Akram Khan is one of the most celebrated and respected dance artists today. In just over 20 years he has created a body of work that has contributed significantly to the arts in the UK and abroad. His reputation has been built on the success of imaginative, highly accessible and relevant productions such as “Until the Lions”, “Kaash”, “iTMOi (in the mind of igor)”, “DESH”, “Vertical Road”, “Gnosis” and “zero degrees”. As an instinctive and natural collaborator, Khan has been a magnet to world-class artists from other cultures and disciplines. His previous collaborators include the National Ballet of China, actress Juliette Binoche, ballerina Sylvie Guillem, choreographers/dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel Galván, singer Kylie Minogue and indie rock band Florence and the Machine, visual artists Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Tim Yip, writer Hanif Kureishi and composers Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost. Khan’s work is recognised as being profoundly moving, in which his intelligently crafted storytelling is effortlessly intimate and epic. Described by the Financial Times as an artist “who speaks tremendously of tremendous things”, a highlight of his career was the creation of a section of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony that was received with unanimous acclaim. As a choreographer, Khan has developed a close collaboration with English National Ballet and its Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. He created the short piece “Dust”, which led to an invitation to create his own critically acclaimed version of the iconic romantic ballet “Giselle”. Khan has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout his career including the Laurence Olivier Award, the Bessie Award (New York Dance and Performance Award), the prestigious ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts) Distinguished Artist Award, the Fred and Adele Astaire Award, the Herald Archangel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival, the South Bank Sky Arts Award and eight Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. Khan was awarded an MBE for services to dance in 2005. He is also an Honorary Graduate of University of London as well as Roehampton and De Montfort Universities, and an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Laban. Khan is an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells, London and Curve, Leicester. Khan was author of the 2009 World’s Dance Day Message for WDA ITI UNESCO.

With “Outwitting the Devil”, Akram Khan asserts an aesthetic and political turn.
© Le Monde

A masterpiece, inspired by the myth of Gilgamesh. A show of great depth whose powerful echoes resonate with the news… Between turmoil and bewitchment, the audience receive with full force the lessons... A great storyteller, a conductor – at times of a demanding ritual, Khan conjures everyone to challenge the subversive Devil, hidden in the darkest parts of the human being.
© La Croix