Global star Akram Khan returns to the festival

Until the Lions

Akram Khan Company

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Global star Akram Khan returns to the Holland Festival with a Dutch premiere. Until the Lions is a completely new work. Adapting from Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata by poet Karthika Naïr and inspired by the story of Amba in particular, the 41 year old dancer and choreographer focuses on the changing body: from young to old, and from man to woman. For a long time, gender and sexuality were taboo subjects for Khan, who received a traditional upbringing by his Bengali parents in England. Now he’s growing older, he has decided to address these issues, using his own, inimitable brand of dance: a mix of classical Indian kathak and modern styles. Don’t miss this chance to see the legendary Khan dance on stage.



For the performance of 26 June there are only tickets availabe for members of HF Young. Members can order tickets by using the order code.
more information (in Dutch only)

Background information

The award-winning British choreographer Akram Khan returns to the Holland Festival with his new production Until the Lions, an original adaptation of the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. Khan explores this story to ask questions about the nature of masculinity and femininity. Do the differences between man and woman go deeper than the body?

 Are there unnamed impulses driving inner desires and the urge for expression? Is gender an internal calling or merely outward appearance – like an identity card handed out by society. How fixed are these categories? What part does Time, the master sorcerer, play in our perception of these issues?
Until the Lions is based on Karthika Naïr's literary reworking of the Mahabharata. One of the subplots in this classic epic story is told from the perspective of a compelling, yet misunderstood female character. On her wedding day, princess Amba is abducted by Bheeshma, the ruler of a nearby kingdom, who offers her as a bride to his stepbrother. Amba is disowned by her family, her fiancé and her people – because she has been captured by another man. Her abductor also refuses to restore her honour. She is ruined. Rejected by everyone, Amba calls for the help of the gods. The god Shiva promises she will reincarnate as a mighty male warrior, so she can have her revenge on Bheeshma. Amba commits suicide and reincarnates as a man – with fatal consequences.

Until the Lions features Khan himself performing on stage, alongside Ching Ying Chien, Christine Joy Ritter and four musicians. Together, they mix contemporary dance with the traditional, narrative dance form of kathak. The performance shows what happens when society's rules governing the lives of men and women no longer protect but destroy. What can a woman do when she has lost possession and control over her own body, equated with her virtue. To what lengths can she go to regain control over her life, to gain justice? When the quest for justice swerves towards revenge, what price would the body have to pay, and what price would humanity have to pay? There's a saying in African Ugbo culture: 'Until the lions have their own historians, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.' Khan once again collaborates with some of the original team from his acclaimed solo DESH (2012), including writer Karthika Naïr, visual designer Tim Yip, lighting designer Michael Hulls and dramaturge Ruth Little. Supported by composer Beautiful Noise (Vincenzo Lamagna) the ensemble aim to fulfil the role of the historian for one of the heroines in the Mahabharata, whose story still speaks to us and whose tragedy still resounds in many parts of our world today.

Until the Lions goes back to Khan's early days as a performer, when he was a thirteen year-old dancer performing one of his first roles in Peter Brook's seminal staging of The Mahabharata with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Khan travelled the world with this company between 1987 and 1989. The epic has remained an inspiration to him ever since. He highlighted various of the story's characters in his productions Ronin (2003), Third Dialogue (2005) and Gnosis (2010). Khan: 'In our society we seem to be in thrall to 'intelligence' and to neglect wisdom, and I want to return to the knowledge tradition of the Mahabharata, using my transitional body and the conversation it might be having between its intelligence and its wisdom.'



Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Akram Khan (London, 1974), is one of the most respected dance artists of his generation. As a thirteen year-old he made his stage debut in Peter Brook's The Mahabharata. Khan went on to train in the North-Indian classical dance form Kathak and studied at Leicester's De Montfort University and at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

 In 2000 he co-founded the Akram Khan Company with producer Farooq Chaudhry. Khan frequently collaborates with world class artists from a range of different backgrounds, including China's National Ballet, the actress Juliette Binoche, singer Kylie Minogue, choreographers / dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel Galván, writer Hanif Kureshi, dancer Sylvie Guillem, visual artists Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Tim Yip, and composer Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost. In 2012, he created the choreography for a section of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. He's won several awards for his work and contributions in contemporary dance, including a Olivier Award, a Bessie Award and six Critics' Circle National Dance Awards. Khan is an associate artist at Sadler's Wells in London. His most recent work, Until the Lions, premiered on 12 January 2016 at the Roundhouse in London. This will be his fourth appearance at the Holland Festival, after Sacred Monsters (2007), zero degrees (2006) and Ma (2004). Khan sees Until the Lions as a great personal challenge. He has said: 'I've always been hesitant to explore issues of sexuality and gender, mostly because of my South-Asian upbringing. We are discouraged from exploring or debating these issues with our elders or even with our own generation. But they remain present in our private experience. I feel fortunate to live and work in the realm of dance, that allows questions, that provokes debate, that embraces stories of all kinds. I am fascinated by the idea of exploring the female body through my own body, using traditional dance.'



direction, choreography, dance
Akram Khan
narrative concept, scenario, text
Karthika Naïr
set, costume
Tim Yip
Michael Hulls
Beautiful Noise (Vincenzo Lamagna)
Ruth Little
assistant director
Sasha Milavic Davies
assistant choreographer
Jose Agudo
voice over
Kathryn Hunter
technical producer
Sander Loonen
Farooq Chaudhry
Akram Khan,
Ching-Ying Chien,
Christine Joy Ritter
Sohini Alam,
David Azurza,
Yaron Engler,
Vincenzo Lamagna
Akram Khan Company
Roundhouse/Sadler’s Wells London, MC2: Grenoble, La Comète Chalons-en-Champagne, Théâtre de la Ville Paris, Danse Danse/TOHU Montréal, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, New Vision Arts Festival Hong Kong, Taipei Performing Arts Center, Movimentos Festwochen Wolfsburg, Brighton Festival 2016, Maison de la Culture d'Amiens, Concertgebouw Brugge, Holland Festival Amsterdam, Romaeuropa Festival, Curve Leicester
supported by
Arts Council England
This production is a partial adaptation of Until the Lions, a retelling in verse of the Mahabharata by Karthika Naïr (forthcoming from HarperCollins India & Arc Publications, UK). Production initiated by the 360° Network of round artistic venues across the world.

This performance is made possible with support by