Keith Khan is the Director and Set Designer of The Accountants – a high-tech stage spectacle about the cultural superpowers of China and India. We discuss the story and working with choreographers Xie Xin and Terence Lewis.

Why is the production called The Accountants?

My dad was an accountant. I wanted to make something that he would have been proud of. And I wanted to find a name for a show that people could understand – not some big artistic name. It’s a very practical name. You wouldn’t associate it with an art project necessarily.

Can you summarise the show?

It’s a conversation between two characters from the UK who are investigating their identity. They watch a heap of people that are in their heads discuss India and China via dance and visual storytelling.

It’s not one thing or the other. It’s not a theatre play. It’s not a dance show. It’s this hybrid form of art.

Keith Khan

Can you tell us more about the two characters?

Kash is an Asian Indian woman who has never left Manchester. Liam is her nephew, although they’re not blood nephews – it’s like a very good friend. He is mixed race Chinese and on a world trip to India and China.

So, you have this story of a woman who thinks she knows about India and China, but she’s never been, so she’s always looking stuff up. It’s about facts and figures versus the lived experience of a young man who’s out there. The conversation happens between Liam and his auntie on phones. We never see these two characters. What we see is this fight that’s going on in their minds, which is played out by 12 accountants.

What was the inspiration for the production?

We’re talking about contemporary culture, so it’s everything. A lot of the references just come from things you think are normal. Like cash in China – people don’t use it, everything is on an app.

I have got so much background material on China, on Chinese art, on Indian art, Indian painting, the use of colour. It’s grown from all that stuff, and it’s not referenced in such a literal way. Those things have become a feeling across the whole piece.

Eight dancers performing on a stage – their hands pointing in the air and looking upwards

Xiexin Dance Theatre. Photo by Hu Yifan.

How did the idea begin?

The idea of creating something big with virtual media and projected imagery was probably the starting point. Then this idea of telling the story of China and India. They’re the biggest countries that people know very little about. So, the starting point was always, what if we start to talk about what goes on in modern India and modern China?

If you're raised in the UK, there's a lot of talk about cultural identity. The moment you travel to places like China and India, that conversation changes because they all know they're not in a minority – they're in a majority. There’s a different way that they think about themselves and their role in society.

The Accountants blends dance, performance, digital projection and more. How are you using these different mediums?

I think that all of it together is what makes the show. I’m very interested in exploring form – this collusion of dance, sound and video in a seamless way. It’s like a concert. It’s not one thing or the other. It’s not a theatre play. It’s not a dance show. It’s this hybrid form of art.

I hope it makes people question all sorts of things to do with identity, but also, I hope they are dazzled.

Keith Khan

The Accountants is very collaborative. Can you tell us a bit about the other creatives that you’re working with?

It has been an incredible journey to find these people. I should start with the dancers – Xie Xin from Shanghai and Terence Lewis from Mumbai. Both of them are interesting artists in the sense that they work in the contemporary field, but they're rooted in their country's culture. Then there's further collaborators in terms of music with Somatic and video, which is two artists who work under the name idontloveyouanymore. They're strong people, strong companies. And the way they work is very forceful and not hesitant.

Tell us about the process of working with international collaborators.

I’ve worked on big ceremonies like the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games, so I was aware that there’s a way of creating projects where you don’t all have to be in the same room at the same time. I really wanted to work with people from India and China, so from the outset the project was always going to be made in virtual pieces that were going to come together. It comes from a structured way of thinking. We came together in October in Manchester, but all the other conversations have been online. It’s been fascinating in terms of how it begins to pull together.

Dancers from Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company posing, wearing black, orange and brown clothes

Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company.

What is the most exciting part about working at Aviva Studios?

I’m really thrilled to be in that space because it’s a digital space. It’s the perfect fit for me. It’s not an old-fashioned theatre – that building is built on contemporary culture, and they are showing all sorts of work driven from contemporary culture that don’t necessarily fit into a category. So I really, really fit. I feel so much more comfortable in that venue than I would do in a regular theatre.

What do you hope people will take away from The Accountants?

I hope it makes people question all sorts of things to do with identity, but also, I hope they are dazzled. Yes, it’s a show about data, but here is something very, very beautiful.

The Accountants runs from 4 to 11 May 2024 at Aviva Studios.

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