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Akram Khan

November 15, 2013

DESH

Reviewed November 14, 2013

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performances November 15 & 16, 7:30 p.m.)

Photograph by Richard Houghton

Photograph by Richard Houghton

Akram Khan’s 2011 solo work DESH is an amazingly beautiful and captivating work of dance and story, created and performed by a choreographer for our time. From powerless to empowered, from lost to found, from past to present, from father to child, from Wimbledon Park to the streets of Bangladesh, DESH tells us in just under an hour and a half a lengthy and complicated story of roots, family, culture and searching for that fine point of balance.

And that is only the tip of the tale.

Khan, as sole performer/dancer, is poetic grace. He is inventive pantomime. He is master storyteller. He is a highly imaginative artist who is delicious to watch.

DESH draws inspiration from the choreographer’s exploration of his place in the world as an Anglo-Bangladeshi. “Desh” means “homeland” in Bengali. A work rife with symbolism, it’s not important on what level DESH might be understood or absorbed. Khan’s skilful play with light and shadow, projected animation, magnified sound, 0ff-stage voices, and surprising props (oversized chair, tiny chair, plane engine, countless ribbons of cloth teeming down from the ceiling) reflect the mind of an admirable creator. This is Khan’s world, the very intimate rhythms of his life, and it may be foreign to us, but it’s fascinating.

An overriding theme in DESH is one of searching. The work opens with Khan treading carefully on a dark stage, holding a dim lantern, and then taking a sledgehammer to a raised mound, from which grows a pathetic leafless tree. The magnified reverberations are deafening. He repeats this sequence towards the end of the show, at which point the tiny plant is uprooted.

Is he digging for his roots? Discarding them?

It’s not important.

In his search, he takes us into a whirling madness, heavy with the cacophony of earsplitting sound, as if all the noise of a busy urban centre – honking cars, incessant machinery, barking dogs, intermittent voices – is amplified in one tiny space. Khan moves fast and furious, yet sure-footed, through the scape, his hands testing the air, seemingly separate from his bewildered body and mind, seeking refuge or place of understanding.

akram khan desh elephant photo by Richard HaughtonHe takes us through story within story, moving seamlessly from scene to scene — scenes defined by rising backdrops, changing light shapes, sharp musical turns, or descending strips of material.

It might all be experienced as a disjointed chaos – an audience member behind me admitted she did not like the show – or more likely a work of beauty, a chasm into which one can fall, and surrender as to a pleasant if unintelligible dream.

While a solo work, DESH features numerous collaborators, including Chinese visual designer Tim Yip, known for his “new Orientalism” aesthetic, renowned dance lighting designer Michael Hulls,  visual animators Yeast Culture, internationally recognized UK composer Jocelyn Pook, who won a British Composer Award for her score for DESH, writer and singer Natacha Atlas, who performs a haunting rendition of “Ave Maria,” and Sreya Andrisha Gazi and Eesha Desai, who lend the charming voices of children to the work.

Khan is a 21st century storytelling dancer who brings awe, beauty, charm, grace and humour to the stage. He is a creative genius not to be missed.

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From → Contemporary

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