How could a lone figure fill a stage and keep you entranced for nearly 90 minutes? Well Akram Khan did. And what is more he did it with poetry and contemporary grace. But then the poetry of dance and the contemporary language of choreography are Khan’s stock in trade.
DESH is an autobiographical production in which Khan collaborates with Oscar-winning art director Tim Yip (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), composer Jocelyn Pook and other notables of the international dance circuit. However DESH was not all about Khan, but the bits that were about him were quite intimate, illuminating and hilarious in varying measures. He takes us on a trip to his roots in Bangladesh and makes us witness to various guises of conversations with his father. The conversations are full of profound symbolism.
While it was busy being profound DESH does not forget to be entertaining. We are treated to hilarious interpretations of stereotypes of contemporary South Asia. Through the fusion of the media of dance and mimicry, Khan treats us to intimate conversations, profound symbolism and succeeds at entertaining us. How so? Well, Khan’s dancing is full of energetic and narrative choreography. The energetic movements and poses are surprisingly graceful, not forceful, while the narration flows in poetic precision with the movements.
There were other fusions and crossovers going on in the dance. There was the fusion of traditional South Asian dance with street dance. There is body popping fusing with contemporary dance and all other sorts of crossovers. The result was an endless, seamless and elegant flow of illustrative dance and the effect on you was transfixing.
One of the opening chapters in Desh introduces us to a riotous bustling city in Bangladesh, probably Dhaka. We are given a sense of where we are by Jocelyn Pook’s composition of lyrical and rhythmic denotations of cacophony, madness and strife. It was scary but engaging. Pook continues to help us on the journey Khan is taking us with her arrangements. Sometimes we are reassured by the sense of place she gives us, at other times we are surprised by the diversity and influences that are inevitable in a country of 142 million people with a chequered history.
Khan uses the vehicles of journeys and conversations to tell not just his story, but also that of Bangladesh and South Asia as a whole. The story of South Asia we are given here is one of strife. There are various narrations of conflict and struggles. The struggles between land and water, a profound Bangladeshi story, the misunderstanding and conflict between generations and of course the power political struggles. To hilarious effect we witness the contemporary struggles of South Asia in the setting of a call centre. The strife takes on high-octane tones when we are confronted, with the aid Khan’s illustrative choreography, by extreme torture.
However there was respite from all the strife. In one of the journeys Khan takes us, cradled in the visual animation of Yeast Culture and the story telling of Karthika Nair, we are taken on a fantasy trip through, what might be, a Bengali forest. The experience is meant to be and succeeds in being; magical. The real journey is your trip back to the fantasia of your childhood. Then Khan returned to confrontation again.
Khan is an artist and by this I mean he is much more than a dancer and choreographer. Khan is a daring artist. His prime vehicle of displaying his risk-taking, apart from this solo performance in DESH, is through his collaborations.
Khan loves to collaborate and because his choice of collaborators is so inspired and daring the result of the collaborations is always critically acclaimed.
To date he has collaborated with Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche (In-I, 2008 ), National Ballet of China (bahok, 2008 ), London Sinfonietta (Variations, 2006) and Sylvie Guillem (Sacred Monsters, 2006 ) to mention but a few. Khan’s triumph to date is believed to be Zero Degrees (2005), which I never saw. In Zero Degrees he partners Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and collaborates with Antony Gormley, and Nitin Sawhney. With Desh, I believe he has raised his game.
Unfortunately DESH is on a very short run, the last show is on the 8th of October, it opened on the 4th. Now that is what I call a flash of the genius.