Direction, choreography and performance: Akram Khan
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
DESH means ‘homeland’ in Bengali. Akram Khan – one of Britain’s best-loved and most-celebrated contemporary choreographers and dance makers – although born in England is Bangladeshi. DESH is a full-length solo work that explores this dual identity from a very personal perspective but with an eye on the wider issues facing Bangladesh, such as the threat of climate change, political unrest, diaspora and industrialisation. DESH is regarded as Khan’s most personal work to date.
DESH weaves a fluid fabric of imagination, personal experience, family history and folk tale, examining the strength of the human spirit within an uncertain natural world and set to the rhythms of work and the earth, the urban beat of Dakar, resistance, dreams and memory, shot through with threads of Khan’s own story as son and father – considering his two moulds as a British man of Bangladeshi origin and how he broke both to become a performer and dance maker.
Visually, DESH is a feast of austere beauty and seamless stagecraft. The team Khan has assembled do great work. Oscar-winner Tim Yip’s visual designs are outstanding. Michael Hulls’ lighting design, with its palette of darkness, greens, dull golds, red and aquamarine, is lovely. Olivier Award-winning Jocelyn Pook’s music is distinctively heartfelt and evocative. Poet Karthika Nair has woven some intriguing narratives that give glimpses at modernity and culture and myth. Magical animation by Yeast Culture is impressively effective. DESH contains some real wow moments of theatrical beauty, sound and scale.
Akram Khan himself is a modestly commanding figure on that large Lyric stage. His choreography and movement is finely detailed, with moments of fracture – responsive to the music and Nicholas Faure’s sound design. He effectively brings presence and character to his father and daughter, an old Bangladeshi man, Khan himself and the man he perhaps might have been had his family not come to England. His use of elements of Kathak is light and joyous. However, at 80 minutes duration with just one performer – albeit Akram Khan – despite the audacious richness and variety of the cultural threads Khan feeds into the loom the material sometimes becomes thin and overstretched. The choreography ultimately feels slightly limited without other dancers to create on and respond to, although the work is so very personal.
DESH is a feast of many courses that leaves you feeling slightly underfed with its meagre strands of narrative cohesion, for all its visual generosity. You could shave 20 to 30 minutes from the running time – several sections feel distinctly overlong -without cutting anything of narrative or visual import. It wouldn’t be as epic or as anointed with significance but it might be just a little less… dull.
Runs until 14 November | Photo: Richard Haughton