Review: DESH

by Lynn on November 2, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto. Written by Karthika Nair, Polarbear, and Akram Khan. Direction, Choreography and performance by Akram Khan. Visual design by Tim Yip. Music composed by Jocelyn Pook. Lighting by Michael Hulls. Visual Animation created by Yeast Culture. Sound designed by Nicolas Faure.

Plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre for only three performances, and closes Nov. 2.

Akram Khan is a British born, Bangladeshi descended artist in dance. His newest and most personal work, “Desh” is astonishing- astonishing in its vision, complexity, artistry, personal journey and depth of story-telling and the journey he takes to tell it. His journey is to find his identity. “Desh” means “homeland” in Bengali. In a sense Khan is trying to find his father’s Bangladeshi homeland in himself.

The writing is a complex melding of a father’s stories to his son and the grown-up son’s stories to another child. It’s about adventures in mysterious woods; the search for fresh honey from hives, finding it and gorging on it. And it’s the story of a Bangladeshi man who was a simple cook, who cooked for the whole village and was taken by the opposing Pakistani army to check the engines of planes, because he was so small he could crawl into the cramped space and repair them. In a poignant moment we are told that inside that plane he was Pakistani (Bangladesh’s enemy) and outside he was himself, Bangladeshi. There is an old make-shift plane engine on platform that at times suggest the propellers are rotating at breakneck speed. At times Khan looks at it, perhaps wondering how a man crawled into that space to repair what needed it.

To create the old man Khan bent over so that his bald head tilted forward. On the crown of his head was the outline of two eyebrows and a nose, in other words, the old man’s face. When Khan rested his forehead in the space between his outstretched finger and thumb, it looked as if the man was holding his chin, pondering some thought or other. Khan’s body movement in this instance was fidgety, quick, dextrous, and vivid.

He flitted from the old man’s story, to a young kid’s story of wanting to explore the  woods in search of adventure, to his own story of trying to ‘practice’ his dance while trying to placate an impatient parent.

Besides his compelling dance, the Tim Yip’s visual design of the journey is remarkable. Animation is heavily incorporated to create passing trees, bee hives, crocodiles coming out of the water; and a whole host of creations all of which leave you breathless. It is the best use of animation in a live production in theatre that I have ever seen. The appearance of slowly descending banks of bands of fabric that cover the space from the flies to the floor is the most beautifully simple forest; a place in which to get lost.

Khan’s reputation as a brilliant dancer preceded him for me. What he produced; the stories; the creation of them in such a visually theatrical way; the complexity of his journey; the poignancy; and the sheer humanness and humaneness earned that reputation. And left me breathless.

See this. We don’t see artistry like this too often. When it comes around we should grab it.

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