Khan brings stunning contemporary dance piece to Brisbane Festival.
Desh, meaning ‘homeland’ in Bengali, is a stirring personal account of culture and the search for a sense of belonging from acclaimed artist Akram Khan. Crossing cultures and oceans from Bangladesh to Britain, Khan takes his audience on a profound and intriguing journey in an incredible 80 minute solo performance.
First performed in 2011, Desh originated from Khan’s desire to return to his origins and to create an experience of lasting value in a world that is becoming increasingly disposable. Born and raised in Britain by Bangladeshi parents, Khan draws on his experiences of both places and cultures in this collaboration with Oscar-winning visual artist Tim Yip and Olivier Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook. Khan himself has received many accolades for his work, including the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2012 for Desh.
References to pop culture are interwoven with traditional storytelling to highlight the connection of families through shared histories, and the way that heritage and stories slowly change over time and generations. The personal, circular narrative will leave audiences thinking for some time afterwards, chewing over certain pieces of the intricate puzzle. Although parts of the performance were performed in Bengali, the emotion and passion of the delivery made language almost irrelevant. Perhaps most impressive was the way that Khan achieved a feeling of intimacy on such a grand scale. Desh is obviously the result of many, many hours of practice and development by a naturally gifted storyteller and remarkable dancer and performer.
Perhaps the most visually exciting part of the performance was a segment where Khan danced behind a dark scrim, onto which was projected a series of detailed, moving images. Audiences watched in awe as Khan floated down a river in a canoe, encountered an elephant, climbed an enormous tree and wrestled with a snake, took honey from a hive and fell back to earth. Later he defies gravity entirely, dangling headfirst among hundreds of glimmering fabric tendrils.
Khan’s unique style of movement is truly a privilege to watch – a fusion of modern and classical dance styles, it combines elements of popping and locking with the floorwork that is a staple of many modern contemporary performances, and the more classical movements of kathak, a form of Indian classical dance. Frantic but centred, strong and sharp but unbelievable fluid, seeing Khan perform is like watching water on fire. He cites water as a major inspiration in Desh, saying that its motion inside the earth has always fascinated him, the idea of fluidity within form leading to the development of his movements in the performance.
In addition to the stunning visual design and animation by Yeast Culture, props constructed by Sander Loonen were used effectively throughout the performance. Other than the forest of fabric wisps, an old aeroplane engine was used as a gateway through which Khan spoke to someone in a call centre, and two chairs – one disproportionately large, the other comically small – were also used for incredible acrobatic feats. The larger chair then turned around to become a wall, and a canvas for another story. Like all of the elements of Desh, nothing served only a singular purpose, and everything flowed in to everything else.
Desh is an emotional and visually captivating journey that will surely be a highlight of Brisbane Festival 2014.
Akram Khan will be performing Desh from September 6 to September 13 at QPAC, Brisbane.