DESH means ‘homeland’ in Bengali. Akram Khan has woven a full length contemporary solo on this subject and by moving the story between British and Bangladeshi culture, he intricately juxtaposes his personal experiences with folklore and evocative memories.
Akram Khan is a gifted storyteller and an outstanding dancer and performer – perhaps the most striking aspect of this performance is the way that he can achieve such intimacy despite the performance being delivered on such a grand scale.
Khan gives a transfixing performance and draws on his comparisons of two different cultures in this outstanding collaboration with Oscar-winning visual artist Tim Yip and Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook. DESH is essentially a quest by Khan to make sense of his parents life in Bangladesh. Born in London, Khan wants to explore this culture to help him understand himself.
I walked out of the theatre deep in thought- there is a lot to take in- Khan’s personal cyclical narrative leaves you thinking for some time afterwards. Khan punctuates his traditional storytelling with humorous references to pop culture which suggests different character traits and the way that identity and family values can change with the passing of time.
The set is visually stunning particularly the section where Khan performs behind a large gauze which is projected with moving images. It is a real treat as we watch Khan stare in awe at an elephant, float down stream in a canoe and come face-to-face with a giant crocodile. Later we see Khan caught in a relentless but beautiful monsoon, hanging upside down between glimmering silvery fabric panels and it is magical.
The whole show has such fluidity- everything flows into everything else, the props constructed by Sander Loonen are used effectively throughout the performance. There is an aeroplane engine, central to the narrative, which is used as a telephone and there are two chairs- one considerably larger than the other, which are used to frame sections of Khan’s captivating performance.
By the close of the show, Khan has managed to excavate his fathers old shirt and he puts it on. We realise that Khan is telling a story that we can all relate to, cultural changes between different generations, the feeling of loss when you no longer have your parents and the questions that you wished you had asked them.
A beautiful and magnetising piece of theatre.
DESH is at the Lowry until 14 November.
Post first published by What’s on Stage in November 2014