Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: (Toronto) DESH

The Magic of Homeland
by Beat Rice

DESH means Homeland in Bengali, the mother tongue of ancestors of dancer and choreographer Akram Khan. It is also what he is trying to a make a connection with in his solo work. His 80-minute piece is magical. It is a visual feast, full of story and imagery, and emotions that you cannot always understand, just feel.

DESH is very much a personal exploration of identity and displacement, and all of the frustrations that come with trying to figure those out. A recurring image in the piece is a small plant growing in soil. It remains in plain view and we watch Khan protect it, uproot, it, and replant it: a clear metaphor of the internal struggle for people born to another culture from their parents and ancestors. The piece is split into different scenes, all with different aesthetics and methods of storytelling, the main one being movement. We meet different characters in Khan’s life, get lost with him in the streets of Bangladesh, and watch what I can only describe as a live storybook.

Akram Khan’s movement is visceral, yet fluid, with influences of Kathak. There is much variety in the dances within the piece. Not only does that make it interesting to watch, but it also shows how versatile and skilled Khan is as a dancer. Every movement is specific and with intention, as with every set piece, lighting cue, and sound effect. One can quickly see from the way the production elements work together that Khan’s company has assembled a mighty team of artists with a very clear and cohesive idea of DESH.

Visual Designer Tim Yip creates surreal worlds for Khan to explore. He uses animation in projections, plays with proportion, and creates a beautiful ‘sky forest’ out of fabric. These worlds are lit by Michael Hulls, who manages to make the space feel tiny and vast in the same show.

Jocelyn Pook has written a chilling score that is quite cinematic. An interesting choice was the use of well-known religious Latin text. It felt spiritual and epic.

In all, Akram Khan and his collaborators create a breathtaking production and sensory theatrical experience. Opportunities to see these types of work from another continent are rare, and the run is short, so catch it while you can. 

Run ends November 2

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