Dancer and choreographer Akram Khan brings his acclaimed homage to his homeland, Bangladesh, to London. Consisting of biographical elements whilst dealing with issues of history, exploitation, and identity he creates a show like no other.
In essence this is a very personal and very simple work with just Khan on stage creating a 75 minute narrative in dance. But he’s teamed up with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon visual artist Tim Yip, lighting designer Michael Hulls and composer Jocelyn Pook to turn this into something so much more than just movement. The result is probably the most phenomenal theatrical experience you’ll ever have, and will arguably define both dance and theatre for some time to come.
Dance is always a art form that requires an incredibly creative interpretation to enjoy, making themes and plot somewhat obtuse to the novice enthusiast. When you examine the depth of discourse that Khan sweeps though in the hour and a quarter, you’d be forgiven for not quite getting every nuance of the issues brought forth. But through the production’s vividness and Khan’s impassioned flourishes, the main themes are clear enough for you to get a good sense of what’s being discussed with little strain. Even if you do loose it a little, it’s very easy to just enjoy the sheer jaw-dropping beauty of it all.
Despite being the lone performer Khan still manages to fill the sizable stage with myriad characters of his creation, and does so with an incredible style. He doesn’t just dance, he fits and twitches more like a person possessed. Everything from embodying abstracts to portraying people is done with a domineering physical volume, near inhuman movement but also astonishing ingenuity.
But as much as Khan is the centrepiece, every other aspect of the show is just as important and impressive. Hulls’ lighting creating not just atmosphere but floating worlds from simple spotlighting through to dreamlike projection play. Pook’s brooding minimalist music, colliding eastern and western elements, booms through the auditorium with a force as powerful and integral as Khan’s energy and emotion. Yip’s stage is a hypnotic incarnation of an impossible imagination, with stagecraft that is nothing short of blockbuster and utterly arresting.
Yet there is absolute nothing to criticse. Everything is relevant, and everything works. None of Khan’s essay feels forced or contrived, and all elements of the production are executed with precision and panache, devoid of gimmickry, cohabiting inside an awesome ether. All in all DESH is a tour de force of death-defying magnitude – a whole that’s umpteen times more than the sum of its parts.
DESH runs at Sadler’s Wells, London, EC1R 4TN until 9 October 2012. Tickets are £12-£36. To book call 0844 412 4300 or visit www.sadlerswells.com.
Featured image: Akram Khan silhouetted among Tom Yip’s extraordinary design. Photograph: Courtesy of Sadler’s Wells.