DESH | The Observer | review
17 September 2011
A one-man show about a country in which you are never alone sounds like a paradox, but Khan peoples his stage with a host of alter egos.
- Luke Jennings
In the opening moments of Desh (homeland), Akram Khan walks on to the stage in shirt and dhoti trousers. His tread is weary and he is holding a lamp, as if clocking on for some grim night shift. Taking a sledgehammer, he delivers blow after crashing blow to a raised iron plate. Its function is unclear but it might be a manhole cover, the point of entry to some dark subterraneum. Eventually Khan lowers the hammer, defeated. What lies below remains inaccessible, enigmatic.
Desh is a quest. Brought up with tales of Bangladesh – monsoon floods, rising tides, crocodiles nosing through the mangrove swamps – Khan looked around him and saw Wimbledon Park. His father’s tales of unremitting labour and contested land fell on ears better attuned to the music of Michael Jackson. Khan has explored this cultural interzone before, sifting its misunderstandings and highlighting its exhilarating new forms in works such as Zero Degrees (2005). There was a period, post-Zero, in which he seemed to be listening to too many outside voices. Collaborations with Sylvie Guillem and Juliette Binoche were disappointingly slight, and Bahok (2008), about a group of passengers caught in a loop of cancelled flights and cross-cultural barriers, looked schematic and calculating, despite the brilliance of its choreography.
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