Monday, November 21, 2011

REVIEW: Desh with Akram Khan

Kwai Tsing Theatre, Friday November 18

While the name Akram Khan is a familiar one, this was my first time to see him perform live... and this performance has made me wonder why I waited this long especially when I had opportunities to see him before in Hong Kong?!?

I will go straight to the point, the show was absolutely stunning! Desh, Akram Khan’s first full length solo work made its Asia Premiere last Friday as the closing programme of the biennial World Cultures Festival. The 80-minute piece (with no intermission) was breathtaking, magical, poignant, touching and funny enough, spiritual. Yes, spiritual, not of the ecclesiastical type, but rather the type that is sacred and touches one’s spirit.

In Khan’s word, Desh is about “confrontation, with one’s identity, with one’s upbringing, with one’s country, with one’s father and most importantly, with oneself…” And indeed it was. The work started with Khan pounding and hammering a metal mount rhythmically, almost like summoning memories, pleading forgiveness and releasing anger. From there, Khan traveled through time and space, be it through the busy and chaotic streets of Bangladesh represented by projected shifting bars; or through the heavy rain made of panels of wide ribbons stretching from the top down to the floor.

The work was more than just the dance itself; it was the whole theatricality that made the work. Tim Yip’s (Yip won the Oscar for Best Art Direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001) visual design played a huge and vital part in orchestrating the narrative of the piece. Jocelyn Pook’s music was a curious mixture of sample sounds, chants and songs… most of the time effective, while sometime manipulatively sentimental. Michael Hulls’ lighting design was brilliantly judged and managed. In fact, the designs around the piece was so impeccable that the piece can’t withstand a polished performance from Khan, or it is endangered of looking pretty.

But Akram Khan was anything but pretty. His performance was so intense that one can only believe that it came from somewhere deep within him as his movement radiated with so much passion. Don’t get me wrong; the work was choreographed and not some spontaneous burst of emotive dance movements. It was a piece of fine and exquisite choreography executed with awe-inspiring honesty and artistry.

Some of my personal favorites are when Khan drew eyes and mouth on the top of his bald head and created movements that made the face slip and slide across his arms. The face, seemingly his father’s, then slowly faded as his sweat washed it off like years of turmoil and hardwork washing away ones years. There was also the part where Khan interacted with his “niece” and while he was tying her shoelace, the lace transformed into a rope with the use of projected animation. What came after the rope was a mysterious landscape with crocodile, bees, elephant and snake. Lastly, was what came after the performance, which was the meet-the-artist session facilitated by none other than Willy Tsao (Founder and Artistic Director of City Contemporary Dance Company). It was most interesting to hear Khan tell the story of how he met serendipitously his father’s childhood friend in a cab in Sydney.


DESH - Akram Khan
15/9 World première in Leicester, UK
18/11 Asia première in Hong Kong
Co-produced by:
MC2: Grenoble (France) Sadler's Wells London (UK) Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg) Curve, Leicester (UK) Concertgebouw Brugge (Belgium)

18 - 19.11 (Fri - Sat) 8pm
Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium
■ $360 ■ $280 ■ $200 ■ $130

Artistic Direction, Choreography and Performance: Akram Khan
Visual Design: Tim Yip (Oscar Winner)
Music Composition: Jocelyn Pook (Olivier Award Winner)
Lighting Design: Michael Hulls (Sadler's Wells Associate Artist)
Devised by: Karthika Nair, Akram Khan
Dramaturge: Ruth Little
Producer: Farooq Chaudhry

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