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Review: Akram Khan’s performance of DESH is a gorgeous masterpiece

By Alejandro Bustos on November 15, 2013

Awesome.  Spellbinding.  Breathtakingly beautiful.

Akram Khan’s opening day performance of DESH at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, November 14, mesmerised an awe struck audience with a brilliant, brilliant show.  After watching this wonderful work, I understand why some critics have called it a masterpiece.

The semi-biographical performance tells the story of a British-born man whose father has died.  As the son of immigrants from Bangladesh, the man heard numerous stories from his dad that were taken from Bangladeshi culture.  (DESH means “homeland” in Bengali).

Caught between English and Bangladeshi traditions, however, the young son ignores his father tales, opting instead to immerse himself in western culture, such as learning the moves of the then iconic pop superstar Michael Jackson.  (While no definitive timelines are given, the impression is left that the man grew up in England in the 1980s or early-1990s).

Fast-forward into the present, and the now grown man returns to Bangladesh to deal with his father’s death.  What follows is a moving tale in which the protagonist remembers the stories that his dad told him when he was a child, while also coming to terms with his Bangladeshi roots.  He also must now deal with being a parent, and switching roles as he becomes the person telling stories to a young daughter that is not fully paying attention.

While the narrative structure is great by itself, the artistry is what makes this dance piece truly amazing.  With spellbinding animation, a moving sound track, highly athletic dance moves, beautiful lighting and ingenious stage props, this performance is fantastic.

DESH is a semi-autobiographical piece that draws from Khan’s own life experience as a British-born person whose parents came from Bangladesh.  But while he is now a parent – he has a seven-month-old daughter – he real life father is still alive.

It’s the flights into fantasy, however, that captured the audience’s imagination.  At its peak, the show blossomed into a captivating fairy tale that transported the viewer into a magical place.  This is a fantastic show and by any metric is the best dance performance to hit the NAC stage so far during the current dance season.

Akram Khan performs DESH at the National Arts Centre tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 pm.  Regular tickets start at $39, while cheaper options are available for students.  The show lasts approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.