DESH, Akram Khan Company,  Sadler’s Wells, Monday 8 October 2012

A lantern light wobbles and winks into the blackness, crossing from downstage left.  We can just make out Akram Khan’s figure, and in complete silence he moves centre stage.  The lamplight steadies as he puts it down.  Suddenly, the stillness is shockingly cracked open, splitting the darkness as something crashes onto the stage.  As the lights come up, we see that Khan is striking the ground with a huge hammer, again and again, faster and faster.

This is the opening of one of the fiercest theatrical dance experiences I have ever had.  “Desh” means “homeland”, and in this 80-minute solo Khan confronts the tension between what we are, what we wish to be, and where we come from.  It is intensely personal, but universal.

Khan is, of course, a dancer, but I find it impossible to describe his movement in DESH, other than as part of the dramatic totality.  He whirls, rolls, walks and finally flies through visual and aural images of Bangladesh in his homeland and in Britain.  We hear the traffic as he dodges between moving rectangles of light;  three generations are drawn together as he tells, and we see in animation, the story of the man, the goddess and the honey bees in the jungle; he shows us his own family’s terrible experience of war, moving as a man who has had the soles of his feet cut off. At one point, light streaming onto a curtain recreates the recurring image of the long grass (a place of safety, or a place of terror, or a place to hide from the terrors of earlier generations) and Khan seems to wander through it.

At the end, Khan floats, swimming above the stage, just visible beneath the partially lowered curtain, and the last thing we see is his shadow playing on the surface below.  He is in neither one place or another.

Maggie Watson

13 October 2012