With Novel Hall under threat of being closed and demolished, every performance there is taking on added poignancy. So it is fitting that Briton Akram Khan, who has contributed so much to the Novel Hall dance series since his first appearance in Taipei under its auspices in 2002, should be bringing his acclaimed solo show DESH as the second and final work in this year’s series, even if the show is being held at the National Theater, not Novel Hall.
Khan was last seen in Taipei almost a year ago, when he joined forces with Taiwanese dancer extraordinaire Sheu Fang-yi (許芳宜) to perform Gnosis as part of her “Timeless” show at the National Theater. Their performances were even more memorable than when he first performed Gnosis at Novel Hall in May 2010 with Japanese Taiko drummer Yoshie Sunahata.
Khan arrived in Taipei yesterday with a schedule filled with meetings with press, rehearsals and an audition for dancers for his London-based company. Elaine Huang (黃麗宇), Novel Hall’s public relations manager, said more than 80 dancers had eagerly signed up for today’s audition.
However, dancers and non-dancers alike have been eagerly awaiting DESH since it was first announced that Khan would be bringing it to Taipei. The 2011 work is probably Khan’s most personal to date, with critics in London and elsewhere declaring it his masterpiece.
The 39-year-old London-born Khan, who originally trained in Kathak, a form of Indian dance that combines dance and storytelling, went on to study ballet, contemporary dance and physical theater at university. His creations, whether focused on classical Kathak, or productions like Gnosis and Bahok, and whether solo, duet, or ensemble, have maintained that storytelling center.
What: DESH by Akram Khan
When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: NT$600 to NT$3,000; available at NTCH or Novel Hall box office, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and 7-Eleven ibon kiosks
Khan as a dancer is a joy to watch in whatever form he is working, especially when he spins — even when he is moving so slow that one can count the finger twitches or toe taps. However, when he moves fast, he can be just a blur that is more than the human eye can readily take in. If possible, his mind moves even faster, with the quicksilver jumps of thought that make conversations with him so interesting. His mind games, whether physical or verbal, are a key element of his magic.
Making sense of the past
DESH, which means “homeland” in Bengali, is about Khan’s attempt to make sense of Bangladesh, his parent’s homeland, his own identity (Briton/Bengali/Bangladeshi/Indian/Moslem) and his relationship with his father. He has mined this territory before, most notably in the brilliant and moving Zero Degrees with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (seen at Novel Hall in 2007), which was based on a trip Khan made to Bangladesh with a cousin.
This time the tableaux tell the stories of Bangladesh itself — its creation, its endless struggles with tidal surges and monsoons and its people — as well as favorite folktales and the struggles of Khan’s father’s life. Khan may be the only performer, but he is not the only character on stage — there is Khan as a child, a little girl, his father and a Bangladeshi everyman.
While DESH is a virtuoso solo, its production was a collaborative effort. Khan worked with some of his frequent partners, including poet Karthika Nair, who helped write the stories that Khan tells, composer Jocelyn Pook, lighting designer Michael Hulls and costume supervisor Kimie Nakano.