The score by Jocelyn Pook is beautiful, ranging from the sounds of Bangladeshi streets and construction sites to hymns and chanting, providing both the action needed for Khan to react as a man buffeted by a modern city and the calm needed for the more meditative interludes.
Tim Yip’s (葉錦添) set pieces and illustrations were even more beautiful than the video clips I had seen hinted at. His drawings for the tale of the bee goddess and the little boy who climbs the tree to get to the honey in the hive were magical (thanks to the digital animation done by Yeast Culture), but the piece de resistance was the curtains of ribbons, the colors changing from white to teal blue as the lighting shifted over the next few scenes.
At first Khan spun through them or pulled at them to create a ripple effect. Then the three tiers of ribbons were raised a few feet and he was hanging upside down underneath, twirling. Finally the entire installation was lowered to the floor, leaving Khan trapped mid-waist among the girders, lights and ribbons, until he crawled out from underneath. As the ribbons start rising again, Khan attacks the mound once more, digging feverishly until he unearths a kurta (long-sleeved shirt). Donning the kurta, he returns to the rattletrap fan contraption seen earlier in the show, which turns into a wind tunnel — and the final image of Khan (now his father?), battling against nature and time, struggling to hold on.
Desh is a work that stays in the viewer’s mind; there is so much to digest both story wise and in the dances. The scene where father and son are arguing is one that hits home no matter who you are.
However, it turns out that particular storyline was a last minute addition. During the Q&A, Khan said the central character of the show was originally his mother. His producer, Farooq Chaudhry, had early on suggested that it was really about Khan’s father, a suggestion Khan said he angrily rejected. Two to three weeks before the show’s September 2011 premiere, Ruth Little, the dramaturg, told him the show just was not clicking, and suggested that perhaps it was really more about his father than his mother. Khan finally agreed, which meant large portions of the show had to be reworked. It must have been a herculean effort to make the changes, but they certainly paid off.
Earlier in the month, I caught the Sunday matinee of Dance Forum Taipei’s (舞蹈空間) show, The Unreality of Time (時境) at the Taipei City Shuiyuan (Wellspring) Theater.
Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell and New York composer/cellist Chris Lancaster worked together for seven weeks on the piece and the seamless integration of music and dance made the piece a joy to watch. There was one segment of music especially that was so beautiful, so uplifting, that it made me want to get out of my seat and dance.
Lancaster’s playing obviously inspired the dancers and vice versa, with company founder Ping Heng (平珩) saying after the show that during rehearsals, even when Mascarell told the dancers not to go all out, they told her they couldn’t help but do so because of the music.