Review: DESH (Akram Khan Company and Canadian Stage)

Akram Kahn dancing in DESH

Akram Khan’s DESH is a modern and refreshing personal story told in dance, at Toronto’s Blum Appel Theatre

This rainy Hallowe’en Akram Khan’s newest solo had its North American Premier at Canadian Stage. DESH was a tour de force production created by a stellar team team of artists. Peeling off my wet layers in the lobby I was almost shivering with anticipation.

What can I say about DESH? With its minimalist aesthetics, beautiful storytelling and engaging theme it was everything I wanted in a dance piece. DESH was obvious in the most unexpected way. As it unfolded, it was the most natural thing ever.

The aesthetics of DESH are completely stark; his attire is in shades of gray, as was the backdrop. The lighting and sets were also kept to a minimum, because of this the images that arose in Khan’s choreography were far more intense and powerful.

DESH is one of the most human shows I have seen. Khan commented on his desire to address the tragedy and comedy of life in Bangladesh. He did just that in a beautifully touching way.

Khan, like a lot of us, has many elements influencing his identity. Raised in London by parents who were originally from Bangladesh, DESH looks at this duality in his life. Even though DESH was specifically about Khan, it went further than him and spoke to everyone’s struggle with respecting tradition while living in a modern world. We all have cultural traditions, we all live in a modern world, we all struggle to find balance.

By using choreography, storytelling, and animation Khan recreated his world for us on stage. One of my favorite moments was when he was telling a traditional Bangladeshi story to his “niece”. As he told her this story she kept asking about Ke$ha and other western pop culture references. Though this second character was not material, Khan brought all of her bubbly self to life through his actions and body language. The character of Khan’s niece also pointedly brought up the issue of finding cultural balance.

DESH shows that having multiple layers to your identity is a wonderful thing. Rather than considering this duality in his life as negative and having to make a choice between his two cultural traditions, Khan seamlessly weaves them together making a beautiful and essential whole.

By embracing this duality, Khan’s work stands out by being completely contemporary while still acknowledging his Kathak training. In the truthfulness of his choreography Khan has found a way to speak to everyone, making DESH both refreshing and touching.


  • DESH played October 31 to November 2, 2013 at Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East).
  • Ticket prices range from $69 to $99.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or in person at the box office.