I saw Akram Khan’s DESH at Sadler’s Wells a couple of weeks ago. I love Khan’s dance, but have had some issues with the last two pieces of his that I’ve seen (the other was Vertical Road). From reading the other reviews (and mine was by no means a bad review, just not as gushing as others) it appears that I am almost alone in finding parts of DESH unsatisfying, which got me thinking: I am trained as a dancer and dance teacher, and I enjoy watching dance performed, especially by people at the top of their game, such as Khan. However, these days, the vast majority of what I see performed is theatre, large parts of my degree were theatre-based, and so far as I can claim to have an expertise it would be theatre all the way.
So, perhaps I approached Khan’s piece too much in the mindset of a theatre critic, and not as a trained dance critic. Perhaps this explains why the other (dance) critics raved about the piece, while I found parts of it left me cold. I could not switch off the bit of my brain that analysed the theatrical parts of the show as well as the dance parts.
This doesn’t quite work as an explanation, though, as the parts I found least successful were the theatrical parts (the bits I am most qualified to judge!) and I loved the pure dance moments. Perhaps, then, the dance critics were not as well-placed to comment on the theatre/spoken-word elements of the piece? Well, yes and no. These people are professionals, and are used to seeing a variety of styles and genres of dance. However, the fact that Khan’s acting, mime and speech were so popular with the dance critics suggests that, maybe, the novelty value of something different had as much to do with their delight as did the quality of what they were watching.