Monday, 24 October 2011

Desh Diaries II: cartography

Desh is done. It is time to say goodbye.

For me, that is. For Akram Khan and the Akram Khan Company, it has just been birthed, after a long and eventful gestation. And it will – we all firmly believe, audience and critics, programmers and producers – go on to grow and flourish and soar for many years to come. It has a sense of timelessness, this piece.

But the rest of the creative associates have returned to our own worlds; after having inhabited this one across 14 months, 15 cities, 6 time zones, 3576 emails, 196 phone calls, hundreds of sketches and videos and compositions and lighting simulations (and these, just the ones I sent/received and remember - there are doubtless hundreds more!). And for the writers, after thousands of words of which not more than a hundred can actually be heard on stage: the rest, all the stories, the narrative connections, the leitmotifs, have morphed alchemically into animation, calligraphy, chants and music, and – most breathtakingly, unforgettably of all – into movement. Akram’s movement, which has never been less than spectacular, is absolutely riveting here.

It is also time to say goodbye to a team of almost preternaturally gifted people, the kind one does not come across everyday. Brilliance – a word very easily bandied about today – is a rare enough quality but brilliance that is so generous, so ready to be at the service of another artist’s aspiration is something one meets seldom in life. And that people so hugely gifted and deeply sensitive to the main artist should all converge on one project – across continents and languages and disciplines – still seems just a whisker away from a miracle. That is the pretty cynical, battle-hardened producer in me talking, used to seventeen different kinds of madness on collaborative projects, me-the-producer disarmed this time – in this new role as writer – by the suppleness everyone shared.

Akram, the fountainhead behind this intensely creative – and, finally, inevitably personal – journey through time and place; through history, memory and imagination; springboarding on desire and duty and doubt and transcending them all, surpassing even our expectations with his mastery and virtuosity.

Tim Yip, who imagined a lush, phantasmagorical visual world where dream, reality and recollections flow into each other like all the tributaries into the Jamuna. And Irene Lu, his costume manager and assistant, who was there at every step, ideating, coordinating, encouraging.

Michael Hulls, with lights that conjure up a glorious palette of thunderous skies and sunlit rivers and winter haze… the ephemera that swathes so much of Bangladesh.

Jocelyn Pook, whose score, whose soundscape, is the most inventive yet faithful testimony I have heard: to the strident, energetic streets of Dhaka; to the ferocity of human desire for freedom; to the longing for land and belonging; to the muted jostling of trees and waves in Gopalgonj on a quiet evening.

Polar Bear. Polar Bear. Writing and rewriting and editing with Polar Bear – something I will dwell on in delight and detail – was easily among the most blithe part of Desh days for me. The crispness of the Jui dialogues owes so much to the shared sense of fun found in those marathon writing sessions, and to his amazing ear for poetry and balance.

Ruth Little, the dramaturge, she of the gentle wisdom and patience which saw us through the making of the piece, through all the whimsical notions and initial profusion of ideas into sifting and selecting the truest ones.

YeastCulture, the animators who brought The Boy, the Bees and Bonbibi – my story woven through Akram’s imaginary niece’s refusal to learn Bangla into a reworked legend of the Sundarbans – to glorious life, with verve and puckishness, which completely resonates with my vision of Shonu, the little boy Akram embodies.

Farooq Chaudhry, Akram’s producer nonpareil, whose vision and courage and determination are, in so many ways, the fuel behind Desh. There is so much I learnt from Farooq in the course of the year; it was no less than a master class in –  well,  much more than production and management – in artistic accompaniment.

Fabiana Piccioli, AKC’s technical director, who translated Tim’s and Akram’s ideas into reality and put this whole complex, polyphonic world together on stage. And continues to, night after night.

And the others, sometimes less visible ones who matter so much, whose touch often had a magic-wand effect that got critics and audience enthusing about such-and-such element.

Damien Jalet, who devised the painted head sequence with Akram. Each time I see that, I see Damien’s extraordinary capacity to take the simplest of elements and create strangeness and otherness with it, to upend our habitual ways of perceiving the dancing body. Each time I see that, I am also amazed by Akram’s capacity to seize the kernel of the idea and build from it, weave the narrative into it, so the body is the story.

Leesa Gazi, actress and activist, who came in to record some of the early tales and stayed on to vindicate our choices to highlight a very political, vocal Bangladesh, one that fought and keeps fighting against all the ills that plague the land. Leesa also brought in her little daughter Shreya, whose voice is heard as Akram’s imaginary niece Eeshita, who – as Akram says – really steals the show!

Linda Kapetanea & Jozef Frucek of Rootless Roots, who workshopped with Akram, especially on The Boy, the Bees and Bonbibi sequence: Akram’s and Linda’s improvisation (especially the riffs on David and Lady Gaga) added so much more life to the tale!

Zoë Anderson and her actors came for two weeks to record the initial scenes we had written (clumsily, speedily) as prototypes to allow Akram to devise the staging of the stories. Only tendrils of those stories are seen, and none through voices, but the two weeks were invaluable in gauging when and how speech worked with dance.

Sander Loonen, who had the sets built and the handled the videos and was unfailingly cheerful and resourceful through our long, long days of early voice recordings.

Jose Agudo, Akram's rehearsal director and a very talented dancer.

Most of the team at AKC, a superbly-oiled machine for logistic organisation, especially JiaXuan Hon, who singlehandedly tour-managed our whirlwind trip to Bangladesh, and managed to get us all the appointments we (okay, mea culpa, I) kept clamouring for at the eleventh hour. And Marek Pomocki who set up the Desh cloud and suddenly made sharing unwieldy video and music files and thousands of photographs as easy as hello.
And many more souls.

It sounds like a bit of a variation on “It takes a village to raise a child” but the truism does really hold true here. It took a bit of a global village, lots of heart and lots of conviction, beyond all the material resources and talent, and I delight in having encountered it at such close quarters. 

So goodbye will perforce be accompanied by lots of vignettes. Ruth told us – at the beginning of this journey  - about an anecdote she'd heard from director Anne Bogart, of a nomadic desert poet in Senegal who had described the poet as the one who remembers where the water holes are.

This, then, is what I am going to be doing over the next few posts. Charting out the water holes of Desh. At least, the moments that linger on for me, full of water — and honey. 

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