Akram Khan: Desh, Sadler's Wells, London
Richard Alston At Home, Robin Howard Dance Theatre, London

Loving tribute to family, history, and the birth of a nation

Love means never having to say you're sorry. But Akram Khan did it anyway, emerging in front of the misbehaving set of his sold-out one-man show to apologise for earlier hiccups and the decision to cut the final scene. That was on the opening night of the first revival of Desh (the Bengali word for "homeland"), itself delayed by six months after the dancer tore an Achilles tendon last spring. His production team were still fixing technical problems on the second night, delaying the start by half an hour. But that did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd for whom Khan is now an international treasure, thanks to his prominence in the Olympics opening ceremony. "We love you Akram!" shouted someone at the back of the stalls at Sadler's Wells. And truly, I believe we do.

For what's not to love about a prodigiously talented performer who is prepared to shed an unflattering light on his younger self? Desh is part apology, part homage to the beleaguered homeland of Khan's parents, whose culture Akram had wanted nothing to do with as a teenage Londoner. When, in a painful recalled exchange, the disembodied voice of Khan senior waxes lyrical about the tall, lush grass on the small plot of land he owns in Bangladesh, all his son wants to know is whether it's the kind of grass you can smoke.

What's brilliant about the show is its deft interweaving of the personal and the epic, dipping in and out of the history of Khan's father (a humble restaurant cook), the turbulent birth of a nation, folk stories involving forest deities and magic bees, the impact of a monsoon climate, and the current realities of traffic-choked streets and call centres manned by tech-savvy 12-year-olds.

The spectacular stage designs of Tim Yip make such transitions possible, incorporating gorgeous visual animation by an outfit called Yeast Culture. A scene in which Khan tells a bedtime story to his lippy little niece (another touching, disembodied voice) morphs seamlessly into a grand visual set-piece, with Khan clambering into a cartoon forest canopy sketched in glimmering embroidery stitches.

What makes Desh a dance event as well as an ambitious multi-visual project (one shrinks from saying over-ambitious, despite the snags), is the shape-shifting presence of Khan for the full 80 minutes. Whether hurtling around the stage in a one-man embodiment of city-street chaos, or performing a twitchy, beard-scratching routine as his own father (his shaved skull, bent forward, inked with the older man's face), he is an extraordinary mover. The single disappointment is that he does not venture, beyond a few foot-slaps, into the classical Kathak dance territory where he is such a master. But that's a minor quibble, given what else he delivers, including an emotional honesty (with or without on-stage apology) that's rare among those who have made it to the top.

Richard Alston's best work now seems to be behind him – he gave a glimpse of it in a revival of Isthmus, an ensemble piece from 1985: sleek, snappy, and short enough to leave you wanting more. A new solo, Darknesse Visible, premiered at The Place last Wednesday and although stylishly performed by Pierre Tappon, battling the fashion faux pas of white tights, it failed to match the engrossing mystery of Thomas Ades's piano score, played live. The same was true of the revived Shimmer, set to a selection of Ravel, performed with scintillating authority by pianist Jason Ridgway but frankly overwrought in terms of choreography, and ludicrously over-dressed. The women just about survive the glitterfest of Julien Macdonald's unisex lace tunics, but the guys look like fairies off a Christmas tree.

The saviour of the evening is Alston's one-time protégé, Martin Lawrance, whose new work Madcap is a knock-out. Set to an onslaught of bullet-shot cacophony by Bang on a Can's Julia Wolfe (boy, can this woman build a climax), it brings the gut-tightening tensions of a cop thriller to contemporary dance, incorporating fights, flights and flash-bulb poses suggestive of falls from high buildings. I've never heard dancers pant so hard. See it on tour, or miss a treat.

'Desh': To Tues (0844 412 4300). Richard Alston: G Live, Guildford (0844 7701 797) Tue; Royal & Derngate, Northampton (01604 624811) 16 & 17 Oct; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000) 23 Oct; and touring.

Critic’s choice

Plus ça change. There’s a new director at the Royal Ballet, and he’s not about to rock the boat, although you might detect a greater emphasis on accessibility. Swan Lake, in Anthony Dowell’s old production, opens the season tomorrow, with 20 showings which are already sold out. You can catch one of them, broadcast live, in cinemas on 23 October.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before