The British Council is launching projects to make arts performances more accessible to new audiences in developing countries such as Bangladesh. The initiative will be spearheaded by a performance of DESH, a contemporary dance piece by the internationally acclaimed choreographer and performer Akram Khan, on 18 and 19 September.
The performance will be live streamed to local audience outside the Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka. This is one of a series of projects focusing on the accessibility of the arts in developing countries, aiming to open up performances, develop local skills and bring contemporary dance to new audiences.
DESH first premiered in the UK in September 2011. This year, British Council partnership will enable Akram Khan to perform the production in Bangladesh for the first time - a momentous occasion for Khan as an artist and for local audiences.
Following critically acclaimed collaborations with artists including Sylvie Guillem, Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley, DESH is one of Khan’s most personal works to date. Khan created DESH, meaning ‘homeland’ in Bangla, after a year of research both in the UK and Bangladesh. At once intimate and epic, DESH explores Khan’s relationship with his homeland Bangladesh, weaving threads of memory, experience and myth into his performance as he moves between Britain and Bangladesh negotiating his dual-identity. DESH also explores the hopes and struggles of Bangladesh and its people, who are among the most economically and environmentally vulnerable in the world.
Akram Khan said: “Bangladesh has always been foreign and yet very much a home to me. From the moment we decided to take on the epic and personal journey of creating DESH, we always believed that its performance belonged in Bangladesh, so I am thankful for the huge efforts of the British Council and the other partners that have joined forces to make this performance happen. The creation of DESH began in Dhaka and now finally it returns there with, I hope, a sense of maturity, humility and great love for the country.”
The British Council and Akram Khan Company are working to engage arts communities in Bangladesh in the days before DESH is performed in Dhaka by running a series of workshops and talks, including discussions on how to creatively develop shows such as DESH and practical sessions developing production skills involved behind the scenes of a large-scale performance.
A panel discussion is also planned on “Why are the arts important to developing countries like Bangladesh?” The panel will comprise Akram Khan, Azzaduzzaman Noor, Honourable Minister of Culture for Bangladesh, Lubna Marium, Artistic Director of Shadhona - A Center for Advancement of South Asian Culture and Cathy Graham, British Council Director Music. The discussion will focus on the legacy of projects such as DESH in developing countries.
Eeshita Azad, Head of Arts Bangladesh at the British Council, said: "Artistically, this is in a way a kind of homecoming for Akram Khan. British Council has been a long term and trusted collaborator for Akram Khan Company. We are excited and honored to be able to bring DESH to Bangladesh, which is considered his masters piece by the critics and the global audiences."
Neil Webb, Director of Theatre and Dance at the British Council, said: “Making performances accessible to new audiences is at the heart of our arts work at the British Council, so I am delighted that the British Council is helping Khan take his incredibly personal piece to the country that inspired it. I hope that audiences in Bangladesh enjoy this moving and thought-provoking piece.”
Khan’s performance of DESH in Dhaka is one in a series of British Council projects working to make the arts more accessible to new audiences in developing countries.
Other highlights will include:
- UK theatre director Gregory Thompson directs a new production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale performed entirely in Urdu by alumni of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), Karachi, in Pakistan this September. The production will tour to eight cities around Pakistan that do not have a regular theatre scene, reaching new audiences and challenging taboos about the performing arts. This is a three-year co-production partnership through which the same cities will get to see a new production on an annual basis directed by a different director each year
- Graeae Theatre Company will work with Dhaka Theatre (Bangladesh) to create a long-term workshop programme with young disabled adults in Bangladesh that will lead to a collaborative performance of a Shakespeare production in 2016. The project aims to challenge perceptions of disability and what disabled people can achieve, and is directed by Nasiruddin Yousuff, (director of The Tempest, the Bangladeshi production featured in Shakespeare’s Globe’s Globe to Globe festival in 2012) in collaboration with Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae, and Co-Artistic Director of the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony