Chotto Desh is quite literally Akram Khan personified. Akram Khan is one of the UK’s most celebrated contemporary choreographers due to his universally accessible themes and high-profile artistic collaborations. The unravelling of his choreographic self-portrait is a transitory experience that simultaneously takes place between London and Bangladesh. Desh means homeland in Bengali; Khan uses this word as an impetus to explore his multi-national and multiethnic identity, themes of conflict, nation-state and belonging arise. Chotto Desh is a child-orientated re-adaptation of Khan’s previous Olivier award-winning solo Desh, Sue Buckmaster from Theatre-rites has brought this change to fruition.
The movement within Chotto Desh is certainly not limited; the breadth and variety transcend the realms of what we know story-telling to be. Khan doesn’t dance this solo, but he has given the responsibility to dancers Dennis Alamanos and Nicolas Ricchini. The act of devolution of the solo enriches and adorns the story-telling function, as a new identity and memory embellishes the movement quality and virtuosity.
Nuanced signs both bodily and verbal frame the fifty-minute solo. The audience is abruptly confronted with a frustrated Khan whose phone has broken, he speaks with a worker in a call-centre in Bangladesh. Repeated gestural language marks the opening whilst he speaks on the phone, Alamanos slowly cultivates a vocabulary of signs that use traditional north Indian Kathak dance and universally recognised signs of emotive disturbance and perturbation. However, the climax of the narration and action isn’t exclusive to the more theatre-like responses, as the corporal use of the stage-space relates Khan’s conflict within his personal identity politics. The use of the space was exhaustive and full; choreographic choices such as sharp turns that used classical Kathak arm-placement and fluidity and an alternant exchange between floor and standing via dramatic jumps and soars through the air. Choreographically the use of his arms and hands was an integral stylistic choice, this decision exaggerated the multiplicity within the narration. The exploration of tension and relaxation throughout these body parts almost mimicked a painter depicting their own self-portrait.
Khan narrates his autobiography with the aid of multiple creative collaborators. Animation, sculpture and original scores succeed in elevating the dance piece from visual to an all-encompassing sensory and visceral experience. Tim Yip and Yeast culture’s visual designs accompany a voice over relating a folklore Bangladeshi tale. The idea of multiplicity within the story-telling is achieved, as the dancer moves behind the backcloth in order to engage and interact with fantastical images of a lush jungle with colossal elephants and snakes. Regarding sculpture, two white chairs weave their way into the solo, one small in stature the other enlarged to a monumental scale. The dancer’s initial interaction with the small chair demonstrates Khan’s younger rebellious self who clashes with the almost omnipotent voice-over of his father. The reluctance to sit on the small chair transitions to a full embrace of the larger one. Sitting and dancing on the chair are almost cathartic rituals for an older Khan as he finally defies his father and screams “I want to dance dad!”.
Chotto Desh is vibrant and playful, despite the change of target audience there is never an oversimplification. This beautiful piece of dance-theatre explains and processes identity where themes of relationships and locales merge with the the emotive lone dancer.