Chotto Desh

Akram Khan
Akram Khan Company and MOKO Dance
Sadler's Wells, Lilian Baylis Studio

Chotto Desh Credit: Richard Haughton
Chotto Desh Credit: Richard Haughton
Chotto Desh Credit: Richard Haughton

Chotto Desh is the story of a young man’s dreams of becoming a dancer. Meaning "small homeland", it is an adaptation for children and their families of Akram Khan’s award-winning solo, DESH.

The story begins with a phone conversation to a call centre—answered by a 12-year-old child operator—which leads our solo dancer on a journey through his childhood memories. Chotto Desh takes its audience from Britain to the chaotic streets of Bangladesh, where the noise and bustle is captured in an incredibly realistic fashion as the dancer dodges traffic and becomes the characters he meets on the street.

As the story progresses, a number of characters are brought to life, their tales related through voiceovers from the young man’s father and grandmother. Clear actions and gestures form the basis for choreography that interprets their words in a way that is easily accessible for children and adults alike—if only contemporary dance could always be so simple to understand!

Chotto Desh is energetic and playful and each character the dancer embodies is easily believed—with the help of a little theatrical magic. By painting a face onto the top of his head with simple black strokes then tipping it towards the audience, our dancer is transformed—meet Khan’s father, a man short in stature. As he begins to dance, the impression created is so vivid that it’s easy to forget this face is just pretend.

The mischievous young Khan is a popular character with the young audience members. His charming refusal to sit still on his miniature white chair is evidently something they can relate to. The young Khan just wants to dance—an idea which later leads into a scene where his teenage self is practicing in his room. Here we are led swiftly through an array of dance styles, from Indian classical dance to ballet and martial arts—there’s even a light-hearted take on jazz and popping that raises a laugh from both young and old.

The young Khan can only be calmed by his grandmother’s tale of a similar boy who, in his hunger, dared to collect honey from the forest and risk the guarding goddesses’ anger. Through her story, we enter into an animated world where projections, like illustrations lifted from the pages of a children’s book, bring imagination to life. Behind a gauze screen, the dancer becomes a part of this forest world. In an enchanting sequence, he runs through the undergrowth, climbs to the treetops and encounters swirling clouds of butterflies—not forgetting a friendly elephant.

While Chotto Desh is performed with its younger viewers in mind, its subtle storytelling will delight an audience of any age. Through a simple phone call, the adult Khan is encouraged to revisit his childhood and remember the small but important things that have brought him to where he is today.

At its heart, this is a story about our connections to our past, our ties to family and the importance of finding your own path. For children, Chotto Desh is an ideal introduction to the magic of dance and theatre; for adults, it’s a reminder of the memories we hold dear.

Reviewer: Rachel Elderkin