Review: Akram Khan Company & Moko Dance - Chotto Desh - Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 30 & 31 October, 2015
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Wednesday 4 November 2015

'Chotto Desh' Photo: Richard Haughton

Many children all over the world nowadays can say that their parents’ homeland is not their own, but will necessarily maintain an affectionately ambivalent relationship with these partially imagined and inherited locales. Chotto Desh (small homeland in Bengali) is a vibrant and concise reworking for family audiences, of Akram Khan’s Olivier award-winning autobiographical solo Desh. There is not a hint of oversimplification or pandering to be found in this exquisite gem of dance theatre, which could truthfully be enjoyed by anyone of any age or background. The stories of Khan’s childhood sweep along with little explication needed, as dance and narrative seamlessly merge.

As would be expected, the most playful and charming sections from the original work remain more or less intact, presented in a more obviously episodic and vaguely chronological order. A section of body puppetry in which the Akram character (here played by Nicolas Ricchini) embodies and playfully mocks his father, hunched over and using the top of his bald head as his father’s face; and a metaphorical cautionary tale about a boy who angers the demon gods of the forest, in which animated animals, foliage and a river, flow along the back wall, a simple and magical effect. Bookended by scenes of Akram as an adult we see sections that could be interpreted as scenes from early and middle childhood, and adolescence.

Dancer Ricchini shone as Akram, resembling Khan himself physically, but bringing his own boyish spirit and life to the role. He passionately devoured the soaring passages of solo choreography, which were economically packed with athletic cartwheels and spins, intermingled with the melodic footwork and gestural mudras of Khan’s signature classical Indian and contemporary dance fusion. When powerful stand-alone solos followed the more illustrative and narrative sections, it was educational in that we had been taught by the generous and lush use of movement throughout, how to read the signs and stories within even the most abstract of sequences.

Sue Buckmaster’s direction and adaptation of Khan’s work is concise, clear and preserves every bit of the beauty and delicacy of the original piece, and it was a treat to see the choreography up close in the intimacy of the Lilian Baylis Studio. Khan’s ecstatically danced biographical ruminations on forming an identity from the myths and stories of two worlds – whilst under the pressure of belonging to both and neither – are well served in this resplendent chotto-sized version.

Catch Chotto Desh on tour in the UK until December
Dates & venues:

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College. Find him on Twitter @jeffreyGordonB

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