Step children: new shows Chotto Desh and Raw prove dance isn't only for adults
A closer look at the two highly-anticipated EIF dance shows, which explore life through young eyes
While the Children’s Shows section of the Fringe programme grows fatter by the year, the International Festival has remained a resolutely adult affair. Work behind the scenes with schools and reduced ticket prices for young people aside, the programme itself rarely targeted under-18s. But now, the inclusion of two dance works made specifically for families is set to change all that. Belgium’s Kabinet K and Britain’s Akram Khan Dance Company are both bringing shows which, although markedly different, explore life through a child’s eyes.
Chotto Desh (‘small homeland’ in Bengali) started life as DESH, an Olivier Award-winning, autobiographical solo by acclaimed choreographer Akram Khan. Keen to make his first dance for younger audiences, Khan re-worked the show to include interactive animation, and recruited two other dancers to portray him.
Dancing in alternate shows, Dennis Alamanos and Nicolas Ricchini have the unenviable task of emulating Khan, one of the most unique forces in British dance, known for his captivating blend of Indian Kathak and contemporary dance. ‘We worked very hard with the assistant choreographer,’ explains Ricchini. ‘He trained us to be as close as possible to Akram’s body language so it was very intensive, but we also had room to put a bit of ourselves in there.’
The show itself has two strands: Khan’s own experience of striving to become a dancer against his father’s wishes, and the fictional tale of a young boy who angers the forest gods by taking their honey. Journeying between Britain and Bangladesh, Chotto Desh is alive with colourful animation, featuring elephants, crocodiles and butterflies, all of which Alamanos and Ricchini interact with, using precision timing.
‘That was actually the part we needed a lot of time to rehearse,’ says Ricchini, ‘because we are so close to the gauze on stage that we can’t see it, so we really had to work on the timing. But I think the result is really impressive, in the sense that at some point you forget that it’s animation.’
The underlying message of Chotto Desh is about adult / child relationships, and the need for children to forge their own path. This is something Kabinet K’s Raw also looks at, but from a very different angle. Inspired by the 2011 BBC documentary, Poor Kids, the show features seven children aged 8–12 who, on a stage strewn with stones, tin cans, a dirty mattress and dripping water, look after their own welfare. Into this scene of perceived deprivation come two adults, with Raw exploring how the group changes as a result.
‘The children in Poor Kids spoke very frankly to the camera, and were pretty smart and clear about the circumstances in which they live,’ says co-choreographer Joke Laureyns. ‘We were very inspired by their resilience, so we said let’s make a show about resilience, not knowing where we would end up.’
The resulting show has played to 85 different audiences, and although adults are sometimes more emotional in their response (something Laureyns puts down to nostalgia), age is less of a factor in terms of reaction. ‘There’s not much difference between audience members being young or old,’ says Laureyns. ‘It’s more about whether you are intuitive and open to the work.’
Chotto Desh, 13 & 14 Aug, 2pm, 7pm, £20 (£10); Raw, 27 Aug, 4pm, 7pm; 28 Aug, 2pm, 7pm, £20 (£10). Both shows at Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Morrison Street.