Akram Khan's portrait of the dancer as a young man is vibrant and vivid
Akram Khan was already a huge name in British choreography when he shot to fame at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. So it is both humbling and heartening to see him share the story of his upbringing and road to dance in this solo piece for children and adults, beautifully performed by Dennis Alamanos. If Khan is looking to inspire a new generation of dancers and creatives he is going about it the right way.
Chotto Desh means 'small homeland' in Bengali and is a reworking of an original solo entitled DESH. The framing story sees Khan (the character, played by Alamanos) chatting to a call centre worker in Bangladesh – the former home of Khan's parents. Soon memory takes over and Alamanos conjures up a streetscape of vivid details to Jocelyn Pook's soundtrack. Khan doesn't shy away from the visible poverty, and this refusal to sugar-coat returns throughout, with shades of darkness enclosing a story-within-a-story in a tiger-dominated jungle, and Khan's father's statements about real boys going to war echoing as we later see animated depictions of a demonstration.
Using a mixture of styles and storytelling, Khan demystifies the art of dance, and at the same time provides a rich tapestried picture of the many tangled influences that come together to make up an artist. In one scene, following a sequence where he practises boxing, kathak and Michael Jackson routines, a smorgasbord of movement emerges, each strong, defined individual shape merging eventually into a complex beauty that cannot be so easily picked apart.
The piece is full of exquisite details, such as when Alamanos paints a cartoon face on his shaved head, and, bending, turns it into a puppet mask, creating a tender parody of Khan's father. Themes of the conflict between parental ideals and childhood freedom float along in the background, never intruding on the simplicity of the story but there as another layer to be contemplated.
EICC, run ended.