November 7, 2016
The Akram Khan Company presented NYC premiere of “Chotto Desh” aimed at children ages 7+ at the New Victory Theater. The piece is an investigation of Khan’s autobiographical coming of age as a young teen--his struggle to break away from his father’s traditional wishes for him as a Bangladesh/Philippine immigrant to London, and his own desire as a modern free thinking individual to become a dancer and artist. Along the way, it encourages a young audience to become independent thinkers.
“Chotto Desh” which means “small homeland,” was marvelously danced and acted by soloist Dennis Alamonos. Acrobatic, sinewy whole body use of the space in the opening solo represents the young Khan battling the noises, traffic, and confusion of modern day London, and his immigration from a less urban environment . This segued into a dance using more precise mimetic actions. In a brilliant segment, Alamonos uses his bald head, painted with the face of “the father” to a sound score of the father’s patriarchal voice, as a means of exploring reactions to parental authority, tradition, and his father’s self righteousness. This was all uniquely designed through abstraction that remained accessible enough for a young audience to comprehend.
The turning point in the work came half way through when the mother’s voice soothes him and also reprimands the father for meddling into the life of his son. She reminds the boy of stories she told him as a child, taking him into the world of myth, imagination, and creativity. The boy, (through Guy Hoare’s clever lighting and Tim Yipp’s animation), is carried from his real world into that of the “The Grandmother’s Fable,” taken from the book “The Honey Hunter.”
Visual Designer, Tim Yipp, artfully creates computer animation on the back screen, in black and white, as if looking through a beautifully designed book of cut-outs. The scene moves as the boy travels through waters on a boat trip, enters a forest, with butterflies, birds, a crocodile, an elephant, a bee hive, a serpent, a tiger, and a large tree that he eventually climbs, and sits atop in order to see the vast world… and imagine life beyond the dangers below.
A small chair and a very large chair are props used throughout the work to represent the boy’s development from child to creative artist. He eventually partners with the large chair, expressing the artist’s ability to express metaphor and “the world beyond” through imagination, taking the world of play from childhood into the world of the artist.
Kudos to all involved in this magical production: Akram Khan, Artistic Direction and Original Choreography; Sue Buckmaster, Direction and Adaptation; Jose Agudo, Assistant Choreographer; Jocelyn Pook, Composer, Leesa Gazi, “Bleeding Soles” Lyrics; Tim Yip, Original Visual Design; Damien Jalet with Akram Khan, Painted Head Sequence; Nicolas Rfcchini, alternate dancer; and many others.