Chotto Desh

Edinburgh International Festival
Edinburgh International Conference Centre
13, 14 August 2pm, 7pm ONLY
***

 

I marvelled at the fluid grace and extraordinary dance style of this piece: a fusion of ethnic dance styles, street dance, yoga and who knows what else. Choreographer Akram Khan is perhaps best known for his contribution to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games (remember the giant sunflower/ Abide with me?). His dance style is unique to him, a fascinating mix of folk dance, contemporary dance, and kathak, the North Indian classical dance form which he practised in a garage at the back of his house during the year he bunked out of school, setting off each day in uniform and then doubling back through the garden quite literally to follow his own path. Kathak is a dance form that tells stories with expressive gestures, rhythmic virtuosity, lightning-quick spins and fast-stamping feet. Fuse this with techniques learned in dance studies at De Montfort University and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and you begin to have a notion of Khan’s unique style.

Chotto Desh (‘‘little homeland”) is a reworking for a younger audience of his own solo Desh, in which Khan explored themes of cultural identity and father-son relationships: he has taken parts of the original show and added material developed with the two dancers who would take on the role of Akram, producing a simple narrative of a boy of mixed-race parentage who was born in London, and who just wants to dance. His father can’t to understand why Akram won’t sit still, why he won’t listen to him, why he doesn’t want to follow him and work in his restaurant: his mother is gentle and understanding, telling him traditional stories and understanding that the boy needs to find himself, “all in good time”.

The show is a delightful mix of expressive dance and storytelling, with shadow play, clever interaction with projections, recorded dialogue and atmospheric music. There were a couple of sections that were very expressive but I felt were over-long – Akram’s struggle with the frenetic and bewildering street life when his father took him back to visit his homeland, Bangladesh, and the loud banging and stomping when Akram was letting out his anger and frustration. I was also uncertain about the linking device of a child in a call centre in the Far East: it gave a framework for the story, but would younger children have followed it? It did get laughs from the adults in the audience.

I loved the his mother’s story of the starving little boy who disobeyed his parents and went into the forest to find wild honey, unable to leave the honey for the bees until they had made enough to spare. This was charmingly fantastic, the dancer interacting with projected images of the forest and its inhabitants; I particularly loved the well-hidden crocodile, the elephant and the snake. In an earlier scene he transformed himself into his father, a small man, drawing his father’s face on his own shaved pate and looking downwards and performing extraordinary juggling feats with his head. The exuberant explosion of dance when Akram finally learned that he would be allowed to follow his own path, and be a dancer was a joy to watch.

The dancing was mesmerising, the story engrossing, and the audience were loudly enthusiastic at the end.

Mary Woodward