Festival Dance

Chotta Desh

Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Mary Brennan

four stars

ONCE upon a time, there was a boy who wouldn’t heed his father. When his father said "don’t do that" – usually followed by "are you listening to me?" – the little lad would still do what he already had in mind, regardless. Is this the introduction to a folk fable? Or is it a true story? Chotto Desh is both: on one level, it’s a cautionary tale (by writer Karthika Nair) that unfolds within a quite magical framework of projected animation but, in essence, it’s an autobiographical memoir fashioned out of choreographer Akram Khan’s own childhood with an honesty that is unvarnished, affecting and thoroughly engaging.

For Khan, born and raised in London, his father’s reproachful litanies of responsibilities dutifully shouldered in his native Bangladesh invite acts of early years rebellion – a covert pursuit of a dancing career being one of them. This territory was previously explored by Khan in his award-winning solo, Desh, but in this edited version for children (aged 7+) and families – Chotta Desh (meaning small homeland) _ that material has been tempered by astute comedy and a spirit of laddish mischief.

Voiceovers fill in morsels of father/son contretemps, but when solo performer Dennie Alamanos paints a face on top of his bald head – nodding it forward, to become Khan’s father – the vivid character of their cultural differences extends beyond personal wranglings into broader issues of what shapes someone’s identity. Moreover, where is the "small homeland" of those with a multicultural background? Could it, perhaps, lie in the memories we inherit from our parents, and then meld into the fabric of our own?

The whole piece is imaginatively designed and staged, Khan’s movement vocabulary, with its bravura Kathak spins and springing footwork is thrillingly realised by Alamanos to beguiling music by Jocelyn Pook. A delight for adults and children alike.