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REVIEW: CHOTTO DESH

Dance, Animation and Soundscapes Combine for Magical Coming-of-Age Production

Chotto Desh

“How is he doing all this, on his own?” my daughter whispers, wide-eyed, during Nico Ricchini's astonishing, solo performance of Akram Khan’s Chotto Desh, which keeps adults and children spellbound.


Chotto Desh is Bengali for “little homeland” and has been adapted for younger audiences as part of Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival, from the Olivier Award-winning DESH


It tells Khan’s autobiographical story about a son of immigrants, who is desperate to be a dancer, while his frustrated father want him to continue their family business as a chef at their restaurant. 


man on large chair

And over the next 50 minutes, Nico takes the audience on a gorgeous journey through dreams, memories and fables via extraordinary dance - which uses every part of his body and stage - interacting with animated projections, words, specially composed music and powerful soundscapes, bringing the noises of Bangladesh and London to life.


It opens with an amusing call between Nico and a 12-year-old Bangladeshi call-centre worker, trying to help him remember a phone password to reset his calendar. This triggers a breathless dance through his memories to try and recall it, assembling the jigsaw pieces of a touching coming-of-age story.


Using a mixture of contemporary and traditional, North Indian Kathak dance styles, he shows how overwhelming the London-born child finds visits to his father’s Bangladeshi homeland - he frantically dodges loud vehicles and morphs into a relentless succession of beggars, yogis, angry dogs and traffic police.


chotto desh production

The simple act of drawing a face on the crown of his shaven head and turning it to the audience is enormously effective in transforming him into his short, proud and exasperated father. Giggles are drawn from children as he rolls the dad’s head up and down his arms like a giant marble run; and the audience visibly recoils when he suggests the monstrous presence of his dad, scuttling around on all fours, with an oddly positioned, motionless face.


We see him as a fidgety young boy, dancing around the little chair that his angry father's voice orders him to sit in. His kinder, mother’s voice successfully coaxes him into it for a story, which is when the show reaches new heights, with YeastCulture’s stunning, black and white animated projections, which Nico interacts with.


animated boat sequence

It tells the fable of a young boy, who breaks nature’s rules and angers the demon tiger by taking honey from the hives before harvest time. We see him climbing trees, floating along on a boat, with birds and butterflies dancing around his head; stroking the trunk of an enormous elephant and flying across the forest, meeting snakes and crocodiles and greedily ladling honey into his mouth from the hives he finds.


A giant version of his childhood chair signals his move to adolescence. This is masterfully used, first as a prop to dance around, as he works through his teenage frustrations and proud ownership of his less boyish body, secretly practicing his craft to become the dancer he is meant to be. At one point, he goes beneath the chair, where a screen is pulled down for him to act out a beautiful shadow play piece.


Finally, his resilience in a modern world of clashing cultures and expectations is rewarded, by Khan successfully dancing his own path and remembering his password, in the process - it is the name of the goddess that rescues the boy in his mother’s fable; the Queen Bee.


The show was one of the highlights at Southbank Centre’s annual Imagine Children's Festivawhich entertains 0-11 year olds until 17 February 2024 with more than 100 events, 40% of which are free.


Desh. The next UK performance will be at DanceEast, Jerwood DanceHouse, Foundry Ln, Ipswich IP4 1DW. Tickets from £16pp


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