A charmingly imaginative journey through the childhood of a budding theater artist
By Joel Benjamin
The Akram Khan Company has been acclaimed around the world for its smooth blending of South Asian classical dance technique, modern dance, hip-hop and keen theatrical displays. Avram Khan has taken his popular theaterwork/ballet, Desh, an autobiographical work dealing with his adult adventures in the world of dance and reconstructed it to concentrate on his youthful path toward a life in the arts, perfect for the youth-oriented New Victory Theater in Times Square with its emotional ups and downs clearly expressed in theater form.
Mr. Khan’s original choreography was adapted by Sue Buckmaster, director of this version who joined with Mr. Khan and Karthika Nair to write the spare, but expressive narration.
Chotto Desh (“Small Homeland”) features a single on stage performer, a spiffily energetic Nicolas Ricchini (who alternates with Dennis Alamanos), who portrays an imaginative version of Mr. Khan who was born in London, but was of Bangladeshi heritage on his father’s side. Dressed in a loose, two-piece outfit that suggests the clothing worn in much of the Indian subcontinent, Mr. Ricchini skillfully filled the New Victory state with his dancing and acting.
A framing device involves a conversation with a youngster providing cell phone technical assistance that leads to the sole character’s musing about his homeland.
To a colorful score and a moving narration told in the voices of Mr. Khan, his grandmother and his father, Mr. Khan’s choreography first took his stand-in to a very noisy, smelly Bangladesh where his father took him every year so that he would not forget his culture; Little Khan adroitly avoids vehicles, crowds, smells and the total confusion of his father’s homeland with a combination of dance and mime movement. and to a long journey inside his head as he deals with his childhood vexations and emerges triumphant.
A large segment of the show is a delightfully staged vignette about a young boy collecting honey in the forest. Line drawings come alive, animating forests, rainstorms and gentle elephants—absolutely enchanting to both adults and children.
The Khan character becomes aware of the arts, practicing movements in his room, but is thwarted by his father. He lovingly embodies his father by simply drawing a stern face on his bald pate and lowering his head—voila, instant dad. This adorable coup de theatre allows us to feel the humanity in this stern dad.
As he travels through life, he encounters a tiny chair which represents a childlike hideaway space. Later, a huge chair appears, on top of which he plays like a giddy child flopping and flipping joyfully. A shadow play, using the chair as a playhouse, intriguingly shows little Khan’s torment.
In just under an hour, a very satisfying journey enfolds on the New Victory stage, flavored with just enough bittersweet emotions to keep it from becoming the usual, cloying kiddy story.
Chotto Desh – Akram Khan Company (November 4 – 13, 2016)
New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
For tickets, call 646-223-3010 or visit www.NewVictory.org
Running time: 55 minutes with no intermission
Photos: Richard Haughton