An empty calendar. Body without instruction. Subsequent restlessness. Questions and exclamations for help travel via phone-call to a Bangladeshi, twelve-year-old, customer service advisor. Requests for a password. Attempts to remember. Resulting anecdotal odyssey.
Alone against grey textures, Akram Khan spends the following 50 minutes remembering a lesson from his mother’s tale that has followed and driven him in the pursuit of his ambitions. Adapted for family audiences in 2015 from the longer and thematically more complex DESH, the production returns to Sadler’s Wells.
Led and leading using his gaze, Khan is in a state of constant flux. His motif-laden style of the exaggerated every-day is accessible, and instrumental to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Whether single-handedly building cities continents away, or restructuring his body into that of his father, Khan is masterful in his performance of essence; directing the audience’s imagination to fill the gaps.
Parallel to his phone rapport are myths, folded into personal memories and into the present moment. Seamlessly shifting between each tale, the performance contains a hierarchy of narratives that support and inform each other. Khan moves across the stage, unrelentingly deliberate and sustained in his intention, ensuring the clarity of the worlds he constructs.
At the core of Chotto Desh is Khan’s recurring feeling of uncertainty, which is framed by oppositions of past and present. Persisting throughout is his need to dance as a personal way to navigate the world; it is a journey of rediscovery and an ode to his craft that has grounded and provided him with purpose.
Whether emulating the encasement of a light below a bedsheet, or indicating an immaterial boundary trapping Khan practising in his room to the disdain of his father, Guy Hoare’s lighting design manages to consistently engage with the work beyond simply illuminating. He finds simple, creative approaches that complement and amplify Khan’s objectives.
All the elements that back Khan’s performance are carefully curated; in some instances, to a fault. Beyond the choreography, Khan remains unchallenged, which results in a somewhat underwhelming ease in the face of difficulties. This could have been supplemented using the music, which lingers on a frustrating edge of immersive throughout.
Overall, Chotto Desh successfully repositions its source material for a touching retelling of personal history as way to understand the present. Although occasionally steering into visibly rehearsed gestures, Khan’s ability to find freshness in his performance despite the years since its first production is remarkable.
Chotto Desh played at Sadler’s Wells until 20 October, 2018. For more information, click here.