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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 JANUARY 2017 — On a much less grand scale than Nureyev’s Swan Lake at the Opéra Bastille, spectators packed into the lovely little Théatre des Abbesses in Montmartre to see Chotto Desh, a version ‘young public’ of Akram Khan’s award-winning solo,  Desh. Over 20 performances, ostensibly aimed at children, were given during the Christmas holidays in a moving 50-minute adaptation of the 1 hour, 20-minute original work.  However, it attracted audiences of all ages, including those who had already seen the poetic, full-length piece programmed at the Théatre de la Ville in December 2012 and were anxious to see it again. Twenty-five minutes of the original choreography had been left untouched, while a second 25 minutes was created by Sue Buckmaster aided by José Agudo, in a subtle merger of adventure and reality.

Sue Buckmaster, artistic director of Théatre-Rites, worked on, adapted and created Chotto Desh, (the Bengali word for small homeland), an amazing amalgam of mime, videos and magic peopled with imaginary figures, whilst totally respecting the original work. In this shortened version, Akram at the age of 16 reveals his unrest at being a child of Bangladeshi parents and his dream of becoming a dancer. Beginning with a phone conversation between Akram and a 12-year-old operator in Bangladesh it continues with a journey through Akram’s childhood.

Dennis Alamanos in Chotto Desh

Taking the sequence of the story of the village cook from the 2011 work, the ‘Akram’ character, interpreted alternately by Dennis Alamanos and Nicolas Ricchini,  brought his father to life, as bald head hanging down, he painted a face on his skull in black grease, making gentle fun of him all the while. And again, remaining faithful to the original work,  Buckmaster unsurprisingly made the animated forest the centre of her adaptation, with the poetic images of the young ‘Akram’ climbing up a tall tree to steal honey and  surrounded by butterflies as he walks through the jungle where he meets various creatures including an elephant and a crocodile, images which refer to a Bangladeshi myth.

Dennis Alamanos in Chotto Desh

However, the greatest difficulty lay in finding suitable interpreters, capable not only of performing Khan’s inventive choreography with grace and energy, but who would be able to leave their own mark on the piece, for interpreting Khan as they were, and as remarkable their dancing was, Akram Khan has few "equals" in dance today. It was therefore, doubly commendable to find the superb Dennis Alamanos who interpreted the role on the 22nd, athletic and juvenile with his wry humour and  cartwheels across the stage, a dancer /actor who was able to convey the meaning of the work while holding his audience spellbound. Dance, mime and narrative merged together in a magical whole in a touching production where Sue Buckmaster has preserved the beauty and delicacy of the original work.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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