Chotto Desh, Akram Khan Company ©Richard Haughton

Between two stools

The PURPLE – International Dance Festival for Young Audiences (20th – 28th January) opened on Saturday, 20th January, 2024 with Chotto Desh, a moving solo about the biography of dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.

To describe what Heimat means, you actually need two spellings of the word: one with a capital H and a big idea behind it. The “great homeland” demands adherence to traditions within national borders. It insists on remaining true to traditions, that everything stays the same. A small h suffices for the other “small homeland” (Chotto Desh) or rather the warm sound of the voice that pronounces it.

The small homeland, the subject of Akram Khan’s autobiographical solo (performed alternately by Jasper Narvaez and Nicolas Ricchini) is a magical land without coordinates. Perhaps it lies somewhere between London and Bangladesh, perhaps somewhere between the love of family and the need to develop freely. What is certain is, it is caught between two stools. It emerges unexpectedly, for example in the gestures of a father cooking, scratching his head, performing everyday tasks. Or in the sweetness of a dish that nourishes and awakens memories. Or in the fairy tales of a grandmother whose fantastic characters accompanied her own childhood.

As unexpectedly as it appears, this little home can also disappear again. On stage, we see how the boy Akram can no longer sit quietly in the already far too small child’s chair that has marked his place at the family table until now. His father’s care and ideas for Akram’s future are too restrictive for him. Akram doesn’t want to run a restaurant, he wants to dance. With nimble turns and leaps, he dances around the chair in question enraging his father, whose voice roars from offstage. The son makes fun of being scolded with insinuating Michael Jackson quotes. When he is practising in peace, however, he becomes very serious. In addition to Indian Kathak, elegant ballet figures, cool hip-hop moves and elements of Kung Fu appear. Akram’s passion for dance is virtually unstoppable.

Akram is hungry, just like little Shonu in the story told by Akram’s grandmother: with a hole in his stomach that releases bear powers, he sets off into the enchanted forest to find honey, despite warnings from the dangerous Lion King. The journey, which we watch as drawn animation, leads Shonu (danced by Akram or the dancer interpreting him) over undulating waters, past a crocodile that gives him a fish and finally up into the treetops. There, Shonu finds the full honeycomb and finally eats his fill. The punishment follows immediately with a thunderstorm and a cloud of rain that follows him until he lands back on the empty stage and transforms back into Akram.

For one – and particularly for a child – whose family lives in a country that is not their own great homeland, it is not easy to find one’s small home, a place of comfort that satisfies a hunger for life. Chotto Desh tells of this in a touching way.

English translation by Isabel Robson

Chotto Desh by the Akram Khan Company opened the 8th PURPLE – International Dance Festival for Young Audiences at HAU1 on January 20, 2024. PURPLE takes place from 20-28.01.2024 in various venues. Tickets: