Dancer Dennis Alamanos in Chotto Desh. Photo by Richard Haughton
Dancer Dennis Alamanos in Chotto Desh. Photo by Richard Haughton.

Chotto Desh means “small homeland” in Bengali, but this award-winning multimedia dance-theatre production by Akram Khan Company promises to be anything but small.

Of course, the smallness is relatively new. Chotto Desh is an adaptation of Akram Khan’s 2011 work, Desh, a harrowing solo piece that tells the story of Khan’s experience of land and home in a life split between Britain and Bangladesh.

Chotto Desh is a variation on this same story, adapted to be performed for young audiences under the direction of Sue Buckmaster, artistic director of the UK-based children’s theatre company Theatre-Rites.

“Creating Chotto Desh was the first time that I was responding to existing choreographic material and adapting it for a younger audience,” says Buckmaster on the adaptation process. “It was both challenging and inspiring to respect the original and also create a child-friendly version.”

A mix of the Indian classical dance form kathak, as well as mime, hip hop, storytelling, and interactive projections created by Timothy Yipp, Chotto Desh uses blended performance styles to explore questions of racial identity, immigration, and prejudice. While this kind of subject matter is often avoided in work geared towards children, Jim Smith, artistic and executive director of the show’s co-presenter DanceHouse, feels that it is entirely appropriate for young audiences.

“Children are keenly perceptive,” says Smith. “They are aware of the growing tensions around immigration and multiculturalism in our society. Therefore, it is crucial that we include youngsters in the conversation so they can navigate these issues with self-awareness and empathy.”

Buckmaster echoes the sentiment: “It felt very timely and important to share the wonderful work of Akram with a wider audience, where cultural diversity is a delicate issue and contemplating the arts as a career or method of self-reflection is becoming less of an option for many young people.”

To this end, Buckmaster specifies that some of the more “harrowing” political elements of the original Desh have been altered, but she makes it clear that they have been “softened”, but not removed.

“I do not believe in being patronizing to a younger audience. However, I also didn’t want to overwhelm them with a reality which is, hopefully, less exposed within their own social arena.”

For dancer Dennis Alamanos, who will be performing the work here in Vancouver, performing for children, as opposed to adults, has been a transformative experience.

“Sharing this show with many kids to me was very important,” he says, “At the beginning, I was believing that performing for adults only is a serious job but it’s actually the opposite. To inspire and motivate a kid to follow his/her dreams and face with strength all the difficulties in life, especially now when a lot of kids migrate because of war or poverty, was one of the best things that I have done as a dancer.”

Chotto Desh plays the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (149 W. Hastings St, Vancouver) November 21-24. Visit dancehouse.ca for tickets and information.