Chotto Desh builds a magical cross-cultural world for kids and adults alike

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      An Akram Khan Company production, presented by DanceHouse, Théâtre la Seizième, and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs. At the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre on Wednesday, November 21. Continues until November 25

      A meld of visual magic and cross-cultural storytelling, Chotto Desh makes a fantastic introduction to dance for kids. For adults, it’s a stunning physical feat—a seamless mashup of different forms, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

      U.K. choreographer Akram Khan knows how to build a sense of low-tech wonder—a novelty for kids bombarded from all sides with digital imagery. At one moment, the dancer is hopping through an ever-moving, animated, hand-drawn forest when he reaches an arm up to pet an elephant; at another, he paints a stern face on the top of his shaved head and bends down toward the audience to morph into his father.

      The autobiographical story also carries moving messages about identity, culture, and growing up. Khan is portrayed as a hyperenergized little boy whose interest in the arts disappoints his hard-working dad.

      In the show’s framing device, he’s a Bangladeshi-Filipino British adult struggling to unlock his cellphone. When he calls the tech-support centre, he reaches a 12-year-old in Bangladesh, kicking off a flowing swirl of memories, first of his childhood visits to his father’s home country. The lithe, versatile Dennis Alamanos (who rotates the solo part with Nicolas Ricchini here) is suddenly dodging the noisy traffic we hear over the sound system, shape-shifting easily into a beggar on the street and a cop directing traffic.

      That leads into memories of an old story about a boy who goes hunting for honey in the forest, setting off a god’s anger. Yeast Culture’s mesmerizing animated illustrations, projected in black-and-white, bring it to life like a moving, three-dimensional storybook. The curling waves bob Alamanos across the surface of a hand-drawn sea under a night sky; later, a storm cloud lowers in on him and pummels him with rain.

      The storytelling is simple, its idea of a child who follows his own dreams—to be an artist—poignant in the least patronizing way possible. When Alamanos becomes the boy, struggling to sit still for one second in the little chair he’s been consigned to, he’s speaking to every kid directly.

      What children might not grasp is that Alamanos, by way of Khan, is channelling everything from the refined Indian classical dance kathak to contemporary dance, martial arts, and even hip-hop, all with equal skill. But what they’ll totally get is that all our cultural influences live in our body, ready to pop out at any moment. And it’s best when we embrace them.

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