Chotto Desh gives voice to many conflicts kids are faced with.
While not everyone can become a professional director or famous choreographer, the arts should be an integral part of everyone's education. By helping to make sense of conflict, empathize with others or even find new ways to solve problems, the arts can provide kids with a valuable toolset to apply to the challenges in their lives.
Director Sue Buckmaster believes kids deserve the same quality of work as adults. When her colleague proposed that she adapt famed British choreographer Akram Khan's autobiographical DESH
to a work that kids could identify with, she knew she had found her next project.
focuses on the early life of Akram Khan and how he navigated the tricky conflict between his father's Bangladeshi culture and his own contemporary, British way of life. As a young man, Akram funnelled this culture clash into the only form of expression he could: dance. He and Sue Buckmaster hope that Chotto Desh will encourage kids to find solace and a voice in the arts.
We were lucky enough to get to ask Sue some questions about the adaptation process and the importance of the arts for young audiences!
Akram Khan in rehearsal.
1. Chotto Desh is an adaption of Akram Khan's earlier work DESH. Why was it adapted?
Yes, Chotto Desh
, meaning "small homeland", is an adaptation of the original, award-winning DESH
, which Akram Khan created a few years ago for adult audiences.
The content of DESH
is very relevant for this generation of young people. They have a growing sense of awareness of the racial and cultural tensions emerging in our society and need something to help them understand the effect it has on them and their families. It felt very timely and important to share the wonderful work of Akram with a wider audience, when cultural diversity is a delicate issue and contemplating the arts as a career is becoming less of an option for many young people.
2. How different are the two pieces?
Before adapting DESH
, I had already created a number of kid-friendly shows in my role as Artistic Director of Theatre-Rites
. Two of those shows have already performed at The New Victory—Mischief
! However, I faced a new challenge in adapting and respecting an existing work for younger audiences.
The original DESH
was at times quite harrowing in content, referencing the political and historical context of Bangladesh. Political references have been softened, but not removed since none of us believe in patronizing a younger audience.
Akram Khan in DESH.
It was important to do research with young people about the parts of DESH
which they could relate to. Obviously focusing on the childhood experiences of the central character became clear but also their own interest in technology and the tensions they have with their own parents, many of whom have mixed cultural heritage.
There are more references to Akram's younger experience included in this show, to help our youngest audience to connect. This involved talking to Akram about his younger experiences growing up within a family with Bangladeshi roots and yet inherently knowing this was not his own homeland. By focusing on Akram's experiences up to the age of 16, as opposed to DESH, which explored his later, adult feelings about cultural identity, we were ensuring a younger audience could understand the story and relate to it.
3. What excites you about dance today?
Dance is one of the best forms of self-expression. It's an outlet for emotions that can turn into negative behavior if not channeled. It's also one of the most powerful ways to communicate ideas you aren't able to pin down with words. Dance enjoys a connection with the audience without having to tell them what they should be feeling—it's open to interpretation and therefore values the audience's opinion and feelings.
The choreography of Akram Khan is immensely detailed and takes extraordinary talent, so it was challenging to find dancers who could perform it and play the role of Akram onstage. Luckily we discovered Nicolas Ricchini and Dennis Alamanos, both incredible performers and dancers who have dedicated themselves to bringing this new version to life. They were a delight to collaborate with, and their performances have already received much acclaim in the UK and Europe.
4. Why are dance and the arts important in today's world?
Art is an essential part of our well-being, whether we are being creative ourselves or having the opportunity to watch others express themselves.
Young people should have access to the same quality of art that adults get, receiving the same attention to detail and consideration. Investing in the arts is an investment in our future because letting young people experience art allows them to reflect on their world. It could even inspire artists of the future! At a more basic level, we need to give children positive experiences in the here and now, regardless of future expectation, because we want them to know they are worth it.
I also value the amazing experience you can have in an audience of both adults and children. Something very special happens when the two perspectives mingle. A truly universal and heartfelt response is conjured up that reaches beyond age, gender or culture. This shared experience is inclusive to all and encourages the understanding of differences.
5. What inspires you about Akram's story?
Akram made sense of his own culturally rich but confused life by channelling his emotions through his body—through dance. He and his company, and I and my company, Theatre-Rites
, are committed to supporting young people to find this same form of self-expression. At a time when more children are being brought up with mixed cultural heritages and many economic pressures on their family life, we all hope that Chotto Desh
plays a small part in helping them find their own identity.
Mischief performed at the New Vic in 2011!
Everyone is entitled to lead a creative life and should be able to seek out opportunities to do so. Art is one of the most successful ways of reflecting on our lives; we all need it in some form or another. We should never dismiss it as a luxury nor take it for granted.
6. What is the most exciting part about working with the Akram Khan Company?
In my own work, I follow my instincts and keep changing a piece until it feels right. For Chotto Desh
I needed to follow my gut while also respecting Akram's original vision. It definitely made me get out of my comfort zone. I studied the original until I understood how to protect its essence, so Akram continued to trust and support us throughout the whole process. Great care and attention was given to all elements of the production, guided by the amazing producer Claire Cunningham, whose initial idea it had been.
I am delighted that we have created a production which is accessible to so many children and adults and has toured extensively around the world, reaching so many people. And of course it has re-ignited my connection to The New Victory, a fabulous place to engage with young people! I hope your audiences enjoy and are inspired by the show.
Photos: Richard Haughton, Patrick Baldwin
||About Sue Buckmaster
My first dabble with dance was with the Theatre-Rites show The Thought That Counts at the Barbican, London, this choreographed moving objects. After seeing it, Emma Gladstone asked me if I would like to make a commission for a family dance piece for Sadler's Wells and Dance Touring Partnership UK. From that, Arthur Pita and I created Mischief together, which has performed around the UK, as well as The New Victory!
I am the fifth generation of theater practitioners in my family. My great-grandfather founded a unicycling troupe, my grandparents were musicians in a music hall act called The Musical Elliotts and my parents were puppeteers, The Buckmaster Puppets.
I trained in drama but now I primarily work as a theater director. I founded my theater company, Theatre-Rites, with Penny Bernand in 1997. Since then, I have directed several site-specific shows, visual theatre productions and dance performances in the UK and around the world. I currently have three projects on the go, and a few in development with Theatre-Rites. You can learn more about those projects here!
||Want to learn more? Explore the exhilarating exploration of dance for the whole family with Chotto Desh!