When Milena Barrett of beyourbestmom.com asked me if I would like to review Chotto Desh, Akram Khan Company’s dance theater performance geared toward a family audience, I replied with a resounding YES! It had been ages since I had visited NYC, and going to a show would be a fun mother-daughter day with S10, my oldest. While S10 and I hit the big city, Mike stayed home and bonded with S2, who is too young to sit through any sort of performance that lacks live animals, humans dressed as cartoon characters, etc.
The New Victory Theater
The New Victory Theater is located at 209 W 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. It is a gorgeous venue. The building itself is historic, dating back to 1900! It was built by none other than Oscar Hammerstein, grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II, the theater producer. The theater was originally known as the Theater Republic, and according to the playbill, the dome above the seats in the venue is the original one from 116 years ago. Pretty neat.
S10 and I poured over the page detailing the history of the theater in the playbill, which included this interesting tidbit: in the 1930s, apparently the theater we were sitting in was, at one time, Broadway’s first and only burlesque club. Yeah, S10 had a few questions after I explained what a “burlesque club” was, indeed. Ha!
In 1942, the burlesque club was renamed The Victory as a nod to the country’s intense patriotism during the World War 2 years. That same year, The Victory became a sort of movie house, showing first-run films. This continued for the next 30 years. Then, in 1972, as Times Square increased in nastiness, The Victory morphed into an XXX movie house, which gave the venue’s name “The Victory” a whole other meaning. Buh-dum-dum-bah!
In 1990, as Times Square recovered from the 70s and 80s, The New 42nd Street nonprofit agency took over the block and The Victory once again became a theater. And since 1995, The New Victory Theater has operated as NYC’s sole full-time performing arts center geared toward children and their families. This year marks the theater’s 21st year of operation in this vain.
S10 and I arrived at the theater about 30 minutes early, just in case any issues arose when procuring our tickets. Since the receipt of our tickets ended up taking under a minute, S10 and I had lots of time to kill, as the doors to the auditorium hadn’t even opened yet. Fortunately, being a children’s theater, there were kid-friendly activities set up on the bottom floor of the theater. To her delight, the activities were mostly appropriate for a child in S10’s age range as well.
We had time to experience a few different activity stations. With a tag and a pin, we marked out family’s cultural heritage on a huge world map, which related to the show in that a big theme in the performance itself is cultural identity. Since S10 is a mix of a variety of cultures, she chose one (Italian) and we filled out a tag where she claimed her “25% Italian heritage” and pinned it to the map.
The “Creating a Projected World” station. S10s drawing is in black; she is currently very into Japanese anime art, which is reflected in the style and subject of her illustration.
She also did the “Creating a Projected World” station, which was a pretty neat idea. Each kid received a piece of transparency film, on which they drew their “world” atop any way they chose. When done, the film is handed over to an employee standing at an overhead projector, and he places the film on top of a stack of drawn-on films, so that every kid’s drawing incorporates into one big one. S10 liked this idea so much that she discussed wanting to incorporate the “layered film” idea into her next “Genius Hour” school project, a monthly research project all 5th graders get to do on a topic of interest. Bonus!
Chotto Desh: The Who, What, & When
The show started very close to its 2 pm advertised time, which is very important when you have an audience full of children waiting. Chotto Desh touts its appropriate age range as “all ages 7 and up,” so children of various ages made up the majority of theater patrons at least from what I could see from the fifth row.
Chotto Desh is primarily a one-man dance performance, written and choreographed by Akram Khan. Until I read the playbill, I actually thought the man on stage was Khan himself, since much of the story was told in an autobiographical narrative style. Also, I found the solo dancer to be both commanding in his presence and convincing in his portrayal. The performer turned out not to be Khan, but my incorrect guess should speak volumes regarding the caliber of the solo dancer’s performance that S10 and I witnessed that afternoon.
According to the playbill, two male solo dancers alternate the afternoon and evening shows. This was a relief to read after watching the solo performer dance with such intensity and passion for 55 minutes. I actually wondered during the show how on Earth any mortal being could dance like that twice in one day, for three straight days! The answer? It is done by hiring two dancers so that the evening show is performed by a well-rested, fresh dancer man. The performer S10 and I witness was a gentleman named Dennis Alamanos, and he was absolutely phenomenal as both a dancer, actor, and performance artist.
Chotto Desh: The Why & The How
Chotto Desh began not as children’s theater, but as a ‘regular’ type show, originally titled DESH. ‘Desh,’ in Bengali, means ‘homeland.’ ‘Chotto,’ means ‘small,’ thus the direct translation of ‘Chotto Desh‘ ends up to be ‘small homeland.’ In 2015, Akram Khan created Chotto Desh by taking half of the material from the original DESH show, and meshing it with new content to make the overall themes more relatable and understandable to children (Playbill: Chotto Desh, excerpt from Across Worlds by Lyndsey Winship).
The show itself was fantastic. For 55 minutes (a perfect runtime for a show geared towards children), Dennis Alamanos told Khan’s story through acting, dancing, and interaction with gorgeous projected illustrations. The story itself combines themes of cultural identity, father-son relationships, and having the courage to stand up and be who you wish to be. Overall, the show can be summarized as a coming of age tale. Chotto Desh has some humorous scenes, some dramatic scenes, relatable dialogue, and a time-skipping, unique arc leading to both a satisfying conclusion and story moral.
This is either Dennis Alamanos or the other guy. If its the other guy, they look a lot alike in that they look damn good!
Dennis Alamanos, the solo dancer, was an absolutely amazing performer as well. Alamanos was confident, vulnerable, dramatic, funny, and, I have to add, pretty damn good-looking. When I visualize a male dancer, my mental image is not a hardbody like Alamanos. (Though now it will be!) Let’s just say that watching Alamanos gracefully move about wasn’t solely entertaining from a storyline perspective, if you catch my drift.
Speaking of watching Alamanos, one detail I couldn’t help but notice was that homeboy sweated a lot through the performance. I could tell that a significant amount of time had passed simply by looking at the degree of wetness on his shirt! Though I certainly didn’t mind watching that man dance and sweat and sweat some more. Nope, did not mind one bit.
Chotto Desh was a great show. S10 and I enjoyed it very much! I came to the performance as a “blank slate,” haven’t had read any of the literature explaining the story to me beforehand. I did this because I wanted to draw my own conclusions regarding the storyline first, without any bias. S10 and I both felt that Chotto Desh is a holistic type of performance; you need to take in the whole thing to best understand the significance of its parts.
Chotto Desh is entertainment that will hold your attention, while making you think, smile, and even laugh! While the stage setting is minimalistic, the projected illustrations mid-show will balance out the simplicity of the (often bare) stage. S10 and I both believe that Chotto Desh is a show worth taking your family to see!
After the performance in which Dennis Alamanos received a well-deserved standing ovation for his efforts, S10 and I headed back downstairs to check out more of the children’s activities. Unfortunately, to our dismay, most of the activities now had long lines of people waiting to try them out. Boy, were we both glad we went downstairs and participated in activities before the show! It was much less crowded then. I recommend if you go to come early, and experience the downstairs before the show. Definitely!
Also located on the bottom floor of the venue were a variety of convenience amenities. Bathrooms, a (very reasonably priced) snack bar, lockers, and a gift shop could all be found down there. At the gift shop, S10 and I each bought a “bee” pin for our bookbags (the bee was an integral part of the middle of the story). S10 also bought herself a pack of 3 beautiful journals, while I bought little S2 an animal puzzle. The total cost of our bounty was only $28, which is quite a gift shop bargain!
S10 and I made it in time to catch the 3:43 Metro North train back home. Of course, we had to stop for a bagel snack at a Grand Central cafe on the way. Because a NYC visit isn’t complete without treating yourself to a bagel, a slice of pizza, or both, am I right?
We arrived at the train station around 5:20 pm, and were back home by a quite-reasonable 6:00 pm. Overall, S10 and I had a wonderful mother-daughter day, and I can’t wait to do it again very soon!
Location, Dates, & Tickets for Chotto Desh
From November 2-13, Akram Khan Company’s Chotto Desh is now playing at the New Victory Theater. The New Victory Theater is located at 209 W. 42nd St, between 7th and 8th Avenues, in Midtown Manhattan.
Public Performance Schedule:
Friday, November 11 at 7pm
Saturday, November 12 at 2pm / 7pm
Sunday, November 13 at 12pm / 5pm
Chotto Desh has a running time of 55 minutes with no intermission and is recommended for everyone ages 7 and up.
Thanks for reading! Until next time!
Disclosure: Press tickets were provided to this show. All thoughts belong to the reviewer and have not been influenced.
Jill Valentino is a freelance writer, author, and working mom of two sassy ladies aged 10 and 2. When not parenting, wife-ing, or educating the future of tomorrow, she likes to blog about kids, music, and life at http://doublesmom77.com. Jill has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living, House Beautiful, Elle Décor, and Woman’s Day Magazines. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/doublesmom77 , on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/doublesmom77, on Facebook at http://facebook.com/doublesmom77, or at Tumblr at http://doublesmom77.tumblr.com .