It is homecoming of sorts for Mavin Khoo, now in the city.V.V. Ramani and Hema Ramani
“I am a nomad. My life is a journey where, every move, every choice has been made fuelled by my only passion - Dance,” says Mavin Khoo, celebrated dancer. An artist who has performed at major international festivals as a soloist and also collaborated with some of the greatest dancers including Akram Khan, still looks forward to performing in Namma Chennai, where his meteoric rise began. It was at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha that the late Yagnaraman spotted him and gave him the inaugural slot of the Margazhi dance festival, the following year! There has been no looking back since.
It has been homecoming of sorts for Mavin, now in the city not only to be with his Guru, but also to perform at KGS, this time on the request of Yagnaraman’s son, Prabhu (Mavin Khoo presented Bharatanatyam on Thursday).
Mavin spoke intensely about the journey of his career, his Guru, his quest, about giving and about marketing that has become so important an ingredient for success. He recalls his first step into a dance class as a six-year-old. Four years later, he was to meet his guru, who has left an indelible mark on his life - Guru Adyar K. Lakshman. “I am grateful to Destiny that brought me into contact with my teachers (Bharatanatyam and ballet) at the right time.”
Says Mavin, “The biggest lesson that I learnt was our Guru stood like a father-figure guiding us to grow, encouraging us to take risks and allowing us to even fail. It was only when we failed, especially while performing live, that we learnt to choose the pieces, re-invent and re-interpret.”
Making clear choices
This training kept him anchored, to grow up making clear choices, without having to compromise on the art, no matter what the pressures are. So Mavin till date practises his basic adavus every day. The physicality of form in Mavin’s dance – sculpturesque movements, energetic foot work and his double brahmaris have been romanticised so much that people expect to see the flashes on stage all the time. This puts pressure on the artists who have to cater to the demands, but the final choice rests with the artist. “I now choose where to place my brahmaris, and if I am going to use it at all... Life is about making our personal choices - my choice to pursue ballet, choice to be a soloist Bharatanatyam artist, choice to perform only to live music...”
Today, his deeper understanding of the art has enabled him to focus his attention on abhinaya. He is a classicist- yet contemporary, in the manner in which he chooses to interpret the text of the poetry moving beyond the traditional format of gender... that is, he wishes to see Radha as Mavin becoming Radha, and not as necessarily visualised through the words of the poet, of a bygone era. Today, he understands that his performance on stage has moved beyond “mime” (reproducing verbatim what was taught), to encompass a new world of his, where he chooses to embody what he has absorbed and understood over the years, not only from classroom training, but allowing the different hues of Life’s experiences to colour his canvas on stage. It was little wonder then that he bided his time to realise when he could perform the Varnam (Mohamana), which he performed at a leisurely pace of over 75 minutes. Today, he would rather do only the Varnam , if there was a restriction on time.
Mavin admits that he is a very spiritual person and fond of the Devi. It is interesting to know that he understood more about true bhakti through his co-artists in his ballet class, who would work as bar-tenders or strippers, just to be able to pay up for the ballet class ! “This taught me bhakti - to be able to further my art without compromising on my dance principles.” It is ironic that mundane every day experiences carry more poignant lessons for mankind than the very texts that would preach! It is imperative for artists to take their audiences very seriously, leading them into one’s personal journey, daring them to gaze into what you have embodied and turn it into an experience to cherish. “It is important for me to see that the audience remembers an item I did a few years back and reflect on it in comparison to what it has become today as a result of my personal growth. Bodies reveal histories and when I perform the Swan Lake, I find my audience studying intensely the history of the swan I am.”
Today Mavin Khoo is at the threshold balancing two art forms. He is happy with what Destiny has offered him, with the choices that he has made - and above all with his conviction to stay rooted with his art forms in their purity. Tomorrow, he knows not what Life has in store for him, where he will be... the quest continues. It is a nomad’s journey after all.