Making its debut at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio this month, ‘Man To Monk: Part 1’ is the latest work from leading Bharatanatyam dance artist Mavin Khoo.
‘Man To Monk: Part 1’ focuses on three gay artists and the trials and tribulations experienced with emotions of raw lust, possession and rejection. The production charts the journey between base human emotion, societal expectations and spiritual transcendence by subverting the classical pas de deux of male and female coupling.
The piece stems from the Hindu and Sufi concept that desire and lust are intrinsic elements of human nature to be embraced and understood rather than denied. Exploring this notion through a sensual and murderous encounter between man and god, ‘Man to Monk: Part 1’ pits contrasts of culture, spirituality and emotion against one another.
‘Man to Monk: Part 1’ receives its World Premiere at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 November (tickets here). Victor Callens joins dance artist Khoo for a male duet performance choreographed by Carlos Pons Guerra (Artistic Director of De Nada theatre).
Here, Khoo shares the story on his rise to international recognition as a dance artist, teacher, choreographer and artist-scholar, and being “unapologetically queer in performance.”
My dance practice has been multi-faceted and diverse; how could it not be? I am a layered construction made of contradictory histories.
I am Malaysian, born to a Chinese father and Sri Lankan mother. I started dancing at the age of 5. By 10, I was on a plane to India. The next seven years of my life was immersed in a bubble where I was drawn into the world of rigour, discipline and obedience.
And then the next obsession came into my life through classical ballet. I began my ballet training by the age of 12, balancing my Indian dance training with it. Without even thinking about it, I became a ‘bilingual’ dancer.
At 18, I moved to London. It seemed that in London I was somehow permitted to be everything. I could be a classicist, an Indian but at the same time explore all that seductive London had to offer to a young gay man in search of his identity. Eagerly, I immersed myself in obsessive dance training with high octane living.
Professionally, I proposed a ‘niche’ that was different from the dance industry: a male Indian dancer who also did classical ballet, and was unapologetically queer in performance. At the same time, I was quickly becoming a regular feature in notorious parties like DTPM and Fiction. My ego found pleasure in being noticed. Soon, the temptations of partying and drugs overwhelmed me, and I found myself heading for a crash as I burned myself out.
By 35, I had lost my spark and the industry found me redundant.
And just like that, I was on a plane back to Malaysia. I was convinced that all the doors were closed to me and that was the end. I spent a year in Malaysia, slowly getting back to my roots, my family, my teachers and my faith. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Suddenly, I was offered a scholarship to return to London as a Masters student. After my Masters, and completely by coincidence, an opportunity came up in the tiny island of Malta. I thought I would be in Malta for three years. I ended up staying for eight as I went on to direct its national dance company – the best and worst experience of my life.
Destiny brought me back into the world of a dear friend, Akram Khan, with whom I had danced with at the start of our careers. Akram gracefully gave me a space to work with, an integrity similar to the roots of my early training.
Today, I find myself starting my day with the same childlike excitement to dance, though I now have a 42-year-old body that seems to have lived many lives.