Thursday, September 11, 2008

(D) Devi: In Absolution - Aug 23

If dance was a sport, Mavin Khoo could easily have won a gold medal and a datukship. To prove his weight, he had the audacity to compete for audience against the closing ceremony of the spectacular Beijing Olympics last weekend; and managed to garner a full auditorium of fans.

Devi: In Absolution was his first full-length production (1.5 hours) since he returned to Malaysia. It was performed in aid of Pusaka, a non-profit organization established by his brother, Eddin Khoo, to conduct research and create a comprehensive documentary archive of traditional performance in Malaysia.

Mavin’s fascination of Devi as a child grew into an infatuation, which later led him to create Devi: The Female Principle with French choreographer Laurent Cavanna for the Venice Biennale in 2006. That work was a duet in neo-classical ballet form. To further investigate the subject matter, he turned towards literally works and scholars in Chennai. The manifestation of his research is Devi: In Absolution, a solo bharatanatyam which depicts three aspects of Devi: Meenakshi, the child and the bride, Durga the warrior, and Kali the destroyer.

O.S. Arun, one of the most gifted Carnatic musicians in the country, opened the curtain to a black and white film with his sonorous voice. The film portrayed Mavin in a foetal position, then on all fours. It was symbolic of a child being born of mother Devi. An eerie figure of a woman in a red sari appears to shadow Mavin. The representation of Devi should be kept symbolic because the mystery and awe one feels towards a Goddess is immediately lost in the appearance of an imperfect human form. The most effective use of this media was the touch of a woman’s finger sliding down Mavin’s back on film, and his reaction towards it in live performance. Mavin’s stood still with his back facing the white screen. The visual stillness easily achieves what people say, ‘less is more.’ A slight twitch of facial expression reacting to the woman’s touch connects film and stage.

The mood of the first act, Meenakshi was cheerful and playful. Mavin chose the basic stances and movements of bharatanatyam, packaged it in a light-hearted sequence; and repeats the sequence with increasing speed. His palms, painted in red, drew imaginary red lines as he drew circles in the air. He depicted the image of a curious child, his hands always forming and feeling various ‘shapes.’ He would open up containers and peer into it. In a communal scene, he would sit in a circle, talking, chatting and thoroughly enjoying company.

In the next scene, the ‘child’ shows off his dancing skills in a series of complex footwork. He explores isolation, treating his right leg and feet like a creature separate from his body. This ‘creature’ moves to Arun’s voice like a snake would to a snake charmer’s hypnotic music.

The story of the bride was less exciting, focusing mainly on stoking her hair and playing a musical instrument. Perhaps it is my bias against nritya, which does more storytelling and portrayal of moods.

The second act which featured Durga and Kali displayed none of the aura of innocence that the first had. It was difficult to negotiate the image of femininity with such masculine motives. There was a lot of energy, just like the first act. But instead, this energy spells power and domination. In fact, the territorial nature was subtly implied in the use of space which Mavin covered with extensive travelling.

Movements were subdued in the next scene. Mavin shifted slowly from pose to pose behind the white screen that projected the black and white film earlier. A strong beam of light cast down vertically on him. Initially, my eyes was on Mavin but Arun’s commanding presence became more and more obvious in the absence of movements and my eyes riveted to him. In this particular piece that he sung, he whipped up such musical personality that even Mavin faded into the backdrop.

In the concluding scene, Mavin danced with such violent fury, stomping the world flat with his feet and slashing everything that comes in his way. On film, bloodshed was shown quite literally, as a consequence of such destructive force. On stage the red dust that the world is reduced to pours down on Mavin.

One can read a dancer from the way he dances; and Mavin is a perfectionist. His drive to excel makes him a flawless and impeccable dancer. It shows in the perfect lines, total control over his body and minute attention to detail. All these are the makings of a world-class dancer. And in this piece, he deserves standing ovation.

1 comment:

Hotmasala said...

I have to agree with you on that..he definitely deserves a datukship..what an amazing dancer he is..i love the way u have described in detail about each piece..it was an amazing performance..!he swept me away with such a strong,exquisite performance..thanx for sharing...