ONLINE: Life, love and death in a powerful depiction by Mavin Khoo for Evam

Mavin Khoo

Keerthana Ravi’s Evam aired its last episode much after the others because the artist, Mavin Khoo, was held up due to a sudden lockdown in the UK. The Malaysian Khoo, one of the leading international male Bharatanatyam dancers in the world, has been trained by many great gurus in multiple dance forms, including by Adyar K. Lakshman in Bharatanatyam. After a delay, Evam streamed a recording of Khoo’s recital from the archives of the Darbar Festival, UK.

The performance began with O.S. Arun singing the Ganapati Stuti in very scintillating notes. This was followed by the Devi Stuti, ‘Ya devi sarva bhuteshu’, featuring nritta by Mavin. The footwork was defined, the hastas extremely precise and Khoo’s movements covered the entire stage. The reddened hands and feet stood out along with the red in the costume.

Portraying the lovelorn nayika, Khoo gave expression to her faith and love, and the assurance of an embrace. He portrayed her gait and expressions as she sits in apprehension of his coming, adorning herself and blushing. In an attitude of confidence in her love, the nayika undresses, goes to her wardrobe, selects a sari, spreads it in time to the beats and bols, and ties it around her waist. Then she goes to her jewellery case, picks out an earring and screws it on, depicted by Khoo using very coy expressions. His nritta was so precise, it looked almost mechanical, but also entirely effortless.

An element of doubt creeps in as the nayika wonders whether her lord thinks that she is still a child. Silks and jewels are no good if you do not look at me, she sulks. She is aggrieved, she yearns for him and wants to interest him in her gait and her slim waist. We were together, intertwined, but now I pine for you, she expresses; do not reject me, do not ignore me. Then, depicting the nayak holding her face up for a kiss, Mavin shows him embracing and derobing her. Twisting on one leg, he sensuously depicted the embrace on the back.
Then, seated, Khoo performed to the ghazal ‘Aaj jane ki zid na karo’, using abhinaya and employing mostly his eyes to convey the emotions. His expressions conveyed the nayika’s uncertainty and her grief at the thought of parting. She falls asleep, wakes up to find him missing and looks around frantically. Mavin covered the entire stage and took chakkars to show her frantic desperation.

This interlude was a segue to the last section, in which her beloved has been claimed by death. The lights overhead glowed red as Khoo depicted the smell and pungency of death: my beloved a mere corpse; it’s the time for Yama to come; the same rule applies to all, which we have seen come true during these times; the soul within is divine and indestructible. Khoo’s footwork and coverage of the stage were done very powerfully. Finally, he used jumps to show the aum shakti.

This performance was a display of excellence. The nritta technique was beyond sound and also matched the abhinaya. ‘Traye sthiti karini, jivalok gunakari’: the attributes of Shakti were shown with rapid rotations of the arm. Khoo employed a gait that reminded me of the gat in Kathak in its style and performed chakkars on one foot. ‘Jayati jayati namah Kali’ was chanted in jathi bols. ‘Mahakali jagat rupini’ was depicted using jumps. The vocals by O.S. Arun were very appropriately emotive, bringing out sensuousness when needed and the roudra roop of Kali when that was required. The nattuvangam and the mridangam artists kept up the tempo of the dance. And commenting on Mavin Khoo would be like showing a deepak to the sun. Divya Ravi, in a casual chat once, had explained to me that Mavin does abhinaya with the minimum of gestures and hastas; in his style, he emotes mostly through mukhabhinaya and eyes without moving much. The entire performance was a gratifying experience: the first half sensuous and emotive and the second focussing on movement and the dance of death.