“Man to Monk: Part 1, Man” is a wonderful synthesis of softness and strength, which takes a spectator on an emotional journey exploring the meaning of desire in a two-people relationship. While the issues brought up in the piece are not a novelty, the way it is presented absolutely is.
As artistic director and leading dancer of the two-piece and four-year-long project, Mavin Khoo aims at challenging the rather stigmatised conception of simplified human relationships and cultural norms often displayed on stage. He invites different choreographers and dancers to collaborate and explore the very roots of human nature with him. The first part of the piece “Man to Monk: Part 1, Man” received its world premiere on November 29th at Lilian Baylis Studio of Sadler’s Wells.
'Man to Monk: Part 1, Man' - Mavin Khoo - Sadler's Wells
Carlos Pons Guerra, founder of DeNada Dance Theatre and choreographer of the first part of the project, explores the different expressions of sexuality. He structures a piece embedded in contemporary and classical techniques with constantly changing energy and expressive music, which brings a particular Southern energy to the scene. The physical differences of Mavin Khoo – short and delicate, and Victor Callens – tall and strong, are explored in a great depth on stage. Yet, both dancers are very different not only in their physical qualities, but also in their training. Mavin Khoo has a strong background in classic Bharatanatyam studied in India as well as contemporary and ballet primarily learnt in USA and UK, while Victor Callens has spent many years studying ballet and contemporary, which stems from European culture. All these differences display at first a straightforward opposition between vulnerability and strength, while it develops later on into a more intricate relationship driven by lust between the two people.
The conventional pas de deux concept of one fragile female and a powerful male is challenged by the duet of two homosexual men. Yet, not only it is challenged in terms of gender and sexuality, but also by displaying how diverse a relationship between two people can also be. The dominant narrative is Victor Callens’ character exercising brutal coercion on Mavin Khoo’s character nonetheless displayed in an elegant manner and with an instant counter-reaction of the latter to evade. But even though the relationship between them is toxic, if not deadly, the desire to be together is stronger, which coincides and separates them several times.
Choreographer Carlo Pons Guerra deploys the dancers’ strengths to create alternating moments of dominance as well as moments of emotionality. One minute Victor Callens' character can be chasing Mavin Khoo’s, then they may be found be fighting, then hugging each other. And while the constant shifting in energy produces an easily felt impact brings much intensity of the piece, it also symbolises the dilemma and fragile line between love and hate, and the disastrous ends of possessing one another.
While Man to Monk might not be the most suitable for conventional dance lovers in terms of its unconventional form, it addresses the universal aspect of every individual as partner and lover relevant for many.
Lilian Baylis Studio - Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
Thursday 29 & Friday 30 November Tickets: £17