Parallel Passions, Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH, London
Monday 17 November 2003
It starts in darkness. On stage, a performer begins to stamp out rhythms, as in Indian classical dance. Another starts a different, galloping rhythm. As the lights go up, we see that the second is a ballet dancer - the sound isn't bare heels; it's pointe shoes.
That's the idea behind Mavin Khoo's company and its new show, Parallel Passions. Having trained in ballet and in the Indian classical form Bharata Natyam, Khoo sees no reason not to combine them. His company of five has dancers trained in both styles, and his programme notes provide a history of Bharata Natyam. Ballet dancers had a huge impact on the revival of the style in the 1930s, so what's the problem?
Whatever attention ballet dancers paid to Bharata Natyam, these are not related styles. The basic stance is different: the carriage of the body, the articulation of feet or shoulders. The opening wittily sets out Khoo's aims, but the dances that follow don't measure up to it.
Michael Beare's "Gemini" is a solo for Khoo to the music of a Handel sarabande. The dance is very measured, blandly classical. Each phrase works up to a position - sometimes ballet, sometimes Bharata Natyam. The two forms don't clash, but Beare doesn't blend them. It's an end-stopped dance, the poses coming as predictably as rhymes in dull poetry.
In his own choreography, Khoo works harder on the combination. He returns to an attitude with arms raised above the head and wrists crooked down: it's somewhere between Indian classical hand positions and Swan Lake ports de bras. (Sometimes he flaps swan-wing arms to underline the point.)
Khoo is a charismatic dancer, compact and long-waisted. He has danced for Shobana Jeyasingh and Wayne McGregor, in classical recitals and in cabaret. The dances in Parallel Passions reflect that range.
His most ambitious piece is "Images in Varnam". It is based on a Bharata Natyam tradition, the solo dance about love. Khoo expands it with several dancers and ballet partnering - in one case, a duet for two men. But you can still see the gear shifts, the spaces between the component parts. Khoo hasn't resolved the tension between styles, especially for the women in his company. Alex Newton is clearly the ballet specialist, Seeta Patel the Indian classical dancer.
"Lovely Way to Burn" is danced to Madonna's version of "Fever". The men have gold sequinned trousers and Cuban heels; Newton has a bare midriff and black tutu. Despite the costumes, this is hardly "disco fabulous". Khoo's dancers are rather correct, too prim with his camp flounces.
The piece improves when Khoo turns to a third style, ballroom dancing, for his duet with Anthony Kurt. They snap their heads left and right, tango fashion; they strut together, then pull apart. It's a more coherent style, a simpler structure, and the dance is better focused. It may be possible, as Khoo insists, to combine ballet and Bharata Natyam, but Khoo hasn't done it yet.
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