The Re-Making of a Ballet Classic, Khoo-Style


He slipped off the radar for a while but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been hard at work.  Pulse caught up with Mavin Khoo, the acclaimed Malaysian-born dancer of bharatanatyam, contemporary and ballet to hear how his dance career is flourishing across the world. 

Mavin Khoo is a busy man.  Like any successful dance artist, he has a back-to-back schedule that includes training, rehearsals, performances and numerous meetings.  But where Khoo is different from his contemporaries is his geographic reach.  Khoo stretches himself between his home in Malta, his native Malaysia, India, London and wherever his tour takes him (usually Europe and Asia).  Khoo admits “ life is pretty hectic at the moment because my work branches out into so many different areas.” Amongst these: premiere for his own version of Swan Lake, creating a solo bharatanatyam piece, co-running the dance department at the University of Malta and studying for a PhD at Roehampton University.  He casually mentions that: “...and I’m still doing a lot of what I call my “fun” areas of work –modelling and working in clubs...”  It comes at no surprise, then, that an interview via Skype was the only way he could fit us into his schedule!  

I ask him about the Swan Lake piece, which opened at the Malta Arts Festival in June earlier this year, to which Khoo says: “It’s a massive work...and it took five years of research.  It’s terrifying to do because everyone has a history with it and your version will almost instantly be compared to other productions.” Despite the sheer scale of the project, Khoo felt more than ready for it.  “...I’m in a position now where I’m happy to fail.  It’s really important to remember that, as artists, the humility or the tendency to fail in public is essential for our growth.” When I ask whether it was his intention to put the Mavin Khoo mark on this icon narrative, he enthusiastically nods his head.  “Yes, very much.” before acknowledging that this project was ten years in the making, conceptually at least.  “...but I was really conscious not to until I felt I was ready to have a voice in it.” Khoo muses about his connection to the Swan Lake narrative: “I suppose I share a certain affinity with the swan...and a lot of the time the term androgyny is linked to me, my presence on stage is often associated to the swan so this project felt almost inevitable.” So how does one go about making their own version of a classic?  Khoo says that the music was his first area to tackle.  “ have to be ready to give it, and the lineage that it’s come from, a sense of validation.” 
Lucinda Al-Zoghbi

To watch the trailer for Mavin Khoo’s Swan Lake: