Mavin Khoo. Photograph by Matteo Carratoni

Into the Wild

Mavin Khoo, Creative Associate at Akram Khan Company, on “Jungle Book, reimagined”

Dancer, choreographer and musician Mavin Khoo’s career straddles many disciplines, from Bharatanatyam (he is a leading soloist in the artform) and Odissi, to classical dance, and Cunningham technique at the Cunningham Studios, New York. He has worked with Wayne McGregor, Christopher Bannerman and most recently, has become the coach and creative associate to Akram Khan as part of the prestigious Akram Khan Company. Lorna Irvine caught up with him ahead of the live performance of “Jungle Book reimagined” at Edinburgh Festival Theatre as part of Edinburgh International Festival in August 25-28, 2022.

What can you tell us about “Jungle Book reimagined”?

“Jungle Book reimagined” is a two-act work that lends itself to be felt and experienced by people of all generations and cultures. It is a work that is very much a position in a place where Akram has posed certain questions about the world based on his identity as a father. So, everything about “Jungle Book reimagined” is a reflection or question Akram has, as father, for his daughter. It is a work that has with it the underpinnings of climate change, of identity, of a question about where we sit in terms of the arrogance of man and what man has done to nature. But I think what is specific about the work which is very true to Akram’s particular aesthetic is that it is a work that addresses all these politics in number one, a very poetic articulation, and number two, a very personal articulation.

Akram Khan’s “Jungle Book reimagined.” Photograph by Ambra Vernuccio

You have a long and illustrious career. What have been the most creatively satisfying moments for you?

I think it has predominantly been the great beauty and advantage that I have had to be beside Akram as he has made some amazing creations. I think that privilege is something that I will always take with me because one really has the ability to sit and observe a genius reveal things that I would never have imagined possible. And I have seen what the work does not just to dancers, not just to artists, but to any person that has that ability to come into a space and just surrender to an experience. So really, I think the most satisfying moments that I’ve had in my long career are really the genius moments that have happened in front of me.

Akram Khan Company in rehearsal for “Jungle Book reimagined.” Photograph by Ambra Vernuccio

Do you think it’s important for new, young dancers to have a sense of leaning into tradition, when learning new techniques?

I think this is a question which is at the heart of a value system that we feel very passionate about at Akram Khan Company. Absolutely, yes. And I say that with a particular rigor because I think many people would say yes, but not everyone really feels or understands how to insert those values. And for us, both Akram and I having come from a tradition of Indian Classical dance training, having imbibed into the company and the dancers, a respect for tradition, a respect for history, a respect and understanding of where do we come from. Once we understand that—or once we engage with that, being able to say ‘this is where I want to sit now.’ So I think the immersion, understanding, sensitivity, curiosity and respect for tradition is absolutely crucial.

Dance is a vital mode of expression—do you think that it’s especially pertinent now, as we navigate the post-pandemic landscape?

I think dance because it has this ability to engage beyond words and when you find or you experience a dance artist (not just a dancer) who is able to transcend language, and through language, transcend specificity of culture and race—I think it has the capacity to be particularly pertinent. I think when we talk about the post-pandemic landscape we are really talking about a landscape that has suddenly become even more aware of the notion of touch and intimacy, the notion of isolation, and the notion of race because of those very important discourses that came up during the pandemic. I think therefore in all those elements that have rightfully and remain at the heart of a discourse, and more often than not an intellectual and verbal discourse, dance has that amazing possibility to transcend the intellectual and the verbal which is incredibly powerful and important.