The dancer’s kohl lined eyes thrown wide open at the height of Rathi bhava (love mood) was scary noted a fellow member of the audience at Mavin Khoo’s performance of Intoxicating The Blue God at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur last week.
Did the dancer’s glare of ecstasy appear too erotic for those emotional and faint of heart among the audience including demure ladies? For the non-stop 90-minute performance was intense and tightly packed with high energy moments as Khoo threw a vigorous challenge to the accompaniment of O.S. Arun’s soulful rendition of popular Carnatic songs dealing with Lord Krishna’s pastimes.
It was obvious that both the singer and dancer were hot in pursuit of the elusive Blue God Krishna whose transcendental pastimes have marvelled creative minds in the Indian sub-continent since the past five millennia. This fact was clearly implied in the heartfelt narration of the evening’s escapade, by professional actor, Sukania Venugopal.
As the internationally acclaimed Arun sang the refrains of the varnam, Vanajakshi a composition of Prof. T. R. Subramaniam, Khoo swirled, swooned and leapt in ecstasy, reminding audiences of his strong involvement in ballet and contemporary dance in his home base in London.
The experimental element of Khoo’s Bharatanatyam presentation was evident in his unique execution of jatis – to the accompaniment of young Nattuvangam master, P. Praveen Kumar – seeing him practically hop from a squat position to aramandi and swirl around effortlessly. Also the momentary pauses facing the musical troupe as if telling them `over to you’ or `was that OK’, at the end of each jati sequence.
Khoo’s footwork was fast and intricate with the rhythmic jingle of his ankle bells adding to the musical ensemble comprising besides Arun and Praveen Kumar, Bhavani Shankar (Mridangam), Sriram Sheshadri (violin) and Sujith S. Naik (Flute). This was most effective in his rendition of Parthasarathi, the charioteer Sri Krishna delivering the Bhagavad Gita to his distressed friend the Mahabharat hero, Arjuna.
If some among the audience were not at ease with Khoo’s depiction of Srngara rasa, they must have soaked in ecstasy in the Bhakti (devotional) and Vatsalyam (parental) rasas. With Arun at his best singing Madhurastakam of sage Vallabhacharya – lovingly enunciating the wonderful aspects of Krishna – Khoo, unleashed the full import of his subconscious self to float carefree in the ocean of bhakti.
In the following number, Krishna Nee Begane Baro a highly popular Vyasatirtha composition Khoo doubles up bending low to the perspective of little Krishna to beg the little boy to come quickly (begane baro). The outpouring of maternal love evoked by Arun’s lilting rendition of the Kannada song and Khoo’s delicate, cajoling moves in pursuit of the wondrous child held the audience mesmerised and deeply touched.
The presence of the Perak ruler, Sultan Dr Nazrin Muizuddin Shah and his consort, Tuanku Zara Salim at the second day of Khoo’s show was a nostalgic return to the tradition of royal patronage always enjoyed by artists during the golden age of Indian fine arts.
Review by R. Sittamparam
Picture by Cheryl Hoffman