Mavin Khoo Man to Monk: Part 1, Man – Sadler’s Wells, London

Artistic Director: Marvin Khoo

Choreographer: Carlos Pons Guerra

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

“Each man kills the thing he loves” Oscar Wilde wrote in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, ever tortured by his complex relationship with Alfred Douglas. Dancer Mavin Khoo and choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra seem to have this poem at the forefront of their mind in their latest dance piece Mavin Khoo Man to Monk: Part 1, Man, an intense and absorbing story of toxic love which had its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells.

Opening with screams of pain the dark, the audience is first presented with what looks like the aftermath of a murder in which one man stands over the inert body of another. As Hitchcock did with Rope, Pons Guerra uses this pointed opening to drive the inevitability of the drama. As events cut back and forth along the timeline of their relationship, what unfolds is an intense story of jealousy, obsession and desire powerfully performed by Khoo and Victor Callens.

Part 1, Manis an examination of uneven affairs and how power is used within relationships to control or dominate each other. In the early sections, shortly after his death, we see how threatening Callens’ character could be, looming over Khoo both in height and personality, stalking him around the floor, pawing and reaching towards him before pining his partner to the ground, while Khoo pulls away, arching and stretching away from his abusive partner.

Yet there is a desire between the two of them that cannot be shaken off and as this intriguing and expressive tale unfolds, the indivisibility of their connection is unbreakable, particularly as Callens returns to his dead state several times and is reanimated, as though not even mortality can stop this battling pair. The struggle to be free of one another as well as to control is present in a many of the scenarios including a few moments where their heads push firmly against each other like stags defending their territory.

Pons Guerra draws on classical ballet but uses a broad selection of music managed by Luke Wilson, to make this a very contemporary piece. With at least 10 different “chapters”, each piece of music creates a different part of the relationship with a flavour of Argentine Tango to suggest the inextricable tangle from which the couple cannot and do not wish to escape, to a flamenco-inspired sequence danced by Callens in which his arm placement in particular suggests both vulnerability and strength simultaneously.

A 50s-esque tune denotes a romantic shift later in the piece, bathed in blue by Barnaby Booth suggesting a soft moonlight as Khoo wraps himself around Callens who slowly spins them around. It begins as a wistful memory of their love, but as Callens lowers his hands it becomes clear how one-sided their affair has been, and as memories of happy and terrible times flicker the audience is richly rewarded with a brutal final encounter between them that is full of fire.

With lovely storytelling throughout, Khoo and Callen are almost continuously moving, managing the transitions between different speeds and styles with ease, and utilising the notable height difference to inform their characters. Callen is particular has an elegance and fluidity that is used beautifully throughout.

Inevitably some of the sections work better than others but Man to Monk: Part 1, Manis a fascinating examination of the inescapable clutches of a poisonous love. This is exciting 50-minute piece is the dance equivalent of Wilde’s famous lines ‘Each man kills the thing he loves…/The coward does it with a kiss/ The brave man with a sword!

Reviewed on 30 November 2018 |  Image: Contributed

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