Classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer Mavin Khoo is Artistic Director of ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble. The Maltese company are touring on their first UK tour this Spring and will be performing KICK THE BUCKET & HOME at DanceXchange on Friday 27 January, presenting a DOUBLE BILL of work choreographed by Mavin himself and ŻfinMalta Associate Choreographer Iván Pérez.
Here he talks about his role as Artistic Director, their first UK tour and what lies ahead…
How and when did you first meet ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble?
I began my relationship with Malta in 2004 when I came with mavinkhooDance (which was London based) to perform through the British Council. I subsequently came again in 2007 with a solo performance and got to know the creative community. In 2010, the University of Malta opened its first full time contemporary dance programme and I was appointed to work alongside Professor Jo Butterworth in its setting up. In 2014 the government launched ZfinMalta and I was appointed as its first Artistic Director.
What was your job as the company’s first Artistic Director?
It was really about me setting up everything from scratch: establishing the company’s artistic vision, philosophy…identifying the kind of dancers that would employed, the training, repertoire, contracts, creative team, work space, branding, crew, organisational infrastructure and most importantly, establishing a clear 5 year strategy.
How has the job of AD enabled you to grow?
The combination of directing and performing is always a challenge and one really has to develop strong skills in multi-tasking and time management. Fortunately I have a lot of experience as a Rehearsal Director (with Akram Khan) and of course, that role is demanding in those aspects. The biggest challenge has been establishing a working structure that is professional and related to the working ethos of the international sector whilst ensuring it works within the Maltese governmental system; that requires constant negotiations and discussions.
How did you choose the work and choreographers for the Triple and Double Bills that you’re bringing to the UK?
The company is a repertory company with a clear brief to develop a Mediterranean identity. One of the things I feel is problematic sometimes with rep companies is the tendency to choose too many different choreographic approaches in the name of versatility. Dancers never have the time to really investigate deeply.
Whilst we do have a range of choreographers, it’s important that the company provides a platform for emerging Maltese choreographers to gain experience. I established 3 main choreographic strands from the beginning. The main works performed by the company are by me and our Associate Choreographer Ivan Perez Aviles and Associate Artist Jose Agudo. I was particularly interested in Ivan and Jose’s works as they are really current in establishing a method and style. They are also both extremely good at imparting knowledge based on their work. Furthermore, their identities as Spanish dancers and dance makers brings an interesting Mediterranean quality to their works.
What are you most looking forward to about bringing the company to the UK for the first time?
It’s a young company, full of ambition, and I believe that the investment in quality of training, coaching and artistic mentoring that ZinMalta has committed to for its dancers, brings out a particular energy and dynamism that is unique and yes, very Mediterranean.
I also had the most wonderful performing history with the UK. It feels like coming home with these dancers and sharing my history with them.
It also is an amazing opportunity for the dancers to really challenge themselves with the kind of stamina needed when one goes on a tour of this nature.
And what do you think UK audiences will take away with them after seeing the company in action?
I feel that the UK audiences will recognise a rigor and artistic sensibility that is engaging and touching. We are unashamedly passionate on stage and this really has the capacity to move.
How do you divide your time between your duties as AD and your other highly regarded work with companies such as Akram Khan?
I am very disciplined with my time management and schedules; it’s a matter of really establishing artistic priorities and ensuring that I am able to give the best to whichever company I am with. There is also a tremendous amount of projects that I have had to turn down.
What’s next for Mavin Khoo?
After my contract as Artistic Director finishes later this year, I’ll continue as an Associate with ZfinMalta in order to conclude some one-off projects and also to ensure that there is smooth transitional handover phase between myself and the next AD.
I will also be performing more and taking on several of the big projects that I have not been able to commit to over the last few years.