Launched in 2014 , ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble is Malta’s national contemporary dance company. This year sees the company perform in the U.K. for the first time, and their double bill at Sadler’s Wells featured works by Spanish choreographer Ivan Perez as well as ZfinMalta’s Artistic Director and dancer, Mavin Khoo.
Marvin Khoo’s Home is a dark comic work that follows a male protagonist on a journey of self-discovery from birth to death. Washing is hung around the stage, like the lines strung between houses in the old towns of Malta. Here, though, it is not warm and colourful. The palette of black and white clothing continues through to the black clown noses the dancers pull on.
As the black noses suggest, the highly stylised language of Clowning is woven into the movement sequences of Home, from the dancer’s expressive characters to the cacophony of garbled words and squeals that accompany their movement. Their characters are inquisitive, bordering on the point of threatening, a choice that lends the work an underlying tension.
Images of conformity and social acceptance pervade the piece as these clown-like companions lead our uncertain protagonist through a roughly hewn cycle of life. He is cajoled into becoming like his fellows and his oft reluctance to this leads to moments of conflict – hints of darkness quickly shaken off with humour.
The dancers of the company are strong, particularly in a series of martial arts inspired duets of smooth, grappling choreography. Yet sometimes the oddness of Home feels enforced rather than a part of it and that is the sticking point with this otherwise promising work. There are at least three possible ending points and, in a piece that appears to be striving for meaning, that ultimately leaves you with the sense of a work lacking in choreographic clarity.
Ivan Perez’ wryly titled duet Kick the Bucket opens with a monologue on the subject of words. Performing now in his role as company dancer, Khoo expounds how words attach meaning, or a label to things. Dance is, in many ways, the antithesis to that. In its abstract form it leaves the viewer to ascertain their own meaning and here, in the absence of words, unfolds a tender, expansive duet.
The movements of Khoo and dancer Gabin Corredor are close and connected, their bodies shifting around one another. In their exchange of weight there is a constant negotiation and, as the work develops, the initial desire of one man to dominate the other slips into a sense of mutual need. The serious tone becomes playful, then tender.
Both dancers are absorbed in their task but Khoo’s exposing performance is compelling. The double-edged sword of director and dancer seems one he is perfectly at home with.
In their movement the two dancers capture a very human relationship that could resonate on a myriad levels. There’s a sense of our attachment to others, to life, to the need to keep striving. Existence is a broad subject and the beauty of this work, as of dance, is in its scope for interpretation. In this case movement holds more meaning than words.
The ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble were performing at Sadler’s Wells. Click here for more details.