Akshay Sharma Picture: Camilla Greenwell

Mavin Khoo & Akshay Sharma

 Desiring God

Birmingham Hippodrome


Established in 2008, Birmingham International Dance Festival (BIDF) has become one of the city’s cultural highlights. It returns this year with an exciting programme with the aim of “connecting people with great dance, creating vital space for artistic dialogue and exchange, and promoting Birmingham as a global dance city.”

It is a wonderful opportunity to see dance in its many different forms which aptly brings me to last night's presentation; Mavin Khoo and Akshay Sharma Desiring God  presented at the Patrick Studio.

A programme of two halves, both artists trained in Indian classical and contemporary dance present ideas on tradition, desire and God.

First up is Akshay Sharma with a site specific Improvisation. The site being the atrium of the the Patrick Studio (for those familiar it’s that bit under the stairs to the Dance Xchange)

As you enter the bright open space you are met by a bare foot figure already moving around the floor with a quiet reverence, almost as if in meditation. Akshay Sharma is a beautiful dancer, a technically stunning performer. Flexibility, balance, strength, he moves to the music like water, soft and calm, rippling gently like a stream through a forgotten forest.

The dancing is interspersed with spoken word, and Sharma's voice is as captivating as his movement. His musings on the nature of love, God, desire, nature and even mathematics are both charming and humorous. Each spoken word piece informs the improvised choreography that follows and as the intensity builds that gently flowing river soon turns into a crashing tsunami.

For the final section Sharma dances with speed, power and precision (the man could outstrike a cobra) incorporating breath work that by the very last beat has you holding yours. 

The second part of the programme was An evening of Abhinaya by Mavin Khoo. An associate of Akram Kahn, Khoo is a renowned Bharata Natyam dancer in his own right, known for his distinct artistry.


Mavin Khoo. Picture: Adya Raman

Joined onstage in the Patrick Studio by three musicians, Khoo explains what the performance will entail. He will tell traditional Indian stories, about love, the Gods and humanity.

And then tell the story again through dance. Khoo is inviting all of us East and West to join him on a journey of exploring the connection between tradition and modern identities.

As someone unfamiliar with the Indian classical practices I was very grateful for the explanation that “Abhinaya” is mime. It is storytelling, poetry and song.

It is a very relaxed and intimate experience with all 4 performers remaining seated throughout and Khoo addressing the audience at intervals. To begin with he explains that in Eastern culture you are not just a dancer; you are a dancer, actor and musician. For the next hour Khoo demonstrates how powerful this synergy can be.

As a non Eastern audience member I found his performance utterly mesmerising from every flick of the wrist to the tick of his eyebrows. His face and movements are so expressive that Khoo allows you to feel the words being sung (stunningly I should add by Sharan Subramanian) even if you do not understand them.

There was a beautiful moment I looked around at the audience and there were several members (who were of Eastern heritage) mirroring Khoo’s movements or quietly singing along with, as if they couldn’t help but be swept along on the journey of emotion as Mavin Khoo himself promised earlier through the power of this intimate storytelling.

An Evening of Abhinaya with its stunning music and beautifully nuanced storytelling made for a fascinating experience. Combined with Akshay Sharma, Desiring God  is a piece that BIDF and the Patrick Studio can be really proud to have presented.

Janine Henderson


Mavin Khoo was accompanied by Vijay Venkat: Flautist and Prathap Ramachandra: Percussionist

BIDF continues until continues at venues around Birmingham until 17th July. 

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