Eun-Me Ahn Company with recorded guest appearances
The Lowry, Salford
September 26 - 27, 2023; 1 hr 15 mins
There was a seven-minute sequence at the close of Dragons in which the eight on-stage dancers took their bows, applauded themselves, applauded the audience, applauded the projected images that had accompanied much of their performance, applauded their boss Eun-Me Ahn, and encouraged everyone to clap along.
They just about managed to sustain the self-congratulation through the whole of the pre-recorded soundtrack, but at the end I wondered whether we were all impressed more by the performers or the electronics.
The show is a hypnotic synthesis of live dance and prepared projection (on a permanent gauze at front of stage), some of it gloriously imaginative imaging, some of it video of another six dancers, from five different South East Asian countries, showing what they can do. These elements are mixed together with great ingenuity and in brilliantly varied colour and light: sometimes the actual dancers are seen alongside the video ones, sometimes they seem to work alongside each other, sometimes they are inside abstract patterns and images. The credit for video design is to Taeseok Lee, with Eun-Me Ahn herself the costume and set designer as well as choreographer.
There’s a story behind this fusion of the live and the apparent: the South Korean choreographer saw young performers at a dance festival in Indonesia, shortly before Covid, and wanted to bring them together. Under lockdown conditions she had to ask them to create videos of themselves, and this is the way she found to use the resulting material and make something theatrical of it.
The live dancers are all Korean and it’s very much a Korean show, though with co-production credits from a number of European theatres. The show toured in 2021 but has taken until now to come to the UK, with visits to the Barbican and The Lowry.
Here it’s the first in a series of international one, two and three-night dance shows for the autumn of 2023, which continue with I’m Muslamic, Don’t Panik! by "developed with" artist Bobak Champion (October 4), The Forest Dream by Payal Ramchandani (October 10), Alvin Ailey’s Ailey 2 company (October 13-14), Ballet Black (October 31-November 2), black choreographers Serge Aime Coulibaly and Vincent Mantsoe with Unknown Realms (November 9 and 11), and Seeta Patel’s take on The Rite of Spring (November 21).
Dragons is unlike anything most of us have seen before, and may point the way to a future of dance creation without the need for real humans to tread a stage at all. The technology probably has some way to go before that, though, as the video versions of the young dancers are slightly fuzzy compared to the real ones. The best sequences are when the projections are abstract, or when they take the place of the live performers altogether – a beautiful series of highly-enlarged close-up images of performers swimming underwater (in which Eun-Me Ahn herself also features) is one of the most striking.
Why Dragons? I couldn’t tell (though in South East Asia they apparently symbolise all sorts of things, and here are represented mainly by long tubes of pleated, flexible shimmering material). There isn't much story-telling as we know it, but rather a series of evocations and animated tableaux, often conveying a sense of fun or serenity and joy - though the tempo of the repetitive-rhythmic-cell-style music (Young-Gyu Jang) is inceased towards the end to accompany a change from mainly simple and graceful movement, with artistic gymnastics thrown in, to something more akin to street dance and hip-hop. Eun-Me Ahn is nothing if not eclectic in her style.