Andersen’s Gazes is the second in a series of collaborations between Lee Kyung-ok Dance Company and pop artist Mari Kim. The first, The Boy in the Red Shoes, was performed at KB Haneul Youth Theatre in November 2013. The Boy in the Red Shoes was created by the National Dance Company of Korea, and choreographed by Lee Kyung-ok, to communicate an anti-bullying message for the youth of Korea. As with The Boy in the Red Shoes, Andersen’s Gazes offered a reinterpretation of classic fairy tales. Here rather than a fairy tale that Anderson would have written for contemporary Korea, the creative process itself was the focus, as Andersen’s fevered writings were brought to life with characters from his tales. Images of anime doll faces created by Mari Kim were projected onto the flowing curtains that framed the stage, as dance and acrobatics merged with dancers creating flow and meaning through their body movements as their bodies created ripples in the canvas. This was contemporary dance / theatre / installation, fused together by a discordant soundtrack, which created a sense of the uncanny which expressed the slippage between light and dark found in Andersen’s fairy tales: the dancer as puppet becoming alive, the female dancers’ white-clothed bodies signalling both purity and corruption, sanctity and sin, and the moments of childlike behaviour towards the end of the performance that managed to become both innocent and knowing simultaneously.
Fairy tales are one of the most universal storytelling systems. Famous fairy tales such as Cinderella have variants across most cultures, and indeed while many of us in the West associate the tale with the Grimm brothers, the earliest version is widely reported as being the Chinese tale Yeh-Shen, which is dated back to 850 AD. Fairy tales function as morality plays teaching children the danger of straying off the path, to use a phrase from Little Red Riding Hood, and also in many instances communicating hegemonic gender roles. Hans Christian Andersen’s most famous tales include The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Snow Queen. He seems to have spent his whole life in search of love, but sadly was rejected time and time again, by both men and women. This autobiographical detail is cleverly interwoven into the performance as Andersen tries to keep the beautiful women of his dreams by his side, only to find that his dreams become nightmares. References to his most famous tales, including The Snow Queen and The Red Shoes, were portrayed not just through dance but also through the reflections of the uncanny doll faces that rippled on the curtains at the back of the stage. At one point, pink shoes formed petals on the screen, circulating at an increasing tempo adding a further layer of meaning to the onstage action (in Korea, The Red Shoes is always known as The Pink Shoes – I spent weeks researching why this was for a conference paper some years ago when I was writing about the Korean film The Red Shoes [Bunhongshin, dir. Kim Yong-gyun: 2005] and was told it was because red was associated with Communism, but I am still not sure whether than is in fact the case). The uncanny was communicated not just through dance or image, but also through the soundtrack which was discordant, made up of atonal noises which were a combination of sounds, voice (both human and animal) and music which converged into a canopy of noise.
The whole production was outstanding. The physicality of the performers and the fusion of body, image and sound produced something that I haven’t experienced before. The Mermaid Theatre was about two-thirds full which was a shame given the commitment of the performers and the quality of the performance. I feel if the theatre had been packed, as it should have been, then some of the intricacies of the performance including humour would have had been more overtly appreciated.
We talk a great deal these days about the processes of globalisation and transnationalism; while at the same time most of the cultural products that circulate in the global market are ‘made in the USA’. Here is a perfect example of a transnational product which is based upon fusion of cultures rather than appropriation of another culture by a more dominant one. As audiences, we must support the new and the experimental, films with subtitles, music in other languages, otherwise we will truly become just another product which is ‘made in the USA’.
The following photographs of the evening at the Mermaid Theatre are courtesy of Angella Kwon and her team at AtoBIZ co., Ltd