Often when I go along to an event which I suspect will be good, I try to manage my expectations downwards. If I succeed in persuading myself that the thing may be quite mediocre then at worst I won’t be disappointed and at best I will be delighted when the event surpasses expectation.
With Eun Me Ahn that doesn’t work. Past history tells me that I’m in for an enthralling musical and visual experience. Her Princess Bari in Edinburgh was my event of the year in 2011, and her Chunhyang, in the first month or so of this site’s existence, was simply stunning. And when I heard she was coming to Dance Umbrella as part of the performing arts strand of UK-Korea 2017/18 I was confident enough to persuade my lady wife – not normally one to join me in the enjoyment of Korean cultural events – to come along. She was not disappointed either.
With Bari and Chunhyang, Ahn based her work on Korean folk tales, providing a structural narrative to the work. With Let Me Change Your Name there was no such narrative. In advance of the performance I wondered whether that was going to impact my enjoyment. On reflection though, with the narrative-based works I find that my brain devotes much of its processing power to trying to figure out (often unsuccessfully) what specific part of the story is being represented on stage at any one time. Without a story, the brain can switch off its rational part and I can simply sit back and enjoy the sensory-laden ride.
From the opening scene, with its minimalist music in which disembodied voices sing a gently pulsating beat which never deviates far from the monotone, as the dancers swoosh across the floor of the stage in giant arcs, to the propulsive, percussive energy of the faster movements, this is a production in which the interest never flags. One wonders how the six dancers, the sexes evenly matched, plus the great Ahn herself, manage to remember all the moves in this 75 minute piece, when the music itself – without any obvious melody – provides so few hooks to help with navigation. It all seems so effortless as the dancers interact not only with each other but also with the audience, smiling and teasing as they flick their brightly-coloured skirts upwards to flash their knickers and wiggle their hips flirtatiously (and that’s just the men). This is genderless fun – the dancers all wear the same style of two-piece costume: top and ankle-length skirt in stretch fabric, with bold blocks colours. They undress each other, throwing garments at each other, dressing in each other’s clothes and sometimes performing topless. Ahn herself has a couple of mesmerizing solos, in which the emphasis is on minimalist arm and hand movements.
No review can do justice to a production by Eun Me Ahn, so I’ll just stop here and say that, as expected, this evening’s performance is a contender for event of the year.
Eun Me Ahn performed at The Place, Euston on Tue 24 & Wed 25 October as part of Dance Umbrella 2017.