"Dragons" is more than K-pop meets Kabuki
With Asian popular culture from musical acts BTS to Black Pink and Netflix dramas like "Squid Game" dominating world culture, a new show by avant-garde choreographer Eun-Me Ahn demonstrates how Gen Z is bringing traditional dance and ceremonies a place in pop culture.
The results of her show "Dragons" at Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg are fresh, inspiring and joyful. Five dancers born in 2000, the year of the dragon in the Korean zodiac, twirl and criss-cross the stage with incredible precision. Be prepared to be transfixed for an hour-long feast of colour, light, movement and sound.
The dance is both contemporary and traditional, and there are moments where hand movements remind you of Indonesian Kathak or Thai Khon dance. In the first set, there is even a feeling that you are momentarily watching Japanese Kabuki. Ahn herself dances in what appears to be a traditional South Korean dress, her hands intricately weaving in precise movements.
Live dancers joined by holographs
The dragons are joined on stage by holographs of five dancers from Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan, perhaps representing the more traditional aspect of the dance heritage in South Asia. We hear from the holographs (with English subtitles) about how they were first attracted to their profession and where they are training or dancing now.
The holographic, video and sound elements are simply stunning. Taeseok Lee and Minjeong Lee, responsible for the video direction and motion design, treat us to waterfalls, splashes of water, fireflies, flowers and even giant bubbles encircling the dancers all delivered with pin-point timing.
The sounds of birds, water, visual elements and non-stop movement can at times make you want to look away. At the same time, you are transfixed, almost hypnotised. It’s a veritable kaleidoscope and an assault on the senses, as the dancers disappear through the long, silver, tube tendrils that hang from the ceiling above the stage. At times the silver tubes are part of the dancers apparel, attached to their arms, heads and legs.
In previous works, Ahn has not been afraid to challenge the audience and has been known to jump from a crane, attack a piano with an axe, or even dance a duet with a chicken.
Here, a cheeky humour is at play. In one section, the men disappear under the skirts of the women, their feet moving completely out of synchronicity to the top half of the figures – the female dancers – creating an almost puppet-like image.
The costumes (and the very fast costume changes) also pay tribute to tradition and the men and women often wear the same garb – skirts swishing as they twirl in pairs or alone.
Intricate lace tops, spangly spandex, dark and sombre long dresses are all on display, together with colourful odd socks (another bit of cheeky comedy). You cannot really tell which are the women and which the men, perhaps a comment on the modern culture of androgyny.
Old and new can coexist
Ahn was born in South Korea in 1963 and has lived in New York, explored shamanic traditions and had a deep friendship with Germany’s dance pioneer Pina Bausch. Ahn's dance company has performed at major international festivals, including the 2002 FIFA world cup in South Korea. Her 2018 performance “Dancing Grandmothers” – depicting Korean generations from teenagers to grandmothers - was a phenomenal success.
In “Dragons”, she partly pays tribute to the fact that South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore became known as the “four Asian dragons” because of their dynamic growth in the second half of the twentieth century. Today, Korea and Japan certainly take centre-stage when it comes to music and television.
Dragons are feared in Europe, but in Asia they are a sign of lightness, joy and optimism. Here we see that the future for the young people of the region born under the dragon sign is about honouring and remembering its thousand-year-old traditions whilst embracing the future.
For Ahn, the body says more than words. It reflects each dragon’s personal story and way of life. The young dancers have an energy and vigour not unlike their counterparts in the pop world.
However this is about embracing the past and the future, telling the reality of life in a country or continent which continues to live the dichotomy of old traditions versus new trends, but doing so joyfully. For once, old and new can coexist comfortably for this generation.
“Dragons” will be performed again tonight at 20.00 at the Grand Théâtre's studio.