Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Modern dance from South Korea. This actually ended its run on Friday, but so it goes.

When groups from the other side of the world show up at the Fringe, I always wonder whether they quite understand what they're getting into. The Daegu City Modern Dance Company are playing the Southside Zoo, a community centre which is actually quite a good venue by Fringe standards - at least it's got a proper auditorium with a large stage, proper sound and decent lighting. But it's still not a real theatre, and given the shaky grasp of English displayed in the programme, I can't help but wondering how effective the group's pre-booking research actually was. Their home venue apparently seats 1,200.

In theory, this is a storytelling piece. It's something to do with the idea that people in society are puppets, but that free thinkers can inspire other people to be more than that. Or something. It's hard to tell. There's an professional-looking programme which sets out the whole plot. The problem is that, while it's clearly been lavished with the attentions of a professional designer, at no stage has it been anywhere near a translator who is fluent in English. The synopsis, which is headed "Plot making in brief or scripts", is not entirely informative. Scene 6, for example, is summarised as "Without any relations with others, the person bounds for one's own destination."

To be perfectly honest, even to the extent that I was able to decipher the synopsis, I have no idea how it related to most of what I saw on the stage. The translated reviews from the South Korean press, included at the back of the programme, suggest that local critics may have been similarly confused - though given the quality of the translation, it's hard to be sure. ("Conventional performances have likely failed to make audience - even after curtain call - understand which intention a choreographer has to roll out his dramaturgic plots.") A selection of quotes from Korean audiences makes one wonder quite what they could possibly have said in the original language. "I was frightened at great dramatization of this dance performance," says one.

So... as a storytelling piece, it's not exactly successful. But as a visual and musical spectacle, it's pretty good. They're clearly a seriously talented group of dancers, and it's a very fast-paced show. I have absolutely no clue what was meant to be going on for most of the time, but it still held my attention on the strength of the abstract elements alone. They're clearly trying to make modern dance more accessible by keeping it largely upbeat, including some sort of narrative (however questionably), and going for fairly mainstream music. Most of that comes from an on-stage jazz band, although for some reason they've also thrown in the entirety of "Voodoo People" by the Prodigy, with a man playing another electric guitar over the top. It doesn't sound especially out of place.

I can't honestly say the show is a success, because it desperately wants to communicate some sort of story, and on that level it doesn't work. But it works on every other level, and it's easy to see why, despite the tone of slight bafflement, the Korean reviews were so generally enthusiastic. I didn't understand it at all, but I still enjoyed it.