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Colourful dragons conquer the stage - Eun-Me Ahn's Dragons in HF23

Whereas in the West dragons are mythical creatures to be defeated, in the East they are the embodiment of joy, unlimited possibilities and destiny. People born in the year of the dragon (every 12 years with 2000 being the most recent adult generation) are proud, irresistible, vibrant and extroverted, according to Chinese astrology. Put seven of them on and stage and the energy sparks off the stage. Eun-Me Ahn's Dragons whirls from the start, both live and with the holographic projections on the semi-transparent front screen, on which five dancers also appear.

Cultural identity

Over a good hour, Gen-Z dancers dance on stage and screen in a mixture of traditional Asian dances, contemporary dance and street dance. The dancers come from different Asian countries, bringing their cultural identities with them. Those on screen come from five different countries, with five different dance languages, most recognisable in movements from temple dance and mudras, hand movements. They tell where they come from and how they came to dance. That ranged from butoh to watching a big brother dance. Almost all are now pursuing modern dance training. But in an increasingly globalised world, more and more Asian youngsters are searching for their cultural individuality.

However, the choreography is not a sampling of Asian dance. Eun-Me Ahn would also be far too recalcitrant for that. A few passages show Martha Graham's legacy: wide arm movements and angular movements from the hip, in long tight black dresses that were so characteristic of this dance innovator. In another scene, we seem to have ended up in Geiger's universe: the silver drainpipes, now a lot bigger, act as headdresses. It gives an alienating effect.

The dancers alternate duets and solos with acrobatic jumps and somersaults. It is reminiscent of - even more dance innovators - La La La Human Steps in the heyday of the 1980s. And so the entire dance history of East and West passes by. Not as a monument, not dutiful or serious, but in playful references, with tremendous energy.
In Ahn solos, she is proving that she herself still dances to the stars. The eloquence and subtleties of aging dancers are increasingly appreciated.

Exuberance in design

Playfulness and cheerfulness are important in Dragons. The set consists of three countries with huge aluminium pipes, of the kind that provide air extraction in kitchens. They serve as a projection wall, but can also be danced with. The costumes are unisex and constantly changing: from colourful circle skirts and tops referring to traditional Asian costumes to black circle dresses, which you can hide someone under. Even for receiving applause, there is a special golden suit. The lighting plan is also exuberant and colourful. The projection on the screen that separates the stage from the auditorium shows dancers sometimes duplicating the movements on stage, sometimes being independent.

Joy as resistance

This is not the first time Eun-Me Ahn has used age as a starting point. Previously, she created a performance with Korean grannies and professional dancers. The grannies did not dance a tight choreography, and allowed on the projection screen glimpses into their lives: husbands who just don't like it, a trip to the market. The combination of skilled and unskilled dancers, of young and old, produced a performance of intense joy.

Once again, Eun-Me Ahn brought a performance where joy is the guiding principle and much of the audience came back out beaming. And perhaps that is the most radical act we can do now: sharing joy. Andre Lorde already wrote "The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers, which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference."

Seen on 20 June at the Holland Festival. Still to be seen there on 21 June.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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