Dragons – Barbican, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Choreographer: Eun-Me Ahn

Weird and wonderful, Dragons is an impressive blend of East and West, a fusion of Asian dance and hip-hop moves. Choreographed by Eun-Me Ahn, this 75-minute spectacle is etched in metallic colours that light up the Barbican stage.

However, it begins with a Slinky, the metal spring toy that can travel down stairs independently. The first dancer appears suddenly from the side of the stage, a Slinky attached to each arm. Later the dancers have Slinkies for legs and at the end are completely enclosed in giant Slinkies looking like strange undiscovered seabed crustaceans. Three-thirds of the stage is curtained by these silver tubes lending the whole dance a retro sci-fi vibe.

An invisible screen in front of the stage that captures projected images is, in contrast, completely futuristic. Eun-Me Ahn’s eight dancers interact with these oversized projections, entering bubbles, dancing with other filmed performers or, inevitably, battling an army of digital Slinkies. With so much going on, it’s hard to discern a narrative.

Eun-Me Ahn says that the dance has been inspired by Generation Z, and its reliance on the internet, but this aesthetic isn’t always visible in Dragons. It always looks expensive, though. Surely much of the budget has gone towards the costumes also designed by Eun-Me Ahn. Long black dresses reveal copper, silver and ruby underskirts which swirl gloriously to Young-Gyu Jang’s music which is often relentless in its rhythms. Apart from the early stages, it’s impossible to tell the gender of the dancers as they all wear long dresses and have long hair. But each one of them looks stunning and to perform hip-hop tricks while wearing a floor-length fishtail dress is no mean feat.

The dancers hail from different countries such as South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan and they hold on to parts of their traditional dances but infuse them with Western influences. Often it’s a heady mix of opposites, but it works. Dragons was created during lockdown and the last section of the evening references this in an incredible way. A simple repetitive dance which just uses the hands is perfect to perform on Zoom, and here the dancers, with many others projected onto the screen, joyously clap hands and pat shoulders. It’s so infectious that they should slow down and give the audience a chance to join in.

It’s a brilliant way to finish an exciting but puzzling night. Dragons constantly looks spectacular, but without a distinct narrative, it’s also a dance that holds its audience at a distance.

Runs until 23 September 2023 and then at The Lowry, Salford, 26-27 September

The Reviews Hub Score

A Spectacle

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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