MUAK – The Place, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer: Bora Kim

Director: Jinwoo Kim

Imagine you had never seen a piano before; what would you make of its strange structure and its many component parts? Would you even know it was an instrument for making music? Part of the Festival of Korean Dance at The Place, MUAK explores that exact scenario as eight dancers contemplate a large item wrapped in silver paper which they physically and metaphorically deconstruct. Health warning, a piano is harmed in the making of this show.

Bora Kim’s 60-minute piece is based on a philosophical concept by composer Isang Yun who believes music exists in the world and just needs to be captured rather than invented. With no accompanying composition or very little that resembles dance in the purest sense, Kim constructs this piece around methodical movement and semi-repetitive routines in which each performer individually interacts with the wrapped object.

During the period of the show, those rhythms are sometimes achingly slow or violently fast while it is never clear how much of the movement is choreographed and how much is improvised in the moment depending on what a previous colleague has chosen to do. From looking at the object, to touching it and finding different ways to interact, each individual choses unusual ways to engage from gently pressing a finger to a corner, wrapping themselves against its bulk or holding a handstand against its side.

It is some way into the production before any hint of the piano mentioned in the synopsis is even partially revealed. And from there, the show gets messy as the item is taken to pieces by the group, each removing one section and making some kind of sound with it, building to an almost violent frenzy as the piano is torn apart save for its upright back and overlaid strings. Never once discovering or using it for its proper purpose, the dancers eventually elicit noise using carrier bags, plastic bottles, sandpaper and a hairbrush dragged across the strings, an interesting experiment in all the sounds this wood and metal item can make but what does it mean? Similarly, a late game of strip blind-man’s-bluff leaves one dancer in his underwear and it isn’t certain even he knows why.

It is interesting to watch but meaning is far harder to fathom and having taken it to pieces Kim’s show seems at a loss, placing the debris in patterns around the stage and noisily moving them around but never really generating the coherent melody than Yun’s concept implies is out there somewhere. This destructive investigation of an old and presumably unusable piano is almost distressing to watch but that is never reflected in the cold inquisitiveness of the performers who just reduce the instrument to functionless litter.

The show maintains the rota of individuals interacting with the changing shape of the piano throughout and even at the end they still try to make sound by kicking, pushing and dismantling the pile of piano parts that Sangmi Park, Soyoung Choi, Jiyeon Yang, Sori Baik, Hak Lee, Heejun Kim, Kyuheon Lee and Seungri Sohn have amassed. How much more interesting would it have been to perform MUAK the other way around, to take something broken or disparate and assemble it to generate a tune, creating rather than destroying? Isn’t that what musical composition is really about?

Runs until 18 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Destructive investigation

The Reviews Hub - London

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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