18 August, 2011

Preview: Princess Bari – drawing comparisons with Pina Bausch

By Nada Cabani

Pina Bausch, who died just over two years ago, was reknowned as one of the most significant choreographers of our time. Agua, a production by Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, was a sell-out at the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival, and exemplified all that is best in Bausch’s avant-garde productions, where the poetic and playful cohabited in harmony redefining the notion of what dance theatre was about.

Arguably, there has been no choreographer to match Bausch for dramatic showmanship. Except, perhaps, for that of Ahn Eun-Me.  Princess Bari, the hour and a half production showing at The Edinburgh Playhouse this weekend, is the culmination of five decades of Ahn’s work, which sets to reconcile Western and Eastern styles of dance to Korean traditional music.

Where Pina Bausch’s Agua contrasted Brazilian rhythms, beaches and rainforests with dancers who almost playfully led us to the languid sensuality only Bausch could master, Ahn’s Princess Bari promises to ‘create a structure of tensions… rather than merely retell the thorny path of Princess Bari’s life’ – a folk tale which is central to Korean culture. Ahn’s eight dancers, in contrast to Bausch’s motif of words being at the centre of her choreography, express language through the physical form - her exquisite combination of dancing singers and singing dancers harmoniously mingles the physical to the melodious, as in the five traditional Korean instrumentalists used.

Ahn has been dubbed the Pina Bausch of the East and has admittedly been greatly influenced by Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater.  She adores the late German choreographer, whom she knew personally, and believes that the energies of their respective works were on the same level.  Although Ahn’s work is directly inspired by her homeland, the comparison to Bausch’s choreography is evident -  Bausch thrived on pushing the boundaries of human pain, desire or hilarity, and so does Ahn, take for example her decision to cast a male dancer for the female central character, Bari.

If Princess Bari is about the people of Korea, their culture, folk tales and music, it is nonetheless for the people of the world. Although the production symbolizes the vitality of a people overcoming obstacles, armed with the ‘humour and jest’ that Ahn thinks is embedded in her nation’s personality, it equally symbolizes the melting of pots, the meeting of East and West and the universal ‘folk tale’ of humanity. Ahn’s showmanship, like that of Bausch’s, moulds dance theatre from the particular to respond and embrace the universal, beyond it. Or as goes the adage: we are now all Koreans, or as Yeats so exquisitely put it:

“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”  

Princess Bari
Eun-Me Ahn Company

Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August, 7.30pm, The Edinburgh Playhouse

Book now at eif.co.uk/bari or call Hub Tickets on 0131 473 2000

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

This article has also been published on stv.tv which features reviews, previews and features from this year’s Festival.

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