Like Fireworks, Like Butterflies

Tracing the life of Korean dancer Choi Seung-hee, this solo show is surprising and delightful.

The piece is theatrical and intimate and uses some beautiful dance, puppetry and storytelling similar to Japanese Kabuki theatre

Performer Kim Kyungmin greets the audience and exchanges pleasantries with us in English. She discovers a large travelling trunk on stage. With the help of an audience member she moves it and opens it to reveal another trunk inside. Inside this are letters between Choi Seung-hee and her brother, which form the basis of the play’s story.

Choi Seung-hee moved to Japan as a young woman in the 1920s and worked odd jobs to support her dance training, going on to become an icon in both Korea and Japan. Her husband had political interests and it seems she was often caught up in these, although she said she only wanted to dance. She disappeared from the public view in her later life, and it was not until 2003 that an official announcement was made that she had died in 1969.

Kyungmin inhabits the role of Choi Seung-hee with grace and passion. The piece is theatrical and intimate and uses some beautiful dance, puppetry and storytelling similar to Japanese Kabuki theatre – though ChoiSeung-hee, a proud Korean ‘colonial’ would probably dislike me making that comparison.

Kyungmin is an engaging performer. She performs in Korean with projected subtitles. Much of the story is told physically, so language doesn’tfeel like a barrier (although there are a couple of clunky or incorrect translations). She has grace and precision in her movements, whether in her dancing or in the tiny movements required to manipulate a delicate finger-puppet of Choi Sueng-hee’s brother, who appears to her in a dream. It’s hard not to be drawn in by her performance and Choi Jeong’s interesting script. Seung-hee was modern for her times and lived a passionate life. Her journey has moments of heartbreak and moments of humour.

The show is supported by good technical elements, includinglighting changes that indicate when Kyungmin is in character or speaking to us as (presumably) herself as an actor, on the similarities between her journey and that of Choi Seung-hee. Set changes are swift and unobtrusive and have delightful results: a model ship is placed on stage and finger puppetry conveys Seung-hee’s voyage to Japan; trunks unfold to reveal detailed and beautiful dioramas in which puppets play out the story; a butterfly dances in the air, skilfully wielded by the stagehand, who, like a black-gloved ninja, I never actually saw.

Like Fireworks, Like Butterflies is a tender and well-constructed piece of theatre, well worth seeing.

Reviews by Emma Gibson

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The Blurb

A girl who went aboard alone to learn how to dance at the age of 16 in the 1920s, Choi Seunghee! Korea‘s legendary dancer, one of modern Korea’s original cultural icons. She pioneered the development of modern dance in Korea and remains a legend in Korea after more than 100 years after her death. This play is about her beautiful and passionate challenge for the fierce life and dance.

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