Korean performance company GGIRIPROJECT aims to create the perfect collaboration between music and martial arts, a pursuit that has resulted in the catchily-titled
A hybrid of skill and talent, blending physical excellence with heart-wrenching musicality.
Our storyline starts with a young explorer searching the forests of Korea to study the monkeys we met in a triumphant opening number. This is explained in a brief news clip on the screen above, which is also used to translate the almost exclusively Korean lyrics and for brief title slides that mark the beginning of each chapter. Slides aside, the narrative is still easy to understand, as the clarity of movement translates perfectly to an audience of all ages and backgrounds.
Comic relief runs in a strong vein throughout the production, none more so than the jubilant performance of Hong Sun Joo in her role affectionately described as the Interlude Monkey. As a welcome breath of fresh air from the heat of the ensemble dance numbers, she chatters and clowns in her solo scenes to peals of laughter from the audience. This is not to neglect the ensemble scenes which contain joyous sequences such as a quest to find the source of one particularly bad smell in the family – a joke that surely transcends any cultural barriers across the world.
I must stress, this is not an action-packed extravaganza from beginning to end, with several gentler scenes slowing the pace of the action down unexpectedly. However, this time is devoted to the characterisation and development needed to make a framework for some stunning scenes of confrontation which take place between humans and monkeys alike.
Spotlighted to the side of the stage, the tight ensemble of vocalists, beatboxer and bass guitar are a crucial part of underlining the story. A highlight is the moment at which the musicians join the action in centre stage, a true fusion of music and dance, and it is only a shame there were not more opportunities for these talented artists to shine.
Of course, if this is a musical there is also a villain, and in the natural world there are no prizes for guessing who that might be. As well as a threat from unseen predators, the very real and violent danger posed by humans to these animals is dramatically illustrated in one particular sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat.
This is a hybrid of skill and talent, blending physical excellence with heart-wrenching musicality. Whilst martial arts techniques underpin the choreography, Monkey Dance is first and foremost a story of discovery and exploration, of monkeys and humans communicating through a shared language of physicality that is both touching and entertaining.