Back in Edinburgh for a week so I got hold of some tickets for a Korean ballet for my Mum and I.
We were both very much looking forward to this – we knew it wasn’t going to be a typical ballet experience so we went with an open mind, hoping for something wonderful and happy to go with the flow.
The first 20 minutes were great. It all worked – the exotic Korean-ness, the imagery, the traditional and modern costumes, the music, the dancing, the singing, the acting. But then it just got silly.
Because all of the dancers were wearing dresses, it took me a while to work out that the Princess was a bloke. She was built like a tank, with calves the size of rugby balls.
Any suspension of disbelief quickly became inelastic as the performance seemed to descend into chaos – lots of noise, dancers running around on the stage for no particular reason, the appearance of a hospital operating table on wheels, a surfboard (although it could have been an enormous tongue depressor) and an apple throwing frenzy. The low point was the appearance on stage of a motorbike – uh oh, the choreographer’s run out of ideas entirely.
After some sort of surgical operation on the Princess, dancers ran around the stage waving something small and wobbly-looking. I assumed the worst (goolies) as I was totally confused by this point. Mum said it was probably meant to be an aborted foetus. Oh super.
The man in the seat in front of me fell asleep twice.
The Princess gave birth flat on his back with a large purple balloon between his knees. When he burst the balloon, someone in the wings chucked a rubber chicken at him. He had 3 ‘children’ this way. There should have been 7 but we got the point after 3. By this point I was in the grip of one of Harry Potter’s Dementors and could feel my soul being sucked from my body.
When the motorbike came back on for the second time, I had an ‘oh for God’s sake’ moment, signalling a major cultural sense of humour failure. This happens very rarely – the last time was 10 years ago when a bunch of Spaniards came to Edinburgh to do Carmen and brought a white horse with them. Carmen!! With a horse!! How great was that going to be????
It wasn’t Bizet’s Carmen – or at least not in a form he’d have recognised and been proud to claim as his own. This was castanet central with tons of flamenco (of which a little goes a very long way) and a small group of ear-batteringly ululating peasants. But we hung out till the end for the horse. And he was magnificent if not exactly worth the wait. But if seeing a large, white horse trying to ‘dance’ on a very small stage on rainy night in Edinburgh is on your bucket list, well, you missed it. Unforgettable. But not in a good way.
Back to Princess Bari.
Towards the end of the 90 minutes, we were hanging on like grim death for a crumb of pleasure, beauty, meaning, entertainment or interest. When the curtain came down I noticed Mum wasn’t applauding so I assumed she was in a state of enthrallment. Not quite. I asked her what she thought of it. ‘I’m speechless’. Then: ‘A shambles. Monotonous. Highly obscure.’
The applause was muted. The company gave 100% but were let down by the repetitive, dull choreography and the leaden way the story unfolded. There were rare exceptions when it all came together and presented something sublime and you could see what the choreographer is capable of.
The reviewer in the Telegraph was politely, warmly vague but she used words like ‘baffling’.
Oh good. It’s not just me then.