Madame Freedom @ King's Theatre

Review by Stephanie Green | 19 Sep 2013

Tradition and modernity meet head-on in this stunningly beautiful interactive performance of dance, film and innovative computer-generated visuals by a husband and wife team: choreographer and dancer Hyo Jim Kin with artist Hyung Su Kin. The dance re-creates and is performed in front of extracts from the 1950's film Madame Freedom, about a woman who seeks self-expression through work and sexual experiences outside the constraints of marriage, a film which caused a shocking sensation at the time and even today is relevant, not only to Korea but to the west, posing the question: how free is free?

The performance starts with a film of a woman being dressed by servants in Hanbok traditional costume. Below this image, the dancer, dressed all in black - long-sleeved jacket, baggy trousers and black tight slippers -performs Tae Phyung Moo, Peace Dance, a traditional Korean dance similar to Tai Chi based on control of breath and stop/start moves, which then develops into contemporary modern dance, a spell-binding sequence as we see her breaking out of the straitjacket of the past.

Later we see her in a western-style slinky dress and high heels with her dance-teacher and lover, performing latino dances to music and song performed above in the film, referencing a craze for anything American which followed Korea's liberation from Japan. The focus shifts between dancer and film image - sometimes the two combine, when the dancer is superimposed in the film and appears to have climbed inside. Inevitably, pairing the dancers with the film means that the huge, bright image of the singer shimmying in a tasselled dress draws the audience's eye, and the silhouetted figures of the dancers in shadow below are dwarfed, but it appears this might be intentional. However, you can begin to see that the interplay of shadow and light is central to the play of duality, the central theme. In fact, the significance of the woman's first dance, the Tae Phung Moo, becomes clear.

Represented by the Tao symbol, the Korean Taegeuk, which celebrates the balance of opposites - light and shadow, tradition and modernity - this aesthetic infuses the whole performance. Everything is set up as a binary and built in pairs: the central screen is split, so that the image is warped each time; there are two screens, one either side of the stage, playing simultaneously. In one scene a film of the dancer leans in to an open gate-way, and we see her face. On the other side we see her in the identical position, but her back-view. This gateway, to Korean eyes, is significant since it is the gateway to the palace Kyong Bok's servants' quarters. In the same way, Madame Freedom wants to break out of the confinement of the life of a servant to her husband as house-wife.

Later when the dancer merges with the extraordinarily inventive black and white video designs swamping the screens and stage, the interplay of shadow and light, dancer and visuals is most successful, wonderfully expressive of her guilt and despair once her affair is over. This is intensely moving, especially when the white behind the black designs grow larger and brighter, forcing the black shapes to fall as the dancer flings herself to the floor, then rears in agony. While so much of the technology in this year's Edinburgh International Festival's theme of the interface between the arts and technology has hardly illuminated the art work it is paired with, Madame Freedom has been a striking exception.

Run ended