YMAP: Alice in Wonderland
Ongals: Babbling Comedy
Rose Theatre, Kingston, London
2 and 8 July, 2015
Korean dance is something to celebrate. They produce some of the best ballet dancers and are creating a unique style of contemporary dance: physically demanding, sometimes athletic and, at its best, presenting relevant ideas of today. So the Kingston meets Korea festival in south-west London presenting art, music, dance and discussion was a welcome summer visitor.
Sadly the YMAP (Your Media Arts Project) production of Alice in Wonderland, one of the few contemporary dance items, was a lacklustre production wanting the quality I had so recently seen in Seoul. Despite the narrative theme, there was little drama and little communication between performers and audience, many of whom were children. The music, very middle of the road and with no dynamic structure, made the seventy minutes interminably long.
The performers, particularly Alice and the White Rabbit, were obviously talented but given few opportunities. The most exciting element came from the multi-media visual display by Hyung Su Kim, a veritable paintbox of colour and plenty of ingenuity. The garden of flowers was particularly impressive, with single dancer – Alice – surrounded by multiple images of herself amid the blooms.
By contrast, the Ongals in Babbling Comedy, proved to be masters in communication
They say comedy doesn’t cross borders. Well, maybe the verbal kind, but good physical comedy, the style Korean quartet the Ongals do, knows no boundaries in culture or age.
The jokes are naff, the costumes are naff, the wigs are naff but the delivery has that Tommy Cooper genius that had the audience convulsed with laughter. Without the help of language, the four communicated effortlessly through mobile faces, agile bodies and gesticulating arms.
Suwon Cho dressed in yellow onesie, pink Crocs and green socks, gets the show going and makes it clear that their primary aim – and one that becomes a running gag – is to elicit a roar of approval from the crowd. This incentive is taken to extremes as the clowns and one hapless member of the audience are seduced into death defying situations. ‘Does it matter if your life is in danger? Of course not, the audience will love it!’ And so the audience do as whips crack and hoops fly.
Junwoo Cho, wearing glasses and later exposed as bald under his black wig, a cute bob with bangs, plays a blissfully naïve character who delights in turning the joke on others when he gets the opportunity. Kyungsun Chae joins in and finally Kiseop Choi, a human beatbox full of sounds and magic. Jokes around balloons, pumps and human orifices and a paint roller are delivered with unsurpassable comic flair, all feature for just a few minutes to be surpassed by the next gag and so it goes for seventy fleeting minutes.
There is some pretty cool juggling with a variety of hoops, balls and clubs and all presented with nonchalant ease that masks the skill but wins that much desired audience roar. Each of the four has a distinct and complex character greatly adding to the humour and the situational comedy. The slapstick physicality never ceases and in each funny, bouncy body we recognise our own foibles and frailties and laugh out loud when we see them so neatly enacted before our eyes. An outstanding act that deserves considerably more exposure.