Iron Eyes - Jang Huddle
17-21 April 2018, Basement Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by Hamish McIntosh
Détentes are deconstructed in Iron Eyes, a new work by Jang Huddle.
This work of interactive contemporary dance is the debut for Cindy Jang’s eponymous collective, and it does not disappoint.
Based in part on Jang’s grandmother’s story of escape from North Korea to South Korea, this work orbits the visceral narratives of the Korean conflict whilst offering further critique of authority and subversion.
The work begins with a complex ritual. Hangul name tags grace lapels while strange tokens temporarily guide the entering audience. After wiping our shoes we are sent to one of four stations, each governed by a white-clad dancer, where our immersion into Jang’s world commences. One group bows repeatedly as racist jokes echo in the background.
As the audience files in, questions simmer as to whether our activities at these stations are designed to break the ice or engender complicity. Are we being acclimatised or processed
Augmenting these initial rules of engagement, Iron Eyes proceeds by exploring themes of discomfort, violence, and obedience through a mixture of speech and movement. The all-female ensemble skillfully swaps between text and folding, winding physicalities that seem to yearn for intimacy. The frenetic rubbing of limbs offers contrast throughout, evoking cleansing and frictional warmth, while arms swing in goose-step mimicry.
The eclectic use of text in this work, which ranges from poetry to exasperated moans, sometimes verges on awkwardness but ultimately adds to this work’s choreo-political focus. In fact, any awkwardness serves to compound the audience’s anxiety: a delightfully disruptive mechanism.
With this in mind, Iron Eyes can be invasive. The audience, mostly sitting on the stage floor, are often asked to change positions or to quickly bend forward and cover their heads. The dancers deliver emphatic commands: move closer to the wall, face this way, do not turn around, follow me. Each instruction lands with the authoritarian spectre of North Korea in tow.
As the audience and the dancers build their precarious relationship (an allusion, perhaps, to the people at the heart of this piece) moments of disobedience arise. Heads turn past shoulders to glimpse forbidden dancing and “yes or no” questions are diffused through apathy.
The free will that the audience enjoys in this work reminds us that this examination of the Korean conflict is a privileged perspective into narratives of dominion. Wherein Iron Eyes’ audience might disobey and catch a spectacular back-spin, a similar rebellion in North Korea might be met with violence. We may even extend this metaphor to South Korea’s infamous working hours and beauty standards; further still to our own Westernised condition as Capitalism’s fodder.
However, in this battle that Jang Huddle presents between power and revolt it seems we are all searching for resolution — for egg shells to be gently repaired. Underlining this exploration of struggle is a tender call for reunion.
A compelling and unique first offering from Jang Huddle, Iron Eyes is a vantage point that provides stirring and personal insight into the Korean situation. Highly recommended.
Images: Isabel Su