I mentioned a while back that the Red Leap Theater would be in Seoul soon to perform their adaptation of Shaun Tan’s wonderful masterpiece The Arrival . Well, tonight, my friend Sanko, Miss Jiwaku, and I attended the second-to-last performance.We were all quite impressed with it. I have to admit, I don’t often go for “modern dance” performances — often because, without some kind of narrative to hang on to, I find myself lost and bored — and so I wondered whether a dance troupe could really bring to life Tan’s wordless, intensely beautiful art.
Without question, they did. They used all of those serious dance skills strenuously, but they did so in the service of a moving story — indeed, a set of moving stories embedded in a bigger one. Puppetry, stage design, dance, acting, and even singing (in what sometimes sounded distinctly Soviet-sounding, in terms of the style of music) all came together in a wonderful, fluid, and very effective — even beautiful — performance.
The performance wasn’t exactly wordless like the book, mind you — and what’s more, it wasn’t all nonsense language. This was the one (very small) objection I had: having the “immigrant” protagonist speak English didn’t add anything to the story, I felt, but then, I’ve read the book and knew what was coming… and I’m a grown-up. I think kids (especially who don’t know the book) would probably appreciate the little English that the protagonist speaks, and of course there is the interesting reversal of it being an English-speaker who is a refugee and immigrant in a strange land where he must struggle to learn the language. It’s not objectionable, it just surprised me and shook me out of the performance for a moment or two.
I will also say with regret that Part VI from the book was omitted, since I think it has the perfect ending to the story (and that ending is my favorite moment in the book) — and ending that shows this story isn’t over, but in fact is ongoing, repeating itself on and on. But I still found strong emotional satisfaction in seeing how they brought to life Books I-V: they did so with wonderful imagination and creativity, using sets that were moved around and modified on the fly, shadow projections, and excellent puppetry. (I expected to be distracted by the puppeteers, who were fully visible onstage as you can see in the video above, but I wasn’t at all.)
All in all, I think Red Leap Theater’s adaptation of the book is an achievement that definitely worth high praise — a faithful, passionate, and enchanting adaptation of the story to the stage. And I saw a lot of people checking out copies of the Korean book. Here’s hoping Shaun Tan has gotten some Korean fans through this show. Tomorrow is the last night, but I imagine it’s sold out.
(Though if you’re interested enough to try, this is where we booked the tickets.)
Some still shots, and a full cast listing, are available on Shaun Tan’s website.