The nostalgia of a childhood game transformed into a piece of modern choreography in ‘Ice or Water'

It is a game we've all played often enough. The concept is decidedly surreal — the mere touch of a person transformed you either into water, which could escape effortlessly, or into ice, fated to be frozen in place until someone was able to free you, again with a simple touch. A game in which we became the elements, assumed their actions, lived their lives.

It is this sequence of movements and pauses that Park Hong Ki and his Deagu City Modern Dance Company attempted to capture and recreate onstage, in their ‘Ice or Water'. At the beginning, the backdrop of the stage was consumed by hazy, translucent images of children playing, flitting amongst one another in an otherwise empty playground. Then slowly, deliberately, one foot at a time, the dancers stepped onto the stage, sometimes jerking to attention like puppets on a string, swaying and swimming fluidly at others. They wore loose, comfortable clothing in sombre blacks and greys, while dim spotlights followed them on the darkened stage.

The music was spectacular, a low hum that throbbed with a life of its own, and you felt your ears, the chairs, the floor, the dancers and indeed, the auditorium itself thrum, breathing as one.

The body as stage

Then, suddenly, the music fell silent. A spotlight formed a turquoise sea near the front of the stage, and the dancers stood at its very edge. Using the body as both the story and the storyteller, the exhibit and the stage, as freedom and constraint, the dancers wove intricate details, their bodies enmeshing till it was impossible to tell one apart from the rest, to understand where one ended and the other began.

There were scenes from a schoolyard as well; such as the appearance of a bully who terrorises a small, weak child. Then, angry violins broke into the silence onstage, and an entire fight sequence played out through dance; the performers would sometimes throw each other over their heads, or sweep their feet out from under them — yet, they would all somehow fall to the ground delicately, noiselessly, reminiscent of a feline grace.

They dropped, kicked, held, caught, fell and tossed each other around with a sense of trust that startled you — the audience gasped in shock sometimes when it seemed impossible that anyone could catch the dancer who had just tumbled backwards off another one's shoulders, or the boy who was thrown head-first off a palanquin made entirely of the dancers' hands — but they did. They always did.

But from spectacular modern choreography, the performance would sometimes swing to being an amateur attempt, with the dancers attempting infantile tricks with a basketball (and threatening to fling it at the audience), while a disembodied voice said “Ice” or “Water” in a spectacularly deadpan voice.

Left unexplored

The weak attempts at humour failed as well, and the idiosyncrasies of these characters were largely left unexplored — something that could have added that vital spark to a performance about the mysteries of movement.

The dancers were certainly more water than ice — they would fluidly throw their seemingly weightless bodies about on a stage where gravity seemed to hold no sway, but lacked the restraint and control that was necessary to make that contrast work.