Korean goblins (dokkaebi) are mythical creatures formed from the spirits of inanimate, often household objects, such as pots and baskets. Like European imps, they are neither good nor evil, but rather capricious.
Goblin Party seems, then, an apt name for this Korean dance company, founded in 2007. Their mischievous trio Once Upon a Time takes various objects of folkloric or traditional significance – wide-brimmed hats, drums, patterned fans, robes – and makes merry with them.
The opening seems serious enough. As if taking their cue from the story of the goblin hat which renders its wearer invisible, two fully robed men strut and scuttle about the stage, without ever showing their faces: all we see are hats and cloaks. That curious dynamic between symbolic objects and living people drives the performance into more playful, sometimes slapstick territory. Paper fans morph into parasols, butterflies and brooms; one man’s head strikes a gong as he falls. The dance style hovers between the mechanical and the playful, as if the performers might be both dolls and children. A woman sings “lights fadeout, lights fadeout” as if it were a folksong, and holds up a drum on which a single word has been written: END.
Who or what has been in command: props or performers? That the question arises at all is one of the pleasures of this irreverent yet affectionate piece.
Sanjoy Roy (London, UK) has been writing on dance for the Guardian since 2002, and has contributed to many other publications including the New York Times, New Statesman, Dance Gazette and Dancing Times, and is London correspondent for Dance International magazine. He is founder editor of Springback Magazine, a Europe-wide online dance journal, launched by Aerowaves European dance network. He keeps an online archive of his writing at sanjoyroy.net