Review: EUN-ME AHN COMPANY: DRAGONS, Barbican Centre

Wild, wonderful and slightly bonkers.

By: Sep. 21, 2023
Review: EUN-ME AHN COMPANY: DRAGONS, Barbican Centre

Review: EUN-ME AHN COMPANY: DRAGONS, Barbican Centre If burying the lede was an Olympic sport, Eun Me-Ahn’s Dragons would be in serious medal contention.

The South Korean choreographer’s latest work is conceptually based around the Millenium but was forged during the Covid era. After her company performed at the Indonesian dance festival, Ahn came up with the idea of working with a pan-Asian cast born in 2000, the year of the dragon. She selected dancers from Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan and had only just finished auditioning them when the pandemic hit. Rehearsals were done over video links as the rest of the show came together.

Ahn’s reputation for scale (having worked on global events like the opening ceremony for the 2002 Olympics) and innovation comes with expectations and, for much of the first quarter of an hour, one could be excused for wondering whether those expectations are warranted. Highly kinetic but artistically underwhelming modern dance is upstaged by innovative visuals: the stage is surrounded by giant silver slinkies hanging from the ceiling to the floor, all dancers wear long skirts regardless of their gender and visuals projected onto a screen frame the action.

There’s a distinct lack of human connection until a section which sees each of the young dancers tell us about themselves, their backgrounds and their ambitions in their native language (English translations are provided on the projection screen). From watching a troupe of very talented and highly buff but anonymous performers to engaging with them on a more personal level. 

From there, Dragons becomes a far more fun experience, in part thanks to Taeseok Lee’s expansive video design. Projection mapping is used very effectively to show the cast dancing next to their holographic equivalents or inside soap bubbles. A cinematic sequence shows them performing underwater, real bubbles emerging from between their clamped lips and CGI bubbles painted around them. Live physicality and computer graphics are blended to amazing effect.

There is much more than 2D wizardry to admire here. Young-Gyu Jang’s synth heavy soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to this tech-savvy show. Ahn’s stage design and her clever use of voluminous and jazzy costuming combined with Jinyoung Jang’s precise lighting ensures that even solo performances fill up the large stage.

Ahn’s wild imagination is given full rein as the show progresses. Her choreography transitions from modern stylings to street dance-influenced segments and the energy pumps up noticeably. The slinkies alluded to in the early part of the show return with a vengeance later. Smaller versions are used as hand-sized Chinese finger traps or leggings before the dancers emerge covered head to foot in bendy silver material, human worm-like slinkies with video screens for faces. In terms of imaginative dance, Dragons is up there with Belgian company Peeping Tom who blew up the Barbican back in February.

This is a company that never loses sight of its roots and, for all the bonkers visuals, has more than enough substance to back up the style. Ultimately, this is a dazzling example of how talent, technology and not a little craziness can be meshed together into a thrilling whole.

Dragons runs at the Barbican Theatre from 20-23 Sept 2023 ( and The Lowry from 26-27 Sept (

Photo credit: Sukmu Yun

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