It’s difficult to launch confidently into my response to Hyo Jin Kim’s Madame Freedom. I wish I could say such difficulty was due to the fact that Madame Freedom is a profound and critique-defying work, but if that’s the case, then perhaps I only have myself to blame for finding it an undeniably beautiful but essentially impenetrable show.
This is the European premier of Kim’s multi-disciplinary work which blends visuals and audio into an aesthetically unique experience, albeit a scantly theatrical one. Film snippets of the 1956 romantic melodrama from which the piece takes its title provide the backdrop for solos and duets merging traditional Korean and contemporary dance, a specific style of choreography that politically-engaged artist Kim calls “independence dance”. Taesup Lee’s set is a structure that overwhelms Madame Freedom, a woman who journeys through the decades in search (or so the programme notes tell me) of sexual liberation and meaningful self-expression. A sense of South Korea’s progress and change is alluded to, including the devastation of the Korean war and the growing appeal of Western democracy’s cultural tastes.
The scenes projected on the huge blank walls throw the female figure mercilessly through time and space – sometimes it offers her a shelter, at other times a cage, a street, a dance floor, a grand house – in an effective segment, she is crowded in with endless versions of herself, and at another point, a moment of hopefully intentional comedy, she’s stranded amongst a pond full of koi carp. It seems crucial to emphasise that, whilst Madame Freedom is a frustratingly un-involving, near-incomprehensible work, such detachment might purely a consequence of the space. The King’s Theatre is a large and imposing venue and it’s simply frustrating that Kim’s heroine is so far away, because we can hardly make out her face, never mind any complex emotional journey. A grand spectacle, certainly, but it’s not enough to hold our attention – I don’t doubt that there are worthy and intelligent ideas in there, but on a practical level, Madame Freedom simply fails to translate.
Madame Freedom played at the King’s Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.