Image courtesy of George Town Festival

To address global issues of identity, belonging, trust and xenophobia to an audience of 9-14 year olds is an undeniably ambitious task. Yet this is just what The Strangers, taking place as part of the George Town Festival this month, aims to do.

In a wordless performance, this production sees the fusion of dance and theatre to overcome language barriers and highlight shared traits across cultures. Questioning identities and nationalities, empathy and antipathy, global issues will be tackled on the stage of the penangpac venue. The Strangers features four dancers, each from a different country in Asia — Sang-hun Lee from South Korea, Ying Yun Chen from Taiwan, James Kan from Malaysia and Kanako Ihara from Japan — while director Leandro Kees is from Argentina/Germany. Not only in subject, therefore, is the play centred on international dialogues: it is itself the fruit of cultural exchange.

Image courtesy of George Town Festival

The director has admitted that developing wordless movements as a platform for such complex philosophical and political issues – to children, no less – was ‘a big challenge from wherever you looked at it’. The dancers express emotions and beliefs through the body, while employing the help of various cultural drawings and symbols in certain scenes. The production retains what Leandro Kees describes as ‘a good balance between descriptive and metaphoric scenes, between narrative situations and scenes open to several layers of interpretation’.

According to reviews for previous performances in Taiwan and Korea, it achieves its aims highly successfully. As Hisashi Shimoyama (Producer/Artistic Director of ricca ricca*festa, Okinawa/JAPAN) has said of The Strangers: ‘While it looks at the current daily life of young people in Asia with interesting perspectives, this production invites audiences to go back to the roots of human beings and gives a boost of positive energy’. Kees has won numerous international acclaims and awards, his shows having been performed in over 20 countries including the Sydney Opera House of Australia.

Referring to another of Kees’ productions, Chalk About, The Times has described the director’s work not as ‘modern dance. If anything, it is a modernist novel, in dance. But it is infinitely more interesting than either genre (or that description) would lead you to believe’. Although far beyond its age target, I am excited to see how The Strangers surpasses simple dramatic categorisation and explores complex issues, while remaining accessible and enjoyable to a younger audience.

Image courtesy of George Town Festival

Where? – Stage 2, penangpac
When? – July 16th & 17th 2019, 8:30pm
How much? – RM40, RM25 (concessions)
For who? – 9+
Get your tickets here 

Note: there will also be a physical theatre workshop, led by the director of The Strangers, at Gurney Paragon Mall on July 18th 2019, 6-10pm. 

Written by: Eleanor Ohlsen