A journey through death in Yoo Sun-hoo’s After 4: Over the Moon

ZOO Southside, Edinburgh
August 9, 2017

David Mead


The Fringe has the lovely habit of coming up with the unexpected, shows that you only drop in on because there’s a hole in the schedule, but that turn out to be something special. Hidden away in the intimate studio at ZOO Southside most afternoons is one such.

In Korea, when people die they say that they have ‘crossed the river’ or ‘gone over the moon’. Hoo Dance Company’s After 4: Over the Moon is a meditation on death, created and performed by Yoo Sun-hoo. An 80-year old woman has died. Yoo conjures up the four rivers that the woman must traverse on her journey through death (the ‘After 4’ of the title) for her soul to be free, and so she can be reincarnated into a flower. As she comes to each waterway, she meets four envoys of death, each neatly heard in music and song rather than seen.

The dance and music come together perfectly to create a spectacle that’s poetic and sensitive. An air of ritual pervades throughout. But while, Yoo draws on dance from ceremonies and Jindo purification rites, and from that taught by her master in Korea, she adds her own movement to it to create something contemporary. It’s not traditional per se, although the roots are clear.

Contra-bass player JC Curve’s score is as much part of the experience of After 4 as the dance. The four live musicians of E-Do are outstanding, responding perfectly to the mood and dance on a variety of traditional and electronic instruments including the 11-stringed geomungo, chulhyungeum (an iron-stringed zither, a sort of cross between a guitar and geomungo), daegeum (long bamboo flute) and Korean drum. Most fascinating, though, is the circular, metal, rav drum, originating in Germany and Switzerland, and in which steel tongues vibrate to create a wonderfully harmonious sound.

After 4 Over the MoonPhoto Hoo Dance Company
Yoo Sun-hoo in After 4 Over the Moon
Photo Hoo Dance Company

Starting with the Black River, Yoo appears in a costume of white hemp, traditionally used for shrouds, but with a modernist touch. A flower in her hair and another in her teeth reference the blooms place in graves. There’s a shamanistic air as she slowly reaches and stretches, her body contorting painfully in an outpouring of anguish. The mood is heightened by the chanting of a singer.

A simple bell announces the next river; the next stage of her journey. The Invisible River sees her move under a simple white sheet, her body creating ghostly amorphous forms in the fabric. The folds create patches ever-changing moments of light and dark. It’s here that the rav drum, played by Lee Kyung-gu comes into its own. After the sheet is pulled away, receding like an ebbing tide, dust is tossed in the air, marking her arrival at the Ash River. A sense of approaching happiness and journey’s end is apparent in the choreography and accompanying flute.

The final crossing is of the Soul River, represented by a long, pink fabric. Four rivers, four angels of death, four dances, but at last the woman can be free. After 4 concludes with a sense of happiness. She has been reincarnated. She smiles. We breathe.

After 4: Over the Moon continues at 2pm at ZOO Southside to August 28. Click here for details.
Running time 70 minutes

The musicians of E-Do have their own concert on August 21, also at 2pm at ZOO Southside. Details here.