LONDON (Reuters) - The tunes were familiar but the words were not as a troupe of deaf and blind North Koreans performed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and songs from “The Phantom of the Opera” in Britain and France over the past week.
North Korea’s “Youth Para-Ensemble”, including 19-year-old blind accordionist Un Hyok Kang and seven deaf “dwarfs” fawning on a Snow White dressed in a glittery silver gown in a dance routine, put on shows in Paris, London and elsewhere in Britain over the past week.
The tour was billed as a follow-up to the participation of paralympians from one of the world’s most secretive states at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.
“Dancing on the stage here was absolutely great,” Hyok Ri, 14, gaily dressed in yellow and red with a floppy cap and false nose as one of the mostly over-sized “dwarfs”, told Reuters through a sign-language interpreter at the Royal College of Music at the weekend.
The fairytale was danced to familiar tunes including “Whistle While You Work”, sung in Korean on a recorded soundtrack, and managed to condense the Disney classic movie to about 15 minutes.
At least as tuneful was the performance of accordionist Kang, who lost his sight at the age of one and picked up the accordion at age 11.
He played several pieces with British-Korean violinist So Ock Kim, a professor of violin at the Royal Academy of Music, including selections from “Phantom” and a Hungarian-style csardas folk dance.
“I usually perform alone but being able to perform with her, even though she is not from North Korea, was really, really great,” Kang said through an interpreter.
Kim said she’d been recruited at the last minute to play with Kang and had only had one day to rehearse after the performers arrived in Britain following a 50-hour trip from North Korea.
“He’s got a lot of sense and he’s got great rhythm but they’re so used to having to do things in a set way, and of course he can’t see me,” Kim said of the blind accordionist.
“But he did a fantastic job, he really tried hard because in the csardas he was trying to fit to me, so it was quite tricky for him. I am really quite proud.”
The trip was sponsored in part by the British-based charity DULA, which says it is “dedicated to the improvement of living conditions of handicapped people in North Korea”.
Editing by Tom Heneghan