Following the natural course of seasons, the academic year in Korea begins in the spring and ends in the winter As the academic year comes to an end it is not only getting very cold outside, but it is time to finish up the processes of the semester.
On November 15th, several BA and one MA student presented their graduation pieces. I got to guide three of those who passed the audition of their final pieces to be completed and performed:
Hyang-Chun Kim made a duet about leaning and by extension socially motivated support, which told a story of two women-characters, mixing at times subtle, another times very direct domination and inter-dependence.
Hye-Jin Shin made a trio of pure movement arranged in many variations in space to the clicks of a metronome, including movements from contact improvisation as well as derived from classical ballet.
Jeong-Yeon Kim, who also assisted both Kazue Ikeda and me many times with her excellent English translation skills created a 21st century intermedia version of the late-Romantic ballet "Spectre de la Rose", complemented with video by Hyo-Jeong Jang and haunting music by Jeong-Hyeong Paek.
With all of the difficulties that usually go together with the making of student work, I was happy about each choreographer's individual interests and their drive to realize it as much as possible.
As before, Professor Jeong-Ho Nam mediated where necessary and filled in gaps that were left open by cultural differences and by the fact taht this was my first time to guide student work as a staff-teacher.
Finally I would like to specially mention the graduation piece of Heung-Gyun Go:
a quartet for three men and one woman dressed in office-like uniforms (white shirts with ties, black pants / short skirt for the woman, bare feet)
The dance was performed with a very mature blend of dance-technical precision and acting skills. There was no music other than sounds made by the dancers. Through simple permutations and combinations of the same dance material such as vertically lifting each other, walking, ts-ts-ts-ts-ts-ts sounds, forced laughter and "Love me" cried out by the female dancer, exaggeratedly cute kisses performed by the male dancers, the choreographer told a non-linear story that hinted at high-school or office romance, unhindered by gender barriers, which is still largely a taboo in Korea.
I am happy to know that next to the many mainstream-oriented pieces of that evening, which made up about 50% or more of the presented material, there is still space left for these very individual young emerging choreographers who are not afraid to follow their own path of creativity. Obviously the Department of Choreography, since it was established 13 years ago, still manages to bring out such artists, even in the face of cultural conservativism which demands to be entertained and confirmed, rather than made to co-think and move/ dance together with the artist/s ...
While I was here in Korea, it has been my pleasure to meet many artists who have been driven to the fringe temporarily. With the Seoul Fringe Festival and Mullae Festival there are now some funded spaces that are available for them. There are producers for young talent like Ji-Yun Jeong / Jung Art Vision / Young Artists Club. In fact there is an enormous number of contemporary dance groups in Seoul that get to play in various kinds of medium and small theaters. However like many places elsewhere, there are rules of majority-taste and conformity.
Some people like Sin-Cha Hong have found wider acceptance later, by emigrating with their work to another country before returning. Jeong Yeong-Du is ready to bring his works abroad, with help from the Korean government. Seung-Hee Yang, has found a way to combine his new kind of work with teaching at several universities.
At KNUA (ex)-students like Jeong-Hyeon Kim /Improad Badak Co., Han-Sol Yu, Ok-Kwang Cheong, Hyeon-Ju Park, and many others, are working hard on their paths to make it happen. They and many others work in and out of school regulations about what makes acceptable work. They question the necessity of having to produce directly understandable work for their audiences, but instead they follow their passionate interests as best as they can. I found that each of these artists is making very exciting work, but many have risked or experienced major rejection by a decision-making group of people in the past.
It is to be hoped that censorship, whether because of govermenent regulations or personal taste, will not succeed in hindering enough dance artists to express the state of NOW in their work, whether it is more widely understood or will need more time.
Professor Nam once said something very beautiful when we were talking about the difficulty of making authentic work. She said that the demands of dedicating oneself to working for art deterred her: it is so much more tempting to remain comfortable, and to a degree also widely acceptable (especially in a middle-class oriented consensus-society) rather than spending all the necessary time and energy on creating one's work and not hold back, either by convention or personal character or fear.
Perhaps this is a good moment to mention Mary O'Donnell's wonderful short text about fear in her Online / E-book "Release": fear can be an indicator that certainties are about to change, that a new experience could demand new strategies. In such cases it is a matter of personal responsibility of whether one follows the advice of fear and hopes for safe survival, or is ready to give in to the unknown and proceed further, risking survival, essentially. The dangers are real...
I believe that for each of us and society as a whole, this issue of censorship brings us to a very similar point each time anybody confronts us with something so new - it either passes right by our senses and we don't even realise that something important is there with us, or we start to feel that our habitual patterns could be challenged by a work of art that is new for us.