Korea National Contemporary Dance Company makes its UK debut with Immixture
The house lights dimmed and a lone figure donning a white organza hanbok(Korean traditional dress) strides in decisively and glacially, transfixing the entire audience with her gaze. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath in that long stretch of silence, as we watched the Madonna-like figure (Seoyun Jeong) take centre stage to perform a highly-stylised solo derived from Taepyeongmu. Taepyeongmu, otherwise known as the ‘Great Peace Dance’, is a traditional Korean dance that originated from the Joseon dynasty and was rearranged in the early 20thcentury. Customarily performed as a stately ritual wishing for the nation’s peace, the dance’s reincarnation in tonight’s black box was commensurate of its original sacramental intention. With imaginary feathers balancing on her toes, she glides and circles around effortlessly in undeterred composure. One admires the beauty and grace of traditional Korean dance in this moment while recalling that of Chinese dance as well: a sublime quality of poise and tranquillity pervades the theatre hall. What is baffling is this sense of restraint in her presence that paradoxically does not shy away from being felt, but rather demands from us our fullest attention.
Precise, impassioned and meteoric; it was the most poetic drunken stupor anyone could possibly imagine.
Making its UK debut at The Place, Immixtureby Korea National Contemporary Dance Company opens with this meditative preamble honouring traditional Korean dance, which is soon disrupted by a flurry of sharp and swift choreography. Succeeding Jeong’s stillness is Hyun Kim’s dance of death, where she performs the ceremony of mourning in an all-black ensemble. Precise, impassioned and meteoric; it was the most poetic drunken stupor anyone could possibly imagine. These two solos form key moments for the piece, drawing inspiration from the Paris terror attacks back in 2015 when director and choreographer Sungsoo Ahn was in the city at that time of the tragedy. Immixture reiterates Ahn’s sentiments then when confronted by such uncertainty, where happiness and life can so easily and unexpectedly be taken away from one’s side. The performance shuffles between grief and jubilation, past and present, echoing the fragility of life and the volatility of our emotions. Notable for his cross-genre styles, Ahn’s flair for musical sensitivity is made apparent. He incorporates a variety of music genres, layering traditional Korean folk music with African tunes, seamlessly transitioning from classical to pop rock – an immaculate composition that reflects both the complexity and diversity of our emotions. At times a pensive mood blankets the dancers such that pain becomes a palpable encounter with them for the audience; other times the familiar hip hop fused contemporary movements the male dancer (Juhee Lee) sports almost makes us want to get grooving along as well. These moods change so quickly and often without warning, but its unpredictability lends it a rhythmic element of surprise that leaves one on the edge of his/her seat.
The performance leads on with a stylised sword-play, the clanking of swords echoing a pulsating awakening. In some areas the choreographic arrangement was unusual, but not displeasingly so. The serendipitous harmony between two seemingly discordant styles: contemporary street style (with a fusion of hip hop, popping and locking techniques) and modernised traditional Korean dance made for a startling revelation. Lee is often caught within his own world of silent disco, which we later discover that it was Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie playing on his headphones, somehow moved him in perfect sync with his fellow female dancers albeit they were brandishing swords as if the swords were an extension of their sleeves. Lee’s body waves and foot stamping was not a disruption to the crisp sequences of tradition, but rather a harmonisation. Peculiar at first but nonetheless a fascinating union of the traditional and contemporary to watch. Immixture reaches its very climax when silence falls on our ears yet again – the flurry of movements and emotions screeches to a halt and Ilyoung Seo stares intensely at us for an uncomfortable 10 minutes. Possessed, she begins to tremble with the swords in her hands till the ringing of the metal plates drives her to a precipice: she sobs uncontrollably. Not in grief, but as a cathartic gesture of comforting those whose loved ones were lost in unfortunate events. A reflective piece on the human encounter, Immixtureeventually closes with Jeong’s saccharine voice serenading us back to a repose. We collect our emotions and regain our composure. Infectious and undulating, Ahn’s choreography sets us on a whirlwind that compels us to confront worldly traumas of the past and present once more, albeit second-hand – a subtle reminder of our very own susceptibility.
Immixture (2015-2018) – Korea National Contemporary Dance Company
Korean Dance Festival, The Place
Wed 9 May, 7.30pm