Dance discourse

Dance discourse


Dance discourse

Casting around for a name that would best describe her twin interests of theatre and dance, Woo-Jung Kim settled upon superB Dance Theatre, which she founded in 2009, because of the synonym of superb, of a bee (hard worker) and because she loves yellow!

A superb name for a superb dancer? But no, Kim prefers to be known as a sympathetic dancer. Whether she sympathises with time and space as she was for her site-specific performance at a hanok (traditional Korean house) in Korea, or is speaking through dance from a woman’s perspective on stage, Kim is keen that the audience understands and resonates with what she has to say. “I am not the type to do an aesthetically beautiful dance piece,” she says. “I really want to talk with the audience... the focus is never on their story, but rather on our story.”

Watching an American production of Guys And Dolls is what sealed Kim’s fate as a 15-year-old. Her ambition then was to be an actress in musical theatre. This led to an undergraduate course in acting in Korea. Almost a decade later when she ventured into dance via the jazz and contemporary route, Kim found it “too difficult to understand, too abstract...” Today she has found her medium, striving tirelessly to create unique work that is at the intersection of theatre and dance.

Kim, who was in Bengaluru for the Facets 2015 International Choreography Residency organised by Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, says that the impetus for her narrative dance works is usually situations or emotions, which she plays around with, to eventually “talk with the body”. Kim admits that she is not technically strong, so rather than aesthetically pleasing movements she prefers to work with everyday natural actions. “Characters, relationships and situations are always the starting point for me,” she says.

Kim was introduced to site-specific performance in London. During her seven years there, she did a Master’s Degree in Theatre Dance and Contemporary Dance from the London Studio Centre and later studied Choreography at Middlesex University. Although she did not have a chance to explore this branch of performance art in London, a year after her return to Korea in 2012, Kim, who is now an associate professor in the department of Practical Dance at Paekche Art College, received an offer from the owner of a hanok that afforded her the opportunity to do just that. Thus was born the House Series, a set of three site-specific performances.

Kim’s performance at the hanok in the Bukchon Village was her personal commentary on the “loss of tradition in Korea”. The hanok was built in 1929 and has been carefully preserved by the current owners David and Jade Killburn, making it one of the few remaining original hanoks in that village. It was the architecture of the house that spoke to Kim. “I felt that the house was alive!” says the choreographer. A team of nine cross-genre artistes attempted to portray, through words and movements, the perspective of the hanok’s 100-year-old tree, the wood and stones, even the alleyway. This was a new and exciting trajectory for superB Dance Theatre.

The second site-specific performance was at a gallery café where Kim “played with memories” and the third was at a bar where “the idea came from the space.” All three were intimate performances for audiences of less than 30. “The space already existed for the people and I just had to find the elements (of interest) and use them,” she explained.

Contemporary idiom

The young choreographer admits disarmingly: “I am quite scared to do improv (improvisation)”, some small part, a small part I could do...”, but all her presentations are usually well rehearsed. SuperB does not have a core team as yet, but rather brings together performers from all genres and Kim prefers to choreograph rather than take an active part in her own presentations. While Kim believes that art has a responsibility to tackle social and political issues, she has not yet had the opportunity to do so. “I really want to, but I have not yet prepared; because of the sensitivity of the issues, I have to do a lot of research...” she says.

Discussing the state of contemporary dance in Korea, Kim says that the country has many “beautiful” contemporary dancers, a lot of universities to train them and several contemporary companies as well, but she rues the fact that they are almost always focused on technique. “A lot of dancers are perfect (in technique), but I am not sure that good dancers make good choreographers,” she says. What the country needs are young and more creative dancers willing to push boundaries, says Kim, blaming the strict and hierarchical educational system for this lacuna.

Like many Indian families, Kim’s family too was initially sceptical of her choice of career. This is despite the fact that her mother studied classical singing and her sister and brother-in-law are directors of the (music) broadcasting corporation in Korea. But her family is now her strongest support and keenest critic. Children in Korea, she says, are not encouraged to pursue dance, especially by their parents, though learning a classical musical instrument is practically mandatory. This is a state of affairs that many in India can sympathise with.