Over three evenings, audiences at The Place have the opportunity to become acquainted with five diverse Korean dance groups. The Korea National Dance Company kicked off the proceedings on 9 May with <Immixture>, billed by The Observer as expressing ‘universal beauty.’
The second programme, on Saturday, 12 May, was a double bill. First came the Ahn Sooyoung Company with its own take on Swan Lake. Other than the music – a recorded medley of well known tunes from the Tchaikovsky classic – you’d be hard pushed to equate this performance with the famous ballet of the same name.
That’s because the choreographer, Sooyoung Ahn, uses Swan Lake as a mere starting point for an abstract, but nevertheless powerful indictment of the environmental degradation that affects swan habitats. His swans are four men and one woman, all energetic dancers, all well-versed in a choreographic style that includes street dance and hip hop, with its characteristic jerky arm movements and isolations (well suited to portray frantic wing-beating), martial arts, and contemporary dance.
They perform in a dimly lit stage, to a soundtrack that occasionally becomes uncomfortably loud and plagued by distortion – an intentional overload that drives home the point that this is no idyllic lake populated by pristine birds, but rather a dying environment which is slowly but inexorably killing its inhabitants.
After the interval comes Ordinary Stranger by Unplugged Bodies.
The work of choreographer Kyoung-Shin Kim, who also wrote the score, it is performed by three dancers including Kim himself and Britain’s Dickson Mbi in a guest appearance.
Here three characters – and one mostly upturned table – meet on stage and share memories of their different backgrounds and cultures through movement. At first suspicious of each other, they gradually drop their defences and move from refusal to curiosity to acceptance. As full acceptance comes, Mbi and Kim engage in a joint fast shuffle, arms and shoulders shaking rhythmically, like twins animated by the same spirit.
Here, too, the choreographic language is unique, blending many elements from East and West. Again, it’s infused with raw energy, of the kind that suits Mbi’s own very special physicality.
It’s an an engaging 30 minutes, where harmony appears to be established with a lied from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, the yearning tones of which contrast with the percussive nature of the score that preceded it.
Finally, on 16 May, choreographer Lyon Eun Kwon presents a slice of pure Korean culture with Glory: his take on the Dong-A Dance Competition, where the prize on offer is exemption from military service, which is otherwise compulsory for South Korean men.
The evening ends with a contrasting piece: the psychedelic art dance work Riverrun, a collaboration between choreographer Jinyeob Cha and The Hague/Seoul-based visual artist Vakki.
The Festival of Korean Dance is curated by The Place in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Centre.
|What||Festival of Korean Dance Review|
|Where||The Place, 17 Duke's Road, London, WC1H 9PY | MAP|
09 May 18 – 16 May 18, 19:30 Dur. varies depending on date
|Price||£13-£17 (concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book via The Place|