<![CDATA[People|theApro.kr]]> http://eng.theapro.kr ko Sun, 24 Mar 2019 00:25:00 +0900 theApro <![CDATA[Choreographer Song Haein links traditional gut with modern digital technology]]> Choreographer Song Haein links traditional gut with modern digital technology
 


▲ Artistic director Song Haein (left) and the author (right) © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Artistic director Song Haein (left) and the author (right) © Lee Kang-hyeok

Your work Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone was selected for PAMS Choice as part of the 2016 Seoul Performing Arts Market, in the multidisciplinary performance category. Could you explain the work’s title?

In the dialect of Jejudo Island, miyeoji-baengdi refers to the time and space between the material world and the spiritual world.  

Why did you choose this title in particular?

Well, the basis for the work is Jeju Keungut (Jeju Intangible Cultural Property No. 13), the great shamanic ritual of Jejudo Island. It’s a project four years in the making. A healing festivity like the gut seemed necessary; we live in a time of free, open communication, but people are still lonely.

Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone was also a finalist in the 2015 Convergence Content Contest, organized by the Creative Center for Convergence Culture. What was behind your decision to blend gut with digital video technology? 

In a way, miyeoji-baengdi, a place that exists but doesn’t, reminded me of the Internet, a virtual world created by light. 

Song Haein, choreographer for Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone, studied Korean dance at the Gugak National Middle and High School and went on to study choreography in the Department of Choreography at Korea National University of Arts. She is currently working toward a PhD in Contemporary and Digital Performance at Brunel University in London.

“The more I studied Korean dance, the more I became aware of the extent of the influence of Western dance. So I developed an interest in Korean dance’s original forms and rhythms, and around the same time, I happened to accompany chaesangsogochum master Kim Woon-tae to Jejudo Island. There I learned the shamanic ritual known as pungmul gut, as well as traditional singing. I also learned about the Jeju Keungut after joining Maro. The three months I’d spent thinking about these questions turned into three years of actual learning. These experiences in Jeju and my relationship with the members of Maro led me to create Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone.”

Why digital video technology?

My works incorporate Korean dance, but oftentimes people assume what they’re seeing is a folk dance rather than something I’ve created. On the other hand, digital media is a global medium and isn’t as tied as folk culture is to a particular context. I felt digital technology could be used to help Jeju Keungut more effectively reach a wider audience. 

What significance does Jejudo Island have for you?

When in Korea, I live and work on Jejudo Island. A lot of artists are hidden away there. The members of Maro live together in Pyoseon-myeon in the city of Seogwipo. You can see the ocean stretching out in front of you, and you feel the trees and the wind in a different way than you do on the mainland. I personally find that I concentrate much better in this environment. At Maro we do a lot of intensive research on traditional gut. We practice every day, and in the process we discover new things in the old traditions. 

The theatrical qualities of gut, as well as its rhythms, often feature as motifs in creative productions. The Gyeonggido gut and Donghaean Byeolsingut are used often as source material. In Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone, you draw from Jeju Keungut. What would you say are the defining characteristics of this gut?

It’s a robust gut. It goes on for two weeks, day and night. The Gyeonggi-do gut has an element of spectacle built into the music, and you can feel it as you’re dancing. In the Jeju Keungut, on the other hand, the melodies and the rhythms of the drums, gongs, and other instruments are all simple. The music is repetitive, as is what the shaman says and sings. As far as I know, it’s the best-preserved gut, truest to its original form. That is to say, it’s simpler and plainer and more concise than other gut (most of which have become increasingly elaborate over the course of transmission), yet it still packs quite a punch. 

A gut is in many ways like a theatrical work. The shaman’s songs tell a story. What is the story in Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone?

The Jeju Keungut is rich with mythological allusions. But as someone unfamiliar with the culture and dialect of Jejudo Island, I didn’t feel like I could just do what I wanted with it. The narrative follows the basic rites of the gut: the petitioning of the deity, the offering of the sacrifices, the chasing away of the evil spirits (or pudakgeori), and so on. Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone focuses on just one person conducting these rituals. It would be nice to invite audience members to participate, but there are always limitations with a proscenium stage.  

Would you say gut have happy endings?

Of course. Misfortune and suffering are dispelled, and evil chased away.  

▲ Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone © Maro

Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone © Maro

In 2013, Song Haein and the other members of Maro unveiled Leodo: Paradise Lost. Inspired by the Jeju Keungut and the tale of the mythical island Leodo, the production was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for three years.

“When someone is lost at sea, the people of Jejudo don’t believe he’s died; they believe he’s living happily on the island of Leodo. The island is a resting place for such people.”

Miyeoji-Baengdi, the space between the material and spiritual worlds. Leodo Island, a resting place. Both of these works depict places of utter and inevitable unfamiliarity. Place seems to have an important meaning to her, figuring in her work almost as a character in itself.

“Augmented reality, virtual reality—we live in a world of multiple realities. People in modern society create and manipulate these realities, while shamans enter a separate space and time to bring release from pain and suffering. In certain ways, the two have a lot in common.”

A gut is a comprehensive art form, a combination of singing, dancing, and musical performance. Digital mapping and interactive technology are also comprehensive in a sense, combining visual and aural elements. Was it difficult trying to bring these forms together?

Digital technology features in certain parts of Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone as a component of gut. A gut involves the use of shamanic props: in this case, the gime, a paper ornament made in the shape of a human, and the donggyeong (also known as myeongdo), the round brass mirror that shamans regard as the face of the deity they worship. In the Jeju Keungut, these props symbolize heaven and earth. I felt it would be possible to use digital technology in the same way, as a shamanic prop used in gut. I incorporated it in a general way, though, so the elements wouldn’t clash. Still, if you’re deeply rooted in tradition, you can’t help but be cautious about accepting these kinds of new ideas. I was cautious too, and [our team] needed time to understand one another. 

Recently, young people have become the main agents in the transmission of gut. As carried out by these young people, who on the whole are well versed in the language of cross-convergence, gut has been combined with other genres and staged in experimental works. These works are made especially powerful and significant by the willingness of veteran performers, some of them teachers to the new performers, to participate. In Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone, too, the Jeju shaman Seo Sun Sil performs alongside Song Haein.

“To be honest, I did have concerns that our project might in some way offend the master shaman, but she is deeply committed to bringing Jeju Keungut to more people, so she was open-minded in providing assistance.”

Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone will be presented at PAMS Choice in a thirty-minute showcase. What outcomes are you looking forward to seeing?

As I immersed myself in Jeju Keungut, I realized that in some ways it would be harder to reach people on the mainland—that is, in Seoul—than people outside of Korea. There’s a prejudice against art organizations from Jejudo Island. This is one reason why we chose to go abroad, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for example. The piece is sixty minutes long, but we have thirty minutes to perform. I was born and raised in Seoul, but this is my first performance in Seoul. In connection with this performance, I want to look into festivals that would be interested in a production like Miyeoji-Baengdi: Twilight Zone and be a good fit. Our first time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we deliberated about whether we should be categorized as dance or song. So it would be nice to be connected with festivals or directors who are interested in this kind of genre. When we performed Leodo: Paradise Lost internationally, I got the strong impression that our foreign audiences didn’t have any prejudices about Korean gut. They just accepted it for what it was. 

▲ Choreographer and artistic director Song Haein © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Choreographer and artistic director Song Haein © Lee Kang-hyeok

What are your plans after PAMS?

I have a lot of interest in psychological healing for people in our modern society. I’m thinking of combining gut with art therapy, which I learned about in London. The two forms have a lot in common with respect to healing. A lot of people become shamans because they believe and accept that this is their destiny; it turns out the same is true for a lot of therapists. In November, Maro will perform a Jeju Keungut with shaman Seo Sun-sil at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, followed by a discussion with the audience. Another project coming up has to do with exchanges between artists in Korea and the UK. I’ll be doing research for an upcoming project with Roddy Skeaping, the sound designer. He’s a therapist as well. If all goes well, we might do a joint performance. 

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theApro <![CDATA[Lee Hee-moon, a Joseon ‘Idol’ to some]]> Lee Hee-moon, a Joseon ‘Idol’ to some
 


In the 1990s, several performers of haegeum (two-stringed zither) created music that contemporary audiences could enjoy, and the public began to show interest in traditional Korean music. Subsequently, traditional Korean music, repackaged as “fusion” or “creative” traditional music, gained new popular appeal. Recently, the media has started paying attention to the Gyeonggi minyo, the folk songs of Gyeonggi-do, thanks to Lee Hee-moon. Lee’s sensational shows, which find him donning everything from a curly wig and shorts to stilettos and fishnet stockings, have shattered the image typically associated with Gyeonggi minyo, restyling the form with sometimes sophisticated, sometimes B-list touches.
What sets Lee apart from other artists is that he knows what the public likes and prepares his performances with the audience’s perspective in mind. One cannot help but wonder what enables him to think in such ways. I sat down to interview Lee hoping to learn more about his past, present, and maybe even his future.

▲ Sorikkun (traditional vocalist) Lee Hee-moon © Lee Kang-hyeok

Sorikkun (traditional vocalist) Lee Hee-moon © Lee Kang-hyeok

Past

Watching you perform, I can’t imagine what your life would look like if you weren’t singing on the stage. What was your pre-stage life like?

It might be surprising, but I was a quiet student during middle and high school, not the talkative kind. I was quite the model student, too, with good grades. When I was called out to sing in music class, I did, but I was an introvert and nervous about speaking in front of a crowd.
During my school years, I was very much into pop stars. Singer Min Hae-kyung was my long-time favorite. So I practiced a lot to sing and dance like her. After starting university, I enjoyed clubbing with friends, and spent more time watching films of various kinds as a member of the 16mm film club than studying. 

▲ Poster (left) and album cover for Emperor, Listen to Hee-moon © Hee-moon Lee Company

▲ Poster (left) and album cover for Emperor, Listen to Hee-moon © Hee-moon Lee Company

Since Emperor, Listen to Hee-moon, your company’s posters and stage costumes have been quite striking. You obviously know how to use visual effects, and it’s part of your charm. How did watching films in your youth influence you?

What I first noticed in the films was visual beauty. I think a person who stands on a stage should be beautiful. I mean, styling is important to balance out flaws and highlight one’s best features. I was also very interested in music videos. I liked the so-called “video stars” like Madonna and Michael Jackson and found their music videos fascinating. I was also into music videos of director Chris Cunningham.
Back in college, I joined an entertainment company to become a singer, but it didn’t pan out well. After finishing my military service, I went to Japan to study. Looking for an alternative to my initial dreams of becoming a singer or other kind of entertainer, I studied music video production. I was most diligent during these years abroad. I was an exemplary student, recognized at school. I received a job offer from a famous Japanese music video company, and I was ready to go all out for a career as a music video director. Due to a minor mistake, though, the visa issue didn’t work out. I had to give up my dream and return to Korea. I was incredibly discouraged. 

How did you start singing Gyeonggi minyo?

After coming back to Korea, I went to one of my mother’s performances. There, for the first time since my childhood, I met Lee Chun-hee (master of sori, traditional Korean singing). I was humming a folk song I heard as a kid, and seeing this, she suggested I try sori, and told me to come to her if I wanted to learn.
Ever since I was little, my mother wanted me to become an academic, so no one around me had ever suggested I learn sori. Master Lee’s suggestion that day was the first time in my life anyone had raised the possibility. Her words really resonated with me. So the next day, I went to see her. Initially, I was just going to learn it as a hobby. But as soon as she heard my Gin Arirang, she said I had to do sori.

You kept making music videos after returning to Korea. What made you decide to focus solely on Gyeonggi minyo?

In the beginning, I went to Master Lee’s academy to practice and hang out only when I wasn’t working. After taking lessons for a month, I entered a competition and did well. I competed a lot afterwards, and even went back to school, for the third time in my life. The program was more demanding than I thought, and it became increasingly difficult to study and make music videos at the same time. It was also when record sales were dropping as mp3s became more popular, and music video budgets were cut drastically. So I took some time to think seriously about my future and decided to go with what I could continue even when I get old, which was sori.
 Because I had given up something I cherished to do Gyeonggi sori, I worked very hard. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to sing alone. Looking for a way to sing, I entered a competition. The four minutes on the competition stage were so precious to me. It was the only place where I could sing japga (a type of folk song). So I entered many competitions. Some people thought I was after the prize money. 

It’s almost as if some powerful force has brought Lee Hee-moon down a winding path to lead him to Gyeonggi sori. It wasn’t an easy journey, but perhaps this is why Lee’s performances exude a particularly strong and exuberant energy.  

▲ Order-Made Repertory: ZAP © Hee-moon Lee Company

Order-Made Repertory: ZAP © Hee-moon Lee Company

Your sensational productions, in which you wear fish-net stockings and stilettos, among other things, have effectively drawn the public’s attention to Gyeonggi minyo. Are there any other intentions behind these artistic choices?

The attire might seem unusual to some, but not to me. I come from a family with many sons, so there were hopes that I would be a girl. In a lot of my childhood photos, I’m dressed as a girl. My mother was always busy doing shows, and one way I waited for her and dealt with my feelings of missing her was to wear her hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and imitate her movements. When I admired a female celebrity, I practiced singing and dancing like her. As such, feminine attire was something natural to me.
 After meeting choreographer Ahn Eun-me, I could begin taking out what was hidden inside of me. But it was sometimes tough for me, too, like when I performed wearing ‘sensational’ clothing in Order-Made Repertory: KKWE. My intention was to create an androgynous persona, like Prince. Since I was a child, I’ve understood Gyeonggi minyo as women’s music. So maybe it was rather natural for me to interpret the songs in modern terms wearing women’s clothes. This performance style gained momentum after I met Shin Seung-tae, who performs in Nom Nom with me. I could add more elements of fun to the show with someone to join in alongside me.
If you ask me why I wear such clothes, there is no special reason. When my appearance changes, I’m assuming the role of a different character.  

You have collaborated with an array of extraordinary artists. How have your experiences with them helped you grow?

I was first influenced by my mother, and I learned sori from Lee Chun-hee. Someone who has had a significant spiritual influence on me is choreographer Ahn Eun-me. Through her I met composers Lee Tae-won and Jang Yeong-gyu. I recognized that Lee Tae-won was someone who could change Gyeonggi sori in very intelligent ways. I learned how to present Gyeonggi sori from his logical music analysis. And Jang Yeong-gyu is someone who works on these things with an animal instinct.
I’ve also been positively influenced by Jeong Eun-hye, Ahn Iho, and Park Min-hee. It was Lee Ja-ram who taught me that I had to find new ways to market and support myself. This led to the foundation of the Hee-moon Lee Company. 

Present

You’ve trained with a range of artists. You probably want to do something new on your own now.

I had always wanted to work with remarkable people like Lee Taewon and Jeong Yeong-gyu. And this wish came true through various shows. With Order-Made Repertory project, the two of them were like my personal tailors.
After this, I collaborated with people from other genres such as visual artists, producers, and contemporary dancers. And working with them was a whole new experience. It was a delightful adventure to create something new with different genres. I met new artists such as Oh Jae-woo, sound designer Jeong Tae-yu, the jazz band Prelude, and more, and we were able to communicate on level ground, across different genres, and create new shows.   

Over the course of collaboration with many extraordinary artists, Lee Hee-moon has become a brand in his own right. Now it’s time to create new music. If Lee gets to work with them again later on, what he produces will likely be very different. As such, Lee is in an interesting “present-continuous” mode. This vitality, which keeps him constantly searching for something new, appears to be one of his most winning qualities.

I heard you are working on a new show that hardly resembles your past performances, one that takes as its motif Das Kapital. Could you tell us more about the show?

I found visual artist Oh Jae-woo’s intelligence compelling—he is a good listener. And Jang Hyeon-jun is an artist who first majored in art and then became a contemporary dancer to create art with his body. I came to work with them at Doosan Art Lab. The three of us were discussing what to do together, and started talking about our biggest concerns. What was initially a talk about a younger friend who had to give up art due to practical considerations became a conversation on Marx’s Das Kapital. It was a difficult project for me, because I don’t read much. I’m trying to read more now, starting with easier books. We don’t know how it will turn out, and it’s not the kind of work we’re accustomed to, but we’re enjoying the process.   

A desire to learn from the best keeps drawing Lee Hee-moon to new kinds of music. His hidden efforts to realize this desire have made him into the “present continuous” artist he is today.

▲ Order-Made Repertory: TAM © Hee-moon Lee Company

Order-Made Repertory: TAM © Hee-moon Lee Company

You have been selected for PAMS Choice. What are you expectations for the program?

This is my second time being selected for PAMS Choice. In 2014, I was selected for Order-Made Repertory: ZAP. After I was invited by Fabrica Europa in Italy, the tickets sold out, and I was also the first Asian artist to do an opening show. However, it was difficult to be invited to perform elsewhere because of the production’s huge scale. Thus, I made this year’s selection Order-Made Repertory: TAM on a scale that can easily be presented overseas. I hope I will have opportunities to present it on various overseas stages. 

1) http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/07/14/2016071400039.html
2) http://news.joins.com/article/20272704

▲ Sori artist Lee Hee-moon © Lee Kang-hyeok

Sori artist Lee Hee-moon © Lee Kang-hyeok

 

In addition to collaborations with artists across genres, Lee Hee-moon’s interest in the roots of tradition appears to be the driving force behind his development into a powerful artist.
Most people are paying attention to who he is now. But at the end of our interview, I was pleased to discover that I am more interested to see who he will become in the future.  

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theApro <![CDATA[A Journey of Two Creators: Seeking Contemporary Stories and True Pansori]]> A Journey of Two Creators: Seeking Contemporary Stories and True Pansori
 


Pansori Project ZA regularly delights audiences with new works of pansori, or Korean epic chant, adapting a diverse selection of literature to the pansori form. The list includes Sacheon-ga and Ukchuk-ga, based on the plays of Bertolt Brecht; Stranger’s Song, based on a short story by Latin American literary master Gabriel García Márquez; and An Ugly Person/Murder, based on the Korean writer Ju Yo-seop’s short stories “Ugly Woman” and “Murder.” The group has reinvented the traditional Korean art form into something familiar, yet entirely new. This year the company chose to tell a story with great relevance to young people today. Titled Excuse Me, it is an adaptation of Korean writer Kim Ae-ran’s short story “No Knocking in This House.”

On one side of a bare stage, metronomes are lined up on an array of storage boxes—they draw the audience in with a cold and heavy vibe, suggesting that this piece, like the others, is going to be disquieting. sorikkun (narrative singer) LEE, Seung-hee, whose long black hair is pulled back into a neat braid as she holds a fan in her hand, puts on a smile pregnant with meaning. Sitting across from her is the gosu (lone drummer) LEE, Hyang-ha, responding to the sorikkun’s smile with her drum, as well as a few other instruments and props. No one expected to hear the vibrating sounds of an alarm clock or tones from a smartphone come out of the sorikkun’s mouth. Excuse Me edges up to the audience members with a story about the younger generation of this era, a story unlike anything Pansori Project ZA has shown us thus far.

I arranged an interview with LEE, Seung-hee and LEE, Hyang-ha, who are in search of new paths for pansori as part of Pansori Project ZA. I wanted to hear more about their lives, and about their thoughts on pansori and the value of tradition. 

▲ The author (left) with sorikkun (singer) Lee Seung-heeeung-hee and gosu (drummer) Lee Hyang-ha yang-ha © Park Ye-lim

▲ The author (left) with sorikkun (singer) LEE, Seung-hee and gosu (drummer) LEE, Hyang-ha © PARK, Ye-lim

Encounter

How did you first get involved in pansori and join Pansori Project ZA?

Lee Seung-hee: (Laughing.) I have to go back a long time to tell that story. I came to Seoul and studied at Korea National University of Arts. After finishing graduate school, I was already at an age where I should have been working as a professional sorikkun. I was introduced to various artists through acquaintances. If my memory serves me right, it was around 2009 that I heard Pansori Project ZA was looking for new sorikkun, so I auditioned. Then, through other ties, I got to meet the masters, such as Ms. Ahn Eun-me and Mr. Jang Young-gyu, and got involved in diverse projects.

Lee Hyang-ha: I majored in percussion in college. There are many concentrations students can choose from within percussion. Some choose court music, but during college I participated in projects by the Korean musical group Taroo, in which Lee Ja-ram was involved at the time. Then I started Pansori Project ZA with her in 2007, when she first decided to create Sacheon-ga. I must say that I wasn’t interested in pansori in the beginning, but was gradually drawn to it as I got involved in the production of Sacheon-ga and Ukchuk-ga after experiencing different things as a percussionist. I think my path as a pansori creator gradually took shape after that. I enjoy immensely being the sole percussionist in a pansori performance, and I feel that pansori is my calling now. I guess I could say that I went in the opposite direction compared with the way most people get involved in pansori. That is, I started out with creative pansori and went back to study (traditional) pansori in more depth. Prior to that, I did not know pansori all that well. (Laughing.)

Traditional pansori and Creative pansori

One of you went from traditional pansori to creative pansori, and the other vice versa, but you both are adding depth to the genre. What would you say the intrigue of pansori is for you?

Lee Hyang-ha: To me, pansori is just so much fun. I used to like narrated children’s stories a lot as a child. Someone telling me stories—isn’t that just great? A pansori is a story told by a sorikkun, which is what makes it particularly comforting and intriguing. Musically, I think the rhythms and certain nuances are conveyed in a very sophisticated manner. Above all, the way that a story unfolds through the two performers—the sorikkun and the gosu—who have nothing and no one else to depend on, but just the two of them, is the most intriguing aspect of pansori for me. The sorikkun deploys her voice, and as gosu I do my part by finding my own sounds to convey from my position. That is the beauty of it. 

Lee Seung-hee: When I was performing pansori at a young age, I don’t think I really concentrated on the story. I was only obsessed with how my voice came out through my vocal cords—so I just focused on the techniques to draw out high pitches or articulate pronunciations. However, when I was performing in Sacheon-ga with pansori Project ZA, I had a chance to experience direction, which does not exist in traditional pansori, and was told a great deal about the story itself. Sacheon-ga had already premiered, so I could hear a lot of explanations and stories that helped me understand the piece better. That is when it struck me for the first time that a pansori was a story. My vocal rendition was of course important; but to keep the story going smoothly from beginning to end became a crucial matter to me, which made me see a different aspect of pansori. Every story was different depending on how the story was told and which sorikkun delivered it. Everyone can deliver it in a different manner to create a different kind of entertainment, and that makes pansori interesting.  

Lee Hyang-ha: Since we could gain a thorough understanding of each piece before performing, it was easier to concentrate on the story and immerse ourselves in it. When I tried this before, I listened to the traditional pansori performed by the masters as well—in other words, understand the story first—and the impact was just amazing. It is certainly true that the more we understand, the more we see. 

▲ Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

Although there are quite a few differences between traditional pansori and creative pansori, in your attempt at creative pansori, you still maintain the traditional format of sorikkun and gosu as the two sole performers. What are some things that you deem most important in the creative process?

Lee Hyang-ha: In traditional pansori, the sorikkun trains under a master to inherit the master’s voice, so to speak, and reach mastery through stage performances. In creative pansori, however, one starts from finding the story and incorporates everything one has to create the final result, which is radically different from the former. In our creative process, the most important thing is the question of “what constitutes true pansori?” It is difficult to answer this in one sentence—but to sum it up, there is the format of one sorikkun and one gosu on the stage. Also, to constitute true pansori, there are other things that we associate with pansori in the way of storytelling and musical aspects. We are always in the process of seeking what it is. For instance, there are many situations when we start out experimenting all sorts of ways, but end up trimming off everything and leaving only the most basic elements. 

Lee Seung-hee: When we were creating Excuse Me, Hyang-ha and I had to write songs and lyrics and find the right musical arrangement for the script.  When the same drumbeats came out repeatedly, we would get sick of them and try different things; but then, we would immediately agonize over whether we’d made the right choice and try going back to the basics. Sometimes, the very basic traditional beats seem to fit perfectly, and at other times, newly discovered beats seem more appropriate. So we always think things over.

Lee Hyang-ha: To me, what defines a true pansori is that it is fundamentally a story delivered by a sorikkun. Whatever story or philosophy we want to convey, we must do it through the voice of the sorikkun—hence, we strive to find the most fitting ways to express it. Lee Ja-ram, the director and scriptwriter, is also a sorikkun, which makes it easier for us to collaborate. We work together to find out what the sorikkun wants and understands. Also, an important thing in creating pansori is contemporariness. We try to discover a story that does not feel obsolete or like someone else’s story, but one that we can relate to and is valid in our present day—one that feels like my own, my mother’s, or my friend’s story.

Lee Seung-hee: Excuse Me is a perfect example of this. This was the second time we created pansori based on Korean short stories—the first was An Ugly Person/Murder, which was an adaptation of Ju Yo-seop’s short stories. Also, it was the first time we used a story written by a young, living writer. Using 2016, the present day, as the setting was another first for us—and initially it was all very unfamiliar. 

Work

Kim Ae-ran’s short story “No Knocking in This House” was chosen as the basis for your work, Excuse Me. What was your reason for choosing that short story?

Lee Hyang-ha: The project began after Ja-ram read Kim Ae-ran’s collection of short stories and she liked it so much that she wanted to turn it into pansori. She proposed Seung-hee as the sorikkun for this project, rather than herself, because she saw Seung-hee as a better fit.

Lee Seung-hee: When I first began reading the story, I thought it was just a trifling story about a young woman who overcomes the hardships that she faces in her life. Yet, when I got to the scene with the identical rooms, it almost gave me chills. The story felt like some sort of fantasy, and I began to worry and panic about how to turn this into pansori. Part of what makes pansori fun is that multiple characters pop up and bustle about in one narrative, but this story has no notable action and consists solely of the thoughts and conjectures of a woman. Then the story turns into something that makes it difficult to tell whether any of it is true, or if it’s all in the woman’s imagination. It was a huge task to create pansori out of a story that had no narrative development, let alone a climax.

Lee Hyang-ha: I personally liked Kim Ae-ran’s fiction, so I welcomed the suggestion when I heard that we would be making her story into pansori. However, when I came back home and reread the book, I understood what Seung-hee was talking about. Yet, the more we discussed it, the stronger my desire to render it into pansori grew. In the end, it was a question of empathy. I read contemporariness from the story, and questions arose in me that we could address to the audience and to other people of our own time.  

Lee Seung-hee: Both Hyang-ha and I came to live here all by ourselves—neither of us is from Seoul. The main character of the story lives in a boarding house in an unfamiliar society, so we could relate to her. I don’t know who lives next door to me, and when I hear my neighbors go out, I even wait for them to leave before I step out. I think it was even worse when I was younger. I could not form empathy with people, but I don’t think it was necessarily my personal choice. I believe we were placed in situations where we could not avoid isolating ourselves. 

▲ Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

Communication

In pansori, communication with the audience is paramount. What was the audience response like when you performed at Doosan Art Lab earlier this year?

Lee Hyang-ha: Some said the use of metronomes was fresh, and others said they found it terrifying. When we first placed the metronomes there, we only thought of the tonal effects they could give, but it turned out they played quite an effective role in creating the contrast between the regulated and cold ambience in the first part of the story and the confusion that followed.  Of course, what we heard the most was that it was quite refreshing to encounter through pansori a story that they had experienced in their own daily lives. 

Lee Seung-hee: Our previous work An Ugly Person/Murder was a performance practically devoid of any communication with the audience. In comparison, this piece had no events, but we added the brand names that young audience members are familiar with in our line such as Dr. Marten or Etude House, which seem to have amused the audience and made them react quite enthusiastically. 

Lee Hyang-ha: While the audience response at the Lab was just a product of coincidence, rather than something we anticipated, we are planning to build on it to include more things that can enhance communication with the audience when we present it at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival in October. In traditional pansori, eliciting chuimsae—short verbal sounds or words of encouragement—from the audience is an important part of communication, and we think it’s a defining feature of true pansori that we need to work on more. In An Ugly Person/Murder, we deliberately cut that part out, but as we performed a couple of times more, we simultaneously found ways to communicate with the audience under the conditions we had to work with. I think the relationship with the audience is extremely important. 

▲ Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

Excuse Me © pansori Project ZA

The role of the gosu is also crucial in bringing out reactions from the audience. How do you think your role as a gosu in creative pansori differs from that in traditional pansori?

Lee Hyang-ha: When we work on the piece in the practice room, I focus on the straightforward relationship with the sorikkun; but when I meet the audience, my mind seems to naturally gear toward forming a triangular relationship. I assume the same thing happens to sorikkun as well. We create the triangular relationship, and handle every situation flexibly within that relationship. The difference between the gosu’s role in traditional pansori and creative pansori is that, in the former, one uses what one has acquired within the framework of the drumming rules (gobeop), and then makes instant judgments and improvises. For instance, in a traditional pansori, a gosu is considered to have played well if he or she played the drum in a manner befitting the drama, the sorikkun’s condition and the nuance of the words. This is referred to as “playing the drum befitting the imyeon (which can simultaneously mean the ‘hidden side’ and ‘order’).” Using that reference, I guess I can say that a gosu in a creative pansori not only “plays” the drum, but “creates” one befitting the imyeon. In other words, a gosu may choose different instruments, construct rhythm, receive directions about the performance, and so forth, which all contribute to “creating” the perfect sound. What distinguishes them could perhaps be summed up like thus: the gosu as the performer and the gosu as the creator. To find the right sound and tone, I could look for a new instrument, play with the rhythm, and occasionally use the elements of traditional drumming to create something befitting either the order or what is hidden inside.

In Excuse Me, I used a drum and a janggu (double-headed drum with a narrow waist in the middle) among the traditional instruments and a triangle among the Western instruments. In addition to that, I also utilized a water bottle, a rice bowl, and a wooden stick to create a set of everyday objects that I chose to represent the main character’s mind. At first, I thought of using so many instruments that I could not hold them all even if I used all my fingers, but I ended up going back to the drum as my main instrument. It has the most layers of sound and befits my energy the best. 

Meeting the International Audience

Since your work has been selected for the 2016 PAMS Choice, you will be performing for international audience as well as Korean audience. How do you plan to create empathy within the international audience?

Lee Hyang-ha: What we discussed the most in our process of creating this work was social media. Anonymity and using formulaic methods to express oneself—these seem to resemble the identical rooms appearing in the story. For example, we can find many similar pictures with the same hashtag posted on Instagram by different people.  Everyone is expressing one’s own individuality through certain things, but they end up looking the same. In our work, the objects that the main character chose to represent her individuality were Dr. Marten shoes and Etude House cosmetic products, but those are things defined by the society. She thought she was the only one using them, but everyone else was using the same thing. Her room looked exactly the same as the others’ rooms. These are the aspects that we thought would convey a certain universality and contemporariness to the international audience. 

Lee Seung-hee: This era in which young people are living is so tough. It is hard for them to find a job or make money. Not only in Korea, but everywhere, so many young people seem to be idling away their time helplessly. They could hold their heads up high and greet one another if they were confident, but without confidence they just do things that they find comforting. They stare at smartphones, sit around doing nothing, and don’t go out anywhere. I think younger people, even if they are not from Korea, will find some things that they can relate to in what we portray.

Lee Hyang-ha: We are trying to develop an open-ended story, in which people such as our own mothers, brothers, sisters, uncle, or even foreigners can find something they can sympathize with in some tiny little corner of what is going on in the life of this twenty-something female character.

▲ sorikkun Lee Seung-heeeung-hee and gosu Lee Hyang-ha yang-ha © Park Ye-lim

sorikkun LEE, Seung-hee and gosu LEE, Hyang-ha © PARK, Ye-lim

Tradition

As a sorikkun and a gosu working on creative pansori, what is your view of tradition?

Lee Seung-hee: I do not separate tradition from what I do. I am engaging in creative pansori, but I still practice and perform traditional pansori pieces from Chunhyang-ga, Sugung-ga, and Simcheong-ga. I think that the key to building relationships in creative pansori lies with my ties to traditional pansori. If I excluded tradition and only worked on creative pansori, I might neglect fundamental questions pertaining to pansori and focus only on how to make my performance more glamorous, stylish, or entertaining.  

Lee Hyang-ha: As I said before, my interest in traditional pansori increased only after I started working on creative pansori. So, for me, tradition is not something that I can separate from creative pansori by drawing a clear line. My understanding of pansori deepened with my involvement in creative pansori; and, in turn, I came to rediscover the roles of sorikkun and gosu in the traditional format through that involvement. That, I think, is the power of tradition. As my understanding of the genre deepened, I was able to see the freedom within that genre, which lived on for hundreds of years. When I listen to the performances of some teachers or masters, I can feel that they are creating and performing freely. For them, that is the tradition, and that is the art to which they have devoted their entire lives. When I hear drum sounds that make me wonder whether it would be all right to play it that freely, I rethink the notion of tradition. In other words, to them, it is still the music of today and not of mere tradition. Through them, I acquire new perspectives on tradition and art. 

The Path of the Artist

Lee Seung-hee: I have more opportunities to work on pansori now than I used to. So I think more about not going down a path that is too absurd or far-fetched. I try to find more entertaining aspects within the basic format of pansori. What matters the most is finding the right story and material—something that many people can enjoy and relate to. Using my own voice is what I can do best and how I can communicate with the world. I find it intriguing to deliver the story through my voice. One day, if I no longer find pansori interesting, I may quit, but now is not the time. I still find it intriguing, and am surprised at how many people come to watch our performance and how the audience discovers things that even the creators could not. That is why I continue to go down this path of creating pansori

Lee Hyang-ha: When I work with Seung-hee, I can feel her presence as a sorikkun from her remarkable concentration, unbelievable tenacity, and healthy ambition in pansori. I, myself, seem to take on a different identity when I participate in pansori as a gosu as opposed to when I play other percussion instruments or perform in a band. I do not remain a percussionist who plays the instrument using my techniques, but struggle to determine what my role as a gosu in a pansori is by getting actively involved in the story, experiencing it along with the audience, and taking on other roles. When I first participated in Sacheon-ga, my main concern was to find out what I should do to express myself musically; but now, I often feel like I am another narrator of the story who speaks with my body, eyes, and drum, sitting next to the sorikkun, who delivers her story through her voice. 

To the Audience

Lee Seung-hee: For people, it seems that watching pansori is somewhat different watching a play. I hope people would just come with a light heart to listen to an interesting story, rather than picturing sorikkun in front of the folding screen. Following the story and enjoying moments after moments of it—I would think that is what it means to enjoy pansori.  

Lee Hyang-ha: I can state with the utmost confidence that pansori is fun, because the gosu is the audience member who sits in the front row. I get to be in the first row and watch everything first, the most often and the most closely. I am in the simultaneous position of creator and audience. The more I experience it, the more I find pansori to be an intriguing genre. 

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theApro <![CDATA[A Dancer Who Resists Self-exoticization]]> A Dancer Who Resists Self-exoticization
 


Choreographer LIM, Jee-ae is also an unmistakable storyteller. She adopts an intellectual approach to her dance material, conducting extensive research into the historical background and conceptual foundations of her sources as a necessary step in bringing her works to completion. Her viewers should not expect the visually beautiful, orderly movements of other dance performers in Lim’s work. Her style is far from sensual.
Does Lim consider herself someone who challenges binary modes of thought? Her pieces “Good and Evil,” “Male and Female,” and “God and Mankind” certainly hint at a resistance of such notions. Her New Monster, nominated for PAMS Choice at this year’s Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS), also reflects a similar sentiment. Lim’s works can be puzzling for those who are used to seeing the world through a “this or that” paradigm. They are ambiguous and not easy to digest.
Within this ambiguity, though, Lim’s works resonate as lingering traces in her audiences’ minds, provoking thoughts and questions. It is for this reason that her works have received high praise. I met with Lim, who is currently based in Germany, at a Daehangno café on September 21 to discuss her aesthetics and works such as New Monster.

▲ The author with choreographer Jeeae Lim © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ The author with choreographer LIM, Jee-ae © LEE, Kang-hyuk

Congratulations on being selected for PAMS Choice for New Monster. Share with us some of your expectations for PAMS.

I had been hoping for a chance to perform more runs of New Monster, so I was overjoyed to be selected. I would love for this to be an opportunity to bring the piece to more audiences in other places and also of other cultural backgrounds. 

What kind of work is New Monster, and what is the main idea you wish to convey with this piece?

This premiered at the 2013 HanPac Rising Star Program1) held at the Main Hall of the ARKO Arts Theater in March of that year.
New Monster borrows various elements of mythology and explores how these images might be distorted and remade. The characters are ambiguous, neither man nor animal, nor of a clear gender. Mythology is actually strongly dichotomous, steeped in the time-old, conventional patterns of good versus evil, man and woman, god and man. I pondered what relevance these concepts could be said to have in our modern age. I felt an urge to move away from binary notions and stay fully in a kind of middle space. For instance, the animals that emerge in this story aren’t actually animals but a form somewhere between man and woman. I am drawn to this ambiguous gray area and wanted to explore more of this in my work.
I wasn’t looking to make a statement to an audience. I wanted to find what might problematic in the things familiar to me, and this desire spurred me on and became the process from which this work emerged. 

Before getting into more specific questions, could you first give us a quick self-introduction?

I began dancing in middle school, when I was fifteen years old, which was considerably later than other dancers who start out very young. It wasn’t so much the movement of dancing that attracted me but its form, I think. I was mesmerized, for example, by the unique forms observable in traditional Korean dance, like the shapes of the dancer’s heads and the costumes and the motions, and I wanted to immerse myself in it. From Anyang Art High School, I went on to major in Korean dance at Kyung Hee University, and then joined the Seoul Performing Arts Company after graduation. Until then, all my experience was in Korean dance. By chance, I ended up joining the Ahn Ae-soon Dance Company, which was the beginning of my career in contemporary dance. In 2011, I left to do my Master of Arts in Solo/Dance/Authorship (MA SODA) at the Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin.

1) A platform that showcases the most promising next generation of choreographers. Organized by the Korea Performing Arts Center (integrated with Arts Council Korea on May 29, 2014).

▲ “New Monster” ©Jeeae Lim

▲ “New Monster” ©Jeeae Lim

I heard you performed New Monster in Germany. How was it received there?

It was my first time performing in Germany after finishing graduate studies, outside of the school, but it earned me a place among the “Notable Artists of 2014” selected by Germany’s biggest dance magazine Tanz. I wasn’t aware of this initially and eventually heard about it from other people. I think because my roots are in traditional Korean dance, German audiences found my pieces different. I draw a lot from traditional themes, but I guess Europeans have their own mental images about what is “traditionally Asian.” I heard some of the audience say that my show had completely overturned their preconceptions.

In my opinion, your works might be rather difficult for the average audience to understand and enjoy. I’m sure you have some thoughts on how contemporary dance doesn’t always appeal to a popular audience. How do you think contemporary dance can and should be made more accessible to audiences?

I myself found contemporary dance difficult when I was learning it, and I still do. I’ve worked in Berlin for almost five years now, but contemporary dance there is difficult to grasp. I was very confused at the beginning. While it is slightly better now, I still concur that it is not an easy genre to understand.
I don’t usually think of my audiences when working on a piece, not because I don’t value them but because I prefer to focus entirely on my work. I’m grateful when audiences appreciate this. When you think about it, a piece of art is a process that begins with a whole series of ideas at the planning stage, which evolve through research, and only come together as a finished work over the course of interactions with other ideas and subjects. Considering this, it’s fundamentally impossible for an audience to understand your piece merely through the one or two hours that they engage in your show.
These days, artists are less likely to assert certain positions or opinions through a piece. An art piece is not the means to convey your own ideas. Rather, it’s something through which a point of view becomes less understandable. But regardless, we can connect and respond in a variety of ways.

Would you say your work falls into the category of conceptual dance?

Personally, I think the idea of the “conceptual” in dance is still rather vague, so I feel uncomfortable using the term. I do use it occasionally, though, for lack of a better word.
It’s apparent that a lot of dancers have been heavily influenced by conceptual dance as it is practiced in Europe. For me, conceptual dance is less about the style of the work than the artist’s attitude. Artists have to reject conventional ideas and experiment with new approaches, leaving their comfort zones and pushing themselves to develop. When it comes to defining what constitutes conceptual dance, I prefer to leave that to the audience. Having to define it myself would be like digging my own grave.

What issues nowadays are you interested in incorporating into your performances?

My journey with dance has always involved questions about institutionalized traditional customs and ideas. Right now, the focus of these questions has shifted to “putting the brakes” on the contemporary through the traditional. In my current study of the historical context of Korean dance as well as my experience as a foreigner living in Europe, a lot of questions have emerged that have affected my work:  How does the selective memory of tradition, history, and the past meet the present, and what kind of relationships does this give rise to? How did the self-exoticization and otherizing prevalent in the late colonial and modernization period generate stereotypical and clichéd notions of the Eastern world and come to dominate the culture of the time? Is a dancing body a mere passive subject etched with specific cultural memories or a subject with the potential for self-restructuring and self-guided performance? I’m hoping to “perform” these questions by re-choreographing traditional Korean dance pieces. 

Can you say more about the concept of self-exoticization?

It arose after the period of colonialism and Western imperialism, and it describes how people in the East conform themselves to the distorted perceptions people have of them. There are reports that when the legendary modern Korean dancer Choi Seung-hee toured the United States and Europe, the curators in these countries reportedly requested that she satisfy their idea of the Oriental image, leading Choi to declare upon her return to Korea, “Eastern dance is something I found I could import from the West.” 
It is within this context that I speak of avoiding self-exoticization. I see a lot of artists increase the commercial value of their works in the art market by appealing to this appetite for exoticism. This is a problem that can be attributed not only to artists but also to the outlooks of curators.

▲ Choreographer Jeeae Lim ©Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ Choreographer Jeeae Lim ©Lee Kang-hyuk

Thank you for taking time out today to share so many interesting thoughts with me. As a final point, can you share with us your plans for the near future?

I am currently working on a project called Conversations with Korean Dancers as part of an artist residency with the Seoul Dance Center. I plan to showcase this piece on October 13. I have also been invited as choreographer to participate in a workshop during which I will create a piece with dancers from eight Asian countries. This will be at Gwangju’s Asia Culture Center, and this project will basically be an extension of my work. Most of the participating artists I will be working with started their performing careers with their own traditional dance and later ventured into Western dance forms for various reasons. Moving from traditional into contemporary, both in terms of technique and also emotionally or psychologically, they likely experienced some internal dissonance and discomfort. I felt that way too. I suspect these dancers have all had the experience of self-exoticization or otherization, and I want to address these issues through this project. Our work will be performed in Gwangju from November 19 to 20, and after that, I’ll return to Berlin to start my research for a work I plan to present next year, Ah~ Ah Ah.

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theApro <![CDATA[For the Love of Theater and Family]]> For the Love of Theater and Family
 


Actor YANG, Jong-ook of the Yangson Project personally updates readers with news and performance announcements on the group’s blog. All of his posts begin with the same opener: “This is actor Yang.” His sincere yet humorous style quietly resonates with readers, bringing them back for the next post and the next, just as Yangson Project’s performances keep fans expectant and always coming back for more. Last summer, Yangson Project made their European debut in Avignon. Now they are awaiting the showcase at PAMS Choice at the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS) with their production of Factory Girl, a play based on a short story by Yu Jin-Oh that was serialized in a daily newspaper in 1931. I met with Director Park Ji-hye to hear about the lives and theater experiences of this intriguing group of four, whose close bond has been forged by an earnest love of the stage and strong personal rapport.

▲ The author (right) and director of Yangson Project Park Ji-hye © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ The author (right) and director of Yangson Project PARK, Ji-hye © LEE, Kang-hyeok

The passionate audiences at Avignon and our deepening bond

I suppose words do have power, because when we were preparing Conte of Days and Nights, based on a collection of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories, we said among ourselves that we would create that piece imagining that we would be performing it in France. Then we actually ended up going to France! We performed from July 6 to 28 at a venue called Théâtre des Halles. I think the audience enjoyed the novel and unique experience of seeing French classics transformed and expressed through the emotions and sensibilities of people from a different country and culture. When we went outside after the show, people were waiting outside to meet us. Some wanted to tell us their opinions, and others even wanted to come up to the control booth to talk to us about their impressions of the show. They were eager to communicate with us. I thought about this a lot after our trip—while in Avignon, the four of us stayed in the same house. We’ve been to workshops together, but living in the same house for four weeks was the first. It felt like we were a real family. We felt so comfortable around one another and we could talk about anything and everything. Living together has brought us closer together and our relationships have gotten stronger. We’re close in a way that we can really feel. 

The intense, arduous process of finding our next piece

I don’t think we have ever created a production with a clear idea or expectation of how it will turn out in the end. The process can differ each time, but we do have a tendency to choose the pieces that speak to us most intensely. The four of us have to come to a unanimous decision to start working on a piece, and one thing we agree on is that the work has to spark something inside us. What we are interested in is moments of intense internal collisions. We decide on a piece when we become curious, want to find out more, or feel like there is something we could share. For instance, if we’re looking at short stories, we go to the library and read on our own before meeting up later and talking about our choices. Then, we go back and reread the books, select a few, and then reread again before finally coming to a decision. It can be a long and arduous process. 

The extraordinary joy of dramatizing fiction

Basically, working with fiction differs quite significantly from the outset in comparison to working with plays. Fiction usually involves a narrative with well-organized structure and detailed descriptions. One advantage of fiction is that we have the freedom to select the parts we want and repackage them any way we want. We happened to talk about this during our practice today—that when we work on a play that was written as a play, we tend to have this notion that we are playing a character. In contrast, when we adapt a work of fiction for the stage, we feel less like we are playing a specific character and more as though there is a separate narrator, and that our acting can include things more abstract than a role or character. Hence, playing a role written for a play and being an actor in a work of dramatized fiction can be quite different, and what we said today was that this difference seems to make the project interesting. Also, fiction includes descriptions, which makes the stories richer and more vivid, but plays rarely have descriptions (although they may sometimes have stage directions). In fiction, scenery and internal processes are directly described in the narration. To express such elements in a play, we can incorporate them into a character’s lines, or turn one sentence into a long scene. It’s fun to have these options. 

▲ Factory Girl  © Yangson Project

Factory Girl  © Yangson Project

“Yangson Project=Creative Collaboration”

Within our group, there is no single leader who oversees the entire process. Thus, we start out without any idea of how our work will turn out, and what results often defies our expectations completely. This is our favorite part. When each of us sees the work as his or her own, we are more invested in the creative process. We take initiative and are more active in the discussions, and we become inspired by one another’s enthusiasm. Every person takes ownership of the project. Of course, there are downsides as well. It usually takes longer to create a final result, and sometimes there’s the sense of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Yet what I have come to realize lately is that in participating in this production process, especially with Yangson Project, we learn one another’s concerns and thoughts concerning not only the play but life itself. And not only this, we also observe how these concerns evolve, so we become very close. The discussions we have in our creative process also change—the depth and extent of what we share increases. I think we are lucky to have engaged in this collaborative creative process with such consistency. We always start out by imagining ourselves simultaneously as directors, playwrights, and actors.

A collaboration of actors who think like writers and directors

This actually helps me greatly [as a director]. Ultimately, I think of theater as an actor’s art, an art form practiced by the performers on stage. In the early stages of the creative process, we work hard together, but my personal role as director is to assist the actors to stand on stage as the most creative artists they can be. When performing, actors need mirrors, and directors are the mirrors that can reflect the actors most clearly. Before the play is put on stage, the four of us have the same dream and equal say, but once the play is put on stage, the distinction between the actor and the director becomes clear. Each person has certain things they must do to fulfill their specific role. My role, then, is to watch the performance from the outside and see whether or not what we talked about is being realized on stage. When the actors seem to undergo difficulties, I guide them through, or offer suggestions. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but none of our members are authoritative and they all take my suggestions to heart. I guess we’re quite like-minded. So when I say something, they agree and accept it with an open mind, which in turn creates more common ground for us. 

Yangson Project on a roll? We’re just doing what we love!

We are always confused and muddled. What I mean is that whenever we start something new, we are completely clueless, feeling like failures and totally at a loss. People say “Hey, I heard Yangson Project is doing well these days,” but these are just rumors. When we ask them if they have seen our play, there are quite a few who haven’t even seen us perform. When we first heard that our fans were growing, there were moments when we were worried about how to measure up to their expectations and curious and concerned about how the audience would react. But in the end, we decided not to be swayed by external standards but rather enrich and reinforce ourselves internally. What I want more than anything else is for us to keep doing theater because we really enjoy it. 

Thoughts on being selected for PAMS Choice 2016

Of course I’m ecstatic! People often have moments of clear self-recognition when they are placed in unfamiliar surroundings. I had that experience when we went to China, Japan, and France to perform. I got a glimpse of our identity and our color as performers, and myself, from the outside. Being in foreign cultural settings and having certain realizations can be refreshing. Since we present our productions in small theatres, we’ve had the experience of interacting with the audience members from close up. I want to experience as many cultures as possible and live in those cultures even for a brief period of time. Communicating with the people of those cultures is also something I would like to do. 

Yangson Project’s choice for PAMS Choice

Factory Girl is the most physical of our works. It includes a lot of nonverbal expression, including sounds and movements, as well as a lot of images. Also, since there are no set pieces, it is ideal for tours. It’s the story of a girl living during the Japanese occupation, which is quite a historically specific setting. Although the conflict might be something specific to this character, we feel it’s something anyone could sympathize with. People in most other cultures have had similar experiences at one moment or another, so we expect they will be able to relate to our work on a broad level. 

▲ Director Park Ji-hye © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Director PARK, Ji-hye © LEE, Kang-hyeok

Expectations for PAMS and plans for overseas performances

We premiered Factory Girl at a hallway in school, and then performed it at a gallery created by renovating a factory. So if we could get a chance to perform it overseas, I kind of hope we might stage it in diverse locations, that is, alternative spaces rather than regular theaters. I asked each member where they would like us to go. After saying we would perform in France and seeing this actually happen, we believe there’s power in our words. Anyway, my answer was Germany, Jong-ook’s was Hungary, Ju-hee’s Norway, Ji-won’s Switzerland, and Sang-kyu’s Argentina. We keep telling ourselves that these places are where we want to go, and that it’ll happen someday, and that what we wish for aloud will come true.

Yangson Project is a group of artists whose members understand each other on a profound level and explore the world of theater together with the utmost sincerity. They are a true family, and I too hope their wishes come true so they can one day share the plays they so love to create with audiences in Germany, Hungary, Norway, Switzerland, and Argentina.  

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theApro <![CDATA[Dance the Questions, Live the Answers]]> Dance the Questions, Live the Answers
 


What kinds of impressions can be conveyed using only the pure language of the body? This question was what got Ambiguous Dance Company started almost ten years ago. What does it mean to run a dance company for a decade in Korea? Despite garnering attention with unconventional interpretations of the body and unique choreography, Ambiguous is struggling to earn respect for dance as a profession. I met with members of the company, who are currently preparing for the 2016 Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS), hoping to gain insight into what a return to a “pure body” might look like. 

▲ The author (left), Ambiguous Dance Company choreographer Kim Boram and producer Jang Kyeong-min © Lee Gang-hyeok

▲ The author (left), Ambiguous Dance Company choreographer KIM, Bo-ram and JANG, Kyeong-min © LEE, Gang-hyeok 

I understand you are widening your horizons through multi-genre collaboration. What are your recent interests?

We’re interested in incorporating traditional elements in our work. Although the public might not notice right away, we believe there will be a point when such traditional elements are recognized for their appeal in connection to our work. We’re thinking about how to reinterpret traditions, instead of using them as they are. We’re exploring various methods to that end with our crew.  

What is the gap between the directions you pursue in your work as a choreographer and as a group? And what are the respective methodologies?

As a choreographer (KIM, Bo-ram), I definitely focus on expressing sound. I’d like to continue my study of sound; there’s really no end. It appeals to me because I have no idea where it ends, even after using and studying the body every day for a year. My goal is to make a performance that shows the ultimate form of the body while expressing the fundamentals of dance and the sounds of dancers. But that’s my personal inclination as a choreographer and an artist. I don’t think the company’s goal and vision can be limited to an insistence on music or to a single trajectory. This is why I’m expanding the scope of the company’s work through various kinds of experimentation, including collaboration across genres, strengthening our dancers’ choreography skills, and doing community work with the public. 

What is the focal point of your various attempts and experiments, and what would you say is the driving force behind them?

It takes a range of ideas, and also a lot of agonizing, to adapt to an unfamiliar work environment in order to steadily put shows on the stage, generate profits and develop wide-ranging repertoire and temporal and spatial settings. By inviting the crew into this process, and giving the dancers independent and subjective roles, the individual members benefit along with the company. Building a relationship with the local community through community projects is part of this vision. 

Right now, the arts circle subsists on artist-led projects. We aim to establish ourselves as a company and establish dance as a real profession. In this environment, the only way for a company to survive is to become sustainable and be a “group as a profession.” While it is important to produce quality work, we believe it is time to find a realistic and future-oriented methodology as well. This is because producing good works and expanding our repertoire are not directly linked to survival. To achieve all of these goals, dancers cannot remain as individual dancers within the company. They need to be members who can lead and take responsibility. And so we operate by sharing our thoughts about the role to be played by each member. 

What do you mean by being a group as a profession?

We normally operate with five dancers, and occasionally cooperate with outside dancers. A minimum level of subsistence requires doing at least three shows per month. To maintain and this level and build on it, we are working on a lot of projects. In reality, respect for artists as professionals is not the norm, and the majority of artists work for less than the minimum wage. Moreover, a lot of artists don’t even object to the lack of security and compensation, which has a huge impact on the issue. We believe we need to build an environment in which what we do is regarded as a profession. The development and potential of a company begins with respect, regardless of the degree of completion of the work. We sincerely hope we can continue what we are doing as a profession.    

▲ Ambiguous Dance Company choreographer Boram Kim (left) and producer Kyeong-min Jang © Lee Gang-hyeok

▲ Ambiguous Dance Company choreographer KIM, Bo-ram (left) and JANG, Kyeong-min © LEE, Gang-hyeok

Ambiguous has been around for nine years. Were there any turning points or events that triggered change?

We believe a big turning point came when we became a resident company of Ansan Culture and Arts Center. When we were selected for PAMS Choice two years ago, we were project-oriented. We were going to give up dancing, given the uncertainty of keeping our company running and generating enough profits to survive on our performances. At that time, we crossed paths with producer Kang Eun-yeong and agreed to look into how we might work together as a company. Kang really spearheaded this, but he passed away all of a sudden, and we became seriously doubtful about whether we should continue. After a lot of deliberation, the members agreed to work together to fill her absence. And beginning the residency really changed our attitudes.   

The residency and relocation to Ansan must also have influenced your work.

The fact that we now have a measure of stability in our production process as well as a space to practice in is a big encouragement and advantage for the troupe. At the same time, the tough reality is there’s no audience, even though we have the space and the theater to work with. In fact, our concerns about our audience played a big role in our relocation to Ansan Culture and Arts Center. Back in Seoul, most of our audience were people involved in the cultural sphere and our friends. Interestingly enough, here at the center, our audience is mainly ordinary people with no professional or personal ties to us. This gave us a greater sense of responsibility and passion about presenting dance to the public. Now we always think about ways to stimulate the public’s interest, and as a standing troupe, we try to think of ways to develop a regular audience.
In this respect, we received a lot of help from the Ansan Cultural Foundation and the Ansan Culture and Arts Center in the past. These days, considering the shrinking size of our audience, we spend time thinking about what might not be working and what we can do better. 

How do your concerns about audience development play into your production process?

It’s difficult to always make contemporary dance fun or appealing to the general public. Still, we try to find ways to help contemporary dance take root as part of the popular culture. We are constantly asking ourselves who our audience is, and we try to be as open as possible in our approach when doing our work. 

▲ Body Concert © Ambiguous Dance Company

Body Concert © Ambiguous Dance Company

Aside from developing new works, do you have plans to establish a company repertory?

We are working now to turn Body Concert into various versions for our repertory, and we are also working on outdoor shows. We believe developing a repertory that can be performed in diverse venues and environments is directly related to enhancing our competitiveness and sustainability.
We used to get assistance only from within the dance sector, but our move to outdoor performances appears to have broadened the scope of the project proposals we get and the kinds of performances we can stage. Performing outdoors also helps us to learn how to maintain the attention of the audience. The parallel operation of outdoor and theater shows is mutually beneficial. We’re not sure what kind of a company we will be in the future, but we’d like to experiment with as many ideas as possible. Thus, we need to step up our planning with regard to our overall direction and systematic operation of our company.   

A show becomes more complete as it continues to be performed in front of an audience. Yet even after spending so much time, effort, and money on producing a show, it’s not easy to organize repeat performances. It’s the same for other genres as well, but in dance in particular, there’s a considerably higher number of new dance productions than repeat runs. What do you think might be causing this problem, besides having a system that steadily funds production of new shows?

Every year, a thousand or so new shows are staged, and the problem is especially serious in dance. In Korea, trends change way too fast, and demand for the new is very strong. And there are no educational measures, no environment in place, to tell you about how to work as an independent artist after graduating. To successfully stage repeat shows, the original members must discuss the quality of the production and seek directions for improvement based on their conclusions. But in reality, having new dancers is inevitable. If the dancers change, it’s no different from putting a show together from scratch, which makes doing a rerun much less compelling. 

How do you feel about being selected for the 2016 PAMS Choice, and what are your future plans for Body Concert?

We are grateful to have been selected again this year after our last selection in 2014. Rhythm of Humans, which was selected for PAMS Choice 2014, was performed at New York City Center. And we plan to do a residency with a Japanese troupe in February 2017. Thanks to PAMS Choice, we’re performing in Seoul for the first time in a long while. It’s all the more meaningful because we’re performing at the main hall of Arko Arts Theater, where we premiered Body Concert. Our vision as a company is well reflected in the show, so every time we perform it we feel the same feelings we felt when we first started out. Beginning with PAMS Choice, Body Concert will be performed three or four times until October of this year. Our priority is to present a high-quality show. We also plan to take Body Concert to the musical market. 

The musical market is a new front. Is it part of expanding your horizons? I wonder what changes you would have to make to the production to make it a musical.

It seems like musicals have a more fixed audience compared to other genres. We expect Body Concert to offer a fresh perspective to existing musical-goers. We also want to explore the potential of the show in its capacity to present dancers’ bodies at their apex. We are also preparing to run it for a long term. No change was made to the show to turn it into a musical. Right now, our priority is to strengthen our dancers and their skills through Body Concert. In terms of program composition or commentary, we don’t want to make it too abstract. We muster our courage from the feedback we get about the show’s popular appeal and its growth so far. 

▲ Ambiguous Dance Company producer Jang Kyeong-min and choreographer Kim Boram © Lee Gang-hyeok

▲ Ambiguous Dance Company JANG, Kyeong-min and KIM, Bo-ram © LEE, Gang-hyeok

How are you feeling ahead of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the company?

In 2017, we’d like to organize seven or eight of our works in festival form around the concept of an “ambiguous night.” At present, the trend in the cultural sector is shifting from movement to the conceptual and to a multidisciplinary, collaboration-based structure, without making distinctions between genres. We believe the time will come when the focus returns to the purity of the body and of dance alone. And we are hopeful that this time will coincide with where we are headed as a company and make for a good turning point. Thinking about the 10th anniversary, we realize how remarkable it is that we’ve come even this far.   

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theApro <![CDATA[Eight Nomadic Years with ’Dallae’]]> Eight Nomadic Years with ’Dallae’
 


I won’t forget that moment in 2009 when I first crossed paths with Dallae in Charleville-Meziere, France. The moment a simple, unassuming girl captured the hearts of the French audience. For two years since, I have journeyed with her.
Even as I currently involve myself in other youth productions, I think of home and become homesick whenever Art Stage SAN and Dallae come to mind. I felt the nervousness and excitement of returning home as I made my way to meet with Director Jo Hyunsan of Art Stage SAN for this interview, and on my way there, several themes occupied my thoughts.

#sincerity, connection, fruition, dreams, community, universality, origin, time, and space

▲ Art Stage SAN© Official website

▲ Art Stage SAN© Official website

#sincerity

“Dallae’s Story” is in its eighth year. How many countries have you performed in? Also, considering that the production remains in high demand in numerous places, what do you think has given “Dallae’s Story” such staying power?

Since 2009, we have performed in fifty different locations in twenty-five countries, and to be honest, I hadn’t expected us to receive such a warm reception for such a long time. “Dallae’s Story” has truly had a long life, and I think the secret to its longevity is its sincerity. We can’t say that the production is amazing or perfect, but sincerity is undoubtedly its highest virtue. Of all the pieces in our repertory, this is the one we have performed the most, and practiced the most; at the same time, it has also been the most arduous and nerve-wracking. We’ve poured a lot into it over the years, and our audiences have accompanied us on a journey all this time.
What we have is not a grand spectacle but rather a story we wanted to tell about what is important. It’s a story of the everyday, our mundane everyday existence, to which we barely give a second thought.Even without knife-wielding, gun-toting battles, aren’t we living in a world of countless unseen wars and conflict? In the midst of all of the world’s grand agendas, what is important to us and keeps us going are our ordinary everyday lives. I think many audience members identify with this. 

#chance and inevitability

Dallae is not only a special puppet but also a superb actor. Whenever we meet her, a lot of forgotten emotions from our childhood come to the surface. How did Dallae come to be, and what do you think is her appeal?

Audiences often share after the show that they felt like Dallae was a real person. It’s funnyny t structure of “Dallae’s Story” is simple, yet many people recognize their own lives and experiences in the story. Even if their experiences are unrelated to war, it’s as if their lives, their pain, and what they have endured are projected on the stage. I think this also has a lot to do with the fact that Dallae is a child, a girl, someone very vulnerable. To us, Dallae becomes not just a doll but a family member or peer.

Dallae was born in 2009 out of various processes. Since then, we have used only the one puppet. People might think that we can simply recreate an identical doll if we have the technical know-how. Yet just like no two people are truly alike, puppets too cannot be exactly duplicated. For instance, the puppy in “Dallae’s Story” is made of square pieces of cloth. We experimented with several puppy puppets but in the end went with an impromptu version. We did attempt to fashion an exact copy after that, but they just didn’t have the right feel. I guess puppets, too, have a kind of “life,” just like people. They won’t live forever, so sometimes I wonder how long we will be able to continue performing with them.

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

#repetition and fruition

Tell us more about the process of creating “Dallae’s Story” and about Art Stage SAN’s creative process in general.

It is difficult to pinpoint where it all started. In 2002, we did a war-themed production, then there was a different version, and then we made Dallae using paper and toyed around with a variety of versions until we arrived at the production format and direction we wanted in 2009, which resulted in “Dallae’s Story.” In this way, our creative process involves first deciding what we want to talk about and then continuing to develop the concept, including changing the title a few times. The very first topic we choose goes through a continuous process of maturation. At times it feels like the project is becoming something entirely different as a result of changes in the writers and performers, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It takes a lot of time to create one production, and it’s repetitive, requiring considerable investment and effort, but you can feel how such labors add to a piece over time.  

#universality

You have performed at many venues the world over. I’m curious to know which performance was most memorable in terms of the audience’s response.

While reactions have varied across different countries, for the most part, audiences relate to  our story. We always get a warm reception.
One response was especially memorable. A Japanese audience member, a woman, said that all her reticent husband did when he got home from work was watch television and have his dinner. She really wanted to watch our performance so she implored him to come along with her. That night, after the show, although he didn’t talk about his impressions, he didn’t watch TV, either. He just sat silently at home. That story really stuck with me.

There was also this performance we did at an 800-seat opera house in Brazil. I remember being stunned by the enthusiastic applause that continued after the curtain had dropped. People who hadn’t been able to get tickets for the performance were enjoying it outdoors, where it was shown on a big screen. So there was this cheery festival-like vibe, even though our show itself isn’t very festive. And in Estonia, once, we did a showcase on an outdoor stage. It was a hot summer’s day, and there was a lot of outdoor noise, so I was initially thinking that this setup was less than ideal. But surprisingly, when we started, the whole space suddenly became quiet, and for ten to fifteen minutes, you could feel the intense concentration of the audience. I won’t forget the stillness of that moment. Many people came up to us when we were done, asking us all sorts of questions and telling us their reactions to the piece.

#community

I heard that the founding members of Art Stage SAN (director Jo Hyunsan and production manager Oh Jeongseok) have worked together for close to fifteen years. That’s pretty amazing. What is the secret to this close partnership?

We find it amazing too. We know that we can split up at any time, but we tell each other that we’ll do our best during our time together. Although we have our conflicts, and yes, we do fight, what’s important is that we can communicate our ideals to each other. What we want right now is for our company’s actors and staff to utilize their time with us to their benefit. Ultimately, I hope Art Stage SAN becomes both a physical and psychological space where puppeteers gather and create using puppets. It isn’t for the individual but should function as a community, time, and space for conversation. It would be nice if this becomes where we experiment with shows that are truly alive, like the meaning of our name Art Stage SAN.

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

#puppets, puppetry

I’m curious why you chose to work with puppets. There is actually considerable prejudice against puppetry. Where do you think its appeal lies?

Puppets are generally quite primitive and direct. While there wasn’t a real reason for my choice then, looking back now, I think this appealed to me. There’s a lot of blank space in puppet art. This space is magnified when puppets are brought before audiences, and this is a key difference and appeal when compared to other art forms. So how is this space created? Well, puppets are expressionless, so the audience has to fill in this blank for themselves. The audience has to imagine. Dallae has no expression, but audiences speak of her expressions. Dallae doesn’t move her nose or eyes or lips, and yet it is fascinating to know how the audience reads her face. Like when we read a novel, don’t we imagine the characters’ physical appearances, the smells, and the settings? Imagination is the most perfect form of expression. I’m not saying that puppet theater is better than other forms, but it definitely has its own unique appeal. The elements of this appeal are what I wish to continually uncover. The longer I work with puppets, the more I am mesmerized by such elements, like the unfilled space and the role of the imagination.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s meaningful to classify puppetry as its own genre. At the end of the day, it’s about using this method to tell the stories you want to tell. For me, I’m doing this because it interests me, and it is what I am good at. You also see puppetry being used in other genres like dance and mime. In my opinion, theater around the world is moving towards the intuitive and the visual. It’s a shame that puppets are understood only in terms of function, genre, or as a means to an end.

There is an inherent appeal with puppets. They are rudimentary and versatile. In their primitiveness, we continue to discover areas that are unfamiliar. I hope more efforts are made to bring puppets into other genres and to give them new forms of expression, as well as do more research. Through this, both puppeteers and audiences can uncover more of puppetry’s appeal. I would love for puppet art to become another method of performance in Korea and for there to be more dialogue and efforts to explore how it can be used.

#nomad

The Middle East is the current target for the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS). How did you feel about being selected for PAMS Choice, and what are you looking forward to?

I’m extremely happy about our very first nomination for PAMS Choice. Art Stage SAN has done several performance tours of Europe and Asia, so we are excited about the opportunity to expand our market to the Middle East through PAMS. I’m quite curious about how our Middle Eastern guest will react to “Dallae’s Story.” I look forward to the day when we can perform our show for audiences in the Middle East. 

How do you feel after you complete an overseas tour and return to Korea? For eight years, you have performed in numerous countries and been met with an enthusiastic reception. What is it like coming back home after such experiences?

As much as I feel both satisfaction and joy in that moment, an equal degree of pressure seeps in. I wish we could have more opportunities to share our story with others. We experience our production as something living, so we wonder how long this life will last. As much as I want our story to live on for a long time, I’m not sure what we need to do to ensure that. This is something that we are trying to figure out.

What are your plans for the future?

In addition to performing “Dallae’s Story” in South Africa in September, we are planning to perform “Box,” a joint production with a Canadian team, at two Canadian arts festivals next year. As for new productions, we have “Goodnight Alice” slated for this October. This piece was preceded by non-performance works, including experiential events, exhibitions, and parades, based on Alice in Wonderland. We have finally brought it back to the stage. It’s interesting how we approach our productions as an integrative experience rather than as a single show. “Goodnight Alice” combines puppets and videography in exploration of the themes of three- to four-year-olds who don’t like to sleep and the toys they are often attached to. We’re experimenting with utilizing various kinds of video technology, including holograms and 3D mapping. 

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

▲ “Dallae’s Story”© Art Stage SAN

I first met Art Stage SAN in 2009. They touched me in a simple, unaffected way then, and they still do so today, years later. There’s something natural about them. They don’t think of their work as great enterprises. They have the strength of mind to seize the opportunities that come their way, regarding them as no mere accident, and look back calmly on the time and space they have traversed over eight years of telling “Dallae’s Story.” It’s a similar strength that has enabled them to utilize blank spaces and the experience of imagination to draw in audiences. This is how Art Stage SAN has evolved over the last fifteen years and how it will continue in the coming days, slowly and calmly, to attain even greater levels of momentum and growth. 

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theApro <![CDATA[The Body and Self: Choreographer Choi Eun-jin’s Thoughts on Dance]]> The Body and Self: Choreographer Choi Eun-jin’s Thoughts on Dance
 


There are those who move their bodies to articulate a philosophical thought, while others reveal philosophical thoughts through gestures and movement of their bodies. Choreographer Choi Eun-jin replaces thought with movement, and demonstrates how those movements become dance. At times, words interrupt the natural flow of the body, and they clash. It may be because of this, but Choi’s performance relays more stories when she is still. It is then that her normally unrestrained body movements clash with the story that wants to come out and causes her to momentarily pause. Choi says that she is currently looking for a word other than “choreographer” to describe herself, something akin to “performance artist”. She adds that she is solely concerned about “dance” and “choreography”. It was truly refreshing to see!

▲ Choi Jaehoon and choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ Choi Jaehoon and choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

First, let’s talk about Theory of Useful Dance which was selected for PAMS 2016. PAMS Choice performances are not just designed for a Korean audience, but for all those in the performance industry, both here and abroad. What is the message you want to relay to them through your performance?

I didn’t start this project with the international market in mind. I was looking for an opportunity to perform Theory of Useful Dance again, and the Performing Arts Market in Seoul was accepting applications. So, the timing was just right. The story I wanted to convey was the conflict that was raging within a worker, a laborer. I wanted to show the clash between the physical body and the inside of a person. The story doesn’t change just because I’m performing for an international audience. Theory of Useful Dance is an impromptu performance, a farce, that is in opposition to how effective everyone expects their bodies to be. 

You’re talking about the body, both as a choreographer and someone who uses their body to work for a living. How to you differentiate between the dancing body and the laboring body?

As an adult, I felt like you could tell those apart by simply thinking about where your priorities lie. I was in despair because I thought if my body can’t be removed from this capitalist way of life, if my toils are not translated or converted into financial gain, my body is useless. Of course, I felt the need to constantly escape from the way the body is “meant to be” in modern society, and find new value or worth for my body. But at the time, I couldn’t accept the concept of being a “performance artist”, that is, simply looking at this as my job. Those around me told me to find a path and stick to it, but I had no idea that my perseverance in one field would not help me at all in modern society. From my perspective, those around me were simply smiling bitter smiles and dealing with these contradictions the best they could, continuously doing tasks that no one had told them to do in the first place.
 I wanted to rid myself of these self-deprecating thoughts, ones that were saying that I was stupid to be chasing the arts when I couldn’t even look after myself or make a living. And to do that, I needed to be able to embrace the contradictions in my life. 

▲Theory of Useful Dance © Choi Eun-jin

Theory of Useful Dance © Choi Eun-jin

PAMS performances are like a showcase, so I gather it would not have been easy for you to pack all your thoughts into a shorter performance.

To be honest, we just made the cut without much time left until the date of the performance, so we haven’t been able to practice much. When I first applied, I wanted to deduce different meaning and relay my thoughts in a manner different from what I had done during my first performance. Two years have passed since my first performance of this project, and in that time, I’ve experimented with many different things during my everyday life as it relates to this topic. Ultimately, I wanted to incorporate it into my new performance. But I came to the conclusion that I should perform it the way it was in that first performance, not just because of time constraints, but because I feel like it holds a certain charm in its original form. My performances <Movement Decoding> and <Yuyongmuyongron - Theory of Useful Dance> must be able to show some sort of change in the body within the given amount of time, so I’m trying to come up with a way to take everything from a 45 minute performance and express it in just 20 minutes.

Earlier this year, you were chosen as the first choreographer to participate in SPACE RED’s (Research and Exchange for Dance)1) residency exchange program run by the Seoul Dance Center. You also got to take part in the residency program at the New York-based arts organization Movement Research. Will this experience be reflected in your performance?

The experience affects ‘me’ as an individual, so I can’t say it won’t affect the performance at all, but it won’t affect the performance directly as I won’t be making changes to it based on what I learned and felt during the exchange program. But I will say that the overseas residency program had a very positive effect on me, and it affirmed thoughts that I had before I went, which gives me strength and confidence. As a performer, I believe it is also my duty to make the conditions of my working environment, this performance ecosystem, if you will, better. It may sound like I’m trying to be a hero, trying to help others and overstepping my boundaries, but this is really for myself. I want to be able to perform well, and perform for a long time. So, really, what I’m trying to say is that the details of the performance itself haven’t changed, but the way I am approaching the performance has changed.

You have a very interesting background. How did you become a choreographer?

I think I slowly became conscious of my work being in the field of choreography when I was attending the Korea National University of Arts School of Dance and working on projects both in and out of school. Every Saturday, artists would get together to perform at the Mullae-dong ‘Saturday Dance’ that was organized by the On&Off Dance Company. I went there with Jang Hyun-jun, Yun Jeong-ah and Kim Jeong-ah as the group ‘Seo-oh’, and we’d do site-specific solo performances in the Mullae-dong area. When I first came across performance arts through theater, I wasn’t thinking about becoming a choreographer or a director. I simply liked performing and loved being on stage. But the more I went on stage, the more I became aware of my body, and got the urge to experiment with movement. 

Becoming a dancer requires skill and a lot of experience, so most aspiring dancers major in dance. But in the case of choreography, an individual can have experience in a different genre and then become part of the group. Where do you think you stand in the world of dance?

If the world of dance is centered around and comprised of dance majors, then I’m definitely part of the group that came from the outside. I actually majored in Computer Science. If you’re asking me whether I consider myself a dancer, then I must admit that it’s something I’ve questioned a lot in the past. I like dancing and I wanted to become good at it, and at one point I dedicated a lot of my time training my body. But I didn’t want people to think that I say things like this because I can’t dance, so I wanted to become a dance expert. At the same time, though, I was annoyed by the fact that only those with the body and skills of a dance expert were able to occupy the fields of dance and dancing, so I insisted that “everything was dance” while continuing on with my projects. These days, I’m a little tired of always explaining myself or asserting that what I’m doing is dance, so I’m trying to move away from the definition or extension of that definition and find a totally new direction. These days, I’m trying to find a way to describe myself as something other than simply a “choreographer”. 

This may be slightly difficult to answer, but what sort of dancer do you prefer? In order to relay and display the deep thoughts of a choreographer, surely you need the help of a skilled professional dancer?

Well, first of all, impromptu means that dancers must make split second decisions on stage. During practice sessions, they must decide on the scope and type of movements they will make, then narrow it down to a few and through practice make those movements become second nature to them. They will need to focus on grouping and practicing similar body movements and gestures. My explanation was quite long, but in the end, you’re not limiting the overall form of the performance but limiting the number of movements through which thoughts and ideas are expressed. So, communication is key. Wi Sung-hee and Yun Sang are exceptional partners in dance, but this is possible because they’re good friends of mine with whom I can communicate freely. We’ve also worked on more than two projects together, and have come to establish a common vocabulary, a common way of speaking and expressing ourselves. I have no idea how the way I work will change in the future, but I’m sure that there will be no problems when it comes to communication. That’s the most important thing. 

1) Space RED is Seoul Dance Center’s international exchange business project centered around movement research. The Seoul Dance Center aims to become an international dance center that allows movement research artists and artists from other genres exchange their research with artists from overseas institutions, as well as provide support through international workshops and archiving projects. Source: Seoul Dance Center website.

▲ Choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ Choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

You express thoughts through movement, and those movements become dance. And in choreographer Choi Eun-jin’s performance, there exist ‘words.’ What exactly does this mean?

At first, I thought the body was more honest than words. When I started experimenting to come up with ways to make “the now”, the current, more pronounced, I came to use the impromptu to create change in the condition or state. I then considered that the change in value and movement of the body which becomes a particular state could in turn become choreography. Choreography in the project Movement Decoding showed movement that derived from the distance/time differences between body and language. The language in Theory of Useful Dance is aimed at combining two contradictory body identities (work and dance) into one identity. The thing to focus on is how the body can’t make its mind up because of this conflict, and how the body stops/there’s friction right before some movement just slips out. 

From what you’ve accomplished thus far, the words “young,” “experimental,” and “philosophical” really suit you. It’s amazing and quite admirable to see you always thinking and experimenting as an artist. But I also think there would be those who expect change?

There have been critics who have said that I have not been able to move away from workshop or experimental level performances. I may appear to be in an “exploratory stage”, but I’m always working on and contemplating how the projects that have formed between experimentation will translate on stage. I believe a performance that has been created during the preparation process is drama/theater and a complete performance in itself. Of course, it’s also good to be in the learning and experimenting stage. 

I’m curious to know what the audience is to a “thinking” choreographer. Are they something that one must study? Or are they something one must understand through experience?

But it’s up to the audience to study or experience. I’m happy with having an audience just sit through the entire performance and listen to what I am trying to say. It’s even better if they show an interest in what I have to say even if they can’t understand it, but I can’t stop them from leaving half-way through a performance. As for me, when I’m a member of the audience, I do both; I study and I experience. But I think I study a bit more. 

▲ Choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ Choreographer Choi Eun-jin © Lee Kang-hyuk

I think you’ll have the opportunity to perform overseas through PAMS 2016. Please tell us a bit about your past overseas experiences and your plans for the future.

I’ve performed overseas three times. My first overseas experience was made possible through ARCO’s AYAF (Arco Young Arts Frontier) program where I got to see performances at the ImPulsTanz Festival in Vienna, Austria. My second time overseas was when I participated in the National Theatre of Wales – Summer Camp, and the third time was when I went to Movement Research in New York through an exchange program organized by the Seoul Dance Center. The first time I went overseas to Vienna, I was confronted with the question of my identity as an Asian woman and what my current state was. The second time was an amazing opportunity that reminded me of my freedom to express myself as an artist. But at the time, although I did perform, it was in front of fellow participants. So, the first time I performed overseas in front of an audience where the majority were strangers, people who had no idea who I was or what I was trying say, was in New York.
 After answering your question, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have had all these amazing opportunities through the support of various organizations and government-run programs. Thankfully, these programs did not require that I show immediate results through my work, but were more for me to experience and broaden my abilities. I believe I have gained a great deal of inspiration and “food for thought” to continue as a performer. 

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theApro <![CDATA[Choreographer Jeon Misook Brings Steady Introspection to Life in Dance]]> Choreographer Jeon Misook Brings Steady Introspection to Life in Dance
 


For 30 years, choreographer Jeon Misook has been recognized both inside and outside of Korea for her perceptive insight, one which translates her personal story into her work, her refined moves and meticulous staging. Her full-fledged career as a choreographer and dancer began with the foundation of the Tam Dance Company in 1981. In 1998, she was listed in the International Dictionary of Modern Dance, and in the same year began teaching as a professor in the School of Dance of the Korea National University of Arts. She also proved her steadfast position as a seasoned choreographer by winning several awards for her work Amore Amore Mio, performed in 2010 and 2015. 

This year Jeon performed onstage at PAMS Choice, the official showcase of the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS). She explored her individuality and the boundaries of choreography in the fundamental physicality of dance. On Oct. 7, PAMS 2016 premiered Bow in Korea. The piece was also an official showcase selection for the Internationale Tanzmesse (NRW) in Germany in September. In the following interview, Jeon discusses her work with a self-reflective attitude and allows us to gaze into her humility and dignity as an experienced dancer. Her world of dance is one that is built on sheer effort over natural talent. 

▲ Choreographer Jeon Mi-sook © Hwang Seung-taek

▲ Choreographer Jeon Mi-sook © Hwang Seung-taek 

You have worked as a contemporary dance choreographer since the 1980s. It must be challenging to summarize your 30+ year career, but please tell us about your work thus far.

Looking back, the focus of my work changed about every 10 years. Until the middle of the 1980s and 1990s, I focused on my identity and social issues. It might not show on the outside, but I have an unyielding spirit that defies existing irrational systems. And that is naturally reflected in my work. I became known for my choreography in Finding a Face, which was performed at the Korea Dance Festival (now the Seoul Dance Festival) under the title Tam in 1987. The piece initially received an award from the organizers. Then critics questioned the fairness of the judgement. After reviewing the works on their own, they gave the grand prize to the piece I choreographed, and that became a hot topic. 

You carefully staged your early works to reflect the social atmosphere of the time by examining individuals and groups in their social surroundings. Was there something that triggered a change in your work after the middle of the 1990s?

I had an opportunity to study at the London Contemporary Dance School in the UK. Since I had to work up the courage to go over there after working in the field for more than 10 years, I was firmly determined to acquire something technique-wise for my contemporary dance. But it did not take long for me to realize that I was wrong to hope to learn something there. What mattered was a shift in my thought process, as opposed to learning new techniques. After I left the UK, my work became more lyrical and natural. 

How would you define your work since the 2000s? Reviews often describe your work in terms of “mathematically calculated, dynamic moves” and “refined and organized staging.”

I’m good at self-examination. (Laughs.) I don’t have the visual quality of a great dancer nor characteristics to call myself an artist. I am too logical and reasonable to be agitated by emotions, which is unbecoming for an artist or a dancer. Yet I was doing solo work and creating pieces as an experienced dancer. I often questioned why I was still dancing. Is it because I lack courage? What is the real me? And a conclusion I came to was that dance is like a heaven-sent fate for me. And I wanted to perform my duty with honesty and honor. 

It must be the same for others, that you can do better work when you reflect on your spirit. If I lack qualities as an artist, I thought I should create shows with a logical and mathematical perspective and composition based on my rational nature. Please Don’t Go and Nice to Meet You were created with that in mind. The final products did not turn out to be all that meticulous or conceptual. And so I realized the difference between what I like and what I am capable of. A piece made with that sense of skepticism was Amore Amore Mio, which premiered in 2010 and was then performed again last year. I expressed the common subject of love with movements that excluded the form and vocabulary of dance. I guess I am still searching for pieces that are more like me. 

▲ Choreographer Jeon Misook © Hwang Seung-taek

▲ Choreographer Jeon Misook © Hwang Seung-taek 

As the dance arena is teeming with terms like interactive, convergence, and genre deconstruction, I often see idea-intensive performance-oriented works. But your work seems to focus on movement that lacks any special technique.

It has been a long time since the boundary of contemporary dance faded. Your question can be linked to another question: What fundamentally differentiates genres or fields when we tell stories through dance. I believe it comes down to how the creator thinks of the body in dance. 

Then what do you normally emphasize in your choreography?

The center of my work is movement. I try to moderate my use of movement, but there is still a lot in my work. Overall, I put a great deal of thought into the aesthetic value, image and impression of a show. People tend to have an overall impression of a work rather than remembering every detail afterward. Naturally, I came to value the beauty of form, impression or color. Fortunately, I believe I was born with a visual sense or code. I also use objects for image composition. Having said that, I try not to use them as a signboard, and instead use them fully until they cannot be used any more. I try to expand and faithfully express the connecting points between physical movement derived from objects and the impression made in the mind of the audience.

You also mentor dancers as a professor in the School of Dance of the Korea National University of Arts. I’m curious about your educational philosophy.

I’m not sure whether or how my working method directly affects my students. Rather, I always tell them never to do it my way. There is a 20-year gap between myself and my students. If they do as I do, then it’s far from their sense of calling as artists who should express what is contemporary or suggest what is beyond contemporary. 

In the apprenticeship style of Korean education, most students are compliant with their teachers. So they can be immediately led in the direction I want, and quickly reach their goal. However, what matters above all is to build their strength to pioneer their own path in the tough arena of dance. Instead of stimulating them with my tendencies or methods, I trust them and wait for them, even if it takes a long time. As such, I help them find their own way and I believe that is what my objective should be. 

▲ Rehearsal of PAMS Choice work Bow © Hwang Seung-taek

▲ Rehearsal of PAMS Choice work Bow © Hwang Seung-taek 

Let’s turn to Bow which was selected as this year’s PAMS Choice. The title means “greeting” in Korean. How did it come about?

Until now, my creative process was to set a goal and steadily follow a stable structure. And the end-products felt like a well-prepared meal, an orderly textbook or a well-made product. But the way we think and create is very different from the past. We unfold or throw what is inside of us, and this turns out to be unexpected end-products, thereby expanding the possibility of creation. With Bow, I gently put together what I perceived around me, instead of using my previous full-on approach. Visiting professors from overseas are very taken by the polite greetings of Korean students. They say that it’s amazing and rather shocking. I wanted to do something that reflected Korean etiquette, an aspect of the culture which foreigners find exotic. I wanted to work with various greetings in Korean culture, ranging from an unobtrusive attitude of humbleness to formal acts that are close to worship. 

How did you put various Korean ways of greeting into the piece? What are some of the interesting points from your perspective as the choreographer?

A greeting is a physical gesture expressing how you feel about another person. Unlike in the West, Koreans passively and humbly express their joy when meeting others by taking a step back, or through a kneeling bow indicating extreme respect. From time to time, you can find movements that use objects such as a folding fan which hints at a full-size folding screen, short steps, and a straw mat that is unrolled for a kneeling bow. The music was composed by choreographer Jae-deok Kim, who runs the Modern Table Dance Company. The musical piece was originally used in his solo performance, and I requested its recomposition for Bow. Kim’s music is very Korean, with the power to captivate one’s mind. 

▲ Choreographer Jeon Misook © Hwang Seung-taek

▲ Choreographer Jeon Misook © Hwang Seung-taek 

Most support programs in Korea have focused on new choreographers and new works, concentrating their assistance in those areas. In recent years, shows chosen for PAMS Choice have mainly been by young choreographers. You participated in PAMS as a judge last year and as a selected choreographer this year. As a seasoned choreographer with a diverse background, do you have any special insights for us regarding this year’s PAMS Choice selection?

PAMS Choice functions as a platform for international exchange. Since it is an opportunity to distribute your show, it is very important for creators. When I worked as a judge last year, I noticed that the choreographers were younger and that the working methods for pieces which drew the judges’ attention were different from mine. Since there was a generation gap and the essence of their work was starkly different from mine, I thought I might not be an appropriate candidate. Still, I wanted an objective assessment of how my work would be seen overseas and to determine if there is a very small group of people who would recognize my work. Because of the ideas I had back then, I was much happier to hear the news of this year’s PAMS Choice selection. Because of this recognition, my show can be presented overseas. I’m also excited by the fact that I can focus on my work without worrying about other issues, such things as airfare, which is covered for a work selected by the delegates. I would like Bow to be seen as a pleasant dance piece which demonstrates the emotions of Koreans. I hope the PAMS Choice selection will lead to many overseas performances. 

What are your hopes for the future?

In fact, I don’t think I have a lot of time to choreograph dances. While other dancers become more active after retiring, I think it will be difficult for me to create more work given my strong tendency towards self-criticism. In the time I have left, I would like to do my best as a choreographer and a teacher. Bow is scheduled to be staged at the Internationale Tanzmesse in Germany in September and PAMS in October. Nothing to Say is to be performed at the Seoul International Dance Festival around the time PAMS is held. For now, I plan to focus on my work so that these shows are as successful as possible.

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theApro <![CDATA[A Tradition-Loving B-Boy Opens New Horizons in Street Dance]]> A Tradition-Loving B-Boy Opens New Horizons in Street Dance
 


Korean b-boys are something special. They compete in contests held in the United States, the birthplace of hip hop, not to mention the UK, France, Germany, and Italy, and don’t return until they’ve won first prize. They all say the same thing: "Koreans are fierce. We can’t stand losing." Maybe that explains the evolution of Korean breakdancing over the past 20 years. It took tenacity and passion. In 2005, a non-verbal performance titled Ballerina Who Loved a B-boy blended ballerina movements with breakdancing. Still performed over 10 years later, the long-running show was also staged on Broadway in 2008.

In 2013, Mnet released a dance survival program called Dancing 9, a dance survival program that awakened the masses to the lure of breakdancing. Street dancers like HA, Hui-dong, PARK, In-su, SHIN, Gyu-sang, KIM, Ki-su and HONG, Seong-sik suddenly earned public recognition. But that wasn’t all. Street dancers started fusing elements of ballet, modern dance, and dancesport to create new forms. Recently, b-boys have collaborated with modern dancers to pioneer a genre often described as a mix of b-boying and acting.

The members of People on Stage, a b-boying performance group, have combined video technology and street dance with Korean cultural elements to further develop their art. Their creativity and artistry have been lauded by audiences around the world. I met director LEE, Jun-hak last month to discuss the group’s preparations for their upcoming performance in the 2016 PAMS Choice (October 4–8).   

▲ The writer with Director LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲ The writer with Director LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

Would you briefly introduce People on Stage?

It’s a dance group that was formed in 2014, when the breakdance group Gamblerz Crew joined with the popping group Animation Crew. Members of both teams had befriended one other, and since it was the age of convergence, we figured we’d also join forces. Plus, we helped each other with rent. Both teams kept performing under our respective names, but we also did several collaborations. We have since formed a gugak team and a modern dance team, and have been invited to perform by various public organizations. Sticking exclusively to street dance is restricting, but adding gugak and modern dance gives us phenomenal synergy. In 2014, we performed in Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Portugal and Croatia as part of the Eurasia Festival. In 2015, we performed at the Dubai Fashion Festival, the Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade1)  and "Korean Night"2)  at Iceland’s Arctic Circle Assembly3),  and at events to commemorate Korean relations with Bosnia, Cyprus and Algeria.    

Would you elaborate on Gamblerz Crew and Animation Crew?

Animation Crew, representing Korea, made it all the way to the finals on the show America’s Got Talent. I suppose you could call them the "idols of popping." I was originally a member of Gamblerz Crew, which was formed in 2002. In 13 years of competing in contests around the globe, we won around 50 first-place prizes. Korean b-boys are the real thing, even if Korea isn’t the birthplace of hip hop.

As you mentioned, street dance isn’t exactly Korean tradition. Why do you think you’re constantly summoned to perform abroad, and to such positive reception?

We took street dance and added some traditional color. After winning a contest held by the Dokdo Foundation in 2014, we produced a non-verbal performance called The Era of Dance. In the story, a band of samurai invades a peaceful island. They put masks on all the inhabitants, except for the protagonist, and demand their unconditional surrender. The hero, however, refuses to be masked and eventually restores the island’s freedom. To reduce the number of props, we replaced a lot of stage items with video images, and that’s how we developed a breakdance show that incorporated video.

In 2016, we made the production Five Colors, which was selected for PAMS Choice and has become one of our premier shows. The five colors represent the value of balance so upheld by our ancestors, which is what we tried to express through our dance.

1) The highlight of Hong Kong’s lunar New Year festival. Launched in 1996, the parade made the Lonely Planet Bluelist of "Best Value Entertainment Around the World."
2) A gathering of influential figures in government, academia, and media to discuss issues concerning the Arctic Circle. Established in 2013 under then President Grímsson.
3) The first of such events in the Arctic region, Korean Night took place at the special request of President Grímsson on October 17, 2015.

▲ Director LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲ Director LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

You’ve performed in more than 10 countries around the world. What was one of your most memorable experiences?

Our show in Bosnia and Herzegovina last year comes to mind. The population of the area was predominantly female, as much of the male population was drafted to fight in the Bosnian War. The response was fantastic, and members of the audience even made signs that said "I love Korea" and "Thank you" in Korean. It was a thrilling moment, when a simple movement of the body shattered culture barriers.

Last year, we did a street dance performance in the parade of the 20th Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade. Some forty artists affiliated with People on Stage went to Hong Kong to perform. Over 400 million Chinese watched, in person as well as online. We danced along three kilometers of roadway in Tsim Sha Tsui, which was blocked off for the event. After all, street dance was originally done on the street! For the first time in a while, it felt like true street dancing. Someone at the Seoul Design Foundation saw a video of the show and requested a performance. We condensed the performance for a 300 meter roadway and performed it at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) Street Arts Festival.

Unlike conventional street dance, your performances incorporate theatrical elements. Is this to make them more accessible to audiences that aren’t familiar with street dance?

Street dancers are often referred to as "those people that spin on their heads." People in contemporary dance and ballet can often express themselves with ease, but it’s not so easy with street dancers. That’s one of the limits of our form, but the appearance of the four Gamblerz Crew members on Mnet’s Dance 9 helped us reshape our identity. PARK, In-su, KIM, Ki-su, SHIN, Gyu-sang and HONG, Seong-sik were the ones who appeared in the broadcast, which featured the very best in not only street dance but all forms of dance. They collaborated with dancers from a variety of backgrounds, and were influenced by sportdance, ballet, and contemporary dance. We benefited a lot from that.         

We also performed for the Youth Mic4) program sponsored by the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment, where one audience member asked one of our dancers if he wasn’t a contemporary dancer. They didn’t imagine that something besides the usual hard and angular movements of conventional breakdancing could be called b-boying. That’s when I realized it. We were creating a new genre that combined breakdancing with contemporary dance. (Laughs)   

It’s b-boys who can act.

Yeah, that’s right. People who work in film and advertising often say that b-boys are excellent dancers but lack expression and acting chops. That’s why they always act as stand-ins when appearing in films or commercials. I’d always wanted to escape that image. Park Ji-hoon, director of Gamblerz Crew, enrolled in the film department of Konkuk University in 2010, and enrolled in the Korea National University of Arts after graduation. He fell in love with the acting part.

The more b-boys learn how to act, the more breadth they give to our art, and the more opportunities there are to create new forms. That’s because we can add a story. Stories allow us to communicate so much more than exclusively breakdancing. The classic example is Synfonia, a production we made with contemporary choreographer KIM, Seol-jin when Gamblerz Crew was the official b-boy group for the Seoul Metropolitan Government.   

That was a groundbreaking attempt. What drives you to continue seeking such collaborations?

Korean breakdancers are among the best in the world, and have gotten worldwide attention through various broadcasts. But everyone always wonders, "What are those b-boys doing now?" There have been a lot of incredibly famous teams that just faded away. Local governments have created a lot of support programs for such teams. Gamblerz Crew was the official dance group for the city of Seoul, while a team called the Jinjo Crew5) was granted five years of complimentary studio space under the city of Bucheon. Bucheon also joined the crew to host the Bucheon Bboy International Championships, so it was a win-win situation.       

4) A program from fostering up-and-coming artists, part of the government’s Culture Day project. 88 artists (teams) were selected through the Youth Mike project to perform on the last Wednesday of every month in venues across the country, creating a celebratory opportunity for artists to interact with residents. [Source: Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment]
5) Jinjo Crew, whose name means "rising fire," was founded in 2001, befitting their name with a passionate mindset, original movements, and the drive to create new cultural content. In 2012, they took prize in five major international competitions, becoming the first grand-slam breakdancing team and climbing to the top of official world rankings. They were recognized at home with the 2015 Love Korea Award, the 2015 Korea Record Certification in the arts category, the 2014 Hallyu Hip-Hop Culture Prize (Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism), the 2014 Dasan Prize (culture and arts category), and the 2010 B-Boy Culture Prize (grand prize). [Source: Jinjo Crew official homepage]

▲ Five Colors © People on the Stage

Five Colors © People on the Stage

Tell us about your production Five Colors, which has been selected for PAMS Choice 2016.

Five Colors started from the inspiration we took from modern dance. We wanted to create something that would resonate with audiences around the world, and colors create impact no matter where you go. We took five basic colors—blue, white, red, black, and yellow—and added inflections from Korean culture.

Blue represents creation and life. It also dispels wicked spirits and brings good fortune. We took images of self-realization from a Buddhist ceremony known as the "Five Incense Chant," which is performed in the morning and at night. White represents innocence, truth, life, and purity. Koreans used to be called "the people in white." Based on a theme of solitude, we portray the joys and sorrows contained within the dreams of a man dressed in white.

Representing the sun, fire, blood, creation, passion, and ardor, red is also representative of the four seasons. Black is the birth of darkness, which we depict through the darkness of the universe, which is where wisdom originates. Lastly, yellow is the noblest among the five colors, and plays a central role. Yellow represents humanity, which acts as the mediator between the material and the digital, which we express using a tron dance.    

From the video I’ve seen of the tron dance, it’s quite flashy and mysterious.

A tron dance is performed while wearing suits fixed with EL wires. Turn off the lights and flick a switch, and the lights appear just as we designed them. The dance originated as pure spectacle, but current trends focus on "emotional tron." This is all part of the "softer" or more "sensitive" side of b-boying and street dance.  

Your dances performed in elegant hanbok were also quite memorable.

An older friend of mine has a mother who runs a hanbok shop. She helped create the outfits for the TV series The Legend. We visited her shop and just asked if we could borrow some hanbok outfits for overseas performances, and she heartily obliged. (Laughs)   

Why do you strive to create distinctively "Korean" performances?

After The Era of Dance, which was produced to create awareness surrounding Dokdo, I became interested in spreading Korean culture around the world. I also want to run my own production company after building a substantial repertoire of pieces that blend street dance with traditional elements. To make People on Stage a truly professional production company, I even worked for a year at a company that produces non-verbal performances to learn how operations work. I spent about three to four hours every day looking for competitions and applying for them. I tell my team members all the time that my goal is to offer an environment where they can focus exclusively on dance.     

In a way, you’re striving to harmoniously balance "art" and the "market." In that respect, how did it feel to be selected by PAMS Choice?

I applied to KAMS to perform at PAMS Choice for four consecutive years. I practically shouted for joy when we finally got accepted. It’s a chance to present our performance to the market and to meet industry affiliates, so I’m very happy and excited. It’s also an opportunity for more overseas performances. Performance groups like us need a channel that connects us to the market and helps us better communicate with audiences. PAMS provides that channel.      

Members of smaller b-boy groups probably end up quitting because they can’t make a living. What can b-boys do outside the performing arts?

The first generation of b-boys spent all their time on three things: performing, practicing, and competing. Now, they perform, practice, compete, produce, go on TV, and film advertisements, and the list keeps growing.

We at Gamblerz Crew are becoming increasingly interested in workshops and lessons. This means collaborating with public institutions to teach dance to people in youth centers and on military bases. I always encourage my dancers to broaden their horizons.

The original spirit behind hip hop goes along the lines of "rebellion" and "freedom." A lot of dancers were originally classified as criminals, as they had so much rage that had nowhere to go, or they were soldiers under a lot of stress that needed to be expressed. These were kids that always had attitude, always thinking "Why should I?" or "Hell no!" But it’s been fascinating to witness them change throughout the years. At first, I had to buy them a lot of food to calm them down, but now they’re in love with dance. This year, we regularly visit three youth centers and five army bases.

We are also offering online counseling for kids in mountain villages and remote islands, with support from the Ministry of Education. That’s because kids who grow up in small towns don’t have the opportunity to meet people in specialized trades, like b-boys. The service has been well received thus far.   

I’ve heard that more and more b-boys are earning their university degrees.

There are even b-boys who are adjunct professors. They head the street dance department at places like Seoul Arts College, Kookmin University, and Sejong University. That’s why there’s been a recent "academia" wave among b-boys. Even if you’ve won world competitions and are the best, you still need a college degree if you’re going to lecture at a university. I’m also preparing to go to graduate school next year. A lot of people in the dance industry are starting to look at education as an alternative career path.

The ideal scenario would be street dance becoming accessible to the average person. It would be a normal hobby or exercise, not some exclusive practice for people competing in international contests. 

▲ LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲ LEE, Jun-hak © LEE, Kang-hyeok

On a concluding note, what is the reason Korean b-boys are the best in the world?

My predecessors often answered that question jokingly: "Because our lives are shorter. We have to go to the army, so we have to work harder to develop our careers in a shorter time period." Basically, it was because they were tenacious. First off, Koreans can’t stand losing. I get so angry after losing a contest that I actually cry. Our foreign competitors often have day jobs, and dance purely for fun. But they’re still good. They often say that the core of street dance is "freedom," and taunt us for sacrificing sleep to practice.

In the past, I even quit drinking when preparing for a contest. B-boys don’t drink before a contest. That was a basic motto. These days, I’ve become more relaxed. I even have a drink or two before competitions. It’s hip hop, so you need to be free, right? (Laughs) 

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theApro <![CDATA[Reckless Abandon: An Internal System of Order and Respect — PARK, Gyeong-so’s “neighborly” gayageum]]> Reckless Abandon: An Internal System of Order and Respect
_PARK, Gyeong-so’s “neighborly” gayageum
 


Introduction

It was the last day of 2015. PARK, Gyeong-so picked up her gayageum. She was about to perform in a concert titled “The Most Beautiful Relationship 2.” The gayageum was the only instrument present. No accompaniments. Hypnotized, I had a thought: “PARK, Gyeong-so’s gayageum is the only thing that matters here!” Her piece was that good.

When Park plays the gayageum, not even the slightest background noise exists. The audience wasn’t intentionally quiet or on edge. They were mesmerized. Put simply and honestly, the music absorbed everyone present. 

Everything was new. Yet there was something strange. Nothing felt unfamiliar. Had I ever been so smoothly introduced to a new brand of music? The pressure that usually accompanies listening to a new piece had vanished. Park’s gayageum was warm-hearted, friendly, and unique—yet plaintive. It was rich with affection and feeling. Accepting both tradition and modernity, it embraced everybody in the audience. 

Her music was as variegated as the arrangement of chairs scattered around the venue. The seats were not arranged in horizontal or vertical formations, yet there was a certain order to the chaos—both in the seats and in Park’s music. Everybody connected to her gayageum and in turn became neighbors. Similar to the effect produced by her 2016 PAMS Choice work, The Most Beautiful Relationship, an indescribable connection formed between all members of the audience.  

▲ The author and <i>gayageum</i> performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲ The author and gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

1. Relationships

Your piece The Most Beautiful Relationship was selected for this year’s PAMS Choice. What is the relationship to which you’re referring? Musically speaking, what does it mean?

The most beautiful relationship is one of communication. I use music to practice two-way communication. That’s the reason why I play music and the gayageum. For true communication to exist, for it to be reciprocal, you need to go beyond simply understanding the other party. You need to take responsibility for yourself.
When I perform, I adopt a sense of musical responsibility. To truly communicate with my listeners, I need to always be prepared to take responsibility for my music. This requires constant effort. 

2. Space

But feeling a sense of responsibility and working hard aren’t enough to create music that communicates. Music changes according to where it’s played—particularly for my instrument, the gayageum. The surrounding space is very important. Everything is a variable, from the size of the stage to the layout of the venue. All of these factors influence the relationship that forms between my music and the listeners. These spatial restrictions occasionally impede my efforts to communicate with the audience. That’s my biggest trial as a musician and performer. 

When I perform, I can feel when my music is communicating and when it is not. When I can feel that my music has occupied the entire space, even if it’s a large venue, I become elated. But there are times when that does not happen. 

A long time ago, I performed in a huge concert hall, and I could tell that my music was not being communicated to those on the second and third floors. It was a tough moment. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about space and about the layout of venues in relation to my music. I always think about the space I’m going to be performing in. How my music will transfer to the acoustics, how it’ll reach the listeners—that kind of stuff. 

Fortunately, I had another chance to perform at that same concert hall—at the place that had jinxed me before—but this time I felt that refreshing sense of satisfaction I get whenever my music occupies the entire venue. I truly believe that a musician has to think about how his or her music will communicate in a certain space.

▲  gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲  gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

3. Mathematics

Performers who start out as composers have something in common. They always try to remain faithful to an instrument’s technical nature. It’s easy for them to develop inflexible ideas about the structure of a piece. I expected your music to be the same. But it wasn’t. Why are you different? (Laughs.)

In the Korean education system, students are divided into the sciences stream and the humanities stream. I was always more interested in the sciences, although fine arts majors are usually more interested in the humanities. 

I especially like math. I immensely enjoy solving math problems. I enjoy seeking a blank sheet of white paper gradually fill up with numbers as I solve each problem. There are no words to express the joy I feel when I correctly apply an equation to solve a problem. 

I approach music in the same way. Maybe it’s the musical equivalent of solving a math problem. To me, solving a math problem and completing a piece of music are not that different. Math has equations that you apply to solve problems, and this process is similar to my musical creativity. My music has certain equations and formulas, and I have to apply them to fit certain structures. A strategic blueprint is always the first step in my music. After that’s established, I gradually fill in the emotional details.

A strategic blueprint? Now that you mention it, your music often resembles architectural creations.

I think that traditional Korean music is very structural. Perhaps this is the influence of Confucian ideology? That’s how we arrived at our own pentatonic scale. Each of the five pitches—gung, sang, gak, chi, and woo—has its own role and function. In essence, Asian music was founded upon mathematical principles and logic. My music definitely reflects this.

In short, whenever I perform or compose a piece, I think of its overall structure. It’s when I become confident in this structure that good music starts coming out. This is a rather scientific approach to music, right? But I feel the need to make something clear.

What is that?

I’d describe myself as a “scientific mind that’s slightly bipolar and experiences mood swings.” (Laughs.) People with scientific minds tend to become completely absorbed in their work, but I’m not like that. I’m also interested in the lives of others. I guess you can say I’m kind of nosy. (Laughs.)

4. KIM, Juk-pa

When discussing your music, it’s impossible not to talk about the master performer KIM, Juk-pa (1911–1989).

That’s right. I play the twenty-five-stringed gayageum, but the KIM Juk-pa school of gayageum sanjo constitutes an important facet of my music. The only things I listened to as a student were SEO, Tae-ji and KIM, Juk-pa. I’d listen to SEO, Tae-ji and switch to KIM, Juk-pa, and then back again. Those two contrasting genres of music absorbed my youth. I’d fall asleep while listening to KIM, Juk-pa’s gayageum sanjo music and I’d listen to it again upon waking up. 

Maybe that’s why your rendition of KIM Juk-pa school gayageum sanjo music is even more faithful to the KIM Juk-pa school than artists who’ve preceded you.

That’s why I don’t prefer other people’s versions of KIM Juk-pa’s style. Whenever I listen to their renditions, I always think, “KIM Juk-pa didn’t play this part like that,” or “KIM Juk-pa’s pitch isn’t structured like that.” I’ve listened to her music so much that I can picture how she plays each note, even the individual vibratos. 

▲  gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

▲  gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

5. Technique

I listened to all the songs on your album. It was comforting. It made me think that only you could make such music seem simple and relaxing, although the music itself is incredibly complex and intricate.

I appreciate the compliment. I’m very intense when I play or compose pieces for the gayageum. To use more extreme terms, you could call me a bit sadistic or masochistic. I probably neglect myself in order to perfect certain techniques. Even if I have to put off eating and sleeping, achieving a desired technique brings me elation. Those heightened moments give me confidence in my music. 

I think I inwardly enjoy this process. I’ve played pieces by other female composers such as NA, Hyo-shin and KIM, Hee-jeong, both in Korea and overseas. Even when I play someone else’s music, I strive to pinpoint the essence and merits of each piece. Ultimately, however, the goal is to produce my own music. Creativity is the hardest thing there is, but it’s also the most rewarding. The pain and the elation of insomnia continue throughout the process. Yeah, I definitely think that I have some sadomasochistic tendencies. (Laughs.) 

6. Method

You belong to the twenty-five-string gayageum generation. Your generation of musicians has drawn a lot of attention to your instrument. You’re undoubtedly a leader in your field who balances performing and composition.

The twenty-five-string gayageum took off when I entered university. There were lots of opportunities to play the instrument on school grounds. Unlike the sanjo rhythms, however, nobody offered systematic instruction on playing the twenty-five-string gayageum. In many ways, my generation is much better acquainted than preceding generations with the twenty-five-string gayageum. We have also become more fluent in the piano and grew up experimenting with a variety of Western instruments.
There was sheet music for the twenty-five-string gayageum, but it didn’t provide any particular instructions when it came to playing. Every musician had to develop his or her own fingering method. I found this process engaging, and adjusted rather quickly. Picturing the notes in my head, I ruminated over the best possible way to play each note.
As I continued experimenting, I developed my own methods and techniques for playing the twenty-five-string gayageum. And those methods also influence my compositions. I never practice as if I’m playing a specific piece of music. When approaching the gayageum, I always think about how I’m going to release the energy through my fingers, and how to create vivid music that communicates my thoughts and feelings. That all comes back to the idea of communicating with the audience. When playing the twenty-five-string gayageum, your method becomes the method. 

7. Communication

People these days talk a lot about communication. Yet when it comes to you and the gayageum, it seems like a different type of communication. Musicians don’t use concrete words, so the messages hidden in their music are a different form of communication. It’s almost as if your music is calling out to your listeners and saying, “Let’s all be neighbors.”

That certainly is a big part of my music. I lived in Daechi-dong as a kid. The Daechi-dong of today is very different. My mother would sometimes be away when I came home from school, so I’d go to my neighbor’s house. I’d open their refrigerator and have a snack, and nothing was strange about that. Of course, sometimes neighbors came to our place. The lives we live today are completely different from thirty years ago. It brings new perspective to the concept of “neighbor.” I always try to bring a neighborly aspect to my music. 

 There seem to be multiple ways of communicating with neighbors. Sometimes communication can be serious, and sometimes it can be joking. (Laughs.) Your first album was quite a shock, when viewed from the perspective of conventional gugak. But it was more a shock of strangeness rather than newness. (Laughs.)

(Laughs.) That’s just what PARK, Gyeong-so is. I remember that first album well. When Cosmo Breeze (2010) came out, people I knew were saying things like, “Is this really what PARK, Gyeong-so is releasing as her first album?” Usually, the first album is a serious sanjo approach or composition, and after that you can release something that’s considered more playful. 

Yet at that time, that was the music that had captured me. That was PARK, Gyeong-so. I got the idea from CHOI, Yeong-jun, who was working on Oriental Express with me, and building on that idea to develop my own music was fun and valuable. 

It was different from the PARK, Gyeong-so I knew back then—as if I’d discovered the unrefined, slightly boorish version of PARK, Gyeong-so.

If there’s something that differentiated me from my peers, it’s that I was more musically open-minded. I am lucky and happy to be this way. I come from a family of musicians, so we all have a keen ear. We are sensitive to sounds, but are open-minded when it comes to music. I naturally fell in love with gugak and the gayageum, but I’ve always been open to other genres. I’m also interested in new forms. I’m a curious and nosy person at heart. 

▲ gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

gayageum performer PARK, Gyeong-so © LEE, Kang-hyeok

Outro.

Park can talk for hours. More accurately, her thoughts can go on for hours. As one thought leads to another, one can sense a consistent process of affirming and questioning her music. Conversing with her was like listening to an entire album, with songs that were similar yet different, conflicting yet consistent. While speaking with her on Daebudo Island, the place she now calls home, I felt it was a shame that all of the ideas we exchanged couldn’t become a musical hit. Fortunately, all of these ideas are latent within her music. If we listen more closely, we can perceive her emotional polarity, the masochistic playfulness combined with self-restraint—a solid structuralism complemented by emotional depth that only a musical math buff could pull off. 

As a critic, I’d like to get one thing straight. PARK, Gyeong-so’s music has one great peculiarity. It seems free-flowing and reckless, but there is a definite order behind it. Faithful to her appetites, she is definitely a “liberated” artist, but her music always considers the perspective of the listener. I think you could summarize Park’s music in one phrase: reckless yet disciplined, free but considerate.

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theApro <![CDATA[Broadening the Horizons of Korean Music]]> Broadening the Horizons of Korean Music
 


They are called the Near East Quartet (NEQ). Formed in 2010 with Song Sung-jae as its leader, the group has sought various crossovers between jazz and traditional Korean music. They claim to be in pursuit of a “new, future-oriented model,” as opposed to simple combinations or adherence to old ways. The quartet’s first album Chaosmos (2010) featured fresh musical styles and distinctive sounds, and was selected at the 7th Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS) in 2011 as a PAMS Choice piece. In 2015, the NEQ scouted Kim Yul-hee, who was named a “next-generation pansori master” by the National Theater of Korea, and released its second album Passing of Illusion. Recently, the quartet received the top award for crossover music in the jazz and crossovers category of the 13th Korean Music Awards. The Apro met with the NEQ, which comprises vocalist Kim Yul-hee, saxophonist Son Sung-jae, drummer Suh Soo-jin and guitarist Chung Su-wuk. Chung did most of the talking.

▲ The author with NEQ © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ The author with NEQ © Lee Kang-hyeok

What led you to form the NEQ in 2010?

We started working together in 2009. We wanted to try something completely different from what we had done until then. We looked at various genres that we had never explored before. There was gugak [traditional Korean music]. Mr. Son Sung-jae guided us to the world of gugak. Ms. Suh Soo-jin, a talented drummer, soon joined.
We weren’t planning on getting into gugak. We had only been in the jazz scene, but we had grown skeptical about reproducing mainstream jazz, which is basically American music. So we searched for other ways of expression, and came across gugak and traditional percussion. At first, we applied only an experimental dose of gugak to our music. It was after Ms. Kim Yul-hee joined that we could deal with gugak in depth. (Chung)

Your debut album Chaosmos is said to have opened new horizons for Korean jazz. What did you intend to achieve when you recorded it?

We wanted to show something new. The jazz is much more diverse now, but the local scene back then lacked variety. You need brand new things to bring change and richness. Add freshness is just as important as musical talent. After Chaosmos, we became aware of a broader spectrum. Crossover is a genre in itself. The gugak fusion genre grew exuberant. The album was a new attempt to look at jazz from the perspective of gugak and vice versa. (Chung)

▲ <Passing of Illusion> © NEQ

▲ <Passing of Illusion> © NEQ

The NEQ was selected for PAMS Choice at the Performing Arts Market in Seoul in 2011. What did this mean to you?

We have been selected for PAMS Choice with every new album. We are grateful about this. PAMS dug out a record that was not intended for commercial success and gave it new significance. It gave us a sense of duty to keep going. Having the first album selected greatly motivated us for the second album. It was possible because PAMS organizers took in interest in us. PAMS seems to be playing a key role [in encouraging artists]. (Chung) 

What led to the recording of your second album Passing of Illusions?

We learned from what we missed in the first album. We tried to be more faithful to our original intentions when we first started. (Chung)

Ms. Kim, would you share some impression on this new project?

In the world of gugak, ventures outside traditional gugak were rare. No one was interested in overseas performances. If you’re the top gugak musician in Korea, you’re the world’s best. I was too busy studying conventional gugak to think about other things. I had my first chance to encounter other genres when I took part in an event called MosaiKOREA 20141) in Surabaya, Indonesia. Jazz musicians had a different mindset. It felt like they belonged to a different world. While I was confused and culturally shocked, the whole experience was refreshing and made me want to feel free. I received an offer to join a new group. Being young, I was curious about other genres. I was half curious and half doubtful about whether I could do it. To blend with a different genre, I had to change my way of breathing. Unlike pansori, I couldn’t sing powerfully all the time. (Kim)

1) MosaiKOREA 2014, a concert in Surabaya, Indonesia, held in April 2014, co-hosted by the Surabaya city government and Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The event was organized and sponsored by the Korea Arts Management Service, the Korean Embassy and the Korean Cultural Center in Indonesia. Gugak and jazz musicians performed together at the concert, which was a chance to introduce a variety of Korean cultural content outside of K-pop. Kim Yul-hee participated in the event as a gugak artist and Chung Su-wuk as a jazz artist.

Ms. Suh, you joined while you were studying jazz drum in the U.S. What motivated you?

I made up my mind after I listened to NEQ’s second album. It was neither like gugak nor jazz. It was a completely new style. I personally did not like crossover music. But it was still fresh to me. I am not yet sure what I can do, but I hope to create something completely new. (Suh)

Could you describe the musical identity of NEQ? How will you balance gugak and jazz?

It is our goal to create a new style of music that is neither gugak nor jazz. We intend to be like a projector that projects the gugak and jazz we listened to. (Chung)

Can you share any memorable experience as a group – an episode from your overseas gigs, for example?

We went to Coutances in France early this year. It is a rural area in Normandy, about a four-hour drive from Paris. The president of German jazz label ACT took a bus all the way to Coutances to see our performance. We don’t know what the results of his visit will be, but that he came all that way for us was very encouraging. 

▲ Kim Yul-hee (vocal), Chung Su-wuk guitar) © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ Kim Yul-hee (vocal), Chung Su-wuk guitar) © Lee Kang-hyuk

How do you all go about an impromptu performance?

There is no sheet music for impromptus. It’s different every time you do it. But there is a format. Someone takes hold of the pendulum and puts everything in balance. I think that someone is Yul-hee. It’s different when it’s an instrumental, but when it’s a song, we trust and follow that pendulum. (Chung)

I knew the musical identity and direction of the NEQ, but being a pansori person accustomed to lyrics, I struggled to adapt myself. Frankly, I come under a lot of stress before every practice session. It is not easy to free myself from what I have learned, but I think a lot about how to unwind the gugak songs I have studied. (Kim)

The stress goes away when I arrive for practice. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t. The music we do isn’t something that has existed before. There are times when we think differently. We begin with accumulating the elements of what becomes a foundation, which is simple. But it’s different once the foundation is extended in length and breadth. We look inside and begin to see space. We had a bass in our first album, but in the second album, the drum plays the role of piano and bass. And Kim plays the kkwaenggwari or jing (traditional Korean gongs). (Chung)

▲ NEQ © Lee Kang-hyuk

▲ NEQ © Lee Kang-hyuk

What are your plans for the near future? Do you plan to perform abroad?

We start recording on December 19. We’re making new songs. We have a lot of work to do to incorporate what each of us has in mind. The new album will be our third, and could be our first on a different label. We have a concert in India in December. 

Other countries have the media, audience and venues to share music enjoyed even by a small number of people. Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, which was controversial for its strangeness at first, later became a classic. We want to open that sort of frontier. Instead of building on vertical layers of music, we want to widen the horizontal spectrum. To do this, we need to build a culture where seasoned musicians with strong fundamentals perform as session musicians. Naturally, I think more regular platforms like the Performing Arts Market in Seoul would help. (Chung)

Lately, I think that getting people to come from overseas to see us in Korea is more meaningful than performing abroad. It is important to expand our market. If there were clubs where we can do a proper 20- to 30-minute solo, it would give PAMS a boost. It’s hard to see immediate results, but I believe we can lay the grounds for improving Korean music across the board. (Chung)

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theApro <![CDATA[Lee Kyung-sung: the Director Who Captures Contemporary Issues in the Play]]> Lee Kyung-sung: the Director Who Captures Contemporary Issues in the Play
 


Can we truly understand others? Director Lee Kyung-sung once said, “We cannot truly understand others, unless we put ourselves in their shoes.” We put great emphasis on understanding and empathizing with others. Yet are human beings truly capable of sympathizing with the pain and suffering of others? Director Lee Kyung-sung and his theater group Creative VaQi have consistently posed questions regarding the realities our society faces; our perspectives of reality; and the multi-layered problems that are associated with these aspects.
For instance, Before After, his production released last year, received raving reviews from both audience members and critics, who remarked that it displayed the hallmarks of his directorial style. Drawing from memories of everyday life after an irrevocable tragedy, Lee explores the impact that traumatic events leave on people’s lives and the dichotomy of the event and our routine life. Along with the favorable review that the production effectively captured and appealed to the sentiments of Lee’s contemporaries, it received various theatre awards. I spoke with Director Lee to hear his thoughts on theater and Before After, which has been selected for this year’s PAMS Choice.   

▲ Interviewer and director Lee Kyung-Sung © Park Ye-lim

▲ Interviewer and director Lee Kyung-Sung © Park Ye-lim

Your work Before After has been selected for 2016 PAMS Choice, which schedules you to participate in this year’s Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS). Was there any special reason that motivated you to participate?

I experienced PAMS firsthand last year through a forum related to international exchange. I got a good impression from the experience, as I saw delegates from all over the world connecting through the performing arts. I’d wanted to partake in PAMS, but the release dates of my productions never seemed to coincide with the PAMS schedule. I think that PAMS has evolved into an intriguing event, thanks to the extensive involvement of major producers and artists in Korea. I was searching for ways for my creative group to get involved and finally decided to apply for the PAMS Choice this year. Referring this one-time involvement as a form of international exchange may be too grandiose, but it marks a starting point, as I plan to seek more opportunities to work with other cultures starting next year.

Creative VaQi presents works through creative collaborations. Some even say that the creative process itself is the main method and strength of Creative VaQi. I think that a series of process and experiences has brought you to where you are now. Would you like to tell us a little bit about your creative processes as well as briefly introduce your theatre group, Creative VaQi?

I would say that Creative VaQi is a group of people who constantly discuss relevant issues from our contemporary world, issues we can contemplate together. Plays are our medium of choice, through which we try to communicate with the audience. Instead of creating works that are mechanically consumed in a simplistic manner, we constantly try to devise ways to create plays that inspire the audience to think about the relationship they form with the world and other people, as well as the ways they can live a better life.

I believe the creative process of an artist is linked to the way he or she forms a relationship with the world. As a theater artist and creator, the traditional method of building a performance from a given text, written primarily by a playwright, was somewhat limiting and insufficient in resolving my creative desires. That is how we sought out a so-called collaborative creative process for our productions, through which we discovered and developed possibilities for a diverse range of expression. It is important for us to see how the thoughts and opinions of participants in the collaborative process collide, expand to other areas, and transform into a stage language, to be ultimately conveyed to the audience. Hence, everyone becomes a writer, conducting interviews, research, discussions, and presentations before beginning the actual writing process. Then I coordinate the results to create scenes and provide structure.

I roughly call this a collaborative creative process in the sense that I collaborate with the members of my group, but I am still looking for a more suitable term to describe the process. We communicate with one another as separate creative identifies, continually discovering various differences and conflicts, to accomplish a common goal. What is fortunate for us as a creative group is that, with time, the interests and concerns of each member increasingly resemble those of the others’ as the project progresses.

▲ Seoul Practice: Model House, Namsan Documenta © Doosan Art Center, Creative VaQi

Seoul Practice: Model House, Namsan Documenta © Doosan Art Center, Creative VaQi

You take on social events that are still ongoing as your subject matter, which in turn, endows your productions with shared links. Hence, your audiences sense that your plays are closely connected to our reality, and the boundaries between your plays and real life are blurred. Could you tell us more about your artistic evolution? I think it will give us a better understanding.

Between 2008 and 2010, I made some deliberate attempts to experiment and find methods that suited me as a director. I have experimented with physical theater, object theater, and performances that are specific to certain spaces. Looking back to that period, I remember something a critic said about my experimentations: “He is a director who is clueless about what he should be experimenting with.” It made me think, Am I really that clueless? It’s a criticism experimental people and groups typically face in their creative development

In the early stage of my experimentations, I tried tearing down the theater walls, so to speak. I used a crosswalk, a public plaza, a private residence, and a hotel room as my stage, performing in everyday spaces. By using actual living spaces, I wanted people to (re-)experience a certain moment in their lives so as to look back on parts that they may have overlooked. The Moving Exhibition (2009); Let Us Move Your Sofa (2010); The History of Gangnam: Epic of Our Spec.tacle (2011); 24 Hours: The Rite of Night (2011)—these are the plays that were developed and performed in that context.
I also introduced the Theatre Practice series, in which we examined a wide variety of issues and events in contemporary society. True to the sentiment that “a play is a practice of life,” I produced the following plays: Seoul Practice: Model, House (2013); Practice of Theatre: Character Version (2013); Namsan Documenta (2014). I also grappled with the role of play and theater, in which the following questions mainly captivated me: Can plays really deal with reality? How can plays penetrate into the domains of life? In an attempt to answer these questions, I came to think of contemporary issues. 

On that note, let us move on to the topic of the “contemporariness” of plays. I feel that it is something you zealously value and struggle with. I would also like you to relate the topic to your experiences performing overseas.

The Conversations, which was performed at Festival/Tokyo in 2014, portrays the process of which actors with completely different life experiences interacting with a seventy-four-year-old lady. Issues of generational conflicts, history, and political consciousness resulted in some meaningful communication with the audience within the cultural context of Japan. The audience was quite calm throughout the performance, yet we found out later that they launched into heated debates afterward, pouring their comments onto Twitter.

 We were also invited to perform it at Festival Theatreformen in Germany this past June. We received much feedback that compared our work to the so-called documentary theater of Germany. While productions in the latter genre are often very dry, they said, our play was incredibly rational yet conveyed a sense of melancholy, which was an unfamiliar and interesting experience for the German audience. Of course, there were certain parts that could not be effectively conveyed due to cultural differences. For example, the discord between the old lady and her daughter-in-law was something derived from specific cultural situations.

Yet, as the festival featured numerous works from many cultures, the programs were structured to allow the audience to approach the performances in a multilateral fashion. Historical briefings and context were provided ahead of the performance, and there was also a 30-minute talk with the artistic director prior to the first show in the lobby, creating a somewhat relaxed atmosphere where wine was served. Also, the directors conducted 40-minute workshops on stage for audience members who signed up in advance. All these programs were prepared to open the audience’s mind prior to their viewing, familiarizing them with the director’s preferences, what they dream about and grapple with. Through multiple stages of preparation, I worked with the festival organizers to find better ways for the audience to approach a performance which came from a cultural context other than theirs. I did not want to just pack up and leave after giving one ready-made performance. I wanted a more substantial exchange.

Also in May 2016, I was invited to the International Forum at The Berliner Theatertreffen, where I saw for myself that many writers and directors all over the world are creating plays in difficult social or political conditions. A female director from India was creating pieces that reflected her resistance against India’s male-dominated society; another director from Belgium, who originally an Iraqi refugee, returned to Bagdad to produce street theater in Bagdad, where suicide bombings can occur at any time. When viewed according to the aesthetic standards of contemporary European art, their works may not appear sophisticated in form or content. However, I began to wonder if they fall short at all according to the standards of contemporary art.

Taking into account the artists’ background and their artistic integrity, I thought they were creating something meaningful that could convey the social context to which they belonged. The contemporariness of art, I think, derives from the artists’ realization of where they come from. It comes from their observations of the problems their society currently faces and their endeavors to communicate them through art. 

▲ Before After © Creative VaQi

Before After © Creative VaQi

Last year, you made quite a stir and received fervent responses from both critics and the audience with Before After, which has also been selected for 2016 PAMS Choice. I also heard that you are scheduled to give an encore performance of that piece this year. Would you tell us a little about the play and how you feel differently as a creator about this year’s performance compared to last year’s premiere.

Before After started from the tragic Sewol Ferry disaster of 2014, which has brought so much pain and sadness. The question that triggered me to create the work was this: Is it possible for us human beings to truly communicate with other human beings, and feel the pain of others as our own? I also reread Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others while working on the play. To me, it seemed almost impossible for people to sympathize with and tend to others’ pain and suffering, unless they had gone through something similar. However, I also felt that being silent about others’ pain may give rise to more misunderstanding and insensitivity. I could say that these paradoxes and sources of tension are catalysts to the creative process.

I believe that social solidarity comes from acutely feeling others’ pain. Instead of providing a logical explanation, I wanted to remind people of the reality that, despite our deep connection with others, we are often insensitive and negligent to others and their pain. Doing that seemed to be the role of art and artists. The audience seemed to empathize with our message.

We cannot help becoming less sensitive about and even forgetting painful memories with time; but for that very reason, I felt we needed some tools and devices to connect us consciously to tragedies and to our memories. In that regard, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to give an encore performance of Before After this year. Between the premiere and the encore performances, I produced a new play called Talking about Her, one that incorporated interviews with the victims’ families. With that added experience, I feel that I have widened my scope and have approached the issue with more depth.

▲ Lee Director Kyung-sung © Doosan Art Center

▲ Lee Director Kyung-sung © Doosan Art Center

Now, this is my final question. What is your mindset in presenting your work under PAMS Choice?

I feel that viewing PAMS Choice as an opportunity to merely expand overseas may not be the best objective and mindset when preparing for this event. I would regard PAMS more as a field in which the participants can partake in diverse range of aesthetic and social discourse. I hope that our performance can resonate more with the participants and audience through the forums and meetings held throughout the event. I would not want the forums and meetings to be one thing and the performances to be another, something irrelevant to the PAMS discourse. Of course, earning an opportunity to reach a wider audience in other cultures is wonderful, but more important is the delegates visiting Korea feel the presence of active dialogue in the performing arts of contemporary Korea.

Director Lee Kyung-sung and his creative group Creative VaQi invite us to actively discuss their works. The questions he asks through his plays make us realize what we are and who we are in the present day. He continues to make us affirm the possibility of the performing arts as an experimental channel to rethink about the nature of performance. A young director who constantly wrestles with the role of theater and plays—I await with keen interest and curiosity to see where he turns his gaze next. 

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[The Phantasmal Moments That Plunge You into Contradiction]]> The Phantasmal Moments That Plunge You into Contradiction
 


Established in 2003, Theatre Momggol is Korea’s most distinguished street art troupe. Its 2016 production Bad Impulse is the company’s third work to be selected for PAMS Choice, following Orpheus (2005 PAMS Choice) and Handcart, Overturned (2006 PAMS Choice). We met and spoke with company founder and artistic director Yoon Jong-yeon at the troupe’s rehearsal room in Mullae-dong

▲ 필자와 윤종연 대표 © 이강혁

▲ The author with Artistic Director Yoon Jong-yeon © Lee Kang-hyeok

You’re also the artistic director of the Ansan Street Arts Festival, but you look a lot younger than we expected. When and how did you get involved with theater?

I was twenty years old when I first attended a workshop held by Yoo Jin-gyu. Mr. Yoo announced that he was starting mime again after a brief hiatus, and opened a workshop in Boljae Studio, near Gongan Small Theater. He said he was going to start a company after the workshop, so I joined as its youngest member for about a year. Afterward, I went to the UK to study corporeal mime for around three years. A year after I got back, when I was around twenty-nine years old, I started Theatre Momggol.  

So you got your start when Korean street arts were taking off.

Street theater was exactly what Yoo Jin-gyu was attempting back then. It was very simple at first. It started with small conversations about how to transform objects d’art and capture the attention of passersby, and it grew from there. In ’94, we teamed up with members of the mime association to establish the Chuncheon International Mime Festival. Originally, it was a small project intended to instigate exchange between Japanese and Korean artists. We did a lot of interesting outdoor projects in the mid-’90s. We performed in the lobby of Yonkang Hall at Doosan Art Center. We also set up a scaffold on the stage of ARKO Arts Theater, planted various dolls among the seats, and did a performance that started in the lobby and progressed to the stage. We even did a reenactment of the assassination of Empress Myeongseong at Gyeongbokgung Palace. We didn’t have a permit, so we just performed in various spots around the palace trying not to get caught. The choreographer then was Shin Yeong-cheol, who is now part of a troupe called no name. I was shocked that we could put on shows like that. When discussing the evolution of Korean street performances, I think it’s important to talk about productions before the advent of events like the Gwacheon Festival or the Ansan Street Arts Festival. Examining those early performances will give us a richer perspective.

It seems that you had a rich base of resources when you founded Momggol.

We started out in a rehearsal studio near Saejeol Station. I was young and in high spirits, and enjoyed showing off, so I redid the floor myself, applying my experience in building a studio in England. Although I had to tear it all out when we left, I found our current studio in Mullae-dong, where we’ve been stationed for about ten years. I wanted to be closer to Daehangno but didn’t have the money. Lately, more artists have moved into the area, but it was quite desolate back then. Most buildings in the area had a factory on the first floor and a second floor full of trash and discarded materials. We did a fair amount of construction on this place, and have lasted this long.
Before I studied in England, I was interested in external factors, formal techniques that could beef up content, and decorative elements—much more so than abstract concepts like "truth" and "justice." Even with physical language, I was more concerned with the shapes of movements that occurred by chance, and continued my training to be able to extract those moments. That’s what the ggol, which means "shape," in Momggol ("body shape") embodies, an emphasis on the external elements. Of course, my ideas have changed since then.

Any particular turning points?

There were probably a lot, but I think street performances comprised the main one. For early productions like Orpheus and Handcart, Overturned, I performed on a stage. For street performances, however, I had to encounter different ways of living, underwent interviews that were more theatrical than theater itself, and witnessed phantasmagoric visions that seemed to float above the city—all of which changed my approach to dance. Meeting different people made me think about the relationships that form between people, about the driving force behind human movement, which naturally led me to social issues and the current generation, the stories of contemporary humanity.

When I randomly saw a Momggol performance at a festival, I was quite struck by the phenomenal bodily language and the grand-scale mise-en-scène.

In the early days, I trained my performers so hard that it almost qualified as exploitation. Rigorous training was the most important thing back then. Rather than focusing on simple movements and technique, I endlessly explored how their bodies interacted with the surrounding physical realities and the contradictions that I could extract from such interactions. I think that by using an unfamiliar viewpoint to perceive objects that are rife with spatial and temporal contradictions, we can set in motion poetic, phantasmagoric moments. In those moments, the audience falls into a theatrical phantasm. The performers are suddenly sucked under the bedcovers, which transform them as if throwing them into a bog so that they take on the appearance of an island. Those are the transformative moments that I sought to extract. I think that the uncompromising movements and physical training that we underwent formed the base of our potential. Since then, we’ve emerged to the surface to start thinking about daily routines, contemporary society, and our lives in this era. To be honest, I got really ambitious after getting some attention, and produced some grand-scale productions that I’m not so proud of anymore. Now, I think who you meet and where you meet is more important than mass appeal and large crowds. Of course, visually appealing performances are always good for the street, but it’s most important to find ways to better communicate with the audience.  

Some performers have been with Theatre Momggol for a long time, yes?

To me, a single performer like that is worth a hundred temporary performers. They understand the original vision and mission of our early days, but can still keenly perceive the direction and goals of our current projects, so we can work together fluidly without having to say much. There was a time when I sought to meet new performers and perspectives through different workshops and methodology seminars, but I’ve lately seen the hidden potential and power beneath all the years of trust I’ve built with my most loyal performers. 

▲ <불량충동> © 극단 몸꼴

▲ Bad Impulse © Theatre Momggol

About Bad Impulse

About Bad Impulse, what kind of production is it?

In 2013, we were given an open studio by the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center, which supported our production in showcase format. What we completed then we performed at last year’s Hi Seoul Festival and Goyang Lake-Park Arts Festival. After those two festivals, we toned it down and perfected it. What we created was something that offered more delicate textures, a spatial quality, controlling the work’s density in a fresh way. Turning away from massively flashy spectacles, we focused on subtle, clandestine movements. What first resulted was Orpheus. However, taking a ten-year-old relic from our past and putting it on contemporary stages for the sake of nostalgia made for a cluttered, clumsy process. So we decided to keep the tools and material but add our grievances and discontent, and the result was Bad Impulse. The ladder, one of the objects d’art of Bad Impulse, and its movements represent insatiable desires and greed that only grow as one chases them, thus creating anxiety that leads to regressive behavior and impulses. We also show extreme decisions like suicide, seeking to explore the results of such choices. I’ll be performing in the upcoming production. I started out as a dancer, so to move around with the cast allows me to communicate in a new way. 

Theatre Momggol is also known for its unconventional applications of large-scale objets d’art. Would you tell us more about the ladder in Bad Impulse?

The most important thing to consider when selecting an objet d’art, actually, is the dancer. Thinking about objects or materials isn’t inspiring. Imagining a dancer’s place in relation to the object, however, effectively turns the object into a theatrical device. That’s how we arrived at the ladder for Bad Impulse. Ladders are usually stationary and can only be climbed when stable, so we created a production around an unstable ladder. In Handcart, Overturned, I decided to employ a handcart after imagining dancers being placed in positions that differed from everyday life. 

Your productions were selected for PAMS Choice in 2005 and 2006, and again this year. What has changed in your approach?

Being selected for PAMS Choice brought many benefits. Truthfully, when the market first started out, the idea of turning my work into a sales pitch was unfamiliar and discomforting. Yet I experienced something while performing abroad. It’s similar to what I learned while working as artistic director: Creating a good production is important, but it’s also important to share your artistic vision with festival and company organizers and formulate creative relationships. It’s important to consider what you want to give people, since we’re not creating a material good or tangible product.

Multiple Perspectives

As the head of one of Korea’s premier street performance companies, what do you anticipate for the future of Korean street arts?

Street performances have developed significantly, and now capture the interest of cultural policy makers, and I think perspectives regarding street performances are continually diversifying. The words and formats associated with "street arts" or "street performances" still haven’t been accurately defined, as the scene keeps changing. These days, I actually think it’s more important to continue broadening our spectrum to absorb more forms and approaches, as opposed to firmly sticking to a certain form. In fact, the very word "street" has always contained a wide range of meanings. I believe it’s necessary to interpret the genre so that it can grow in as several fields. For example, you could approach it from a hip-hop or artistic perspective, or you could craft a production in the name of civic responsibility, which would open up a whole new path for street performances.   

What’s in store for Theatre Momggol in the near future?

This year, we’ll perform our production The Grave Faraway at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival, the Hi Seoul Festival, and the Goyang Lake-Park Arts Festival. We’ll alter the format depending on whether it’s an onstage or outdoor performance. We’ll also continue working on a collaborative production with B-Floor Theatre in Thailand, which we started last year. The director of B-Floor Theatre is interested in the issue of censorship. The military junta, the royal family, and religious authorities put severe restrictions on freedom of expression for artists. That’s why he’s so interested in freedom of expression. He’s also done a lot of research on the subject. Last year, we headed a co-production that covered the issue and performed it at the Bangkok Theatre Festival. This time, the Thai company will lead the operation. I’m interested in a long-term partnership, and am curious to see how our perspectives will merge next year. 

▲ Director Yoon Jong-yeon © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Director Yoon Jong-yeon © Lee Kang-hyeok

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[Choreographer Ahn Sungsoo, a Creator with a Singular Style]]> Choreographer Ahn Sungsoo, a Creator with a Singular Style
 


At this year’s PAMS Choice, the Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group, partaking in the showcase for the third time, will present its latest work, Immixture. Grounded in traditional Korean music and dance traditions, Immixture recently premiered at Chaillot National Theater in Paris. While many of Ahn’s works have garnered praise overseas, the response to Immixture was especially enthusiastic. Ahn, who started the group while attending the Julliard School and began his career as a professional dancer based in New York, has walked a different path than is typical in the dance culture of Korea. He has also developed his own inimitable style. Ahn, who says his work on Immixture involved listening to almost everything sung by master singer Kim So-hee, of whom he has long been a fan, talked to us about his latest work and about who he’s become as a choreographer. 

▲ Interviewer Yim Su-jin and choreographer Ahn Sung-soo © Lee Gang-hyuk

▲ Interviewer Yim Su-jin and choreographer Ahn Sung-soo © Lee Gang-hyuk

You started the Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group twenty years ago and lead it to this day. What motivated you to start the group, and what were its early days like?

When I was a student at Julliard, we often had showcases at school. If you were interested in creating an original work, you could present it at the showcase. My projects were well received by my peers and teachers. Around the same time, I auditioned for the Fresh Tracks performance and residency program, run by Dance Theater Workshop, and I was selected. What I created then became the first professional performance of the Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group. While in school, I collaborated with my fellow students, and once out of school, I collaborated with professional dancers. I began to focus more intently on how music could be expressed, so I mostly met and worked with dancers who were quick and agile.

You got into dance relatively late.

I attended Sogang University for about a year and a half as a journalism and broadcasting major before leaving to do my military service. Afterward, I went to the United States to study film at the University of Miami. But after a year and a half there, I realized I didn’t particularly enjoy theory-based classes. One day, I was exercising after class, and a friend who knew I was concerned about some stiffness in my body recommended I take a ballet class, for the stretching. That was how I ended up taking my first dance class. In the beginning, I mostly just did the stretching, but out of curiosity, I started taking other classes. It was a fantastic feeling to move my body and create something in the process.  

So you were taught to dance for the first time as an adult. Did it feel awkward at all, moving your body like that?

It’s true that dance can look difficult, in a way that’s sort of hard to define, but when I first started, I was learning things that could be taught and explained on paper—height, timing, speed. It wasn’t about technique—doing high kicks, for example—like it is in Korea. It was fun. 

And it was after this that you went to New York?

When I was at the University of Miami, a dance professor from Julliard visited our school, and he took an interest in me. A year later, auditions for Julliard were held at our school, and I was admitted on a scholarship. That was how I officially got started dancing. I graduated from Julliard in three years, and I was active as a professional dancer for about five years, with my base in New York. My company grew in size, and we attracted considerable attention. After a final performance at the Joyce Theater, I returned to Korea. 

Did you have works performed in New York that were especially memorable?  

There was a program at the American Dance Festival that matched choreographers with composers. I was selected to be one such choreographer and worked together with the composer and dancers for four weeks. I have special memories of the piece we created then, BIM. Like my work today, BIM was first and foremost about elements of music, and height, direction, and pace, rather than a specific story. 

The dance culture in Korea, which centers on universities, is not the environment in which you developed as a choreographer. The way you work is different, as is what you produce. In a way, you’ve taken the otherwise uniform Korean dance scene in a new direction.

I had a mentor to show me the way—the late Benjamin Harkarvy, who was director of the Julliard Dance School and founder of the Nederlands Dans Theater. One thing, though, that made him different from teachers in Korea, is that he never “taught” me choreography. He simply gave me suggestions. For example, he suggested I work on a piece to present at the Holland Dance Festival, but during the process, he didn’t come by and make this or that suggestion or interfere in any way. He didn’t even ask to see it before the premiere. So I wasn’t explicitly influenced by anyone else; I did everything on the basis of my own experience. This might be something that differentiates me from dance as it’s done in Korea.  

You’re currently a professor in the Department of Choreography at Korea National University of Arts. Do you find that your experiences as a student have affected the way you, as an educator, teach your own students?

Yes. I don’t give my students direct instruction. Over my eighteen years of teaching, probably fewer than ten students have received direct instruction from me on what I know. I focus on teaching my students one thing: how to survive as a dancer. Because it’s not easy. I tell them to strive not to become “someone who choreographs dances” but to become creators—to not simply come up with motions but actually become people who can take their thoughts and give them concrete expression. As a matter of fact, quite a few students in our graduate programs don’t dance professionally, yet they are the ones who understand what this kind of creation is about

▲ Choreographer Ahn Sung-soo © Lee Gang-hyuk

▲ Choreographer Ahn Sung-soo © Lee Gang-hyuk

Do you give your students feedback after you watch their performances?

I do go and watch the performances, but I never voice my opinions. They can only get to know things through their own experiences—my telling them won’t do anything. What I do tell them is to not be too greedy, and to try to see things the way the audience would. With movies, for example, you have movies that are fun to watch and those that aren’t. So think about what the fun movies have in common, I say. And I do this myself as well. When you’re too greedy, your explanations get longer, and ultimately your work just becomes boring. 

You’ve collaborated successfully with local and foreign artists in other genres. You’ve worked multiple times with designer Jung Ku-ho as a producer-choreographer pair; you’ve worked with Yoon Seong-joo, artistic director of the National Dance Company of Korea, and you’ve also worked with Finnish artists. How have these experiences shaped you as a choreographer?

What I like about collaboration is that it’s like building a house. I do this over here, you do that over there, but neither person trespasses on the other’s area of expertise. It’s about two people coming together to achieve the best outcome, so to make that outcome good, you have to be willing to put aside your own ways of doing things and respect each other’s domains.  

You’ve participated from time to time in festivals and art markets outside Korea. Where have you performed, and what has the local response been like?

After we presented Rose (The Rite of Spring) at a previous PAMS Choice, we were invited to Poland, and we also toured various European theaters for a total of fifteen days doing two showcases with Kore-A-Moves, a program organized by the International Performing Arts Project. We were selected to perform at CINARS in Canada, and that got us an invitation to perform in Mexico. More recently, we performed Immixture at Chaillot National Theater in Paris. We’ve always had a very positive response. People liked Rose for its dynamism, Bolero for the Korean elements, and Body Concerto for the jazziness. But Immixture has earned the most enthusiastic response, maybe because it has the most traditional elements.  

▲ Immixture © Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group

Immixture © Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group

You will be performing Immixture at PAMS Choice. Tell us more about it.  

Jarmo Penttila, programmer at the Chaillot National Theater, visited Korea multiple times over a few years. He was planning a commemorative event for the 130th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic ties, and he had seen almost every single production. Having seen my work three years before, he asked me if I could create something new. I had a lot of conversations with him, and in light of the nature of the event, we decided the piece should be one that would show people Korea. To that end, I listened to a tremendous amount of traditional Korean music. I purchased and listened to almost everything sung by master singer Kim So-hee, whom I’ve personally always admired. I used music that wasn’t common, as well as Middle Eastern percussion sounds that I incorporate regularly in my work. I based it on the traditional arm motions used in Korean dance, with some modifications, and added swords as props. We used four dancers with backgrounds in traditional Korean dance and one dancer with experience with hip-hop. Immixture is basically a gut [shamanistic ritual], specifically one to mourn those who have died unjustly, as a result of terrorism, for example.  

What movements are part of this “mixed” dance?

Movements I like very much. I like to collaborate with dancers. To explain our work process, for example, I’ll explain the overall gist to Jang Kyung-min, our hip-hop dancer, who will then do a spontaneous dance. Then I’ll have the traditional dancers do something. I record this on video, then go home and see which parts need to be changed, and let the dancers know. In the case of Immixture, it took three years to get from the development stage to the premiere.  

In the past few years, mostly new and up-and-coming choreographers have been selected to perform at PAMS Choice. While their ideas are fresh, in terms of mastery, there are still some things lacking. So I, for one, am very glad that the Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group will also be featured this year. What are your thoughts?

I’m very pleased. I share the view that we should try to support younger choreographers as much as possible, but I’m also working hard on my projects, and hoping to do overseas tours. So it’s an excellent opportunity to be part of PAMS Choice. For touring, PAMS Choice is extremely helpful. You can attract the interest of buyers, and if you get an invitation, your airfare is covered. These days, it’s hard to participate in festivals if your airfare is not covered. We were able to perform Rose (The Rite of Spring) overseas numerous times thanks to PAMS Choice. This year as well, we’re hoping for good outcomes with Immixture.

▲ Choreographer Ahn Sungsoo © Lee Gang-hyuk

▲ Choreographer Ahn Sungsoo © Lee Gang-hyuk

What are your future plans for performing in and outside Korea?  

I always plan in ten-year blocks. It’s worked for me thus far. For my final ten years, I plan to do choreography for foreign dance companies. In a sense, my roots are with Western companies, and in my work with them, I want to communicate Korean culture. My choreography is different now, twenty years later, from when I started out in New York. I’d like to work with companies in Europe with prowess in Western techniques. I’m taking steps in this direction, with an eye to the long term. I have a meeting planned for this year with internationale tanzmesse nrw. What’s important with this kind of collaboration is timing, and now seems like a good time. Right now, Europe wants Asia. More than simply working on performances with European companies, I want to make something Western that is intermixed with things Korean. That’s my plan as of now. 

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[Park Soon-ho’s "acomodador" style of choreography]]> Park Soon-ho’s "acomodador" style of choreography 


Park’s delicate sensibilities and insight allow him to draw inspiration from indigenous genres such as pansori and traditional percussion and fuse them into modern movements, and to borrow from competitive activities with rigid rules like judo and baduk to craft free-flowing modifications. He is a choreographer whose dynamic and precise movements are meticulously calculated, and who is frequently invited to festivals and theaters in Korea and around the world. He studied choreography at the European Dance Development Center (EDDC), collaborates with international residencies, explores media art and other outside genres, and partakes in various community programs, always expanding his creative and professional realm. In 2007 he launched the Park Soon-ho Dance Project, renamed the Bereishit Dance Company in 2012. He established himself as a formidable choreographer two years later, when he joined forces with LIG Art Hall to direct Judo and Bow, or his “sports series.” Rich in fascinating movement and objets d’art, Judo was selected as the PAMS Choice performance for the 2016 Seoul Art Market.
We spoke with Park in July to discuss his views on dance. His deliberative speech patterns and timid reluctance to go onstage at the curtain call are in stark contrast to the provocative energy that suffuses his performances, recalling Zatoichi, Japan’s famous blind swordsman. Just as the silent Zatoichi speaks through his blade, Park lets his dance speak for itself. Still, I asked him a few questions in the hope that he would answer in a language I could capture on paper.

The author with Director Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ The author with Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

Do you get a lot of questions about the name, Bereishit? What does it mean?

Bereishit is the first word in the first verse of the Book of Genesis. In fact, bereishit literally means “genesis.” B’reshith, beresheet—there are many ways to pronounce it, but I opt for “bereishit.” I’m areligious, but I liked the feeling of the word. Going beyond religious connotations, the meaning of “in the beginning” seems to imply a creative act and the energy it contains. I get many questions about the name of our company overseas as well, but I think people will get used to it as we gain exposure.         

Would you tell us about your company and the projects you’ve undertaken so far?

Our company comprises five alumni from Hansung University. We started off as the Park Soon-ho Dance Project in 2007, when we were invited to perform at Festival Trayectos in Zaragoza, Spain, but as I did more overseas tours people suggested that I give the company a different name. Since 2012, we have been the Bereishit Dance Company. We used our 2007 performance in Spain to further our international repertoire with shows in Mexico, the UK, and India. Our domestic output has been sluggish, as I haven’t released that many new works. So far, my résumé consists of Life Force, Balance and Imbalance, Bow, and Judo—so it’s not much.

Doing several shows with a limited repertoire may indicate that your company strives to achieve a higher level of quality. Korea’s current support programs usually favor new works. Yet perfecting one’s existing repertoire is equally important, and I hope your efforts will be rewarded one day.

I agree. In fact, continually perfecting a single piece is how I prefer to work. I can’t do several pieces simultaneously. Even if the same piece is invited to several different venues, it’s never the same performance. I always try to develop it further. Of course, the dancers often struggle with this way of doing things. But as the piece evolves, it attracts more people, and their applause helps us better understand the meaning of the piece and to approach it from different angles. Lately, my dancers have been more understanding, and I’m satisfied with our results. In the Korean scene, it’s common for pieces to be performed for a short period and disappear. It’s disappointing when your dedication isn’t rewarded.

What sort of image do you want for Bereishit, and how do you perceive the company personally?

They say you need four things to live: work, love, play, and companionship. The years I’ve spent with my dancers have made them like family. If asked to describe our artistic style, I’d say that we’re a company that interprets tradition from a modern perspective. Seeing the images others impose upon us is like rediscovering a different version of myself. I’ve seen several American media outlets refer to us as “urban cool,” calling our work chic. They’ve described us as fast and full of energy, something I wasn’t consciously aware of. It was fascinating and made me think. So this is how other people see us.

▲ Judo © Bereishit Dance Company

▲ Judo © Bereishit Dance Company

Let’s move on to Judo. I remember the initial performances having a great deal of alluring dances and interesting objets d’art. As the choreographer, would you tell us what kind of piece Judo is?

The initial inspiration for Judo came from something I read about foxhunting, which made me think that aggressiveness and violence are inherent to sports and competition. Our violent instincts survive in the modern world under the banner of sports. While investigating the nature of violence, I visited Auschwitz after seeing a show in Poland. The horrific events there happened a long time ago, but it was still spooky. Just as biologists claim that violence is a natural instinct for survival, I started the project under the notion that violence in the modern world may be lesser in quantity but that its quality remains unchanged. What interested me about judo was its use of a mat, which I thought of applying as an objet d’art for the stage. That’s how it all got started. 

Some judo imagery appears, but most of the story seems to be expressed metaphorically. What did you want to tell the audience?

To be honest, the initial performances at LIG Art Hall felt incomplete, like an unsolved equation. I did a lot of research on movement, the ideas behind each scene and object, and the lighting and sound, but I couldn’t figure out how to expose the audience to human violence (through dance, of course). The answer to that riddle marks the zenith, and the following emotional response was supposed to be my way of communicating with the audience. Truthfully, I still haven’t figured it out. I want to go beyond the nature of competition and elicit an emotional reaction from the audience when they witness the athletes’ journey to their peak. I’m trying to determine how the talents of professional dancers can express such a journey.

How does it feel to approach your third performance for PAMS Choice?

PAMS Choice is more than simply an international showcase for Korean works. It’s a solid support structure that helps small companies like ours transcend the limitations of the domestic market and perform on international stages. Every time we perform abroad, we have received invitations from other international presenters who were present at a PAMS Choice event. Entering new markets is important, because it determines the livelihoods of companies and dancers. PAMS Choice will continue to play an important role in the international market. Counting our upcoming performance, the platform has given us three opportunities to perform overseas, and each opportunity has boosted our morale. For that I am grateful.

Recently, Korean performances have become more focused on smaller companies, making it easier to gain opportunities overseas. Thus, many productions are planned with the objective of making it to international audiences. You could say that people have higher standards for PAMS Choice these days. Organizers and artists have to operate under the same vision, and recruiting outside expertise also seems essential. What do you hope to achieve through Judo at this year’s PAMS Choice?

Through PAMS Choice, we can keep perfecting our productions through repeated performances, in turn creating a virtuous cycle of more invitations. Our company even landed a deal with an American management firm. Our first step into the vast American market was through Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, which led to even more work. One of our main goals was not only to perform abroad but to be recruited for international collaborations, and that’s what happened. I hope this year’s PAMS Choice leads to similar opportunities.           

Do you think about maintaining a balance between overseas tours and domestic performances?

Of course, I keep that in mind. That’s why I planned a program to perform in culturally marginalized regions throughout Korea, which we started implementing last year. Last year, we did ten performances in places like retirement homes and youth centers in marginalized communities, and we completed five performances in the first half of this year. While it’s nice to perform within the dance scene, I’m very pleased with our community projects as well.

▲ Director Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

What’s it like to live in Korea as a choreographer?  

Truth be told, I actually considered quitting choreography this year. On the surface, I’m busy holding shows all over the world, but I often despaired at having to constantly switch between the roles of choreographer and administrator. My original goal was to become a choreographer, but one day I discovered myself being calculating, looking at the market from a business-and-administration standpoint. What’s the point in doing this if I’m going to make my fellow dancers nervous with financial matters? I think it’s the conflict between reality and idealism that everyone encounters.  

How did you resolve that conflict?

I haven’t. I’m still in the midst of overcoming it. The same inner conflict resulted in the production Bow. While producing Bow during those tough times, I learned about the Portuguese word “acomodador.” It means “to adjust or control,” something essential to archery. But as time went on, I started to look at the word differently. I interpreted it as directing my concentration inward. Rather than living through the subconscious or on pure instinct, I realized I needed to concentrate entirely on my inner self and examine it properly.

What are your hopes for the future?

Personally, I think I’ll eventually reach a point where I want to quit choreography. Since I’ve done nothing but choreography for more than forty years, I think it’s a good idea to do something else for the next forty years. The Bereishit Dance Company will become stable enough that it won’t need me anymore. So far, I’ve led the company single-handedly, and it’d be nice to focus entirely on dance for a change. And I hope to let my dancers gain valuable experience within the company that will help them grow as choreographers. Honestly, we’re all thinking realistically at this point. We’re satisfied with where we are, but we’re prepared to say farewell and part ways in good spirits should the company disband. Eventually, everyone will have to survive as independent choreographers, but we have decided to accept that path. 

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[Kim Hyo-young’s Music Combines the “New” and the “Now”]]> Saenghwang and Piri Player Kim Hyo-young
Kim Hyo-young’s Music Combines the “New” and the “Now”


These days, the traditional music scene mainly revolves around the idea of “auteurism.” Today’s most popular artists no longer simply “play” music; they “make” it to accommodate their respective instruments, and they inspire composers to personally tailor pieces according to their preferences, as if placing an order. Saenghwang and piri player Kim Hyo-young seems to embody the quintessence of such individual creation in today’s performing arts.
Up until only a few years ago, the gugak scene was in an era of melodies and harmonies. The haegeum’s singing melodies and the harmonies of the gayageum’s strings were all the rage. Now, however, trends are shifting to tone and sound. Perhaps that’s why the peculiar sound quality of the yanggeum and the saenghwang are being spotlighted. Yet the scene’s repertoire of known saenghwang pieces and capable performers is insufficient to satisfy this new trend. That is why Kim Hyo-young attracts so much attention when she writes or releases a new piece for the saenghwang. In addition to the saenghwang, she also plays the piri and the taepyeongso, and is a gifted composer. We met with Kim to discuss what she’ll bring to PAMS 2016.

Writer(Song Hyun min) and Kim Hyo-young © Lee Ganghyuk

▲ Writer(Song Hyun min) and Kim Hyo-young © Lee Ganghyuk

Will this be your first PAMS(Performing Arts Market in Seoul) ?

I visited a few events in the past, because I’m interested in performing overseas. I even set up a private booth in 2010, but to no great success. At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted or what I wanted to show people.

How does it feel to be selected for the official roster? What do you hope to achieve this time?

I want to play my music for PAMS’ Korean and overseas delegates and see if they deem me fit for international audiences. Lots of artists play overseas through personal connections or on their own accord, but many of their concerts end up being one-time gigs.
On the other hand, there are artists and ensembles that use PAMS as a platform from which to leap into the international market.

As a fellow musician, what do you think about when you see such artists?

When you look at musicians and ensembles that perform around the world, there’s something special about them. Of course they have a unique flair or are exceptional ensembles, and their music is always outstanding. For example, when the group Jambinai first formed, they gave the impression of being something fresh, that they’d one day “make it big,” so to speak. Same with a group called Gongmyeong. Groups like that also have a distinct musical personality. Focusing on the unique traits and sounds of gugak instruments, they’ve crafted their own style. Conversely, my music is so varied that it sometimes feels like I have no clear identity. Thus, the upcoming PAMS 2016 is a chance to sit down and have a healthy look at the questions, “How do I present myself?” and “How will I appear to them?”  

You can play the piri and the taepyeongso and now have your own artistic patent on the saenghwang. You write many of your own saenghwang pieces, which is a great boost to your repertoire. What have industry insiders been saying about your recent creative endeavors?

Since holding my first solo saenghwang concert in 2006, my repertoire has been constantly changing. When I first debuted, many people said that my listenership would be confined to Korean audiences, as that’s when I played more mainstream stuff like tango music. Lately, however, I’ve been performing pieces that call for experimental and intricate ensembles. People now view my music with a completely different perspective. In Korea, there’s debate over whether or not my music can be considered “Korean.” When I’m abroad, however, it feels like people approach my music as if it’s truly one of a kind

© Kim Hyo-young

▲ © Kim Hyo-young

What do you find most appealing about the saenghwang?

Well, first off, it has a really unique look, doesn’t it? Whenever I play abroad, people always look at it with fascination. I’ve heard people compare its musical quality to the “sounds of heaven,” but, depending on how you play, it can also release the “sounds of hell.” I try to capture these qualities as much as possible when I compose. For impromptu performances, the saenghwang is much more adaptable than the piri. I’m proud to say that I play both. I believe that’s what sets me apart.     

What has been your most memorable performance overseas?

This past May and June, I played at the Carrefour International concert at the Le Phénix in Valenciennes, northern France. They had invited artists from Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Iran to play the traditional music of their countries, and we ended up collaborating. The concert’s theme was world exploration through music. When I read articles about it later on, I discovered that people had paid more attention to the piri than to the saenghwang. I played a duet with an Iranian tanbur player, and it must have gone well, for we got invited to perform again the next year. I also took part in the 2015 House Concert’s European tour. Collaborating with percussionist Laurent Marius in Lyon, France, was a totally new experience. Yet throughout this whole process, I think it’s important to preserve the musical traditions of your home country. It makes me happy to think of how deep my musical roots are. Playing abroad has allowed me to rediscover my musical traditions and to reflect on them.              

Young gugak artists have recently taken advantage of some residence programs to network with musicians from around the world. Have you ever signed up for an artist residency?

In 2014, I stayed in Paris for three months through an artist residency called Cité Internationale des Arts.I met a French jazz vocalist, a pianist, and a saxophonist. Meeting new musicians leads to creating new music. I collaborated with them to produce a few satisfying pieces. But it’s hard to meet such people again after returning to Korea. 

When looking at Korean artists who perform overseas, they usually either perform their own repertoires in concerts and festivals, or they collaborate with local artists. Which path would you prefer?  

I welcome all opportunities to show what I can do. I’m eager for chances to show the world my music as well as for collaboration opportunities with new artists. At the Carrefour International event I mentioned earlier, I did an impromptu saenghwang performance to complement a traditional Cambodian dance. Personally, I enjoy adapting my music for dance and theater. Musical unions based on differences and disparities, assimilating with others while still preserving my musical essence, have always been enjoyable to me. During a performance called HaUnDaGiBong— meaning summer clouds form a strange mountaintop, co-hosted by the 2015 House Concert and the National Gugak Center, I teamed up with dancer Lim Hee-yeong for a performance titled “Improvisation.” That was also a very memorable experience.     

© Kim Hyo-young

▲ © Kim Hyo-young

What are you planning on performing at the upcoming PAMS 2016?

I’m a musician who plays the saenghwang, the piri, and the taepyeongso, but I plan on highlighting the saenghwang this time. I’ve prepared a solo, a duet with a daegeum player, and an ensemble performance with a pianist and percussionist. In my solo pieces for the saenghwang, titled “Gozu-Neok” and “Saeng,” I also plan on exhibiting my improvisational abilities as well as introducing some pieces written by Park Gyeong-hun, who has collaborated with me on various projects over the years. Although native to the Asian region, the saenghwang is fairly well known worldwide. That’s why I want to offer a saenghwang performance that only a Korean musician could provide.   

You cover the realms of both performer and composer. Which do you prefer?

Composition isn’t my area of expertise, so it’s difficult for me to produce good pieces and it’s a long process. That’s why I haven’t written that many pieces so far. But the pieces I have written contain the very essence of my musical identity, which is of great personal significance. But even if you’re playing something composed by someone else, it should be “your piece.” You should never perform anything without your unique musical essence. When a composer listens to my music and tailors a piece for me, I witness an exclusive musical creation, and the composer and I both grow through the experience.         

Kim Hyo-young © Lee Ganghyuk

▲ Kim Hyo-young © Lee Ganghyuk

With PAMS going on, October is surely going to be very busy for Kim Hyo-young. The Jeonju International Sori Festival is on October 2, and “The Sounds of Kim Hyo-young’s Saenghwang” will be featured at the Bukchon Nakrak Festival on October 8. Her music will span the traditional sanjo style as well as her personalized style of improvisation. Furthermore, October will see the release of her third album, which contains pieces that contain both mass appeal and musical mastery.
Kim’s hectic schedule is a reflection of her unparalleled efforts to reveal the saenghwang’s potential. It shows that the saenghwang is gaining popularity and is entering a new era of blending into various genres and concerts. In the center of this transition stands Kim Hyo-young.  

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[Director Oh Tae-suk Creates Performances that Breathe with the Audience]]> Director Oh Tae-suk Creates Performances that Breathe with the Audience
 


Oh Tae-suk is a playwright and director who has helped define the parameters of Korean theater. An active thespian to this day, Oh has continually experimented and challenged convention. He initially debuted as a dramatist, claiming impressive back-to-back honors for Wedding Dress, a winner in the 1967 Chosun Ilbo New Writers Awards, and Hwanjeolgi, a winner in the 1968 National Theater of Korea Playwriting Competition. For much of his early career, during which he mostly wrote plays, Oh penned absurdist dramas in the vein of Western dramaturgy. He first stepped into the role of director in 1972, for the Dongrang Repertory Theater Company’s production of Luv. The success of Oh’s subsequent productions Tae and Bujayuchin cemented his standing as a director. In 1984, Oh founded the Mokhwa Repertory Company, leading it as director while continuing his efforts to uncover Korean theater’s identity through new undertakings and new forms of experimentation, as seen in Why Did Shim-Ch’ong Plunge into the Sea Twice?, Baengmagang dalbame, and Jajeon-geo. A critical attitude toward society, rooted in history and reality, has long pervaded Oh’s body of work, and in the 2000s, with works like Naesarang DMZ and Yonghosangbak, the director expanded his interests to environmental and ecological issues.
Over the course of writing and directing some sixty works, Oh has made it a priority to leave space for audience members to imagine and reason for themselves. This approach to directing is most cogently encapsulated in Romeo and Juliet, a work that was selected for the 2016 PAMS Choice. 

Director Oh Tae-suk and writer(Lee Eunkyung) © Lee Ganghyuk

▲ Director Oh Tae-suk and writer(Lee Eunkyung) © Lee Ganghyuk

Your directing philosophy has been widely described as an effort to “rediscover traditional drama and embrace it for the modern era.” It would seem that your consistent aim, in your earlier absurdist dramas as well as in your adoption of traditional theater, has been to challenge convention. What do you make of this general assessment

When we staged Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican Centre in England, the response was so enthusiastic that the tickets sold out three weeks before the show, and reviews were printed in the dailies Londoners read on the Tube. When we did The Tempest at the Edinburgh International Festival, after the three days, we could really feel the intensity of the response. We performed “their” play wearing our clothes, in our rhythms and movements, but the audience gave us a standing ovation. They must have felt like they were watching a bygone form of performance, the sort that might have been staged long ago at the Globe Theatre. The audience members seemed to appreciate greatly that our production was one that restored to them their role, that involved them in its making. I guess this could be called challenging convention—the fact that we took things that customarily take place on stage and left them to the audience to do.

I read in one of your past interviews that you came to a new understanding of the importance of the audience during your time abroad in the United States, where, with funding from the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation (today Arts Council Korea), you learned about contemporary American drama and wrote and produced Chunpungui cheo. You’re someone who has made various attempts to discover what makes Korean theater distinct. What compelled you to start searching within Korea’s tradition?  

Drama is about creating visual performances that make people think. Drama in its earliest form was not so different in East and West. When productions moved indoors, the role of the audience was dramatically reduced. The act of watching such performances involves leaps of the mind, an entering into the unexpected and the spontaneous, a filling in of the spaces in between. Excessive accommodating and problems with venue structure have made the audience passive. Yet a play is only complete with the participation of those watching. In trying to find ways to recreate the original framework of theater for the audience, I found myself paying attention to traditional drama, which has a more open quality.  

You’ve demonstrated a profound interest in the Korean language, bringing regional dialects to life on stage well as establishing unique methods of acting, such as having actors speak in the style of traditional plays, or having them look directly at the audience, or perform barefoot. What motivated such experimentation?

In my younger years, I thought of Western plays as “their” stories, belonging to the people of the West. It was like scratching someone else’s itch, to be honest, or telling someone else’s family stories, so I had my misgivings. If you set up a fourth wall, your ability to communicate with the audience will inevitably be limited. This is especially true if you speak in a literary style, or the language of translation, despite the fact that the people in the audience already have a language they actually use in real life; things cannot be relayed properly. On the other hand, when you use language that the audience understands, spoken language that has not been forgotten but lives on, being passed down over time, it resonates with them.
In a live performance, those on stage and those in the audience breathe together. This is why I’ve searched over the years for methods to make this possible. It only becomes a mutual breathing when the energy of the audience is harnessed to synergistic effect on stage, in the same space and at the same time. Where I am today is the result of my efforts to look for ways to mobilize the wisdom and knowledge of the audience. Mental leaps, omission, spontaneity, surprise—I make active use of traditional theater because it incorporates these elements effectively.  

Your Romeo and Juliet is already well known, but I want to hear from you again about what your intentions were for the work and what you focused on in your directing. When I first watched it, the way it ended—in death—felt shocking, yet somehow convincing at the same time.

Romeo and Juliet is a work that expresses the beauty of first love, but people mistakenly understand it as tragedy. The reason it continues to be performed, after all these years, is because of the truth it expresses about beauty being the beginning of pain, and the experience it creates, of a time of incomparable radiance. It captures the moment when beauty reaches its height. The reality is that once this moment passes, beauty can only be ruined and spoiled. I see Romeo and Juliet as a story that illustrates the cessation of the moment in which you come to believe everything exists just for you. With this in mind, I thought it might brighten the story to infuse it with elements of Korean culture—the culture of fermentation—in its unpretentious keeping on. In that sense, the red of the characters’ first night together can be understood as representing life, not death. It might have the appearance of death, but what I sought to depict was a beauty that is truly alive.
Ultimately, it’s a criticism and satire of our foolishness, which destroys beauty. The meaningless, repugnant enmity of the two families destroys a most beautiful love. Because I don’t believe such antagonism can be overcome through love, I chose a destructive ending, one that gazes sorrowfully upon death. A lot of people interpret the ending as a reference to the current division between North and South Korea, but that’s far from what I intended. There are likewise many people who interpret The Tempest’s two-headed Caliban from this perspective of a divided Korea, but this actually makes me uncomfortable. Isn’t it what we all want, for Prospero’s magic to be effective in fixing that which most vexes Caliban? Prospero’s magic is given full expression in the act of giving Caliban his liberty in place of his wages. From a modern perspective, this choice was the most reasonable. 

Romeo and Juliet © Mokhwa Repertory Company

Romeo and Juliet © Mokhwa Repertory Company

It’s a performance that has been invited abroad often, to places like the Barbican in London. What have reactions been like among local theatergoers? Do audiences in different places respond differently?  

We once had a performance in Edinburgh followed by a run in Chile, and the response of the audience was pretty much the same. We were surprised by how enthusiastically people responded in such different places. They had a completely new kind of experience, I’m sure, watching things unfold onstage that they’d probably never seen before, and having to stay constantly engaged. They appreciated having discovered this kind of play, where the audience gets involved. One reason this production was selected for the PAMS Choice, I think, is to create more opportunities for foreign audiences to experience our methodology.   

One distinctive characteristic of your productions is that you are constantly making revisions and improvements, so that even if it’s a reprise, it won’t be the same performance. With The Tempest, for example, the premiere and the subsequent reprise were so dissimilar that they seemed like different productions altogether. It would be interesting to look at how Romeo and Juliet has changed this time around, compared with past performances. Can you give us a hint about what we can expect??

To maximize the appeal of a dramatic work, it’s important to play up a sense of the here and now. If the actors on stage are as rigid as plaster, it’s impossible to do a live performance. To engage with a different audience every time, the performers must be “live” as well. Every time we put on a performance, we discover various shortcomings. After every show, we have a notebook where the actors, producers, and staff write down areas that need improvement, and we use this to make changes. The audience, of course, isn’t there to look for what goes wrong, but for us to know what the problems are and do nothing about it would be a sin.
In order to give the audience a greater role, and compel them to think more deeply, we have to constantly be evolving and hammering the production into shape. A performance is, to its creator, a living organism. I tell my actors that when they toss and turn in bed, the least they should be doing is wiggling their toes, like a concrete mixer that keeps rotating to prevent the concrete from hardening. Members of Mokhwa Repertory Company  practice at least three to four hours, sometimes up to six or seven hours, on a daily basis, so that they don’t stiffen up. Our bodies’ internal clocks have been fixed this way.
To be part of a theater company is to spend eight to ten hours together every day in a fictional time. Because I do my best to keep my company’s interactions with “the real world” to a minimum, some members call me a prison warden behind my back. Being a constantly churning concrete mixer on one’s own is important too, but it’s much more efficient to do things together, because it’s difficult for actors to practice on their own. If our performances are at eight in the evening, we’ll meet every day between one and two o’clock for a run-through and use our notes to put on a better performance in the evening. This is why we say that no two performances are exactly alike. The more we practice, the better we perform—I’m absolutely certain of this. Since the premiere of Romeo and Juliet, we’ve been making lots of changes, cutting out everything but the essentials and going from there. We’ll be working to refine the work without added pretention, complications, or embellishment. 

Director Oh Tae-suk © Lee Ganghyuk

▲ Director Oh Tae-suk © Lee Ganghyuk

Mokhwa Repertory Company was selected for the PAMS Choice this year as well as last year. What are your thoughts?

I’m repeating myself, but I’m still very much immersed in the question of how to encourage the audience to play a more active role in “breathing” with us. Foreign audiences enjoy our performances because they can participate actively in the production’s completion. Audiences need to rediscover, too, the joy of breathing in sync with the performance. I often hear that our performances are difficult to understand, but I honestly don’t agree. If the audience and the performers are breathing together, there’s no such thing as a “difficult” production. It’s because audience members watch the performance from a distance that they feel like they can’t engage. Even audiences in more rural areas, who haven’t been exposed to a lot of theater, really enjoy our performances.
They have no trouble understanding our performances because we use the dynamic, living language of speech, not the literary language that exists as written records. We also work to convey raw energy, rather than something embellished. We’re currently performing Chunpungui cheo at Seoul Namsan Gugakdang. In the past, when we performed without microphones, the audience had trouble hearing. Gugak is about the striking of drums and the striking of the heart—this is its power—yet many gugak musicians don’t even think twice about using microphones. This was so strange to me. When gugak musicians perform with our company, we don’t let them use microphones, so there were initially problems with delivery. Over time, they’ve gotten used to not using mics, and the delivery is outstanding. And the audience loves it, because we’re giving them true, raw sound that isn’t obscured by machines.

What outcomes did you see come out of last year’s Performing Arts Market in Seoul(PAMS) and PAMS Choice? Do you have any plans to organize performances abroad through this year’s PAMS?

One production we still haven’t performed abroad is Why Did Shim-Ch’ong Plunge into the Sea Twice?, which was selected at last year’s PAMS Choice. It’s not that organizers aren’t interested, but they’ve been hesitant because of the assumption that the story is for Koreans. This year, I hope we can meet audiences in Paris and Russia, where we have yet to perform. We somehow haven’t had a chance to go to either place, despite performing in lots of others. In any case, I’m determined to do some more active marketing this year and secure some good outcomes.  

ⓒKAMS



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theApro <![CDATA[WOMEX: Mecca of Contemporary World Music and Networking Hotspot]]> WOMEX: Mecca of Contemporary World Music and Networking Hotspot
[People] Alexander Walter, Director of the World Music Expo (WOMEX)


Last year the World Music Expo (WOMEX) celebrated its 20th anniversary in the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the final destination of one of the classic Catholic pilgrimage routes. This year’s event was held in the beautiful Hungarian capital of Budapest, said to have one of Europe’s best nighttime skylines, over five days from October 21 to 25. The expo’s 21st iteration was the first WOMEX held in Eastern Europe, though the event was not without its challenges: Protests against the Hungarian government’s refusal to accept Syrian refugees persuaded many attendees to reconsider their participation. Despite the stress leading up to the event, WOMEX’s young director Alexander Walter found time to visit the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS), thanks to the support of his organizational team. Walter started the interview by complimenting them for their unfailing assistance, a group he cites as the driving force behind WOMEX.



Q. Min Kim: You became the director of WOMEX at a relatively young age. Would you tell us about your personal journey and how it led you to WOMEX?

Alex Walter : I was born in Ulm, in southern Germany, and lived in Stuttgart before settling down in Berlin, where I’ve lived for the past 10 years. In university, I majored in social science, and was permitted to study in Madrid, Spain, as an exchange student. In 2004, I started interning for the Heimatklänge Festival, which was organized by the WOMEX conference and (its affiliated organization) Piranha Arts. Under WOMEX, I served as the content and program manager and the music program director, which allowed me to survey the event’s overall structure and gain a variety of work experience. Teamwork is the most important factor when preparing for a WOMEX event, and the roles of the interns and support staff are also extremely important. I try to continually educate and train the support staff and give them a range of work experience.     

Q. What was your first experience in organizing concerts?

Alex : When I was around 15 or 16, I was in a band. We were always looking for gigs, but opportunities were rare back then so we started organizing and planning our own concerts.

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WOMEX director Alexander Walter ©Kanghyuk Lee

Q. Would you care to explain how Piranha Arts is organized?

Alex : Piranha Arts was founded in 1987 and comprises Piranha Records and Publishing, which is responsible for discovering and promoting new artists; Piranha Kultur, which organizes festivals and oversees management; and WOMEX and Classical:NEXT, which are networking platforms for music-industry affiliates and professionals. There’s also Piranha Consult, our consulting branch that oversees special projects and works in conjunction with Porto Musical in Recife, Brazil; the Atlantic Music Expo in Cape Verde; Sound of the Xity in Beijing; Circulart in Colombia; and Primera Linea in Havana, Cuba. Last but not least is Piranha Research, which heads a variety of publicly funded research programs, making a total of six components. Our research team mainly focuses on analyzing shifting trends in the literature and music industries and searches for ways to create better working environments for artists and indie music organizers. Their findings form the base of WOMEX, as well as Piranha’s organizational and consulting approach.       

Q. WOMEX started in Europe and currently tours various European countries. Is this foundation going to change anytime soon? How do you select which cities to visit?

Alex : WOMEX is undoubtedly based in Europe, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon since a significant portion of WOMEX participants are based in or operate out of Europe. Potential host cities1) send their proposals and are nominated through a bidding process. Host cities are responsible for handling local productions, managing the budget, and cooperating with regional government agencies.



1) Santiago de Compostela will host WOMEX once again in 2016. The host city for 2017 has not yet been announced, and the selection process for 2018 through 2020 is underway.

Q. What sort of benefits does a host city receive from WOMEX organizers?

Alex : That’s a good question. First off, I’d like to clarify that WOMEX doesn’t just tour various cities and hold festivals. It’s important to remember that every host city gains valuable expertise while preparing for WOMEX that remains after the event, and this knowledge serves as fuel for future growth and opportunities. When Copenhagen hosted WOMEX from 2009 to 2011, the city organized an additional programmed called the Nordic Club Stage, which provided an in-depth look at the culture and artistic merit of Scandinavian nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland), and enjoyed great success. In 2012, the Greek city of Thessaloniki introduced music from Greece and the Balkan Peninsula through the Club Globalkan Stage, while Cardiff in Wales promoted music from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland through the Horizons Stage in 2013. Last year, the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela spotlighted artists from all throughout Spain and South America on the Atlantic Connections Stage. This year, Budapest introduced Club Duna,2)  which highlighted artists from nine different Eastern European countries, including Hungary and Poland, and even Bosnia and Herzegovina.

These platforms help promulgate the artists and music-industry affiliates of host cities and their surrounding regions, facilitate commercial and culture exchange, and help consolidate more solid communities. They also greatly contribute to establishing and advancing relations between respective regions and overseas partners.

The showcase stages of a region’s artists not only exhibit the artistic merit of their culture and music to international personnel but also help attract local audiences as well. This helps expand each region’s conception of world music, cultivates future opportunities for more concert events, and develops business networks. For instance, Creu Cymru, a local partner of WOMEX 2013, organized a post-WOMEX tour with Welsh and overseas artists. A good example of a solid and locally based network is Sounds from Spain, which started in Seville and has evolved into its own brand.3)



2) Duna is the Hungarian word for the Danube River, which flows through Budapest.
3) Walter used the term "legacy," emphasizing that such platforms aren’t just singular events but self-propelled brands that continue evolving.

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The Baraji showcase from WOMEX 15 ©Jacob Crawfurd The poster for WOMEX 15 ©WOMEX

Q. There were some unexpected pitfalls in this year’s event, such as a number of participants boycotting the event out of protest against the Hungarian government’s refusal to accept Syrian refugees. But thanks to those who supported and attended the event, everything turned out okay. What was that process like from behind the scenes?

Alex : Communication is very important in situations like that. If platform participants express any concerns (about a particular situation), we have to take them very seriously. Regarding the recent events, WOMEX announced that it would not tolerate any racist or intolerant behavior and that everyone would work to achieve our goal of transcending national and cultural boundaries to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. We made this announcement as a joint statement with our local partner, Hangvető. Other than being the first WOMEX platform to be organized in Eastern Europe, this year’s event in Budapest spotlighted one of the region’s leading cities for music. WOMEX exerts a beneficial influence, as it helps to deter physical, cultural, political, and even commercial boundaries and barriers, and this year’s attendance expanded to include over 50 nations. Once again, WOMEX has demonstrated the importance of cultural diversity.

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WOMEX website ©WOMEX

Virtual WOMEX website ©WOMEX

Q. WOMEX strives to embrace all cultural, religious, and political backgrounds while facilitating communication and harmony among members of the world music community. What do you think of artists expressing their political views?

Alex : American musician Frank Zappa once asked, "Does humor belong in music?" And he clearly indicated that he thought "Yes." If you asked me if politics belongs in music, my answer would be the same. But WOMEX is not a political organization and does not sponsor any political activity. It is a platform for the world’s musicians and industry professionals to connect through their art and launch new projects.

Q. WOMEX in 2016 will be held in Santiago de Compostela once again. We’re looking forward to more from WOMEX, which has already seen 20 years of success.

Alex : WOMEX is always a work in progress. The essence of WOMEX is the world music community itself. Every year, we conduct evaluations to organize various conferences, showcases, and film screenings. The panels of judges are also members of the world music community, and WOMEX participants naturally expect an exceptional program from each event. We hope to expand networking opportunities, hold discussions on recent and heated issues, and, in turn, facilitate the sharing of information and knowledge. To bridge differing cultures and develop into a prime market, WOMEX needs to adapt to changing times while approaching the music industry with dedication and and an open mind.

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WOMEX 15 ©Jacob Crawfurd

The conferences and showcases of this year’s WOMEX represented the greatest number of cultural spheres in the platform’s history. Given that the event was the first platform hosted in Eastern Europe, it extended our network to include participants from Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Russia. We also witnessed a definite increase of East Asian participants from Korea, China, and Japan. In recent years, Korea’s world music community has utilized the WOMEX platform to become an active player in the global scene, thanks to support from the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS), and other Asian nations have taken notice. New markets are emerging in both Korea and throughout Asia, with local movements working to promote communication and solidarity.      

My interview with Walter taught me that cross-cultural understanding is crucial if a market is to promote networking and exchange and create business opportunities—whether you’re a WOMEX participant or the organizer of a similar event. He also reminded me of the necessity of establishing and expanding healthy relations between communities, as well as the importance of determination when it comes to setting and achieving goals for a certain event.

   

©KAMS




 
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theApro <![CDATA[On Stage at the End of the World]]> On Stage at the End of the World
[People] Daniel Omar Luppo, Director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa


Ubiquitous as it may be, the world map probably gets little more than the occasional cursory glance from most of us. Argentina? We know just enough to place it somewhere at the world’s other end. And then a visitor arrives in our midst, hailing from this land’s northeastern reaches, from the distant, unfamiliar city of Formosa. He is Daniel Omar Luppo, artistic director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa. In person, his air is more that of a tireless activist and champion of local culture than of a festival director. It is perhaps for this reason that, during our conversation, formulaic talk of “international exchange” or “cultural cooperation” seems inappropriate. All I can do is ask, plainly and without pretension, about what he can tell us about what is underway at his nation’s northern frontier. As befits the man under whose direction the Formosa festival has been erected as a tall watchtower over Argentina’s farthest outpost, Luppo is a cogent articulator. Moreover, his message to us is clear: Our knowledge of the world is incomplete; and so it will remain so long as we have not yet visited his stage at the end of the world.  

 

 

 


Q. Woo Yeon : The name of your festival, more dry than evocative, reads almost like a declaration. Why “integration”? Why “recognition”?

Daniel Omar Luppo : It is a declaration. It communicates political resolve, a political vision. Until now, most festivals and artistic activity have been concentrated in Buenos Aires. Formosa, on the other hand, is Argentina’s northernmost city, bordering Paraguay. Given that, historically, border cities were restricted development zones, people in these cities were treated no differently than outsiders, from Paraguayans. Then, 20 years ago, there came a move to invest in the development of these areas, in things like telecommunications, and finally the people of Formosa started feeling like they belonged, like they too were Argentinians. We proposed our name to the Formosan provincial government and adopted it as an acknowledgement of our integration with the region and the fact that we can now count ourselves as people of Argentina. It could also be interpreted as a statement of unity among genres or equality in how people enjoy the arts, regardless of their region or class. 

Q. What are your ties with the festival? Are you from Formosa yourself?

 Daniel : I’m an original founding member and today the director. But, no, I’m not from Formosa. I lived in Buenos Aires until 1987 and then started giving lectures in Formosa, which is when I got interested in the city and ended up settling down there. We created the theater company, which gradually grew until we finally launched this festival. I’ve basically lived in Formosa for the last 26 years. It began as a Latin American festival, open only to neighboring countries like Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile. But after the third year, this scope was expanded to include Asia and Europe. The 2015 festival was our 11th thus far. It’s organized by Argentina’s Instituto Nacional del Teatro and the provincial government of Formosa, and all of the performances are free for local residents. This past year, a children’s production put on by Korea’s Edu-Art & Therapy Theater CCOTBBAT was invited to the festival.

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Poster for the 2015 International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa



Paper Window by Edu-Art & Therapy Theater CCOTBBAT ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa
The Woodcutter and the Heavenly Maiden by Theater Ro.Gi.Narae ©International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa

Q. In the same way that Formosa stood on the periphery of Argentina, Asia and Latin America stood on the margins, the periphery, of world history. There appear to be considerable similarities—economic instability, political chaos wrought by military dictatorships and coups, a crisis of identity borne of years under colonial rule. What’s your take?

Daniel : The cry for freedom sounded in our creation of art—this we have in common. Creation is impossible in places where freedom and safety are not guaranteed. 

Q. Was Argentina not such a place—where making art came with heavy political pressure? Numerous intellectuals and artists sought asylum abroad. I wonder whether the country’s artists, having gone through such an ordeal, are still bearing the weight of this kind of political trauma.

 Daniel : After 2000, conditions related to freedom of artistic production and expression improved dramatically. Nonetheless, for my generation, with regard to matters of history, we create art “so as to never forget.” This is a philosophical expression, but as we see it, “if it happened before, it can happen again.”

Q. “So as to never forget.” That brings to mind something said by Latin American literary figure Gabriel Garcia Marquez—“Forgetting is hard for anyone who has a heart.” Are you familiar with it? (“Yes.”) Unfortunately, this phrase has sometimes been invoked at inappropriate times in Korea. Any society that has undergone rapid democratization and breakneck modernization will feel the reverberations down the line. Despite the notion that Korea has been able to achieve substantial growth, censorship remains an issue here. Even if things in Argentina have improved considerably, as you say, are there any persisting constraints on artistic activity?

Daniel : Censorship is unthinkable in modern society. In Argentina, there is a National Theatre Law, law no. 24,800 (ley 24,800),1) which was proposed by a legislator from Formosa Province. When resources are allocated for funding of the arts, decisions are made not by public organizations but by a committee of private organizations to ensure that arts funding is allocated fairly. When there are problems with decisions made in the public sector, Argentinians will react very zealously and aggressively. So even if you’re the government, you can’t just make a unilateral decision and then announce it after the fact. For example, in 2001, which was a tremendously volatile year politically, the culture ministry announced cuts to the culture budget. Artists from around the country got on buses and converged on Buenos Aires, where they staged heated demonstrations, piling up wooden crates emblazoned with the phrase “Art is Dead” around the National Assembly building. I was there too, stacking crates in front of the National Assembly. 



1) http://sinca.cultura.gob.ar/sic/gestion/legislacion/ley.php?id=200



Q. Was it after this incident that you sought refuge in Formosa? Or perhaps you were expelled there?

Daniel : (Laughing) No, never.

Daniel Omar Luppo, Director of the International Theater Festival of Integration and Recognition Formosa ©Kanghyuk Lee

Q. What trends do you see in Argentinian theater? What are the current issues?

Daniel : Argentina is a large country. The productions being staged in Buenos Aires are very different from those taking form in various regions throughout the country. Also, the generations that lived through the military dictatorship in Argentina have very different visions of theater than the younger generations that followed. With such diversity, it’s hard to say that one particular thing is the trend. Take Buenos Aires, for example. In addition to having a large number of theatrical productions, it’s also the city with the highest number of mental health practitioners per capita. And, of course, it’s also the birthplace of what might be the most poignant music in the world—the tango. Anxiety is an important emotion that really pervades the city. As a result of exchanges with Paris, a lot of studies have been produced on mental health, and the result has been a strong fixation on relationships. Lots of plays have dealt with the relationships between mother and son, or father and son, or lovers, but more recently, the father-son relationship has become an immensely popular subject and prevailing trend across the theatrical sector. My thinking and ideas, however, differ. In Buenos Aires, there is a tendency to want to experience the world from a self-centered perspective rather than from an objective standpoint. That’s why I left. 

Q. I’ve heard that more Freud is read in Buenos Aires than anywhere else in the world. Perhaps confusion about identity—being in Argentina physically yet feeling rooted in Europe—as well as political and economic upheaval have served as the foundation for the anxiety you mention. In any case, won’t your friends in Buenos Aires take issue with what you’ve said?

Daniel : It doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that Buenos Aires stands for all of Argentina that I am contesting.   

Q. Korea and Argentina are very far apart. Because of this distance, not much is known about the other, on both sides. When Korean artists are asked about Argentina, a considerable number mention Jorge Luis Borges.2) It seems he’s a continuing source of intellectual inspiration. But when asked about performing arts, the answers are De La Guarda or Fuerza Bruta.3) Isn’t this rather ironic—this divergence of perceptions between intellectual inspiration on the one hand and commercial entertainment on the other? Would you enlighten us? What are we missing?

 Daniel : That’s an amusing story. The fact is that Borges will still be here after 500 years. De La Guarda will be forgotten. 



2) Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian novelist, poet, and critic, not to mention an icon of 20th-century postmodernism. Born in Buenos Aires, Borges produced diverse writings across an array of genres, including poetry, nonfiction, and essays. He is best known for the seminal short story collection Fictions (1944). In Korea, the complete collection of Borges’ writings was published in translation in 1999.
3) Fuerza Bruta is a postmodern theater show and company that was created in Buenos Aires in 2005 by Diqui James. The show arrived off-Broadway in New York in 2007 and has been performed around the world since then. It has been watched by over 500,000 people in New York alone.



Q. (Laughter) Is that so? Which parts, then, of Argentina’s performing arts heritage do you think will live on past 500 years?

Daniel : Argentinian playwright Armando Discépolo,4) as well as theater director Carlos Gorostiza,5) who is still alive at the age of 95—their works will continue to be reinterpreted, and they will live on. Please remember them. 



4) Armando Discépolo (1887–1971) is an Argentinian playwright known for developing the Argentinian version of grotesque literature known as Criollo Grotesque, or Creole Grotesque, characterized by the combination of melodramatic tragic satire and themes of domestic strife.
5) Carlos Gorostiza (1920–) is a contemporary Argentinian playwright and theater director as well as novelist. Famous works include his debut play El Puente (1949), which describes attitudes of differing social classes toward social issues and is generally regarded as having ushered in a new beginning for theater in Buenos Aires.

Interviewer Woo Yeon (left) and director Daniel Omar Luppo (right) ©Kanghyuk Lee 

Q. What would you say is your mission, or your guiding conviction, in your programming for the festival or your other performing arts activity?

Daniel : In Korea, I watched a performance by Lee Jaram. Her performance was one I will never be able to imitate. I will never be able to perform Korean theater. But no question about it—I was moved by what I saw. In silence, we cannot discern where another person or people are from, but when they sing and act, this can be determined. Theater is, in essence, cuerpo del territory—the body of territory. Localism has the potential to be the most compelling style of art, as well as the most universal.  Are you saying that the concept of nationality still has some validity in our increasingly globalized modern society?No. What I mean by locality, or by nationality, is “the place in which I find myself at this very moment.” 

   

©KAMS




 
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theApro <![CDATA[White Bird Vitalizes the Portland Community]]> White Bird Vitalizes the Portland Community  
[People] White Bird Co-founder Paul King
 


White Bird is a dance company that was jointly founded by Paul King and Walter Jaffe in Portland, Oregon, in 1997. In the U.S. West Coast region, the not-for-profit business has a made a name for itself as the only company whose full season is entirely composed of contemporary dance pieces. We met with King during his visit to Performing Arts Market in Seoul(PAMS) and learned more about the nearly two-decade-old company and its unique relationship with its patrons and community.   


Q. Paik Jong-kwan: I understand that you are not from Portland originally. How did you come to start White Bird in Portland?

Paul King: Walter and I are originally from New York. I was a pastry chef and Walter was in the publishing business after earning a PhD in German literature. We wanted to leave New York and have a different life, so we moved around to several cities to find a place that worked for us. And then we settled in Portland. When we came here in 1996, a Western Arts Alliance conference was held in the city. After receiving an invitation from one of Walter’s acquaintances, we attended the event. We had no idea what would happen there, but we thought it would be fun to hang out with the group as we love arts regardless of genre. Then, by chance, we bumped into the manager of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, whom we used to know back in New York. He said, “We want to perform in Portland, but there is no one who will put us on stage,” and asked us to “present” a show. We did not exactly understand what it was to “present” a show, but we jumped at the offer. That is how White Bird was born. In the following year, we put the dance company’s show on stage, which attracted an audience of 1,400 the first day.

Q. Were there many dance lovers in Portland to begin with? It must have been difficult to attract audiences.

Paul: There was an association of art organizations operating in Portland, and through them we were able to inform their members about our show. In the beginning, we also ran a kind of a giveaway for promotion in that we planned a free reception after the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s show. As we mailed out the invitations, we thought it would be great to have 70 percent of them [the invitees] to come. But then every single person turned up at the reception! As soon as they arrived, everyone asked us where Paul was. As it turned out, Paul Taylor couldn’t make it to the event, but people took my signature—“Paul”—on the invitation to be choreographer Paul Taylor’s [laughs].
The second show we brought to Portland was a piece by Stephen Petronio, who mainly works in New York. This time, we once again sold special promotional tickets that included a meal with the choreographer. It was a huge success, and we donated all of the profits from the event to a local AIDS organization. 

Paul King and Walter Jaffe with Barney, the white bird ©Jennifer Alyse

Q. Based on how you started donating proceeds right from the start, it seems as though White Bird has developed its own distinct management philosophy.

Paul:  White Bird believes it is very important to grow along with the local community of Portland where we live. We currently have a program called NEST, which stands for “no empty seats today.” The system allows season ticket holders to donate their tickets if they cannot make it to the show. NEST is connected to some 20 local organizations in Portland and, through them, the donated tickets are passed to low-income people who find it tough to afford such shows. We hope the show culture is shared by as many people as possible, and we believe that this could bring some kind of change. When pricing tickets, we try to ensure that it is reasonable, not exorbitant.  

Q. Then what kinds of shows does White Bird want to bring to audiences? I’m curious about the selection process and criteria. How do you program a season?  

Paul: White Bird is the only company on the West Coast that exclusively presents contemporary dance. I want to say that we focus on modern dance rather than classical genres like ballet. As demonstrated by us coming to PAMS this year, we’d like to check out as many contemporary dance works as possible by participating in various festivals and markets around the world. And there is a West Coast performing arts festival network dubbed West Moves, so we share information regarding dance performances through that. We need to exchange ideas with regional organizations because, when we bring in a show by an overseas dance troupe, it’s economically easier to pursue the project alongside a couple of other organizations rather doing it alone. Such a setup is beneficial for the troupe as well, since it guarantees that they can perform at three or four different venues instead of at a single theater. This year, White Bird is preparing for its 18th season. Since we have become quite well known through our previous projects, it has become easier to find information on quality shows.
What matters most to us when selecting a show is whether it helps us maintain White Bird’s unique brand. For us, branding is an issue of trust. Both Walter and I have individual preferences, but when we choose what to put on stage, we approach it from the perspective of our audiences who have been with the White Bird brand rather than our personal tastes. Plotting a season is like planning a tour; we are inviting our audiences to travel with us. Thus, we not only place weight on introducing famous artists but we also try to develop and bring new shows that would contribute to making the “trip” successful. 

Q. You mentioned trust. Is there anything else you pay special attention to when it comes to branding?

Paul: White Bird’s program does not end at just putting a show on stage. As we prepare for a season and first start making contact with dance companies, we talk about services that exist outside the theater—other programs offered by the Portland community. Up until now, we’ve operated a wide range of community programs. For example, we’ve worked with dance companies to run dance classes at schools. We’ve also done a movement workshop for children. Such community programs and the NEST are as important as putting a show on stage. Our goal is not simply selling tickets; we should be giving back to the community as well.
Besides the ticket revenue, we also operate with the help of donations and organization subsidies, and a portion of that goes to a survey on what the local community thinks of White Bird. We wonder what brings audiences to the theater. A lot of people from all walks of life live in Portland, and we’re trying to build a program by analyzing how they feel about White Bird and which shows or services please them and make them feel happy.   

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Arlene Schnitzer Hall, home of White Bird ©White Bird
White Bird logo ©White Bird / White Bird’s NEST program logo ©White Bird

Q. I understand that you not only invite fully established shows but also produce them. How is producing going?

Paul: We’ve commissioned 34 new works so far. Among the 2014–15 programs, ODC/Dance was the one we produced. Every year, we select an outstanding choreographer and award the “Barney” Creative Prize, named after our “CEO” Barney, the white cockatoo. Last year, the prize went to Kate Weare, the choreographer for ODC/Dance. We gave her 15,000 dollars in prize money i to cover production costs, and the outcome will be unveiled on stage during the current season.

Q. White Bird’s current season has a section called Uncaged. What are the shows in that category?

Paul: There is a story behind the name Uncaged. There are three different venues we use over the course of a single season, and one of them is Lincoln Hall at Portland State University (PSU). The place used to be a high school building. White Bird Uncaged used to take place in Lincoln Hall under a title of the White Bird/PSU Dance Series, but due to some construction work that happened to fix the hall’s decrepit facilities, dance troupes that were scheduled to perform there had to go elsewhere. At first we used an abandoned amusement park, and then a big storage space and an arcade lobby. Once the renovation was completed, our shows were back on stage—and within the confines of a “cage.” So we came up with a new title, Uncaged, to remember the energy that unfolded outside the theater. Like the name itself, Uncaged is a section that introduces works by innovative choreographers who are still relatively unknown. 

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Le Grand Continental directed by Sylvain Émard ©White Bird
 
White Bird’s shows and programs ©White Bird
 

Q. I wonder if you have any special plans for the future direction of White Bird.

Paul: This is our 18th year, and our 20th anniversary is just around the corner. As the date approaches, we’ve been thinking about what to do for the occasion. For the 15th anniversary, we presented Le Grand Continental, directed by Sylvain Émard, a choreographer from Quebec, in Portland Square. It was an amazing work done by 164 nonprofessional dancers after practicing for 10 weeks. I understand the show has been presented in Korea as well [for the closing of the Ansan Street Arts Festival in 2015]. When I run into residents who participated in the program, they ask me when it will return. Maybe in 2017 for the 20th anniversary? I’m not sure yet.
There’s no special plan. I don’t want to add anything deliberately. Instead, I want to continue what we are already doing and do it better. I also want to solidify our relationship with the community in which White Bird is rooted. And I want to keep helping young Portland residents to develop an interest in the community and create new works.
Those who only care about increasing profits and getting bigger may think we’re crazy. Americans have this expression that says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In Portland, we say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you weird.” We’d like to stay weird. 

  

©KAMS




 
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theApro <![CDATA[Festivals Are About Completion Rather Than Crazy Dreams]]> Festivals Are About Completion Rather Than Crazy Dreams
[People] Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Kerry Clarke


With Korean music having an increasingly high profile in Europe, a growing number of Korean artists are aiming to enter the European or US markets. There is another market, however, that is located close to the United States but is more liberal in terms of its visa requirements—that of Canada. Like other Western nations, Canada is known for holding a variety of annual festivals from the end of June through to September, with offerings ranging from comedy to jazz. According to the Canada Council for the Arts, which had representatives on hand at the World Music Expo(WOMEX), the country offers more than 60 festivals focusing on music alone, including the genres of folk, rhythm & blues, world music, the aforementioned jazz, and more. These festivals boast a strong network among themselves.
With the fifth Mundial Montréal approaching—the country’s first world music market—it is increasingly clear that Canada has its door wide open for musical communication. Bearing this in mind, I recently sat with Kerry Clarke, the artistic director of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Clarke had visited Seoul as a guest of the Journey to Korean Music program organized by the Seoul Art Market, an event that focuses on the exchange of world music experts. 

What is the Calgary Folk Music Festival?

Q Lee Su-jin: What kind of festival is the Calgary Folk Music Festival? How did it get off the ground in Canada?

Kerry Clarke: The history of Canadian folk festivals dates back 55 years, originated by a director named Estelle Klein. At the time, it revolved around western traditions and the lineups were full of singer-songwriters—mainly acoustic. The Winnipeg Folk Festival was launched 42 years ago, and then other cities like Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton joined in about 37 years ago. In those days the festivals were small and only two days long, and mostly consisted of western folk music. It gradually expanded to a four-day event, and events like the workshops became part of it.
These days, the festival is attended by around 70 international artists. The focus is on western folk music and Celtic1), and branches out to bluegrass2), traditional music of the world, and modern music that developed over time, like African electronic. The events are held at Prince’s Island Park in the city center, which was chosen because of its accessibility to the community and—an element that, frankly, is necessary for the festival to be financially viable. Of course, the artists feel the same about the location as well. 
Each day of the festival attracts an average of 12,000 music lovers. Apart from the festival programs like the main stage performances and collaborations, there are sessions like the teaching workshops for the locals, which are run by local musicians or those who are touring Canada. About 200 locals partake in the event every year, learning how to play instruments, write songs, and plan performances in conjunction with venues.

1) Music and songs performed in the Celtic regions of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia
2) A subgenre of country music that developed in the United States around the late 1940s. It usually featured high-pitched vocals accompanied by a fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass, and five-stringed banjo, with either the banjo or guitar playing the lead. 


Q How is the festival operated, and how is it funded?

Kerry Clarke: Canadian artists are mainly supported by the Canada Council of the Arts. Regional festivals like ours get partial government support from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, and the remainder comes from both Calgary Arts Development, which functions as a local government agency, and from the lottery fund collected by Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The annual operating costs amount to about CAD 4 million, of which 20 percent comes from public funds while the remaining 80 percent comes from private donors and ticket sales, and from running the beer garden.

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Geomungo Factory Collaboration Performance
©Geomungo Factory
Live Radio Studio of CJSW, where Clarke once work worked
©Geomungo Factory

Collaborations in Festivals

Q. The event’s collaborative workshops3) are just as interesting as the lineup of artists at the festival. How did this idea come about?

Kerry: We find that it is sometimes uncommon for certain artists to come in contact with each other, despite performing at the same festival. At one of our collaborating sessions, however, musicians stand on the same stage and showcase their music, taking turns talking about their songs and player. For instance, a musician might introduce their music by saying, “I was inspired by my mother,” and the next musician will play another song inspired by their mother, like a relay. After the exchange of musical sentiments, they play music together in harmony to complete the performance.
Collaborations are not always successful, though. I call it an arranged marriage. At times, these randomly chosen musicians create an utterly breathtaking performance, while for some, they may have been better off not doing it at all [laughs].

3) Impromptu performances where randomly selected artists come up on stage and showcase their talents. The prominent characteristic of such sessions is that the artists involved will perform together without any prior rehearsals. It is a program initiated by Canadian folk music festivals.



Q. The audience tends to go wild when they witness one of those unexpectedly magical moments. How do these performances affect the festival?

Kerry: Another advantage of the collaboration sessions is the discovery of artists from home and abroad who would otherwise not have been headliners. Generally speaking, it can sometimes be hard to attract audiences to performances by up-and-coming local artists or international world musicians. But with the collaborative sessions [which often pair new Canadian talent with foreign artists], audiences get to see unfamiliar instrumental mash-ups and the harmony between artists triggers something in them. It’s the same for the Geomungo Factory. Few Canadian audience members knew what the geomungo was, but a collaboration with a violinist like Iva Bittová or rapper Leonard Sumner, or jazz-punk musician Stephanie Nilles, helps people familiarize themselves with a new sound. These experiences not only inspire the listeners but the musicians as well, while also helping to promote the artists involved.

Q. How did this idea come about? Is this the tradition of Canadian music festivals?

Kerry: Yes. It probably started with the Mariposa Folk Festival. The collaborative sessions are mainly held at folk festivals in the western region, starting in Winnipeg and stretching west. This is an approach that hasn’t been seen at festivals of other genres, such as Canadian rock or world music. It is a very Canadian concept. Another very Canadian feature is that, at these festivals, all genres of music are mixed. Indie, bluegrass, punk, world music . . . these performances [where such collaborations occur] are only seen in Canada’s western folk festivals. Gary Cristall, the then artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Festival, was the pioneer, and began to assemble lineups that included musicians from around the world. This inspired other directors to do the same thing, and it has since become a tradition.

Q. How do you network with the foreign musicians when you invite them? I’d love to know how you get your connections.

Kerry: When world music was first introduced to Canada, it was largely made up of African and Caribbean artists. African music was the starting point of the spread of world music, and Asian music—such as Indian music—has recently come on to the radar, and is gradually being embraced. The network of artistic directors among these festivals is a practical source of information. We met Geomungo Factory just before meeting with the personnel from WOMEX, at the recommendation of the artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Music Festival, Chris Frayer, who had visited Korea. And we were put in touch with [Korean music group] Dulsori through a Canadian agency, if I’m not mistaken, but the determining factor was the fact that the artistic director of the Vancouver festival liked the group. Festival directors share this sort of information with their colleagues. The Canada Council for the Arts has a fund to support musicians from Canada and abroad for their tours, so sometimes they find artists suitable for the festivals and suggest that we invite them. There are times when the artists’ home country supports the cost of flights, which makes inviting them much easier; covering the costs of international flights for all of the performers would be difficult, obviously. This is especially true for artists from remote areas.

Q. Both Geomungo Factory and Dulsori performed at the Calgary Folk Fest in 2014. I understand that they were the first Korean group to perform. How did the local audience respond?

Kerry: That’s right, they were our first Korean group. People reacted positively to the collaboration session—the audience is typically very open to new or foreign music. They have fewer opportunities to encounter Asian music, so the anticipation for these performances builds up. For Geomungo Factory, we had some concerns because they perform sitting on the floor and that is definitely not something you see often here. The large number of performers means we have to limit the amount of set-up time to 15 minutes, and I didn’t know if this group would be flexible enough for such a quick transition. For the collaborations, we came up with the idea to group them with other string instruments and with other Asian groups, though we were nervous because we didn’t know if Asian music would go well with music from other parts of the world. But in the end, everything was fine.

Artistic director of Calgary Folk Music Festival, Kerry Clarke
©KAMS  
2015 Poster for the Calgary Folk Music Festival
©Calgary Folk Festival   


Q: I would love to hear a bit more about you personally. How did you find yourself in your current role?

Kerry: I worked as a programmer at the CJSW Campus Radio Station, where I grew fond of noncommercial music from being exposed to various genres. It was around that time that I saw a job opening for the role of artistic director for the Calgary Music Festival, and now I’m here. It’s been 20 years. 

Q: You must be really attached to this job. What are your future plans as artistic director, and as Kerry?

Kerry: In February, we are planning an indoor festival with 25 musicians performing on three stages. Making this event a success has been the major topic of discussion.Maintaining what we have now would be the main concern for the Calgary Folk Fest. Our recent focus has been operating the existing festivals more smoothly by putting an emphasis on the environment and issues related to safety, and trying different levels of alcohol restriction. The scale of the festival has expanded significantly over the last two decades. From the main evening performances to the performers between sets and the after-parties, 120 performances are held on 11 stages over four days. Rather than increasing the number of stages or making overly ambitious plans, I want to concentrate on what kind of musicians will perform or which country will be in the spotlight—adhering to the original framework while enhancing the level of completion. 

  

©KAMS




 
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Cha Jin Yeob of Collective A]]> [People] A Sensuous Exterior, a Sensitive Interior
[PAMS Choice] Cha Jin Yeob of Collective A


Any discussion of contemporary dancers currently in the spotlight in the dance world would be incomplete without mention of Cha Jin Yeob. Besides being a dancer of superlative skill, as well as a great beauty, she is quickly gaining recognition for her skills as a choreographer. In popular culture, Cha is widely known for her frequent appearances on TV programs, in makeup ads, and in fashion magazines, a source of intrigue to those captivated by her. As a professional artist, Cha has chosen to express her personal narrative as monologue about a life obsessed with dance, realized through her piece Dance, She… Crazy.

A Superlative Dancer Receiving Attention as a Choreographer

Q Shim Jeong-min : You’re an outstanding dancer, not only in technique, expression, and your command of the stage but also in your external appearance. You also have a career of diverse activities on a global stage.

Cha Jin Yeob(Henceforth "Cha") : I received the opportunity to work with overseas choreographers after 2000. Having worked with a variety of choreographers for brief periods, I started at the London Contemporary Dance School in 2004, and that’s when I started working with overseas dance companies in earnest. When I arrived in London, the first performance I saw was from the Hofesh Shechter Company. Although they were just starting out at the time, they had something clearly unique about them. And just as I was thinking that I wanted to dance with them, Hofesh Shechter saw me dance and asked me to join his company. Later, in 2006, I officially joined the NDD/ Galili Dance Company and was able to dance in a variety of pieces with some of the world’s foremost choreographers—an experience I really treasure. I was able to not only learn, indirectly, how to move as a dancer but also how to create pieces as a choreographer.

Q. You began expanding your activities to include choreography around 2010, and it’s encouraging that rather than using your presence as a dancer as a weapon, you faithfully continued to raise the quality of your pieces. Whether we’re talking about Rotten Apple, or Dance, She… Crazy, it seems that, starting in 2014, you were firmly committed to the choreography track.  

Cha : After returning to South Korea in 2008, I was busy with work as a dancer. In my mind, however, I had a thirst to create—shall I say, a desire to create something independently, and to achieve something. I was still in this period in 2009 and, after being invited to a performance of young dancers selected by critics, I was able to show my piece See-Through. I had no ambition to receive attention as a choreographer from my first piece; I just wanted to perform the pieces I created and consistently grow as a choreographer. I was happy when, after that, I received attention for Rotten Apple and Dance, She… Crazy. I still believe that I have a long way to go, though. There is a lot I want to try, creatively, and I definitely have a desire to do better. 

Cha Jin Yeob of Collective A
©Kanghyuk Lee
Still from a performance of Dance, She… Crazy
©Collective A

Even in an Elaborate Fusion, Movement Is Ultimately Central

Q. Lately, you could say that "fusion" is a characteristic of dance as an art, whether involves crossing genres, incorporating multimedia elements, or going interactive. Recently we’re also seeing the word "hybrid" thrown in. These characteristics are very much apparent in your pieces as well. Compared to dancers who halfheartedly mix dance and other genres, your incorporation of other genres into dance is provocative, succeeding at absorbing these other styles. Your pieces’ ability to achieve a proper fusion strikes me as meaningful.

Cha : These days you see the words "convergence" and "fusion" used quite frequently. Because dance has always been a multidisciplinary art, I believe that it does inherently contain elements of the fusion. The important consideration, however, is what significance there is in combining dance and other genres. Sometimes it’s necessary to emphasize the music, sometimes the stage art, sometimes the costumes, and sometimes the video, to better illustrate the theme. In such instances, it’s possible to see the fusion aspect with a certain genre. But to pursue it as a trend, without any consciousness of the significance, is meaningless.  

Q. Regardless of which genre you’re attempting to fuse with, movement is ultimately the key to holding it all together. It’s not necessary for your movements to be sophisticated, but it’s crucial to have movement in key moments to appropriate express the thematic images.

Cha : You’re right. No matter how elaborate the combinations and fusions you attempt with various genres are, if movement is not at the center to hold it all together, then your dance loses its identity. Even if you’re attempting fusion, it’s fusion within dance, not something cobbled together without much reasoning behind it. If you’re too intent on combining contrasting elements indiscriminately, it’s possible that you lose sight of the identity of the piece. Bearing this in mind, toward the end of last year I presented a piece that emphasized movement—Dance, She… Crazy

Stills from a performance of Dance, She… Crazy
©Collective A
Stills from a performance of Dance, She… Crazy
©Collective A

‘Dance, She… Crazy’: A Monologue on the Life of One Who Is Crazy about Dance

Q. Dance, She… Crazy, which was selected for this year’s PAMS Choice, illustrates, with almost an hour of solo dancing, a life obsessed with dance. The sensuous video, recalling an advertisement or a trailer for a feature film, the realistic and symbolic sets, the minimalist and sophisticated lighting, and even the emotive and sometimes strange music—each aspect artfully contributed to a sense of completion in your dance monologue. Moreover, as a dancer who excels at performing her own creations, I consider you to be irreplaceable. How would you describe this piece?

Cha : Dance, She… Crazy is based on two spaces being used as the backdrop. One space represents my public persona; the other represents my private persona. Although I’ve heard myself described as a passionate and audacious dancer, I’m also a woman who likes to, harmoniously, collect and create things. In the performance, along with videos of past pieces, trivial props such as wine, candles, toys, and mirror balls also make an appearance. I frequently hear that my public persona differs from my private persona, but because both are both the real "me," I don’t notice any difference. And there are many people who misunderstand my public persona. … Dance, She… Crazy is a piece that projects these dual personas—which are both me—just as they are.

Choreographer and dancer Cha Jin Yeob (left)
and dance critic Shim Jeong-min (right) ©Kanghyuk Lee
Cha Jin Yeob of Collective A
©Kanghyuk Lee

The Possibility and Problems of Young Dancers Go Overseas

Q. Through PAMS Choice, young artists like you are able to receive financial support for overseas performances. But while being invited to major festivals or theaters overseas is undoubtedly an excellent opportunity, simply going overseas does not always result in a meaningful experience. In your case, for example, because if you’ve been invited to festivals or theaters in countries where the dance environment is inferior to that of South Korea, it’s hard to talk about fruitfulness in overseas expansion. Therefore, I believe that when it comes to institutions that fund overseas expansion, it’s important for them to ascertain the caliber of the overseas festivals and theaters and to rank the opportunities accordingly. What, in your opinion, are some of the possibilities for overseas expansion for young dancers and some of the problems that arise?

Cha : For me, receiving definite recognition and firmly establishing myself on the domestic stage, the nest of my activities—this is the top priority. The idea of going on an overseas tour for the sake of a few extra lines on one’s resume, without real results—that is, an overseas performance without much significance—doesn’t appeal to me too much. Globalization has resulted in excellent networks between countries and their art worlds, so if you continue to present good pieces domestically, festivals and theaters from other countries will start to notice, and when time passes overseas invitations will happen naturally. This is the standard path: to receive recognition for one’s abilities at home and gradually move to a global stage. Once you’re at that stage, an artist can seek out aid from funding organizations, and that’s how you can get the most out of your overseas tour.

Q. The dance world has far more female dancers than male dancers. When considering the poor creative conditions and the onslaught of male dancers, however, it’s becoming more and more difficult for female dancers who perform independently. Despite these conditions, you have managed to raise your profile as a developing artist. More recently, for example, you’ve begun to establish yourself as someone who leads young female dancers who dance independently. Therein lies the very reason that your activities don’t merely represent the achievements of a single individual, but are also significant as a model for female dancers in the dance world.

Cha : Although most of the dance world consists of female dancers, it’s true that at the creation stage, women are less in the spotlight compared to male dancers. I myself have thought deeply about this reality in many ways, and because I’m also aware that female dancers who have debuted after me are watching to see what I do, I want to continue my activities without faltering, for their sake if for nothing else. I try to make time to converse with them, and as someone who has experienced certain things before, I try to be generous with offering advice. Ultimately, I think this is something we all have to work toward improving, together.  

  

©Shim Jeong-min




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Piece) : Dance, She… Crazy

Dance, She… Crazy is a piece that premiered at the small hall of the Daehakro Arts Theater in December 2014. Approaching an hour in length, the solo dance piece expresses the life of Cha Jin Yeob, a life crazy about dance. The expression "one cannot achieve anything without becoming crazy about it," which describes the piece, is also a fitting description of the destiny of the artist, as it is only when one obsesses over something to the point of insanity that one can birth a piece of art. Cha achieved a sense of completion with her solo dance piece, which includes sensuous videos resembling advertisements or movie trailers set with realism and symbolism, minimalistic and sophisticated lighting, and sounds both emotive and strange. In the sense that Cha is a dancer who is adept at interpreting her own creations, she is an irreplaceable figure in the dance world.   

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : Collective A

Collective A is a dance company established in 2009 by Cha Jin Yeob, named after the notion of embracing "all kinds of arts." As a youthful contemporary dance company with distinct aims and a strong movement as a foundation, the group continues to fuse a variety of art forms including music, theater art, costumes, and videos, among others. In recent times, it has been gaining attention as one of the most noticeable young, independent dance groups.    


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Pansori Project ZA, Lee Jaram × Park Ji-hye]]> [People] Until Contemporary Audiences Can Hear ‘Original Pansori’
[PAMS Choice] Pansori Project ZA Lee Jaram and  Park Ji-hye


Sorikkun (pansori vocalist) Lee Jaram, who fused the drama of German playwright Berthold Brecht with the Korean musical art of pansori to present Sacheonga and Eokcheokga, and who superbly combined pansori and theater. While thinking deeply about a sustainable pansori stage, found herself asking "What is pansori?" and then met director Park Ji-hye, who’d been grappling about similar things with the question, "What is theater?" The Stranger’s Song, which came about as the two artists each attempted to find an answer to their questions, has been attracting the attention of the critics for offering a new direction for the future of contemporary pansori. I met with Pansori Project ZA art director and sorikkun Lee Jaram and director Park Ji-hye to chat about their work.

In Search of a New Method of Communication Possible Through Pansori

Q. Yu Hyeon-jin: How long has it been since you two last saw each other? And what have been doing since then?

Park Ji-hye : It seems like it’s been a very long time, but it’s actually only been a month since we last worked together to finish the piece. In July we went to Okinawa, and in August we went to the Miryang Summer Performing Arts Festival with our piece The Stranger’s Song. After that, I practiced with the Yangson Project, which I’m a member of, for four weeks, and we performed One Person at the BeSeTo Theatre Festival.

Lee Jaram : It seems like it’s been a really long time, but before the Miryang Summer Performing Arts Festival in August we had been preparing for our performance of The Stranger’s Song at the Seoul Arts Center and had only been together since May. Before that, we were together for the Chumul and Sarin performance at the Pansori Shorts event. Still, it feels like it’s been a long time [laughs]. 

Q. Do you have any particular sentiments or resolutions following the selection of The Stranger’s Song for PAMS Choice?

Park : I’m happy about the PAMS Choice selection. To be honest, when I first thought about performing on stage for the Performing Arts Market Seoul, my first instinct was to consider what others might think when viewing our piece. But then I came to the conclusion that when it comes to performances, whatever the stage, it’s all fundamentally the same. At the end of the day, taking the time to consider what this piece was originally about and why we wanted to tell this story was the best way to approach people who have lived in different cultures. It eventually became less important for me to think about what we were going to show. Instead, I was only thinking about how it would be fun to organize the flow of the story within us and, afterward, meet with people of other cultures and share it with them.

Lee : For me it’s my third PAMS Choice stage. I’ve been introduced at the Performing Arts Market Seoul with Sacheonga (Selection for 2009) and Eokcheokga (Selection for 2012), and I think at the time it was about showing people, "This is pansori." The Stranger’s Song, which we’ll be showcasing at this year’s PAMS Choice, is the event’s first pansori drama in three years, following Eokcheokga. Because it’s a piece that follows a long period of consideration regarding where I should be heading as a sorikkun—on what kind of stage, and in what sort of stance—I’m curious, although a bit scared, about how those who’ve seen my previous pieces might view it. I’m also extremely curious about how what we’re trying to say through this piece will be received in other cultures, and in what areas we’ll be able to establish common ground. When I think about pieces like Sacheonga or Eokcheokga, which many people judge to be successful pieces, I think such points of contact were extremely important. The sorikkun, Lee Jaram, who performs in The Stranger’s Song isn’t there to show off, as she may have been in previous pieces; she is rather closer to being someone telling a story. Because of this, I’m all the more hopeful that the story I’m trying to tell is successfully conveyed. 

Q. Park Ji-hye, is this your first time getting involved with the Performing Arts Market Seoul? Do you have any expectations for the PAMS Choice showcase, and if so, what are they?

Park : Yes, it’s my first time. Having presented other pieces in Japan and China, I can say that having my work presented to a variety of audiences increases the number of layers the piece has. Even in Korea, there have been points where an audience has helped me experienced a sense of completion and attainment when I’d least expected it. The stage at Performing Arts Market Seoul can be a kind of junction where a variety of international audiences come together, and I’m excited for the opportunity to meet new audiences and add depth to the performances I direct.

Q. Earlier this year, you performed The Stranger’s Song at the Kijimuna Festa in Okinawa, Japan. How was its reception there?

Park : Very enthusiastic. Previously, we had performed at the Bird Theatre Tottori with Dogs are Savage Beasts, a piece created with the Yangson Project and based on a short story from Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai. At the time I thought that Japanese audiences were very dignified and polite, and also very careful about sowing any sort of open reaction. I guess we would call it an extreme unwillingness to inconvenience others? But this time around in Okinawa the audiences showed such passion in their reactions that I was actually surprised. According to the local staff there, it’s uncommon for audiences to laugh during a performance and to be so active while viewing a piece. I think [their response] had to do with the inherent characteristics of pansori as well: The audiences, for their part, opened up more and were more emotionally available. There were more elders than children in the audience, and both their enjoyment and their tears left a great impression on me. Right before the performance of The Stranger’s Song, Jaram performed the traditional pansori Simcheongga on the monorail, and even then I sensed that the audiences were overwhelmed at the situation unfolding in front of them. Even for me, participating in that moment as an audience member, I was captivated by that world, and I believe that for the Japanese audiences too, it’s very interesting and entertaining to see the traditions of another country. 

Lee : I also feel like the response was very enthusiastic, and I was all the more curious about what the reception would be like in Japan because I’d never been to Japan with Sacheonga and Eokcheokga. Moreover, because it was the first overseas performance of The Stranger’s Song, I wondered how audiences would receive my original pansori creation, whether they would join me, and also, when the piece was being communicated in another language, whether what we were trying to say would be successfully conveyed. But the audiences were unexpectedly very much in sync with Korean audiences, laughing at similar times and audibly voicing their response. It was an interesting experience. Perhaps it was because the space was so small, but I felt that the Japanese audience that had come in with such politeness and dignity and then watched us with wide-open hearts, passionately, and zealously. I think that’s why the team was able to happily wrap up the performance.

Q. Was there any point when you realized something new?

Park : The subtitles were difficult. There’s a particularly rhythm for each scene, but we also had to allow enough time for the audience to read the subtitles.

Lee : I agree. That’s why, for this performance in Japan, we had do put in some additional work to find suitable sections to read the subtitles and adjust the performance so that the sorikkun could wait for the subtitles to be read, and do so in a way that didn’t interrupt the rhythm of that particular scene.

Park : I realized that if we take our pieces abroad, we would absolutely need to have separate rehearsals to meticulously coordinate the scenes and the subtitles that are read with them. I felt that different regional audiences connected with different parts of the performance—something that I hadn’t realized in Korea. It was great in the sense that I learned something new, but it was also difficult.

The Stranger’s Song ©Pansori Project ZA The Stranger’s Song ©Pansori Project ZA

The Convergence of Theater, Novels and Pansori

Q. Lee Jaram performed previous pieces Sacheonga, and Eokcheokga successfully overseas with the help of PAMS Choice. If there were any differences in the process of preparation between your previous projects and the most recent piece, what were they?

Lee : First, compared to my previous works, this piece will be performed on a smaller scale. Unlike Sacheonga or Eokcheokga, for which I was invited to perform at large theaters, The Stranger’s Song was created to go well with studio or box theaters, so the scale itself is different. As someone who performs, because I feel the very physical pressure of a lack of time, I sometimes seek out shorter pieces. Traditional pansori performances are long, and even in the case of Sacheonga or Eokcheokga, I have to perform alone for two and a half hours. Because of this, I’ve thought about creating a short pansori for a while—something a little over an hour. And with this thought in mind, I found out about contemporary Korean writer Ju Yo-seop and with his short stories Chumul (An Ugly Object) and Sarin (Murder) and began the small Pansori Shorts project with director Park Ji-hye. The whole thing has been novel and diverting. Director Park also told me about the similarities between pansori and South American magical realism, and at that time, while looking for South American literature, I stumbled upon Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage, Mr. President.

Q. The pairing of pansori and Brecht has captured the attention of critics both at home and overseas as an extraordinary combination and an excellent decision. Despite this success, it must not have been an easy decision to move forward with combining pansori and Marquez. What made you decide on this particular piece?

Lee : This is referenced in the first part of The Stranger’s Song, but truly, my decision to recreate Bon Voyage, Mr. President as a pansori was made rather instinctively after I read it and then took a nap. Once I started the project, however, it wasn’t easy at all. There were points where one simply couldn’t reconcile the concept of the novel with the concept of the pansori, and it took a lot of time and effort before I could really connect with the English-language translation of the text. It also look a long time for me to decide how much the sorikkun should be allowed to interfere with the characters and incidents. Yes, it was scarcely an easy task. Toward the end of the work, upon discovering that one of the characters, Lázara, resembled my older sister, Park Ji-hye and I got goosebumps. I thought of all of these discoveries as presents from my instinct—which has chosen this piece—to myself. And they’re also something that I don’t want to lose in the future as I perform it.

Park : If I get the feeling that I have something to learn from a piece, then I am the type to really cling to it. Before all else, I just cling to it and attempt to learn more about it. The virtues, the identity—all of these are constant considerations, but the similarities I see between the characters in the story and the characters around me provide a certain kind of comfort to me, and to them. There will be more discoveries like this in the future. I want to continue making such discoveries.

Q. I’m aware that with pansori, a genre where a speaker narrates the unfolding situations and personalities in the story, language is extremely important. Your piece is one that translates the language of a novel—Márquez’s short story—into pansori. I’m wondering if there was any difficulty in doing that, or any particular aspects that required special attention.

Park : I believe that the worldview or philosophy of a writer shows in his or her original writing style, and that that has an influence on the pansori. Therefore according to what the original source material is, the sorikkun’s delivery changes, as does his or her speech and the manner of telling the story. Márquez’s Bon Voyage, Mr. President also includes Márquez’s style and philosophy, and I tried to ensure that it wasn’t damaged in the process of adapting it to pansori style. We expressed ourselves with our language, but I still believe that Márquez’s sense of language still lives within our piece. It’s not direct; it’s descriptive. And in that description is the original writer’s worldview, which makes the audience imagine things. . . . These aspects of the original story still live within our pansori piece.  

Lee : To translate a pansori script into English is as sensitive and difficult a task as writing a poem in English would be, so it’s not something we can do ourselves. But as much as we can, we are trying to convey what the writer would have wanted. We received a translation through the program that translates works for the PAMS stage. We’re looking it over meticulously, editing as needed, and preparing scrupulously.

Sorikkun Lee Jaram ©Pansori Project ZA

Poster for Pansori Project ZA’s The Stranger’s Song
©Pansori Project ZA


Q. I have a question for Park Ji-hye. While working on The Stranger’s Song, what was the most difficult part, if there was one?

Park : Establishing how the story will be conveyed through the voice of the sorikkun, and how to establish the stance of the piece—these were the most difficult parts, and both are fundamental parts of original pansori creation. With traditional pansori, the sorikkun’s reason for singing a particular pansori is not as important. But with original pansori, because you’re creating a new pansori and singing it, I believe it’s different; when you’re trying to connect to modern audiences, there must be a clear point of view and a stance. I believe that establishing this point of view is a key part of working on an original pansori. It was difficult to decide how to approach the part where the story and the sorikkun coexist—at what distance and from what location.

Lee : The centrality of the sorikkun’s philosophy and how he or she approaches a story is what defines pansori as a genre and is one of its greatest strengths. And that’s why [determining these things] is such a difficult part of the creative process.

Q. Then what is pansori? Is The Stranger’s Song a still pansori?

Lee : Pansori is a performance art genre where a single narrator communicates a story to the audience using a variety of techniques. All techniques are important, but perhaps the one that the audience is most receptive to is the sorikkun’s sori, or sound. The sorikkun tells his or her story with a variety of rhythms and using his or her sounds, aided by a drummer (or several). The drummer simultaneously serves as a mediator between the audience and sorikkun, a character in the drama, and a technician that assists with the music. The sorikkun responds sensitively to everything that happens at every moment onstage, and is also the director of the performance, who plays with techniques and stories. The sorikkun is a performer that watches the audience, ensuring that the story is flowing well and delivering on his or her promise. The story is created differently depending on the attitude with which the sorikkun approaches his or her story. The sorikkun will also adapt to story’s the musical nuances and characters, and everything else that can be left up to chance. The attitude the sorikkun has toward the story is reflected directly in the performance, the most challenging aspect of my work is the point where the sorikkun meets the story. In this sense, the pansori of the Pansori Shorts project that feature Ju Yo-seop’s Chumul and Sarin and The Stranger’s Song are all pansori. And, of course, Sacheonga and Eokcheokga are also pansori.
At the premiere of The Stranger’s Song in Tongyeong, a French audience member who had seen Sacheonga and Eokcheokga without subtitling—and without knowing anything about the original source material—said that, regrettably, the performance, lacked the punch of our previous pieces. Both of the previous performances that the audience member had experienced drew from dramatic source material whose high level of tension was maximized on stage by the powerful pansori we wrote to match the original texts. Having remembered such projects from Lee Jaram, the audience member presumably expected a similar "punch" from this piece. But even when one considers the scale, The Stranger’s Song is not that sort of story; it is more stealthy in its assault. For me, it was around the time that I started to doubt whether pansori as a genre should necessarily be concerned with its level of impact that I came across the original source material for this very piece. When The Stranger’s Song was completed and premiered in Seoul—this piece, so different from the pieces that came before it—I was curious about how the audience would react. Fortunately, our message came across more smoothly and intimately than we anticipated, and so while preparing for the PAMS Choice performance, we were thinking, "Why shouldn’t we be able to create a similar experience with overseas audiences too?" and "Just because it’s another country, will it be so different?" Our final thought was, "Why shouldn’t be able to connect with the audience through our pansori, even without a powerful, single hit to surprise people?

The Story of Park Ji-hye and Lee Jaram, Lee Jaram and Park Ji-hye

Q. I want to discuss your other work. Park, you’re the director of the Yangson Project, which is currently the industry’s most talked-about company. What are some of the projects you’ve been working on recently, and what are some you’re preparing for next?

Park : The Yangson Project recently participated in the BeSeTo Theatre Festival with the Korean/Chinese/Japanese short One Person. I’m continuing to work with the Yangson Project with novels as the original source material, and while it wasn’t something that I planned from the start, the entire team is now very much into working with novels and short stories and is continuing to explore this world. Personally, I want to tie up all the loose ends with the short projects I did up until this point and then head in a different direction. Next year, or perhaps the year after that, I want to take all of the short stories that the Yangson Project worked on and present them all at once. We have about twenty pieces based on short stories by Hyeon Jin-geon, Kim Dong-in, Guy de Maupassant and Osamu Dazai, and in the process of presenting these pieces I want to take the opportunity to strengthen our work. I want to look back and review the grammar and vocabulary we discovered and experience once again the things discovered in that process. And then I really want to try something different.

Q. When you say you want to try something different, do you mean that you no longer wish to do adaptations of novels and short stories?

Park : What I meant was that I want to try something different in our approach to novels. Short stories and novels are a path that the Yangson Project already seems to be going along. But I want to try something with the rhythm and style of longer novels, or create something new within the same framework—I don’t know anything specifically yet, but I want to start approaching it in a new way. In the immediate future we have a drama called Fox Finder. The Yangson Project doesn’t have much experience with drama, save for Death and the Girl, so I’m looking forward to the fact that we’ll be presenting not only a drama but a new piece for the first time in a while. It seems as though we’re preparing to take a breath of fresh air. The performance will be shown at the Doosan Art Center from November 13 onward.  

Sorikkun Lee Jaram (left) and director Park Ji-hye (right) of Pansori Project ZA ©Pansori Project ZA


Q. Does doing pansori projects with Lee Jaram influence your work?

Park : My work with pansori influences my work a lot. Because I’m personally interested in one-person plays and novels, I feel like my interests naturally carried me to a point of convergence with pansori. None of this has been set in stone, but you could say that I’m still trying to digest the form. The method in pansori of creating characters and expressing scenes aurally, the process by which the sorikkun character meets with the audience to talk—these represent a new kind of narrative drama that doesn’t exist in theater, and I’ve started to absorb these things. At the same time, I am observing to see how these things will be digested by others. But then again, The Stranger’s Song is different. If the previous projects in Pansori Shorts [Ju Yo-seop’s Chumul and Sarin] were about experiencing "Oh, so this is pansori," then this project was about leaving the domain of the typical pansori for something more philosophical, calm, and tranquil, and I got the feeling that I’d discovered yet another area within pansori. This is something I was not yet able to experience with the Yangson Project, and it’s something very quiet and fragile, this meeting of sorikkun and character. While I can’t express it fully in words, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I want to continue working with theater, with projects where I can peel back layers of myself, where I can continue going someplace.

Q. And will you, Lee Jaram, continue to create original pansori pieces?

Lee : Yes. I want to keep working until the moment that my techniques are on steady ground.

Q. Please tell me about your plans for the latter half of the year.

Lee : In the latter half of this year we’ll be touring the provinces with Eokcheokga. Currently, we’ve toured Cheonan and Guri, and in between trips in November I’m preparing for a pansori performance of the dongpyeonje-style pansori Heungboga, with Song Sun-seop—the government-designated holder of a, Intangible Cultural Asset. In my remaining time I read dramas and think about my next piece.

Q. Do you have any final thoughts for the readers of this article?

Lee : Whether drama or pansori, I hope you watch a lot of performances.

Park : I understand that it’s difficult taking time out of your life to watch a performance, but I think it would be great if you could just put in two hours to join us at a performance.
  

©Yu Hyeon-jin




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Piece) : "The Stranger’s Song"

The Stranger’s Song is a piece based on the lesser-known short story Bon Voyage, Mr. President of eminent Latin American novelist Gabriel Garcia Márquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and other works. "I wanted to share with the audience the rich reverberations hidden in this tranquil story, crying out in this era of best and best efforts, heroes and first places, provocations and showiness," read the production notes. Such musings suggest that this piece encourages viewers to reflect on the warmth of connection in a world where everyone is a stranger. After its official debut at the Seoul Arts Center’s Jayu Theater in May 2015, the piece was hailed as a successful mix of the poetic novel, theater, and pansori. Sorikkun Lee Jaram of Sacheonga and Eokcheokga fame will be performing the piece.   

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : Pansori Project ZA

Headed by artistic director Lee Jaram, Pansori Project ZA is a group that creates and performs new performance pieces with a basis in pansori. Pansori, a representative traditional theater art form in Korea, is a global performance art form that emphasizes a higher level of intimacy with the audience. Pansori Project ZA draws from a variety of influences including the formal, aesthetic, and narrative elements of the five surviving traditional pansori works passed down from previous generations. Rich in artistic value, its Pansori Shorts project has sought to create new performance art pieces with the motto of "Pansori shorter than the typical pansori, but with a complete story." The group recently presented Pansori Short 1: Chumul and Sarin, which combined two short stories by author Ju Yo-seop—Chumul and Sarin—and in May 2015 presented Pansori Short 2: The Stranger’s Song.  


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] JJbro]]> [People] A Message of Humor, Reached through Freewheeling Deviation
[PAMS Choice] JJbro


JJbro was established by two dancers who sought to use raw movement as a means of reexamining dance itself. Rather than wearing masks onstage, their “materials” are very everyday, personal movements, and they came together to create pieces that pose questions about the gaze of the world. Their first piece, Jimmy and Jack, humorously interprets these neglected movements—a dynamic work that has been selected for PAMS Choice 2015. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jeon Heung-ryeol and Pyo Sang-man to talk about their work, curious about the messages hidden within their natural movements.

The Duo Brought Together by Freewheeling Personalities

Q. Hyeongbin Cho: Congratulations on your PAMS Choice selection. How do you feel?

Jeon Heung-ryeol (Henceforth "Jeon") : First, I was happy we were selected at all. It’s not easy to make it through the evaluations to become selected, so the first thought was, "Yes, we’ve been recognized." That was followed by the thought that PAMS Choice could be a foothold to overseas connections and other new opportunities, and the thought that we wanted to create more opportunities like that.

Q. Please give us a short introduction to your group.

Jeon : We are Jeon Heung-ryeol and Pyo Sang-man, currently performing under the team name JJbro. Pyo Sang-man was a younger underclassman at the same university I went to, and we started to connect at the end of last year. We had similar aspirations and similar characteristics, so we ended up creating a team together. We usually perform as a pair and currently work just the two of us, without any other new members. Our team name JJbro comes from "Jimmy" and "Jack," our nicknames.

Q. I’ve heard that you’ve performed domestically and overseas with your piece Jimmy and Jack. Please elaborate on some of your performances.

Jeon : We initially started to create our first piece last year to enter a dance competition called the Seoul Dance Collection, at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival. We debuted there and received a prize, and then were invited to the Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival in Fukuoka, Japan, which we performed at in February of this year. Then there’s also a festival called the Potsdamer Tanztage in Germany, which we went to in May of this year to perform Jimmy and Jack. As soon as we came back home to Korea we were invited to perform at the International Comic Dance Festival in Nowon (CoDance) in June, and we performed the same piece. Most recently, we performed Jimmy and Jack at the Chuncheon Art Festival in August.

Stills from a performance of Jimmy and Jack ©JJbro Stills from a performance of Jimmy and Jack ©JJbro


Q. With dance performances, it’s difficult to perform for a long time, and multiple times, with one piece, but you two seem to have succeeded. In the case of your overseas performances, especially, I presume the reactions must have been quite different from the reactions here in Korea.

Jeon : The responses overseas were very positive. It’s in the nature of a performance that it must happen in a variety of environments, which depend on the location and the situation, but even with all that happening we still received a fairly enthusiastic response. Perhaps it has to do with the liveliness of the piece—regardless of the reason, we were amused by the fact that our piece was so popular with children. Regarding CoDance, which was in June, the organizers invited us after they saw us in Japan in February. You can see it as an example of how overseas performances can lead to domestic performances.  

Incorrectness and Difference: Humor that Unravels Diversity

Q. Let’s move on to the development of your pieces. Did you have a particular direction or goal in mind when you were structuring Jimmy and Jack?

Jeon : In the case of Jimmy and Jack, it was a piece that was created after a long hiatus from dancing. So you can see it as an example of caring less about the imagined audience. We were able to work with a lot of the playful gestures we used with each other in everyday situations, and to express our unique feelings within the work. Frankly, it’s difficult, whatever the piece, to produce art without some regard to what others might think about it. But our goal at the moment is to liberate ourselves from that, and to attempt to perfect our distinctive character.

Pyo Sang-man : Before I co-founded this team with Jeon Heung-ryeol, I did traditional Korean dance, and dance in that sense was about showing, onstage, the sort of movements that are different from your everyday movements. So I think that before all this I was very used to that aspect of traditional Korean dance. It was inevitable that my everyday movements and my onstage movements were very different. In the case of Heung-ryeol, I think he yearned for that sort of freedom—the ability to break down the barrier between the two—since he was in college. But Heung-ryeol believed in me, and as we began dancing together as a team, we discovered these new dimensions withinourselves. Dimensions that converged in a way different from the way we used to dance up until now—a more freewheeling style that could show, onstage, even parts that one might want to hide. I think that all came through with Jimmy and Jack.

Q. I get the feeling that your desire to express freedom was embodied onstage, in stage language. When you look at the movements that appear in Jimmy and Jack, they seem primitive in a sense, exuding a childlike artlessness. What were you trying to convey through this artlessness and humor in your piece?

Jeon : You could call it the message of the piece, or in another sense, you could say it was the driving force behind the piece. To be honest, there are many instances when I’m alone in my room and I imagine things alone and move alone. When others see this, they could very well say, "What, how strange. Why is he acting like that?" I’ve always hidden this side of me, and hidden it onstage as well, but one day I had a thought: These unique and in some ways very out of the ordinary actions aren’t actually wrong, they’re just different in nature. So why must I try to hide them? I want to try bringing them to the stage. The idea is that we’re not wrong, we’re just different.

Pyo : We receive a variety of responses following our performances from those who’ve seen our piece, and there was this one comment that came up regarding Jimmy and Jack: that these two men, playfully fooling around, can be seen to represent homosexuality. This is something that we definitely did not intend when creating the piece, but in a sense, when you consider our actual message, there’s definitely a common element. You can see it as yet another excellent interpretation of our piece. In any case, these things were very interesting to me.

Q. I can see how some people might see it that way. When you look at the piece there are many movements that involve the two of you touching each other’s lower bodies. It’s very comical, but also reminded me of children playing.

Jeon : When you think back to childhood, don’t little boys touch each other’s private parts in a playful way? The movement is derived from that kind of playfulness, and the audience interpreted it in various ways. When you watch the performance, there’s a female narrator. We tried to, with this friendly narration at the beginning of the piece, to give off the feel of a storybook or animation. The message of the entire piece isn’t light, but it’s a device we included to help the audience members immerse themselves into the piece more easily, and more comfortably. But in the latter half of the piece, the voice is surprised, and it changes into a voice that attempts to constrain the deviating behaviors of Jimmy and Jack. Embarrassing behaviors, things that you shouldn’t do—these things start to become rejected. In actuality, there’s nothing wrong with this sort of thing when you’re doing them by yourself at home, but the voice starts to constrain, saying, "Jack, you shouldn’t do that, that’s bad." It’s not unethical or immoral, but I wanted to depict a situation where the fact that it’s weird, in and of itself, is enough to have people pointing fingers.

Pyo : Actually, when we were choreographing the piece we did give the matter of touching below the belt a great deal of consideration. We’re comfortable with each other so we had no problem with including it in the piece, but because we were competing with the piece. We agonized over whether the panel of judges or the audience members might feel uncomfortable, but eventually Heung-ryeol just went, "Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just do it!" And so we just pushed forth and went on with it. Under Heung-ryeol’s influence, I became even more careless and carefree, and strange, and that was when we were working on Jimmy and Jack.

Jeon : The thought occurred to me that in some ways, the message of this piece is a message that I’m sending to myself. To Pyo Sang-man, I might seem carefree, but in other situations I find myself shrinking. In such situations I always tell myself, this isn’t ethnically or legally wrong, it’s just a matter of me being different, so why can’t I express myself? So you can see it as something I tell myself. I wanted to deliver the message to stop hiding and to be confident in oneself.

Still from a performance of Jimmy and Jack ©JJbro Still from a performance of Jimmy and Jack ©JJbro


Q. I heard that you were preparing for your next piece, after the Performing Arts Market Seoul in early October. What are some things you want to try in your next piece?

Jeon : We’re preparing a new piece for our performance at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival. We were invited back following last year’s win, and we’re thinking of trying something different for this year’s new piece. Jimmy and Jack contains a lot of theatrical elements, but for this new piece, I have the ambition to stick purely to dance. I want to abandon a lot of the characterization, and am currently envisioning a piece where the character is created organically through the dance itself. If Jimmy and Jack was a piece that openly showed who our characters were, in the next piece I want to include more dance.

Q. Please tell me a bit about your future plans, or the direction of your group.

Jeon : First, the plan is to create more opportunities for overseas exposure through PAMS Choice. It might sound like a childlike ambition, but we have a lot of desire to expand overseas. We don’t have any specific plans set in stone, but this is mainly because we haven’t performed overseas very much yet. We hope that our next piece will be successful, and that we’ll be able to perform it many more times here in Korea as well. When we first created this team the driving idea was to examine the message sent to the audience from the perspective of a child, and then show them our interpretation. Now, we want to take it a step further and find a definite aesthetic of our own in addition to that. These days we’re thinking a lot about how we can distinguish ourselves, something definite enough that people, even at a glance, can say "Yes, that’s JJbro." We want to show the world more things, with this as a foundation.

   

©Cho Hyeongbin


 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Piece) : "Jimmy and Jack"

"For that moment when one can be more honest with oneself, and admit one’s true character to oneself." Jimmy and Jack is a piece created for those who hide their identities for the sole reason that they’re different from others, and those who hide and cannot show themselves. After winning the prize for choreography at the 2014 Seoul Dance Collection, it was showcased at Japan’s Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival in February 2015 and at the International Comic Dance Festival in Nowon (CoDance) this past June.   

 2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : JJbro

JJbro is a contemporary dance duo consisting of Jeon Heung-ryeol and Pyo Sang-man. The group aspires to observe and interpret the diverse phenomena of modern life with the heart of a young boy and to share these conclusions.  


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Baraji]]> [People] The Most Traditional yet Creative Music with Hope for the Well-being of All
[PAMS Choice] Baraji


When considering the gugak (Korean traditional music) groups that are active in overseas markets, such as Geomungo Factory, [su:m], and Jambinai, you may notice that many groups do not find success overseas until after the group has first been featured in some sort showcase, either domestic (Ulsan World Music Festival , Journey to Korean Music, PAMS Choice, etc.) or overseas. Such music groups are often designated for an official showcase at WOMEX, which acts as a catalyst for overseas expansion. They also tend to begin by offering their overseas performances for free before expanding their activities from a single performance to a multiple-performance tour.
Musical group Baraji, it seems, is the exception: The group skipped these interim steps without failure and began booking overseas tours full of paid performances. As a result, a growing amount of attention is being paid to this group, a testament to their outstanding achievements. What is it that enables such remarkable success? I interviewed Won Na-kyung, a haegeum (Korean traditional string instrument) performer of Baraji.   

Impromptu Music Based on Baraji Sori (Sound or Song) of Gut (Korean Traditional Shamanic Ritual)

Park In-hye: Congratulations on being selected for 2015 PAMS Choice and the WOMEX official showcase. What is the meaning of Baraji?

Na-kyung Won: Baraji is a purely Korean word (one with no roots in in other languages) that describes compassionate care given with unconditional support, which is similar to a widely used Korean word duitbaraji (taking care of). In gut, baraji refers to the impromptu harmony sung by accompanists that enhances the colors of the music of gut. Literally, we take care of people through our performances and songs.

Q: Baraji looks like more than just a performance or impromptu harmony made by accompanists. How is baraji performed at gut?

Won: In Jindo Ssitgim Gut (a traditional shamanistic ritual for the dead), a female shaman performs an impromptu sori while playing musical instruments. When accompaniment is provided for minyo (Korean traditional folk music), the musician provides impromptu accompaniment to the melody of the song, which is called suseonggarak. In gut, suseonggarak is performed with musical instruments and the human voice at the same time. Therefore, sometimes the song of the shaman and the sound of baraji proceed at the same time or they perform with totally different melodies such as sinawi (a traditional form of Korean music that is improvised by a musical ensemble). Or when the song is extended or has pauses, accompaniment is provided in the form of sori

Q: Could you explain more about the music of your group, Baraji?

Won: The particular form of music in gutbaraji—is the basis of our music. We perform musical instruments while singing. We sing to the accompaniment of the janggu (a Korean traditional drum), the ajaeng (a Korean string instrument), or the buk (a drum). It can be said that the essential characteristic of our group is the act of singing a song while playing musical instruments. It just seemed natural, then, that we would name our group Baraji.

Baraji Performances ©Seung-yeol Na Baraji Performances ©Seung-yeol Na  

Q: There have been some changes to the members of the group. How did the group start?

Won: Han Seungseok, professor of Chung-ang University, talked to some performers who graduated from the university and performed Korean traditional folk music, suggesting that they form a music group. These musicians were those who would mainly perform Namdo Music (the music of the southern part of Korea) such as Kang Minsu (percussion, vocals) from Jindo Island, who is familiar with Jindo Ssitgim Gut, as well as Jo Sungjae (ajaeng, percussion, vocals) and Kim Taeyoung (percussion, vocals). That’s how we started Baraji.  

Q: Now Baraji consists of percussion, gayageum, daegeum, haegum, piri, and vocals.  

Won: Kim Yulhee (vocals) joined the existing membership of Kang Minsu, Jo Sungjae, Kim Taeyoung, and Jung Kwangyoon (daegeum, percussion, vocals). In 2014, Lee Jae-hyuk (piri, taepyeongso), Won Nakyung (haegeum), and Kim Min-young (gayageum) joined. The essence of Namdo Music in our songs has been maintained by the existing members and these musicians play a very important role in our music. The boundaries of our sound are expanding thanks to Lee Jae-hyuk, who is an expert in the music of the western part of the Korean peninsula, and Kim Min-young, who specializes in bringing a creative quality to music.    

Unsophisticated and Rustic, but That’s Why It Hits the Spot

Q: Since Baraji solidified its current lineup, the group has shown outstanding progress. You released your first album this year, Beasohn, Song of Prayer, and your performances both at home and abroad were quite successful. What is Beasohn about, and what can we expect from your performance at PAMS Choice?  

Won: When we applied, we intended to perform “Beasohn, Song of Prayer,” “Ssitgim Sinawi, Instrumental Ensemble for the Dead,” “Muchuita, Shamanistic Percussion with the Wind,” “Baraji Chugwon, Baraji’s Wishes for You All,” “Mahnsun, a Song of Full Boat,” among a few others. These songs have been well received by Korean audience, but lyrics are a very important part of understanding them, which makes it difficult for foreigners to connect with them. For this reason, we excluded them from our set list and will instead stage new songs.  

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your new material?

Won: The new songs are “Hwuisanjo” and “Jeongdeun Ari.” We performed “Hwuisanjo” for the first time in July, which incorporates a fast hwimori jangdan beat (one of fundamental rhythmic patterns of Korean traditional music). Our audience liked this song very much. We have recently been working on a composition called “Jeongdeun Ari” that combines chilchae jangdan with the song “Ginarirang” done in the Gyeonggi minyo style. We will also perform a slightly shorter version of “Muchuita,” one that excludes the repeated parts. As for “Baraji Chugwon,” the song originally contained elements of chugwon (wish) music, which drew from the jeseok-geori (a Korean shaman song) of Jindo Ssitgim Gut. Parts of this style will remain, but a newly composed chugwon that is instead based on the rhythm and beat of Donghaean Byeolsingut is added to the latter part of the song.    

Q: The members of Baraji specialize in Korean traditional folk music, especially in the music of gut. I heard that you made a modern version of the song “Ssitgim Sinawi,” which has a structure of Korean traditional rhythms and where attractive gut melodies are played alongside those of different musical instruments. How do you invent new musical pairings like that?  

Won: Initial ideas usually come from Professor Han, the artistic director of Baraji. Regardless of the traditional order of music, we pick interesting parts and blend them together to create new jangdan or make melodies with short themes. When a structure is proposed, our members add more details to it; it’s like making one’s own melody. Jindo Ssitgim Gut itself is generally improvised, as you know, and so our members use melodies that they have learned from doing this kind of improv work. The same goes for the piri performer, haegeum performer, and gayageum performer; together, as Baraji, they produce melodies that they have learned from their past experiences. These impromptu melodies are what constitute our music, which is only complete after several rounds of improvised performances—the traditional way of making music.

Baraji Performance ©Seung-yeol Na Baraji Poster ©Baraji

Q: We can see the strong impacts of Jindo Ssitgim Gut in songs such as “Ssitgim Sinawi” and “Baraji Chugwon.”

Won: Five of our members are from the southern part of Korea and the parents of three of them are designated as Intangible Cultural Properties of Jindo Ssitgim Gut and Jindo Dasiraegi (a festival-like performance at funerals to comfort the mourning family of the dead).  1)Director Han is also from Jindo. For this reason, Jindo Ssitgim Gut has been the basis of our music, though it isn’t the only thing we perform. Actually, only two of our songs, “Ssitgim Sinawi” and “Baraji Chugwon,” are based on Jindo Ssitgim Gut—we are interested in the shamanic music of other regions, too. “Muchuita,” for example, is an interesting song that combines the shamanic music of the western and southern parts of Korea, a style we know about thanks to Lee Jae-hyuk, who specializes in music from the western part of Korea.    

1) Kang Minsu: The son of Kang Junseob, a master of Jindo Dasiraegi, No. 81 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea
Jo Sungjae: The son of Song Sun-dan, a master of Jindo Ssitgim Gut, No. 72 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea
Taeyoung Kim: The son of Kim Oh-hyeon, a master of Jindo Ssitgim Gut, No. 72 of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea



Q: What do you think is the appeal of Baraji?

Won: How unsophisticated and rustic it is? These days, there are many songs that succeed in being both sophisticated and orderly. Some music is difficult to understand because it gets caught up in atmosphere or nuance, ambiguity or abstraction. But our music has a clear message and is easy to understand. “Hwuisanjo” is made of a hwimori melody and “Ssitgim Sinawi” is made of songs performed by female shamans for ssitgim gut. The titles of our songs literally explain the song’s meaning, which I think is an approach that just makes sense to us. Our music is intuitive and transparent; our songs are not something you need to think about deeply.     

Q: Would you tell me about your plans for the future?

Won: After our September tour in Poland, we will have showcases at PAMS Choice and WOMEX in Hungary. Next, we’ll be staging a three-day performance at a small theater in Korea in December. This program is called Manpan: Pungnyu Seoul which shows remarkable gugak performances. We expect our performance in this program to encompass a wide variety of our songs. After PAMS and WOMEX, we plan to produce some new material or build upon some of our existing songs. Whenever we stage our performances, our songs change, which I think is the nature of improv music. We always prefer to go on stage with music that we’re comfortable with, rather than just staging as many performances as possible at home and abroad.   

   

©Park In-hye




 
Performance of 2015 PAMS Choice : ‘Beasohn’

Baraji’s set list includes songs that were played in many performances after the release of official album Beasohn. Lyric-heavy songs have been excluded, with the concert instead focusing on music that best showcases the group’s high level of musicianship. For PAMS Choice, Baraji will play “Hwuisanjo,” a fast-paced hwimori song; “Jeongdeunari,” which combines chilchae jangdan with the elements of a long “Arirang”; “Muchuita,” which shows various human feelings through a shamanic jangdan of the Gyeonggi-do and Jindo Island regions; and “Baraji Chugwon,” which consists of the chugwon aspect of a Jindo Ssitgim Gut, the dance of a gut, and the jangdan of a Donghaean Byeolsingut. The show will feature improvisation by the performers, accompanied by the main vocals and the sound of percussion and baraji that will fill the stage.    

Group of 2015 PAMS Choice : Baraji

Baraji is a pure Korean word that describes a type of compassionate care given from one person to another. In Korean traditional music, baraji refers to improvisation by accompanists that enhances the original essence of the music. The sound of baraji is maximized in the style known as Jindo Ssitgim Gut, establishing a unique form of music. As a group named after this technique, Baraji’s performances are based on the uniqueness of this musical form. Baraji is interested in creating music that is based on tradition but also in line with current trends. It aims to make contributions to a better world and life through its music.
Baraji was established in 2011 and staged a performance in 2015 to celebrate the release of its first album. The group has made significant achievements both at home and abroad: It was selected for the official showcase of the 2014 Ulsan World Music Festival APaMM, PAMS’ Journey to Korean Music, PAMS Choice, and is a part of the official showcase of WOMEX.   


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] 박박(park park) by Park Minhee]]> [People] A Space Drawn with Sound
[PAMS Choice] 박박(park park) by
Park Minhee


Last spring, I saw No Longer Gagok: Room 5 ↻, a piece that offers a reinterpretation of gagok, an age-old, traditional vocal art form where poetry is sung. The performance was staged at the Common Center, an exhibition hall in Yeongdeung-po that consists of small rooms divided by a hallway. Following the performance, one writer for an art magazine wrote that they "wanted to convey how one performance could so quietly cut into one’s body and deliver such a thrilling experience." This type of reaction is better described as a confession than a review.

We give up our evenings and weekends and choose to visit art galleries and performance venues because of the sensual stimulation that the pieces give us and the intellectual stimulation that echoes like a refrain have the potency of a drug. Even now, when I recall No Longer Gagok: Room 5 ↻ once more, I see it as the sort of performance that prolongs the life of an addict. A few days ago I was able to meet with performer Park Minhee and hear her responses to my detailed questions regarding the performance. As I look back on our conversation, I wonder if I will be able to convey the texture of our discussion. Park, speaking of the materiality of sound, used the expression, "to draw an image within a space with sound." On the other hand, it is also my hope that the readers of the following piece will be able to, through these words, imagine the thin but firm voice of the artist.

 

Kim Haeju: Is Let’s Let Go of Form to Try Something Different No Longer Gagok: Room 5 ↻ the third piece under the umbrella of the No Longer Gagok title?

Park Minhee: Actually, I had more projects for which I used the title No Longer Gagok. The titles differ according to whether I’m trying out a test performance or whether it’s a complete piece. You can see No Longer Gagok: LLLonely and No Longer Gagok: 27:00AM as experiments that resulted in No Longer Gagok: Four Nights. I’d also say that No Longer Gagok: Room 5 ↻ is a complete piece, a place where aspects that were missing in the performances that preceded it are taken care of gagok.

I’m curious about the significance of the phrase "No Longer Gagok."

I first came across  in my second year of middle school and really started to get to know it in third grade. There were huge gaps between when I first discovered gagok and when I first started singing it, and then when I started performing. When learning about gagok I learned that it wasn’t just the musical form that was important but that the form of the actions themselves, such as "not moving or smiling," also contributed to the unique sense of beauty in gagok. But witnessing how this sense of beauty is not properly conveyed in gagok performances today, and how the significance also seems to be waning, I started to question whether it was always this mediocre. I started to wonder: If the performance of gagok in a theater is in some senses an error of the era, then should there not be a way in which gagok can be better performed in a non-theater space, or performed in a theater but in a different manner? All of this began with the question of authenticity, whether the performance of gagok that we believe in today is authentic. "No Longer Gagok" (Gagok Shilgyeok in Korean) references a voluntarily loss, or shil (失), of this form. In other words, it contains a determination to abandon an existing form to try something different.

"No Longer Gagok" sounds like a declaration of sorts. Did you begin production with this title in mind?

There were several studies before that. Previously, the primary questions were about questions were about the instrument—the body—rather than gagok itself.. I believe that the energy expended when using your body in various ways is equal for each of these ways, including with singing. I think I was curious about whether there was a drawing that one could create with one’s body or by using the motility of one’s voice. In a sense, a sound that came out of the throat would represent a line. I felt that the body and the voice were not things that disappeared in time but that overlapped, lying on top of one another like matter. And I was also dissatisfied with the format of the stage, a place where the performer is always divided from the audience. All of the uninteresting performances I have seen since I was in my teens were on stages where the audience was separated from the performance. I think I lost faith in the standard of a proscenium. That led me to think about a more level stage where there weren’t separate seats for the audience and where the performers could spend time with the audience as they completed the performance. 

I think that the idea of this level space was excellently realized in your project where the audience member faced the performer, person to person, in a small room. At the same time, because the bodies of both the audience and the performer faced different directions, as did their gazes, it was possible to maintain an appropriate distance between performer and audience member.

People can often feel bewildered when suddenly faced with something strange, but by dividing the performance into parts, where the audience member can spend four minutes in a room and then rotate, my hope is that as time passes the audience can grow more and more comfortable with the situation.

Park Minhee of 박박(park park) ©Kanghyuk Lee
Curator Kim Haeju (left) and Park Minhee of 박박(park park) (right) ©Kanghyuk Lee

A Wish to Deliver the Performance Intimately and Well, Without Misunderstandings

How did No Longer Gagok: Room 5 ↻ begin?

While studying traditional music, there was a principle that I could not doubt, that I had to protect. It had to do with how gagok had to be elegant, and that to protect this elegance one could not sing it anywhere. There was a moment in my mid-twenties when all that came crashing down. It was when I started to think that elegance came not from form, but from the beliefs and philosophies, and intellectual depth of the performer. One day I was at a cafe with my friends and someone requested that I sing for them. It wasn’t a standard stage performance, but I really enjoyed singing for my friends, who were curious about my music, putting every ounce of strength I had into the song. Given how much I love gagok, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m passionate about having it heard properly, and so this was when I began to think that the best way for this to happen was if it was performed closer to the audience. To be more precise, I think I can say that I wanted to see the music heard without any misunderstandings; there are so many misunderstandings on a stage. Whenever I would hear from my teachers that "gagok is good, and it is something that must not disappear," I could never wholly understand, because you can’t convey how good it is simply on the strength of authority; I felt the need to find another way of conveying how good it was.

I’m curious about the structure of the piece and how that came about.
I finished this project very quickly. There weren’t many practices, and I met the performers separately in each of their rooms and gave them specific instructions. I sketched out the structure in a similar way to how one might write a book, placing the temporal flow of the music in space. In its totality, the piece consists of an intro, five chapters (jang), and an outro. Each of the chapters was placed in a space of its own, and as people travel through these chapters in increments of four minutes, they feel the passage of time. The part I agonized over the most was the issue of how to ensure that the listener would be able to understand the musical structure of each room for his or herself, and how, through this, I could present a simpler version of the gagok hanbatang form, which is how gagok is traditionally performed.

Do you think you could say that the functions of the chapters in gagok are reflected in this piece?

Yes. They (the different parts) are our interpretations. I’m not a theorist, but as long as the expression of Korean culture is embedded within me, as someone who was born and raised in Korea, I believe that, as a Korean musician, I’m also a performer, composer and theorist too. Earlier I said that I feel music like it’s a material, like it’s matter. There are moments when the song feels like myself, like my mother, like my teacher, and like my friends. And when I feel like the song is a ghost that pierces time. Theorists are people that observe. But there’s a theory of my own body that theorists do not know. You cannot ignore the emotional aspect, that which only those who have “eaten” music themselves can understand. This piece contains an interpretation of gagok that is grasped at through such a material, in a physical sense, and I believe firmly that it is right.  

Depending on the room, in some moments there are whispers that you cannot make out while in others there is only one kind of sound.

In the first and second rooms you’re hearing the singing of gagok. In the beginning we start with a slow song, called isudaeyeop. As a very old song that can be seen as marking the beginning of gagok as an art form, it involves the repetition of five songs that have the sakgdaeyeop form as the frame. And in the second room you hear "Nong (농[弄])," "Rak (락[樂])," and "Pyeon (편[編])" from the 17th and 18th centuries. Once again, five songs make a set. This kind of structure meant that as a single audience member passed through all of the spaces of the seven chapters, they would continuously hear different combinations of songs, and that each of the audience members would have a different experience of the performance. The sounds coming out of the first and second rooms are supposed to recall being alone, but you cannot really hear the words. In the third room, because the words are spoken in the narrative aniri (아니리) style of pansori music, it’s relatively easy to hear. There was a time in the past when a magazine asked me to write them a poem and I sent them a modified selection from my diary. The title of the piece was "Room" and it was about the state of being half asleep and half awake. I asked performer Ahn I-ho to rewrite this piece from his point of view, and I liked one of the pieces he came up with so much that I decided to use it in that very form.  

And the reason you asked the performer to rewrite the text for that particular chapter was because you needed a distinctive approach to writing the aniri lyrics?

It’s always best when the performer writes his or her own words. As you can see in all traditional music, there is language and there are sounds that one’s own body is accustomed to. In some of the pansori highlights there are parts where, by using sijo and changjo songs for contrast, the sound of the pansori is further emphasized. In this project I tried to achieve that contrast by using the aniri in the context of a gagok. I think that Ahn I-ho did an excellent job of interpreting the words in this way and creating an appropriate texture. But because the essence of gagok is the way the songs are sung, you can’t always hear the words. When I was younger I wasn’t happy about the fact that people couldn’t make out the lyrics, but if you think about it, who can understand the words in a poem, anyway? On the other hand, however, if you like a poem, it stays with you for life. It made me consider whether one refines their voice and approaches sound geometrically in gagok, done in order to really emphasize the inner life of a poem in a significant and abstract way.  

No Longer Gagok: Room 5↻ performance ©박박(park park)

‘Gagok Hanbatang’: Where One Feels a Strange Sense of Space

Lastly, in the fifth room you yourself sang. I remember hearing only one note. As that one sound traveled up the wall and flowed and then reached me once more, I felt a strange sense of the space, where the first sound met with the sound that followed.

The performers in each of the rooms listened to each other’ sounds and only tried to match their keys. For my part, in a composition that changes every time, I stayed with a key that would not clash with any note. That’s the significance of the fourth and fifth chapters of the gagok, and also the significance of the last song of the Gagok Hanbatang.

The insides and outsides of each room came together, and the sound that came forth and combined in different ways led to the variation of seven different chapters. The last space in particular, which featured the outro, was the staircase, halfway between the inside and the outside of the building. Looking out at the streets of Yeongdeung-po while at the same time feeling the union of the remaining sounds, it felt as though the present and the past were flowing together in unison. In that sense I feel like I could understand the symbol (↻) placed next to word "Room" in the title.  

It represents a cycle, and I’ve worked with this concept for many years. It also refers to how, in the Gagok Hanbatang, all of the songs come together to create a cycle within a musical form. In gagok there is no one unique creator, and everyone can be an owner, so in that sense each song essentially travels with a life of its own. I was amused by the idea that, as time passes, and through the acts of the performance and the life of the performer, a certain type of content leads to different forms and falls into another cycle at some other time.

Please tell us a bit about the special movements in this project, as well from your previous project, "Four Nights."

In the case of this project, the basis of the movements is in time; I think I was thinking about the journey of gagok through time. I positioned moments of silence with the thought of a "quiet climax." But if you simply stay still, silence doesn’t come across as silence, so I thought of a way to enable silence to be felt. I tried to switch the differently flowing concept of time of two different people. One person’s gaze moves very slowly, while another person blinks. Like the , which has passed through both slow and fast time, I believe that we have all passed a weird time of our own, just as the layers of Yeongdeung-po, the building of a department store, and the lights of the prostitution district are piled atop each other on layers. I thought of the movement as a variation on the music rather than as any particular choreography. In Four Nights, also, the movement was a visualization of the rhythmical structure of the music.

Are there any other questions you want to try and answer through gagok?

My previous stubbornness regarding gagok wasn’t just because I simply liked gagok. It was also because I believed that, given that gagok was something that contained the essence of an era, even by asking questions about it I could achieve a lot. The modern history of our country is about moving forward rather than asking questions about the past. As a result of this history there are so many people, spaces and regions that, like gagok, haven’t quite found a place. Gagok seems to me like the crystallized remains of everything abandoned and disregarded after the period of Japanese colonial rule in Korea. So, in that sense, I believe that questions about gagok can also be questions about our society today and questions about capitalism. And in the 21st century, when capital has become both religion and god, and when personal tastes are becoming annihilated by a lack of individual personality, actively creating small-scale performances is, for me, a way of asking questions about what’s happening.

Is there anything else would you like to add?

From time to time I think about the state of being amused. I want my piece to be fun for those with both remarkably developed minds and remarkably developed senses. I like the concept of visual art and I like the performers who have developed senses, like shamans (mudang), and I think about conditions where these things coalesce in an ingenious way. That’s why, even if there’s an audience member for whom sense is more resonant, they can still experience pleasure in their skin, and an audience member for whom the piece’s core concepts are more important, they can feel pleasure, too. I used to enjoy art pieces where the concepts came first, but things are a bit different these days. I’m not very good at the technical aspects of things; that’s something that large conglomerates with capital do. I think that performing fulfills a very human need, and I believe that, through performances, humans can convey the beauty of humanity. The desire to discover the beauty of the body and to compel a return to that desire—this is something that performance can still do in a world filled with technology.

  

©Kim Haeju




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection: No Longer Gagok: Room 5↻

No Longer Gagok: Room 5↻ is a piece structured in such a way that the audience member can experience, with the senses, traditional gagok, an art form from the pungryubang [풍류방], or the musical salons of 18th-century Korea. This piece interprets the musical form of the gagok in a three-dimensional, spatial way, and by representing the musical form with the location of the rooms, lets this spatiality show. The positioning of the voices and the use of texture all contribute to 박박(park park)’s interpretation of traditional gagok. Room 5↻, which progresses like a one-person show, actively demonstrates how the musical form has its foundations in poetry. The unique spatial devices of Room 5↻ affect the inner depths of the listener and reveal the unique musical characteristics of the gagok genre and its secret poetic language. At the same time, it takes the origins of gagok—a play only available to a small group of people—and recreates these characteristics in a more inclusive setting. As part of 박박(park park)’s No Longer Gagok series, which places traditional culture in a contemporary context, Room 5↻ is the second in the series, preceded by Four Nights, and its formation is completed by the audience’s act of viewing.   

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group): 박박(park park)

박박(park park) is a group led by artist Park Minhee, who has consistently worked to realign traditional culture within a contemporary context. The group explores traditional gagok and lyrics, sijo, or traditional Korean poetry, and vocal styles that retain traces of their regional characteristics. Through their performances, the members present some of the minor conclusions they have drawn as a result of their musical exploration. The performances are structured around the inside and outside of a musical format that emphasizes vocalization, and this method of construction ensures that the format allows for interpretation among the audience, stage, and performance. Major pieces include Four Nights and Room 5↻ from the No Longer Gagok series, and these pieces demonstrate the "act of doing gagok" method that Park Minhee has explored over the years.    


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Oh Tae-suk, Mokwha Repertory Company Director]]> [People] The Piece that Wrestled with Society and Pitted Its Skill against It:
‘Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice?’
[PAMS Choice] Oh Tae-suk, Mokwha Repertory Company Director
 


Oh Tae-suk debuted as a scriptwriter in 1967 and has been experimenting ferociously for about 50 years since, taking on a leadership role in Korean contemporary theater. He established the Mokwha Repertory Company in 1984 and, along with its actors and staff, has made a career of standing against the conformist tendencies of globalization and has aspired to promote localization, creating his own unique world of theater. On the one hand, with a cultural memory derived from Korean traditional culture, Oh has also built an aesthetic that is novel, dynamic, and can engage with Korean audiences today. On the other hand, Oh has taken this vision overseas to help make the international theater scene more diverse. While Oh Tae-suk’s plays are filled with intense portrayals of ideological conflict, power struggles, war, the commodification of humans, and the reality of death, they also capture those who, with wounded bodies, attempt to cling to life.

As though an audience is invited onstage and swims between the actors

Lee Sang-ran: Since 2000 you’ve made frequent trips overseas in response to invitations to perform abroad. How was performing at the La MaMa Theater in the US last November?

Oh Tae-suk: The La MaMa Theater has a special place in my heart. In the 1970s I saw Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class there. When I saw that I thought, "Yes, this is what theater is." It was theater in a primitive state, should I say. And when I saw it, I felt even more certainty about Korean traditional theater. La MaMa is also where I put on Chobun and Tae; that was 40 years ago. This time around, the reactions went something along the lines of, "Why did we have to wait 40 years to see this performance?"

Q: Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice (henceforth, Sim Cheong) debuted in 1990. I saw this performance for the first time in 1994 at the Oh Tae-suk Theater Festival at the Seoul Arts Center, and received a powerful impression of your perspective on the world and your sense of space. I believe this performance reverberated in a special way not only with domestic audiences but also with audiences overseas.

Oh: I think it must have been seven, eight years ago. I was once invited by a comparative theater literature society in LA to perform at the Department of Theatre, California State, Northridge. The audience consisted mostly of members [of the literature society]. Kim Ah-Jeong, who was the person who had invited us, only gave us a simple introduction, saying that this piece borrowed from an ancient Korean tale from 300 years ago to tell a modern story. And then the performance began immediately, without subtitles. After the performance Ms. Kim was worried, saying that the vice president had disappeared somewhere. But after a while I received a call, saying, "I’m waiting next to the fireplace with a new bottle of alcohol, waiting. I wasn’t able to stay there; I was afraid I’d make some sort of faux pas because I couldn’t keep the tears from falling." The person was an African American woman, and this performance had touched her in a unique way. Britain’s John Russell Brown—the well-known scholar of Shakespeare—saw the show and talked about how it seemed as though he’d been invited by the actors and was walking between them on the stage. I wonder if that sort of thing happens when you leave openings through omissions and leaps, and leave a space for the audience, to whom you say, “You must enter, and it’s only with your imagination and your experiences that we can create a play.” In other words, you’re engaging with the audience. Because words are something you don’t just hear with your ears; they’re something you see with your eyes. There’s a lot you can read from body language and sounds. How did you feel about the performance of Sim Cheong from January this year—did you feel that it was a bit simpler?

Photo from a performance of Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice? ©Mokwha Repertory Company Photo from a performance of Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice? ©Mokwha Repertory Company

Sim Cheong as Priming Water

Q: It was a performance that provoked the body quite a bit. Water was sprinkled at the audience and, as I was sitting in the audience, I even caught one of the balls that flew out and threw it back. That’s the scene that shows how rapidly a simple-hearted country boy called Jeong Se-myeong, after coming to a space called Seoul, is ruined. But why does Sim Cheong also then show up in that scene?

Oh: Sim Cheong hears that if she offers up 300 sacks of consecrated rice to the Buddha, then her blind father will be able to see. She is a 17-year-old girl who thinks, he is my father and he raised me, and if I sacrifice myself to the sea and manage to get 300 sacks of rice, then surely he will be able to open his eyes. A person like Sim Cheong—someone with such a way of thinking—has then come into our world. Once again, we’re presented with the thought that, if I sacrifice my body for this person, won’t I be able to save him? The Sim Cheong of the original story is innocent; it was her father who was wrong. But with this piece, Sim Cheong leaves Jeong Se-myeong disfigured because of the fire she set all to prevent him from making a Molotov cocktail. Is it possible that, despite my best intentions, I can still do something wrong? This is how my piece takes it a step further, progressing from the classic story. Just like there was a wall between the world and her father, who was blind, a wall also arose between the world and Jeong Se-myeong, whose face was ruined. The same applies to the women selling their bodies at the Gunsan wharf. The point was to put Jeong Se-myeong and the ladies on the same plane as a way of evaluating them side by side. In the past, Sim Cheong only did what she did in support of her father. This time, however, perhaps she could be seen as the spark that ignites the resolve of Jeong Se-myeong and the women. . .  Through Sim Cheong, I questioned whether I, too, participated in some of the senselessness of the world.

Director Oh Tae-suk ©Mokwha Repertory Company

The misfortune of the world is not unconnected to me

Q: The misfortune of the world is not unconnected to me

Oh: I had just been thinking, could I not convey it that way to the audience, but I lacked the power so I simply . . . [laughs]. Right now, from Syria, from the Mediterranean, people are trying to make it to Europe and so they’re crawling under boats and getting caught in barbed wire. It’s tragic. Just as I’m trying to live, they too are struggling to survive. When there’s some misfortune like that, can it be that it’s not so unrelated to me? I’ve been trying to open my eyes to this idea, but it’s difficult.

Q: For me, personally, the scene in Sim Cheong where Jeong Se-meyong wears a white mask, is hit by balls, and emits bursts of water is the scene that really remains in my mind because that water is actually blood. It makes me think that the water used in the performance—and the significance of water in the performance—is special indeed.

Oh: You know that part in the Bible that says, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." Among us, too, there is not a person who can throw a stone at another. We should not bully one another, but we still do throw stones and then manage to escape. Jeong Se-myeong tells those people to throw those balls at him, and then tries to live again after that. But despite his intentions, the assistant dies. Sim Cheong then urges the completely despairing Se-myeong to think about the 33 lost cows and to get up again. Sim Cheong’s water represents a cycle, something that lifts a lowly blind man’s daughter to the position of a queen. But in this performance the water is mostly blood. Se-myeong, even in his despair, sees once again the 33 cows that were washed away by the flood. The water uplifts, even amid despair. And so, at the recommendation of the Sea King, he goes to the sea to live life anew, observing the seagulls. But that very place becomes the biggest pitfall of all, with unseen forces on his side. 

Q: The boats of the Gunsan sea. The crude lighting of the boxes where the prostitutes live. Despite seeing these things, I thought that the laughter within and the smell of flesh were like an axis in our lowly capitalistic society. There, Se-myeong changes into a terrorist who uses sympathy as a form of collateral, and it is at this point that the audience becomes agonized: We pity him but at the same time we don’t really want to do anything, and so we fall into this dilemma, and then the performance ends right before the prostitutes all jump into the ocean.  

Oh: Ultimately, you can’t think of yourself as detached from the misfortunes of the world, but it’s a world that doesn’t extend a helping hand. I’ve done all that I’ve could, and now it’s your turn—I’m turning it over to you, the audience. Was that in poor taste? [Laughs.] You pay to get agonized. To be frank, this piece is where I challenge society to a wrestling match and pit myself against it.

Performance Poster for the Mokwha Repertory Company’s 30th-Anniversary Performance of The Tempest
©Mokwha Repertory Company
Poster for Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice?
©Mokwha Repertory Company

Theater, taking over for large families to educate and love

Q: Do you have any special plans for your future theatrical productions?

Oh: I feel like, these days, living in apartments with just our nuclear families is drying up our emotions. So I think that culture has to take on the role that the large, extended family once occupied. Uncles, aunts, women servants, and the education one received from them, in one’s own way. Now, culture has to be that educator. It’s within plays that you taste that generosity of spirit and experience the liberal and varied love that your grandmother, grandmother, aunt, or uncle gave. I continually try to connect with young audiences with an even more active use of leaps and omissions—a traditional Korean approach to art that includes spontaneity and the unexpected. 

You can hear more words with the eyes

Q: The performances of the Mokwha Repertory Company happen in verse. How would you convey the verse aspect of the performance to overseas audiences with different cultural backgrounds?

Oh: You’d have to get a good translator and make subtitles. Abridge the language and make it more colloquial, and ensure that despite being concise, the original punch still lives. But you don’t just listen to the words with your ears—you hear even more with the eyes. As I said earlier, I felt this when I was putting on Sim Cheong at the university theater in California.  

 

©Lee Sang-ran




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Piece): Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice?

Oh Tae-suk describes the work as follows: "When I wrote this story back in ’89 I was hoping that it would end with one performance. In other words, I was hoping that, in the future, there would be no more incidents like the knifing incident at the time, or the other unbelievable things that happened (and inspired this play). A generation later in 2015, the fact that we can still put on this play and that the audience can still sympathize with it given today’s reality—this fills me with dread. I sincerely hope for the day when our society can be the sort of place where you can smile with your eyes at a stranger.”
Following its debut in 1990, Why Did Sim Cheong Plunge into the Sea Twice? won the grand prize at the 28th Dong-A Theater Awards in 1991 and won at the 1st Daesan Literary Awards in 1993. In 2005 it was the first Asian play to be invited to a seminar hosted by the Comparative Drama Conference in LA, receiving high praise from academics the world over.   

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group):  Mokwha Repertory Company

The Mokwha Repertory Company was established in 1984 around Oh Tae-suk, who had for a while created his own unique world of theater, with concepts from traditional drama such as "omission," "leaping," and "unexpectedness and spontaneity" forming the foundation of Mokwha’s unique methodology. Embracing the philosophy of traditional drama, which incorporates the audience as a protagonist, Mokwha’s internalization of this mentality led to a natural interest in "our language," "our gestures," and "our sounds." Like its motto, "A mind that moves a spinning wheel," and with 365 days a year filled with performances and practices, Mokwha continues to vividly express Korea’s colors, language, and identity, aspiring to modernize the traditional as well as sharing with audiences elements of Korean traditions that warrant preservation.   


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Art Project BORA]]> [People] Zoom In on the Language of Body, and the Image Becomes the Message
[PAMS Choice] Art Project BORA


Art Project BORA is led by Kim Bora, who has emerged in recent years as Korea’s most spotlighted choreographer. The group has seen significant growth with their performances both at home and abroad. Their continuous evolution helped them build up a repertoire of style and colors that remain unique to themselves. As a dance company, Art Project BORA defies the rigid constraints of logic and concepts, creating a feast of images and senses. I sat face to face with the choreographer Kim Bo-ra, the director of Art Project BORA, to gain insight into her the nuances of her work.

The Identity of Dancing, the Elaboration of Expression

QSong Nam-eun: Tell us briefly about Art Project BORA.

Kim Bo-ra: It started off in 2013 as a one-person project for producing solo work. Now it has expanded into a group of dancers, producers, and affiliated artists with myself in the center. Founded on contemporary dance, we embrace different fields such as visual arts, films, performance art, music, and fashion. Our aim is to discover an expressive language that is one of a kind. We are working on a range of plans, aiming to be more flexible than a traditional dance group while sharing stronger solidarity than other short-term project groups.

Q. You kick started working under the name Art Project BORA about three years ago and you have seen some significance achievement both at home and abroad. Tell us more about it.

A: Winning the Critics’ Award at the 2014 Yokohama Dance Collection in Japan was the foothold for our overseas activity. We were invited to more than 10 Asian festivals to perform, and we are scheduled for more. There is the Festival International Cervantino, Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in France, December Dance in Belgium, International Tanzmesse NRW in Germany, and the KORZO Theatre in the Netherlands, to name a few.  

Q. What do these overseas performances mean to you?

A: Meeting international audiences and cultivating a diverse range of reactions was enthralling. It was a chance for me to realize that the distribution of my work is as important as the creation itself. It gave me an opportunity to think deeply about my artistic identity. It was an experience of taking on challenges, which ignited my desire to grow and mature as an artist.  

Q. What were some memorable reactions from the audience?

A: After performing for the December Dance in Belgium, I was interviewed by a local journalist. The feedback I received then was a huge comfort; it was along the lines of feeling like I was being freed from a fixed technique or style, something rough and unpolished but unique. It was not Western-oriented but neither was it based on the Eastern tradition. The journalist said it was unpredictable to determine the inspiration for my work, that it was simply a work of “Kim Bo-ra.” That person’s response provided me with much confidence for overseas performances. As an artist I was motivated by those words to grow and to take on challenges.  

Tail Language ©Art Project BORA Tail Language ©Art Project BORA

The Birth of a Wonderful Image from Observing the Unimportant

Q. What triggers you to create your work? Where do you find the source of motivation, and where does it begin?

A: To me, “image” has always been the source of inspiration and motivation for my work. By image, I mean a range of things from objects and things to plants, animals, and people that we see in our everyday life to artwork produced by other artists. The curiosity is triggered by an image and it turns into a desire to transform that idea into bodily language. This mechanism is quite hard to explain. Observation of the unimportant suddenly turns into a mesmerizing moment, a phenomenon that I express through my work. The things that appear in my work other than dance—everything with a different form of art—are not just for the dramatic effect. They are embedded everywhere in my work. Wouldn’t the audience find something magnificent in it as they continue to observe?

Q. To you, the word “image” is the starting point of your work, but is it also the final goal?

A: My head is consistently occupied by thoughts on how I would express what I find in my daily life through art. In the process of transforming what I see into a bodily language, the initial images go through change and exaggeration, and sometimes they are reborn into imaginary images that my eyes have never witnessed. But this is different to simply reproducing images. While translating what I see into a language of body, I seek a new language of communication. I do not establish conclusions. I can say that, based on my own experience, the process of reducing something to verbal and written words leaves no room for interpretation and imagination. I felt caged by it. As a result, in my work I try to remove the boundaries created by that particular type of language. I want things to be freely interpreted and done so solely by observing the image.

Image Telling: The Desire to Communicate with Intuition and Imagination

Q. Many tend to approach dance from a narrative or descriptive sense, similar to theater or literature, but Art Project BORA is more like design. Namely, the image becomes the message itself.

A: You’re right. In that sense, “image telling” would be a more accurate description of my work than storytelling. My approach is quite different from those kinds of works in which the whole piece is supported by one fixed subject or narrative.. Instead, I want to draw out emotions or feelings that I associate with connecting, overlapping, and transforming images. In response, audiences would have their own way of interpreting things; even the dancers themselves do as well. There is definitely a message I want to express, but I don’t want my work to be a one-way communication channel.

Q. You tried different genres for experimenting different images. How did you approach them?

A: In collaboration with other artists, I have been the pivoting point for laying out the direction of the work. From now on I want to try a more active collaboration that sparks chemistry between me and another genre. But it should always be done to the extent that I can maintain my work’s identity as a dance piece. External stimuli are always a requirement, but the purpose would be to branch out from the center. It would not be about shattering the pivot to cloud the identity.  

Tail Language ©Art Project BORA Tail Language ©Art Project BORA  

Focusing on Language of Body

Q. Your work was selected for 2015 PAMS Choice. Tell us about Tail Language.

A: Having been first revealed in 2014, Tail Language will be showcased for the second time in this year’s PAMS Choice. Cats use tail language to express their emotions, and that became the motif. Animals have their own ways of saying things, and I thought maybe humans are also able to have instinctual communication with our bodies. As I said, limits set by language twist communication and create boundaries, and this works speaks to my desire to overcome the limitation of language by focusing on the bodily language.

Q. All characters seem to carry some kind of symbol. And I noticed all of them are women?

A: The female dancers in this work all represent imaginary characters from myths or fables. I needed a bizarre or a fantastical image that could be either human or animal. I put much thought into creating that bizarreness where something looked like a woman in one moment and then all of a sudden an animal in another. It was a tool to help people untangle themselves from the trap of prejudice. Watching body language without preconception is vital in my work. Right at this moment, I feel as though I may be defining things with a language.  

Q. What is your plan for the future?

A: This October we will be performing Tail Language for PAMS Choice and Festival International Cervantino in Mexico. In November we are showcasing new work called Somu as part of the support project for ‘ARKO’s Performing Arts Fostering Program.’ In 2016 we will be collaborating with a French film–producing group N+N Corsino, which will be displayed in a form of exhibit in Marseille, France. We have been invited to perform Somu at France’s Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in May.

Q. The key here is maintaining your current momentum so you can continue branching out overseas. I would like to wrap up the interview by hearing what you have to say about fulfilling this plan.

A: In Korea, it is difficult for a project that was created over a period of months to be performed several times as a series. But as doors are opening for us to go overseas, there is always one performance that is being showcased to difference audiences, and becomes part of our repertoire. This keeps me interested in exploring new platforms overseas, and since then we have boosted our connections with foreign promoters to help us gain a foothold in various distribution channels. Just doing one event takes up a lot of energy and dedication, and being able to perform multiple times clearly works as a motivation for artists. Our goal is beyond simply going overseas or exchanging with people over the border—our ultimate hope is to have continuous business in the foreign performing market.  

 

©Song Nam-eun




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection : Tail Language

The symbolic system within the tail language of cats and gestures is the motif behind the work. It parodies hypocritical refinement and misinterpretation of language. With the language of tails, structural and semiotic movements of lines and surface, or lines and shapes as they are recombined and dismantled. Through this process, a whole new level of language is created, reassuring the presence of “me” while being reminded of the meaning of community of “us” and “them.” The issue of communication asks us what is most essential in modern society. Bearing this in mind, the work is focused on discovering a bodily language that is clearer and more intuitive than verbal or written words. It is her attempt to look for the “truth” underneath all the social communication and relationship hidden under hypercriticism and refinement. In March 2014, it was first performed at Rough Cut Nights, and will be again at Mexico’s Festival International Cervantino in October 2015.  

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : Art Project BORA

Art Project BORA revolves around contemporary dance and takes on a lot of experimental work through collaboration with other genres to actively dismantle the concept of genre and space. The group approaches contemporary themes with a more unique and broad manner. They showcase works that touch upon people’s emotion using their witty drama, grotesque artistic expression, film-like choreography, and directing. Representing works are A Long Talk to Oneself, Frankenstein, I’m Not There, Tail Language, and Somu.  


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Creative Group NONI]]> [People] Artist Group Always Seeking Adventure
[PAMS Choice] Creative Group NONI


It takes a lot of determination to always be creating new things when producing theaters. Just ask Creative Group NONI (NONI), a group that has been strong-willed enough to abide by this principle for the last decade, standing before audiences with a different color and style every time. I met with the director of NONI, Kim Kyung-hee, who spoke candidly about the future direction of the group’s work.

A Range of Artists

Oem Hyun-hee: It has been a while since Creative Group NONI was first formed in 2006. How did it all begin?

Kim Kyung-hee: Our first work came out in the winter of 2005, which was called Kkok-Du. Most of our group members were students back then—one studying drama acting, another traditional performance, and ten were majoring in stage art (of the group currently remain director Kim Kyung-hee and traditional performance director So Kyoung-jin). They directed, acted, and created pieces while working entirely on their own, which allowed them to break away from their original fields, roles, and jobs and focus on taking on new challenges in the collaborative process. In the world of stage art, it is the conventional norm to do what is given in line with the system, but they wanted to expand to a realm where they could freely cross the boundaries in determination to become stage artists who can create something of their own and become active creators. Kyung-jin shared a similar idea and she was keen to make traditional performance more entertaining and fresh. We were the two pillars of this vision, and the concept eventually materialized into a group of a variety of artists, which is the current Creative Group NONI.

Q. So, the final result is about different artists trying something new?

A: I believe it begins with a new relationship or a structure. Many thought it was hard for something new to be created in the theater system, and NONI’s efforts at building a relationship in the attempt to create something new was not easy, and continues to be this way. NONI is a project group and, depending on the project, the group looks dispersed and clustered at the same time; individual artists do their own thing as much as they can, or try different things by eagerly playing different roles in the group. Most members play multiple roles, but playing a new role can be a bit awkward sometimes, so we are navigating between the two extremes as a way of finding what feels comfortable for us.

Q. It seems like the traditional colors are fading from NONI’s work with time.

A: That’s not necessarily true. I have always been fascinated by the potential imbued in traditional performance and trained bodies, and traditional performance was one of the ingredients. I have faith in tradition in the sense that there is an element of entertainment to it, and it can be seen in the base of every work in at least in some form. The traditional form is applied implicitly when it is combined with genres such as theater, parkour, and sound. I do try not to make it too obvious or familiar.

Critic Oem Hyun-hee interviewing director Kim Kyung-hee
©Studio Jokwang
Critic Oem Hyun-hee interviewing director Kim Kyung-hee
©Studio Jokwang

Looking for that Common Initial Emotional Response

Q. You have been chosen by PAMS three times so far, with your previous wins having been for Kkok-Du (2006), Chaotic Twins (2013), and Things that Remember (2015). Between its start and now, NONI has frequently performed overseas—what is that like?

A: Kkok-Du was the most popular, and we went abroad a lot for that. We went to China, Germany, and India, and we toured around by grouping cities by festivals in the latter two. We were often invited to perform at foreign festivals, and we tried our best to incorporate workshops as well. In the initial stage when we performed Kkok-Du, NONI mostly consisted of traditional performers. Shows were often interwoven with traditional performances such as Korean mask dances, percussion, and narrative songs for the local audience. Trips overseas demonstrated that people still found Korea unfamiliar, which made me want to increase awareness by strongly drawing them into the performance while broadening the channels for closer communication.

Q. Do countries react differently?

A: Yes and no. Understanding how they react is a motivation for us to perform overseas. There are some cultural differences, and I find it intriguing when what people like overlaps. The moment a performance moves them, the raw emotional reactions they experience seems similar across different countries. It is as exciting as finding the third language, and we feel connected.

Q. So you value the point where people relate to each other in their untranslated emotion.

A: I think that the core underlying values of my work are communication and encountering. Otherwise I would be performing in a room with no audience. The moment people fit together perfectly, or every moment of encounter gives me great happiness. Finding that moment is part of our work, and we seek the point where languages meet and look into how the process takes place. In line with this vision, there are some really interesting aspects in work that involves global collaborations. In case of our previous piece, STATION, we worked with French circus artists. Elaborating our senses was fun but not exactly easy. We have to meet up frequently and comfortably to produce a positive outcome, but it was a shame that we had to part as soon as we began getting to really know each other better.

Things that Remember at Culture Station Seoul 284 (Old Seoul Station)
©Creative Group NONI
Things that Remember at Culture Station Seoul 284 (Old Seoul Station)
©Creative Group NONI

The Story Lives within the Space

Q. Tell us more about Things that Remember

A: Things that Remember is mostly about my affection for space. Stories live within space. To help people see and feel the these stories as we [the NONI team] see and feel them, we have to expand that domain using tools like sound, light, and objects; we need the tools to give us direction. In a city like Seoul where space is dominated by uniformly and newly built skyscrapers, encountering space that harbors captivating energy is a rare event. Coming across places such as the Culture Station Seoul 284 (old Seoul Station), where we performed Things that Remember last year, or the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (old Guui Intake Station) were both extremely lucky and exciting occurrences. We spent as much time observing the space as we could for these works. The vital point would be how the audience feels about the space, but this will be meaningful for everyone who is involved in the creation process. At the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center we performed TEMPest in 2013. Some of the parkour performers back then are joining us for Things that Remember, and I am excited to see what kind of influence the experience from TEMPest from 2013 will have on Things that Remember in 2015, or how they will be expressed this time. These spaces have been modified significantly by construction work, and the performers have also gone through changes and growth since.

Q. The material aspect of your work seems to have begun to carry some significance, especially since TEMPest.

A: As I work with the basic elements of stage art, I am familiar with the materials and I am drawn to them. I have long been charmed by the potential of dolls and objects. Up to MonKey D’dance, which we staged just before TEMPest, we tried to understand what our performers were best at, and those elements became the pillars of the production. From TEMPest, our focus shifted to the internal features of individuals. But since our first work, Kkok-Du, the recurring theme has been rituals related to death or exorcism. Death somehow makes humans return to being materials. All living beings will eventually meet their end, and at the same time they are also materials. MonKey D’dance expressed the kinetic aspect of these materials, while TEMPest was the starting point where we wanted to realize the kinetic aspect of materials through body and daily objects, drawn from the stories that arise from the relationship of space and substances. We are still working on exploring the relationship between life and death through the kinetic.

The exterior of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (old Guui Intake Station)
©Studio Jokwang
The interior of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (old Guui Intake Station)
©Studio Jokwang
The interior of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (old Guui Intake Station)
©Studio Jokwang

Do as You Like; Think Outside the Box

Q. NONI applies its vision to both the interior and exterior of a theater, whether it’s an outdoor festival venue or just the space outside of theater.

A: As a stage artist, the interior has boundaries, but at the same time it is a comfortable space because it is equipped with everything we need. Put simply, we go outside seeking something more entertaining and adventurous. We paint stories on a blank canvas when we perform in a theater, while the outdoor is a place with accumulated stories that is also filled with delightful things to discover. This is directly linked to the most crucial principle of NONI’s work, which is the artistic side, or our visual language. Audiences are the main reason why we perform outside, mainly because an audience located in the interior and exterior of the theater will differ in many respects. The two different spaces make us think about how we should approach a performance, which in turn can determine how the final piece will be performed. NONI does not like to adhere to a single genre, but viewers tend to like to categorize us. In fact, works staged outside of a theater are mostly held in public spaces, which are restricted by things like prejudice and limitations. Such restrictions impede the artist’s communication and ability to explain how their piece works with the related personnel of these public spaces. Outdoor theater, however, is not simply moving the interior to the exterior; it is about unchaining oneself from everything we originally thought was important Outdoor performances are increasingly being adopted by artists and are bringing about gradual changes in how the audience thinks about theater.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

A: We are showcasing STATION in France next spring, and we would like to be able to perform in a greater number of countries, including Korea, by next autumn. Our work is not about repetitive rehearsals in a predictable environment. We are a little different—we continue to transform in line with our thoughts and surroundings. My hope is to receive support that fits in with this particular aspect of our character. We dreamt of creating something entertaining in the early stages of NONI, and I hope that this continues into the future.

 

©Oem Hyun-hee




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection : Memory of Space: Things that Remember

Objects shelter stories by compressing the memories of space. Audiences search for objects by looking at a map and exploring space while seeing or hearing the stories of objects. When it is time, a giant machine starts to move as if a train has whistled or a clock has moved, and objects begin to wake up. The dispersed bodies come together to connect the dots in the space, which makes the entire experience a thing of the present rather than of the past.  

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : Creative Group NONI

Creative Group NONI consists of artists from different fields. Originally assembling in 2006, NONI’s works span twelve performance repertoires that can be classified into three units—traditional performance, and art—while cutting across a range of genres. Each performance includes varied activities that are carried out in concert with one another, helping each individual member to unleash their potential in their respective field. Small-scale research and creativity are experimented with and expanded in a multitude of forms to create the foundation of the group’s creative process. They have performed various works that include STATION; Things that Remember; It(Kinetic Theater); KkokDoGut; The TEMPest; Play of Tiger+Monkey; MonKey D’dance; Chaotic Twins; Playing Wind; Ignis fatuus Rin; and Kkok-Du. 


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Danpyunsun and the Sailors]]> [People] As intense, sorrowful, and stupendous as can be
[PAMS Choice] Danpyunsun and the Sailors


Danpyunsun and the Sailors creates a type of music that combines the musical elements of psychedelic, indie folk, and world music, centered around singer-songwriter and guitarist Hoegidong Danpyunsun. The four-member band, which also includes a violinist, percussionist, and bass player, has a sound that is simultaneously powerful and appealing. The group’s music is a testament to a particular aspect of 21st-century Korean society in which Eastern and Western cultural elements coexist side-by-side. This brand of chaos might register as esoteric to some, but it’s also greatly Korean, with the addition of a poppy appeal. I recently had the opportunities to sit down with Hoegidong Danpyunsun of Danpyunsun and the Sailors to discuss the band and its music.

Peeling Off the ‘Indie’ Label

Q (Kwon Seok-jeong): How does it feel to be selected for PAMS Choice?

A (Hoegidong Danpyunsun) : The selection is significant for me on a personal level. In Korea, musicians are often categorized as either "mainstream" or "indie," but I don’t want that. I dislike the indie label, while having no particular desire to enter the mainstream, either. My music contains the influences of music from all over the world. It’s been influenced uniformly by Korean traditional music (gugak), jazz, and rock, as well as folk music from all over the world, frequently called "world music." I’ve always wanted to escape the categorization that exists here in Korea, where even music like mine is simply called indie. In that sense, I am anticipating that the PAMS Choice Selection will turn out to be a great opportunity. Of course, I have no expectations that my music will sell well. But I think the mere act of seeing and hearing the wide range of music overseas and talking to the musicians of these countries will stimulate me creatively.

Q : It’s unprecedented that a team that does not play some sort of fusion gugak is selected for PAMS Choice.

A : You can feel the current of Korean music today in our music. In Korea, you can find a mix of cultures, from the products of Western culture to the cultures of various Asian countries. Danpyunsun and the Sailors reflects the diverse music of the wide range cultures that have joined the mix here in Korea. To some, this might come across as chaotic, but the dominant feeling I have about Korea today is the collision of different lifestyles and this chaos. That too is one aspect of Korea, so in a sense you could say that our music is incredibly Korean music.

Q : You won the award for Best Rock Album at the Korean Music Awards back in February. Would you and your band members consider your music to be rock?

A : I don’t want to limit our music with the category of rock. I can see why people might see us that way, since I was influenced by both rock and folk music. The type of music I aspired to create with Danpyunsun and the Sailors was psychedelic pop. I consider the album Animal to be pop, but this doesn’t fit the mainstream concept of pop music. Of course, it was a great honor to be selected. Danpyunsun and the Sailors is indie even among the indie bands, and underground even among the underground, so I never imagined that we could win the award. But I was happy at the thought that the award represents the fact that we were able to connect with many people through the path we took and the methods we chose, rather than only having these things remain among us.

단편선과 선원들 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

Danpyunsun and the Sailors ©Danpyunsun and the Sailors

Danpyunsun and the Sailors Meet, and . . .

Q : How did the group Danpyunsun and the Sailors form?

A : When I was working as a solo artist I had a lot of interest in experimental, avant garde music. I released the solo album A Hundred Years and after receiving an offer from the show EBS Space Gonggam, and so I started to look for bandmates who could perform with me for the broadcast. The musicians that I found thus had not much to do, musically, with the music in A Hundred Years. While trying to create an ensemble with these new members, I began to go in an unintended direction musically and I really liked the feeling. That’s the feeling that led to the album Animal.

Q : The organization of Danpyunsun and the Sailors is unique. It’s a four-piece band with you, Danpyunsun (vocals, guitar), Jang Do-hyuk (percussion), Choi Woo-young (bass), and the recent addition of a new violinist. I find this makeup to be very intriguing.

A : For the Space Gonggam broadcast we only had the percussion and violin, without bass. There wasn’t enough time until the broadcast, and I also thought that with drums and bass I would not be able to arrange the music the way I wanted. We started practicing as a three-piece band, but the music we produced was better than expected. At the time I had a lot of interest in French pop, so that was one reason I really wanted a violinist. When I released my solo album, I also performed as part of an 11-person band called Danpyunsun and the Orchestra. The orchestra had an electric guitarist, a keyboardist, a chorus, and a violinist, along with a variety of other instruments. I did this because I had dreams of big band music. But while working with that group I realized that I did not have the capabilities to properly handle a large-scale band. On the other hand, Danpyunsun and the Sailors was smaller and more manageable for me to direct. There were relatively fewer instruments, but we emphasized the details. After performing for the broadcast program as a three-piece band, we recorded an album and ended up adding a bass player.

Q : What kind of music did you aspire to produce with the group Danpyunsun and the Sailors?

A : When I first started writing songs, there wasn’t a particular format I was aiming for. After we made the songs, we had some people say it was like Buddhist music, while others called it Western music. There’s a more Eastern message in the text, but the composition of the pieces themselves is Western. So, basically, it’s music that’s a rambling mix of East and West. The lyrics contain references to the gods and histories of the East and West, as well as social concepts. I believe that the final product is a natural result for a Korean living in Seoul.

Everything Coming Together in One Place with "Animal"

Q : To share some of my personal thoughts about the album Animal, I felt that it was a mixture of multiple styles of folk music, from the songs conveying Korean sensibilities, to the recent indie folk of the US and UK, and less recent but beautiful British folk of the ’60s and ’70s, and even psychedelic folk. For music like this, it’s generally the case that the listener responds to the music according to his or her own tastes. I feel like fans of world music might hear Romani music, and fans of art rock or British folk might hear the more unapproachable music in the style of (US jazz fusion band) Spyro Gyra or the psychedelic folk music of late ’60s US band Love.

A : I agree. Spyro Gyra is a group that I really like. To add to what you said, there is almost no American-style music in Animal.

Q : What would you say were some of your musical influences?

A : I listen to a lot of old music. If I had to pick one major influence I’d say Shin Jung-hyeon. But while his music itself was a huge influence on me, I was even more influenced by his attitude toward music. When creating music with Danpyunsun and the Sailors, I place great importance on producing something that sounds contemporary. Of course, I feel that the music of Shin Jung-hyeon embodies this quality; Shin Jung-hyeon never lagged behind the American/British music of his time, and in some ways he even led. I get the feeling that he made his music with an awareness of European music from Italy and France and Japanese music, as well as the psychedelic music of his time. I believe his music was the sort of music that could not have been made without an awareness of the world music of the time.

Q : What are some examples of the contemporary spirit that Danpyunsun and the Sailors value?

A : Rhythm. For music to be fun to listen to, the rhythm and groove must be modern. To say a few words about our own album, Animal, even if you can’t say the groove is completely sophisticated, at the least I believe that there aren’t any tacky or dated songs. Music created in 2010 has to sound like music created in 2010. Although most references lead back to the past, you have to find a way to interpret it in a modern way. One of my goals is to ensure that the music of Danpyunsun and the Sailors doesn’t sound old even to those who are fans of EDM or dance music from Korean idol bands. Some call Danpyunsun and the Sailors progressive rock. I mean, I obviously enjoy progressive rock, too, but I want those who listen to my music to be able to move to it.

Q : The lyrics of Danpyunsun and the Sailors have a lot for contemporary listeners to empathize with.

A : On the one hand, one weakness in my lyrics is the lack of a hook. I only write what I want to say; I don’t pay much attention to grammar or logic. But I do hope that the lyrics successfully communicate my intentions and my attitude.

Q : Why did you title your album Animal?

A : The reason I titled it Animal, as opposed to, for example, Beast, is that I wanted to comment on the idea of physical power. In the East we are more concerned with discussing the human spirit rather than the physical. In the West, too, there is a lot of thought on ideas and the spirit. But I’m more interested in the physical. I think that more than anything else, what we eat, where we sleep, and the places we live in have the biggest influence on us. These physical attributes contain more truths. "Animal" contains narratives about these physical things. In addition, I wanted to speak of my hope that humanity would eventually overcome the chaos of today’s world. It may be difficult, but I do believe that if we pool our strength and try the world can become a better place.

Q : Where do you stand on the political spectrum?

A : I suppose I would consider myself to be a moderate leftist. My music also contains such messages. What is a musician if not a person who talks about his or her desires and dreams. That is the only extent to which my identity is apparent in my music. I don’t think that political inclination is important when making music. If your musical message is overly political, it takes out the fun in it.

단편선과 선원들 공연 포스터 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

단편선과 선원들 공연 포스터 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

단편선과 선원들 《동물》 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

Danpyunsun and the Sailors show poster
©Danpyunsun and the Sailors
Danpyunsun and the Sailors show poster
©Danpyunsun and the Sailors
Animal, by Danpyunsun and the Sailors
©Danpyunsun and the Sailors

Enjoyably and with Gusto, without Any Particular Reason

Q : How have your experiences been so far with overseas performances?

A : I went to Japan about four times as a solo artist. Besides that, I received invitations to perform in Germany, the UK and a variety of other countries, but upon considering the break-even point I wasn’t able to go. Although our album has been written about in a variety of overseas publications, it doesn’t make sense to me to go overseas to perform when the losses overshadow the profits. It’s my firm belief that even for overseas performances, one should be able to earn as much as one has worked. In Japan I received rave reviews from an influential publication. I was also included in a Japanese compilation album introducing Korean New Wave alongside We Dance, 404, Yamagata Tweakster and PIGIBIT$. They said that our music often feels fresher than Japanese music because we offer something different from what Japanese musicians have.

Q : What are some countries you would like to tour?

A : More than the US, I’d like to visit Southeast Asia; places like Indonesia and the Philippines. Koreans don’t really know Southeast Asia. There’s a tendency to subtly look down on Southeast Asia and to insinuate that they are somehow inferior, but I think that there is so much to learn from the countries of that region. They sustained great losses following the pillaging of imperialistic Western powers, losses even greater than we experienced. I’m curious about the sorts of paradoxes that might exist in such countries. I want to see for myself how the paradoxes in me, as a Korean, differ from the paradoxes one might see there. Beyond that, I’m also very interested in Eastern Europe. But the country I want to visit the most is North Korea.

Q : If you had a goal for your overseas performances, what would it be?

A : I just want to enjoy myself and have the audience enjoy themselves and I want to dance. There are many instances in the Korea indie scene where people aren’t able to enjoy themselves when listening to music because they keep looking for some sort of deeper meaning. Of course, that kind of attitude is also praiseworthy in its own way, but I simply want to have fun with my music. I want to continue making music like that.

Q : Please tell me about your plans for the future.

A : I’m planning the next album release for this coming spring. I think the music will sound more like pop music than our current music. I want to get closer to the types of sounds I wasn’t able to approach in the indie scene and wasn’t able to overcome.

단편선과 선원들 멤버 단편선 - 보컬, 기타 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

단편선과 선원들 멤버 장도혁 – 퍼커션 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

단편선과 선원들 멤버 최우영 – 베이스 ⓒ단편선과 선원들

Danpyunsun and the Sailors member,
Danpyunsun - Vocals, guitar
Danpyunsun and the Sailors member,
Jang Do-hyuk – Percussion
Danpyunsun and the Sailors member,
Choi Woo-young – Bass

©Kwon Seok-jeong




 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection : ‘Animal’

"Animal" is both the title of first album from four-piece group Danpyunsun and the Sailors and the name of the showcase that followed the release of the album. The group’s musicianship, centered around a meticulously tuned violence, especially shines during the band’s performances, which feature wailing, roaring, and jumping throughout, similar to their album. While the members excise self restraint when it comes to electronic modifications to their sound, they squeeze every last bit of potential sound out of their acoustic instruments, usually made of wood and steel, taking the sound to the limit. They approach every new live performance with renewed intensity, leaving the audience with the impression of something pure and imposing.  

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group) : Danpyunsun and the Sailors

Danpyunsun and the Sailors is a four-piece group that was formed in 2013, with veteran folk musician Hoegidong Danpyunsun at the center. The members, whose resumes cover a diverse range of music from classical and Romani music to folk pop and experimental rock, continue to push for a new pop sound with a mixture of both Eastern and Western influences.  


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] TANEMOTION]]> [People] Above All the Other Modifiers, We’re a ‘Band’
[PAMS Choice] TANEMOTION


If you think about it, there’s a certain level of caution required when delving into gugak, or Korean traditional music. Still more caution is required when discussing music made at the meeting point between gugak and contemporary popular music with a foundation in Western culture. This is, of course, the responsibility of those who write about music. What caution is needed when simply enjoying the music? A slight unfamiliarity with the outward trappings of music is cause for enjoyment rather than anything else. Tanemotion is one such band that can be enjoyed in this way. I recently had the chance to meet with three members of the band—Yeon Ri-mok, who plays accordion and keyboard; Kim So-yeop, who plays saenghwang (a mouth organ), piri (a double reed instrument), and taepyeongso (a reed wind instrument); and Kim Seul-ji, who plays ajaeng (a zither-like stringed instrument)—in the Daehangno neighborhood of Seoul.

A Feel for the Contemporary

Han Myoungryun: Congratulations on your PAMS CHOICE selection. What is the personal significance of such a selection to you?

Kim Seul-ji: PAMS CHOICE doesn’t just select music but also theater, dance, and artists working in a variety of fields. This surely applies to other art genres, of course, but in music, a sense of the contemporary is the most important thing. I imagine the panel must have questioned what kind of Korean music could best make an impact on the era we live in now. In that sense, the fact that Tanemotion was selected as the team to answer that question is deeply meaningful to us.

In fact, I can’t help but feel a bit careful about the language I use to describe the sort of music that Tanemotion makes—music that shares both the form of Korean traditional music and Western music. "Fusion gugak" has already been pointed out as lacking in validity and in its sense of identity.

Yeon Ri-mok: Frankly, we’re also as worried about that issue. We have been using relatively descriptive phrases such as "a hybrid band with Korean traditional instruments," but it’s not easy to come up with a phrase for the media, where expressions are often abridged. It’s a problem we’ll have to continue grappling with.

Kim Seul-ji: There have been consistent attempts to fuse gugak and popular music with a foundation in Western music, and this problem [with defining our genre] is something that has cropped up repeatedly throughout the ages. If we were to divide this into different eras, then you could say that the first generation of such an attempt focused on harmonizing the forms of gugak and Western music, and the second generation emphasized a contemporary sound. The third generation is the generation that attempts to place, in both the form and sound of a piece, the sensibilities of popular—that is, contemporary—music and to resonate with popular audiences. Of course, in the process you’ll come across ambiguous and sometimes dangerous definitions and concepts that add an element of confusion, but I do see it all progressing. To be honest, there’s a need to recognize the fact that such problems fundamentally arise from the fact that Korean traditional music experienced a rupture, historically speaking.

Kim So-yeop: Even when you consider the saenghwang, you can see that. The saenghwang was originally a Chinese instrument. It came into the Korean peninsula at the beginning of the 20th century, or perhaps a bit before that. But with the annihilation of Korean culture during the period of Japanese colonial rule, the saenghwang also died out, along with its technique. Even today, if my reed became damaged somehow, there would be no way to repair it in this country.

The Identity of Korean Instruments

While preparing for the interview, I ended up listening to your first album, Tanemotion—Cheonchamanbyeol Concert Album, again. In fact, the sound was more "Western" than that of Tan-Emotion (2014).

Yeon: Can you specify what kind of sound felt that way?

I want to be a bit careful about how I word this, but in the elements of world music or classic music, I was reminded of romanticism. Especially the sound of the ajaeng in "Hwangweol"—it felt almost like some mid-point between the viola and the cello. It also seemed to have a waltz-like structure, filled with sorrow.

Kim Seul-ji: To be honest, I feel a lot of complex emotions when I hear an appraisal like that. Of course, it’s true that at the time we were trying for that. I’m speaking of an ambition to create Western-like sounds with gugak instruments, and to reach a relatively wider audience with this method. It was successful, but looking back there is a twinge of regret as well. If the performer of an instrument has any sort of duty, it is to bring the fundamental essence of the instrument to life and have that recognized, rather than to have that instrument imitate other instruments. We’re planning to record "Hwangweol" again for our next album. I want to bring to life, 100 percent, the uniquely rough timber of the ajaeng, which is so different from the viola or cello it was compared to.

It’s possible that the mastering is actually the most important factor in the timber.

Kim So-yeop: We can’t ignore that fact. The taepyeongso and pipe are powerful enough in a performance to rise above the beat of the drums. And when learning an instrument, we’re taught to put everything into it. But in a recording, sometimes I’ll find that it sounds a lot weaker than I imagined, despite the fact that the taepyeongso is an incredibly sonorous instrument! I’m joking a bit here, but the player of an instrument does sort of grow to resemble the instrument. So female students who major in wind instruments tend to have a rather frank and open-hearted aspect to them. And they can handle their liquor [laughs].

Yeon: Of course, getting the tone right in production is a very important part. But more than that, it’s also important to structure it properly so that at the composition and arrangement stages, the various instruments can properly express their tones.

김소현-상황

김슬지-아쟁

김소진-보컬,기타

연리목-건반

Kim So-hyeon –Saenghwang
Kim So-jin – Vocals, Guitar
Kim Seul-ji – Ajaeng
Yeon Ri-mok – Keyboard

PAMS Selection: ‘Tan+Emotion’

When you look at the first piece and the line-up of members who worked on Tan+Emotion, it feels like the first and second generations.

Yeon: Actually, in terms of member changes, there were only changes to two positions, with Kim So-jin replacing Kwon Song-hi as vocalist, and Kim So-yeop replacing Kim Tae-gyeong on the pipe and saenghwang. But because these members were each with us for two years, I can see why it might feel that way.

Compared to your previous piece, the traditional theme in this album leaves a strong impression. Particularly the gut (Korean traditional shamanistic exorcism), which is not something that younger listeners these days are familiar with.

Kim Seul-ji: That’s possible. Not even those who major in gugak are necessarily familiar [with the Shamanistic tradition]. But we do have the opportunity to learn a gut for the stage, and the flow of the gut.

And on the other hand, there are also rock music–like characteristics. "Pado [Wave]," in particular, has a strong bluesy feel. Yeon is also a member of indie rock band Nuntteugo Cobain, but I’m wondering how the other two members feel about this sensibility.

Kim Seul-ji: Of course, I have an infinite affection for traditional music and that’s why I began to study gugak, which helped focus the musical references of my younger years. But while working with Tanemotion I have been listening to a broader range of music. Of course, there’s also the influence of my older brother, who is also a gugak musician and was also a fan of hardcore bands and bands with a groove, like System of a Down. I also enjoy listening to the music of Nuntteugo Cobain [laughs].

Kim So-yeop: It’s a bit different for me. I believe that there’s a certain compatibility in the thick, smooth ringing of the gugak-style elements of the pipe with blues music. Actually, "Pado" also borrows in part from the "Chilmeoridang Gut" of Jeju Island. I’m wondering if the "rock" sound came naturally from the part where we express these intense emotions where we express these complex ideas in the heat of the moment.

Yeon: Many listeners who like our music talk about the attraction of "Pado." Director Lim Dae-jin also likes it [laughs]. I believe that that’s why he loves it—because of how big the impact of the piece is.

Setting Their Sights Overseas

Through PAMS CHOICE you had the opportunity to participate in a showcase for overseas professionals in the industry. What were some of your experiences performing overseas before this?

Yeon: Unfortunately, we have none. Even in 2013, when we received the Sound Frontier Grand Prize at the Jeonju International Sori Festival, there was no opportunity to perform overseas.

Kim Seul-ji: But the winning teams in the subsequent years did receive, as part of their win, an opportunity to go abroad. I hope that we can use this opportunity to be even more active.

Lim Dae-jin: Frankly, the aim of performing overseas isn’t to make a lot of money or to be wildly successful, and it can’t be that way. We [Korean musicians] have to find the significance the opportunity of having a lot more people listen to our music. It seems obvious, but because that also implies that there aren’t so many opportunities to have a lot of people listen to our music in Korea, it’s also why I sometimes feel like it’s a pity.

Where do you think you’ll find the most positive response overseas?

Tanemotion: It’s hard to say at this point. There are no guarantees, and we have a lot of internal anxiety. More than anything, if we could garner a positive response overseas with Tanemotion, we can definitely say that we’ll be happy about that. But our identity is as a Korean band, so we want to be the sort of band that can connect with Korean audiences and to the Korean market.

tan-p3 (타니모션 밴드)

What are your plans for the future?

Yeon: As a composer, I do have contemporary inclinations. It is a dream of mine from my years as a student, and I want to try composing a gugak wind and string instrumental piece.

Kim So-yeop: Please give that piece to me [laughs]. Right now I’m focusing on Tanemotion. I want to explore the possibilities of gugak instruments to the fullest.

Kim Seul-ji: My love for the tone of the ajaeng is unchanging. My goal, however, isn’t merely to uphold tradition but to continue with new attempts.

                                                                                                                                                                                ©TANEMOTION 
 
2015 PAMS Choice Selection: ‘TAN+EMOTION’

TAN+EMOTION represents a new tone in popular music, with the organic harmonization of gugak instruments and Western instruments. Traveling freely between pansori and jazz, the Sahara Desert and Jeju Island, the album is boundless, and in it one can hear a sound unique to Tanemotion. The piece "Four Four" features a fusion of jazz’s scat singing with pansori, and incorporates the Irish whistle and accordion. The collaborative piece "Nae-rye-onda [Comes Down]" is inspired by gut, a core element of Korean shamanism. The group’s repertoire also includes other pieces such as "Pado," "Tanda-Ta," and "Bu-jung-guri." Tanemotion has been featured at the Ulsan World Music Festival, the Jeonju International Sori Festival, and the Seoul Jazz Festival, and has the ability to fit in with a variety of genres while also continuing to show off its unique appeal. 

2015 PAMS Choice Selection (Group): TANEMOTION

"Tanemotion" is a portmanteau of tangeum, meaning to play the gayageum or geomungo, and emotion, and signifies the aim of "playing, and playing a person’s emotions." It is a six-member musical group that has both a thorough knowledge of Korean traditional music and the accessibility of popular music. With its unique sound and refreshing lyrics that satisfy the soul, its witty interpretation of Korean traditional culture is part of its appeal. After forming in 2010, with concerts including "Playing the Mind [Maeumeul Tada]," "New Gut Project [Sae Gut Project]," "Bingeul Bangeul," and "Tanda-Ta," the group has demonstrated continued growth with each coming year, and has been acknowledged with prizes such as the Sound Frontier Grand Prize at the 2013 Jeonju International Sori Festival, a prize for excellence at the 2011 Cheonchamanbyeol Concert, and the silver medal at the 2011 21st Century Korean Music Project.


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Goblin Party]]> [People] Goblin Party, work in progress  
[PAMS Choice] Goblin Party


Always striving for improvement, the young goblins of Goblin Party—selected for this year’s incarnations of Performing Arts Market Seoul’s PAMS Choice, the K-Arts Tour Program, and the Seoul Performing Arts Festival in succession—are preparing for greatness. KAMS was able to meet up with the leaders of the Goblin Party, who are preparing for the October 2015 Goblin Party, and found them to be bursting with “humanity.”

Choreographers That Consider Themselves Goblins

Q (Lee Yeong-chan): I’d like to sincerely congratulate you on being selected for PAMS Choice. Before we begin, could you please introduce yourselves as a group? The name of your team, Goblin Party, is amusing and leaves quite an impression.

A (Goblin Party) : We are Lim Jin-ho and Ji Kyeong-min of Goblin Party. Goblin Party is a dance group that consists of five members: two other members that appear in “Soul Piercing” with us, and another friend based in Busan. It has been a while since the current members began to work together as a team, but we started using the name Goblin Party in 2012. When we were choosing our name, we didn’t simply want to follow the formula of having the choreographer’s name plus “Dance Troupe” or “Dance Company.” We wanted a team name that wouldn’t turn up in any search results. First, we came up with the word goblin, and then we added the word party, but used it in the sense that it’s used in “political party,” to mean organization. Sometimes Korean speakers will understand our name to mean “Monster Banquet” in Korean. We did think of that meaning of party too, and appreciate it, but the sense of it being a political organization is our intention. Things have been working out since we chose this name, so it seems we’ve picked the right one. From “Human’s Empire” and “Landing Error” to “I GO” and “Soul Piercing,” we’ve received positive evaluations from many people.


Q : You’ve been selected not just for PAMS Choice but also the K-Arts Tour Program, a tour of countries with Korean culture centers, as well as the concurrently running Seoul Performing Arts Festival. I’m guessing you feel pretty extraordinary. Could you please describe how you’re feeling about it?

A: To be honest, we feel a lot of pressure, and some fear. But at the same time we also believe that this is an opportunity for Goblin Party to grow, so we’re looking forward to that. We’ve received plenty of invitations to perform abroad in the past, but because we always had to take care of the airfare and other costs ourselves, the opportunities would sometimes fall through. Now it feels as though we can afford to worry less about those things as we move forward. When we first heard that we’d been selected for PAMS Choice, we were overjoyed; we felt like we’d been given wings. Although there is a lot of pressure, there are that many more opportunities to show the world our pieces. We’ll be working hard to ensure that we live up to expectations.

<Soul Piercing> ©Goblin Party

<I GO> ©Goblin Party

<Soul Piercing> ©Goblin Party <I GO> ©Goblin Party

 The Story the Dead Did Not Get to Tell

Q : I’d like to ask about “Soul Piercing.” How did you come to create such a piece?

A: Our family business is running a funeral hall. Because of this, I’ve seen many funeral ceremonies since I was young, and when I was in grad school I practiced for performances and worked as a funeral director to pay for my tuition. Working as a funeral director, I met a variety of deceased people. I would wash the bodies of those who died of old age, and after shrouding them for burial, send them off with my best wishes. But it was difficult sending off those who had died through suicide, or because of an accident. It wasn’t because it was repulsive or horrible; it was because, as I washed their bodies, I felt that they still had stories to tell the world. I could feel it in their bodies and I felt sad for them. “Soul Piercing” is a piece that attempts to tell the stories that the deceased were not able to finish.


Q: And, of course, it’s inevitable that I bring up “I GO,” the piece that preceded “Soul Piercing.” How do the two pieces differ? It almost seems as though the two could be tied together in a single performance—if that happened, which piece would you want to show first?

A: First, we choreographed “Soul Piercing” through the “Tradition Reinvented” program at the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company. We seasoned “I GO” with the hues of Korean tradition, and developed the idea further to get “Soul Piercing.” This is why we use a lot of props related to the traditional funeral, and teuroteu music. Both “I GO” and “Soul Piercing” use death as their subject matter, but if “Soul Piercing” is about the deaths of those who died regrettably and without telling their stories to the world, then “I GO” is the opposite: It’s about those who left the world naturally. Death in that piece is like a dream. As a creator, I had a lot of regrets about “I GO,” but I was able to address these regrets through “Soul Piercing.” I was grateful for the opportunity.
It might seem as though the natural order of the performance would be to follow the progression of our thoughts, and how we thought about death. But it feels to me that “Soul Piercing” should come first, followed by “I GO.” There’s an underlying melancholy in the folksy feeling and morbid hues of “Soul Piercing.” Because of this, we attempted to be more cheerful in our execution, and the overall piece is not too heavy. On the other hand, “I GO” begins light but is heavy overall—there’s a bleakness to it. If I were to organize a performance around the theme of death, then that bleakness, I feel, would be a good place to end.

Q: When watching"Soul  Piercing,"the expressions and the acting, such as the monologues, stand out in  particular. And not just that—the structure of the piece itself is also  reminiscent of a play. Is this dance theater? Please tell us a bit about your  collaborations with artists from genres outside dance.

A: The structure is fractured and it’s hard to get a grasp of the flow, but it is definitely a piece that was created after visualizing dance theater. We didn’t pay special attention to the acting; I presume that happened naturally as we each tried to do our best in expressing ourselves in an entertaining way.
We strive for free and open creation, and we’re a team that tries to work together. Although on paper we have different roles, when we choreograph we all share our thoughts freely, and all of our opinions are reflected in the piece. If we all feel that incorporation of non-dance genres is something we want to do, it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility.

Q: How do you plan to show “Soul Piercing” to overseas presenters at this year’s Performing Arts Market Seoul? The narration in the first half of the performance is in Korean, and there’s also a monologue from Ji Kyeong-min.

A: Because the total run time of “Soul Piercing” is 40 minutes, there’s no problem with having the piece itself serve as the showcase. We do need to consider how we can best take advantage of the structure of the theater, something we plan give more thought to before the performance. The narration in the first half is not a recording; it’s part of a song from singer Kim Do-hyang, so there’s no way to record it again in English. We plan to use the song as it is. Regarding the question of whether we’ll install a screen onstage to project subtitles, I’m against it because the screen will distract from the stage. We’re leaning toward distributing guides before the performance so that viewers can familiarize themselves with the content beforehand and enjoy the performance.

Ji Gyeong-min

Goblin Party

Lim Jin-ho

Ji Gyeong-min Goblin Party Lim Jin-ho

Q: What is the most fulfilling moment you’ve experienced while performing?

A: It feels great when we perform in Korea, in the regions outside of Seoul, and children come to us after the performance and ask us questions and take photos. Of course, it’s also great performing in big cities abroad, but we feel like we’d get a lot of satisfaction from performing in smaller cities too, helping run concurrent educational programs that might have a positive effect on the local community.


Q: What are your plans for the future? Any last words about Goblin Party?

A: After a tour of three cities in Spain in July with “Landing Error,” we’ll be performing at the Changmu International Dance Festival in July and August. In September we perform for the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, and in October we have stages at the Performing Arts Market Seoul and the Seoul Performing Arts Festival.

Goblin Party is still a “work in progress.” We ourselves can recognize the flaws in our work, but we think the bigger problem is to recognize room for improvement and to not do anything about it. From the perspective of a choreographer, if the dancers change with every performance, it’s difficult to improve the piece itself because the new dancers must practice anew for the performance. But, luckily, our members both create the piece and dance it onstage together, so when we prepare for a performance, we don’t simply focus on practicing; we can also allow for time for creation, to develop the piece in a better direction. We change the piece so that it can become better while retaining its essence. Because of this, although it’s easier to speak with certainty about things that have already happened, we’re careful with any statements about future works because we’re always capable of evolving further. When we stand in front of our audience, we can feel ourselves grow. We hope that the stage at the Performing Arts Market Seoul this year will prove to be yet another chance for us to grow.



©Goblin Party


2015 PAMS Choice : Soul Piercing

"Soul Piercing" is a piece that was selected through an open selection process and presented through the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company’s 2014 season program “History and Memory: Tradition Reinvented.” It also received an award for dancing and acting from the Korean Association of Dance Critics and Researchers. “Seoul Piercing” is based on observations of traditional funeral rites and the bewilderment and the contradictory attitudes seen in such ceremonies. The piece tackles the chaos of the living and dead that floats about the boundaries of death, and interprets it with a grotesquely exaggerated playfulness and imagination. Even within the uncontrollable confusion of death and the inadequacy of existence, there is a touching and desperate explanation hidden in the piece, which aims to peer at death with a hyper-positive gaze.

Goblin Party

Goblin Party, which takes as its mascot the Korean goblin, or dokkaebi, a figure that bewitches people with its extraordinary talent and engages in impish and mischievous pranks, was founded in 2007. Goblin Party has been invited to Germany’s Internationale Tanzmesse, the Netherlands’ Spring Performing Arts Festival, Belgium’s dance biennale Pays de Danses, and other eminent festivals both in South Korea and overseas, and is not looking to stop any time soon. Using its unique humor and seriousness as weapons, the group emphasizes communication with the audience while consistently striving, through research and effort, to create pieces that might broaden viewers’ perceptions.



 

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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] SE:UM]]> [People] The Rhythm of Korea: Embracing the Music of the World
[PAMS Choice] SE:UM


The music of SE:UM is unfettered by any sort of mold. It is liberated and gets at the essence—and is, they say, very loyal to the emotions. Gugak (traditional Korean music) artists and Western musicians who specialize in improvisation come together, and the rhythm of their breaths bond in a chemical reaction, resulting in a solid ensemble.
With their piece "Korean Breath," which was selected for PAMS Choice in 2015, SE:UM takes their first step towards embracing the music of the world, and one cannot help but anticipate what‘s to come.

Where Artists Take Center Stage: The Culture Factory SE:UM

Q (Kang Yena): Last year, you participated in the Performing Arts Market in Seoul (Henceforth PAMS) for the first time, and now this year you’ve been selected for PAMS Choice. How do you feel?

A : (YOO Se-Woom) Last year, at the close of the PAMS, I said my farewells and expressed my desire to meet everyone again next year. But I had no great expectations, and no idea that I would be selected for PAMS Choice this quickly—so when I found out, I was actually very surprised and happy. There was a long period of time between the establishment of the group SE:UM, and its debut, and we asked ourselves multiple times whether or not we were ready. But through the booth exhibition and the open stage performance at PAMS last year, we gained the courage to aim for something new, and this became a foothold. Perhaps because of this experience, this year’s PAMS and PAMS Choice strike me on another personal level.

Q : The name SE:UM is used in both The Culture Factory SE:UM and SE:UM. Tell us a bit about your organization. 

A : The Culture Factory SE:UM can be seen as a foundation, which acts as a womb where artists can establish their own creative base, collaborate systemically, build new relationships, and actually share the process of their fusion. When artists act as members of an association, the environment is not conducive to creating their own art, and artists often edit and alter their work under the gaze of others. The Culture Factory SE:UM was created with the idea of preventing such situations, and to provide a space where artists can create what they want to, a space where artists are at the center. The Culture Factory SE:UM deals not only in music but in various other genres as well, and we also work to nurture the many teams that are part of our organization. In other words, you can see us as a production company that’s structured like an artists’ union.

Q : I know that SE:UM consists of musicians, with saxophone players, trumpet players, and contrabass players, as well as traditional percussionists and gayageum musicians at the center. I am also aware that the performers also compose all the pieces, and I’m wondering how you came to create a team like this.

A : SE:UM was established in 2012, and back then it wasn’t the same as it is today. It was formed as a fusion gugak group of sorts, but in the midst of our musical activity we hit our limit, and went on hiatus for a few months. During that time, I met our current musical director and contrabass player Kim Seong-bae, and through him learned about improvisation and jazz, which gave me the chance to think more broadly.
The most fundamental factor in establishing SE:UM was the constant methodological research, thought and experimentation devoted to "Koreanizing" Western music. We emphasize the jangdan, or rhythm, sum, or breath, and hoheup, or breathing of Korean music, and give concrete form to these elements through music.

Fantasia performance (2014)

Fantasia @Gwanghwamun Square

Fantasia performance (2014) Fantasia @Gwanghwamun Square  

Korean Breath: Natural Unions Between People and Among Genres

Q : The PAMS Choice piece ”Korean Breath” is also about hoheup, or the "breathing” of Korean music. Please tell us more about this piece.

A : Briefly, ”Korean Breath” can be described as a piece that is more liberated, more fundamental and more focused on origins. The understanding that only performers of Korean music have of the term hoheup, which literally means breath, is different from the understanding Western musicians have of breathing. But our aim was not simply to put it all together and have the artists perform together; rather, we gave a lot of thought to how we could bring the two types of music together into a union of chemistry. 
You’re not just taking the Western saxophone, contrabass, and trumpet and have them play Korean music. Rather, the goal is to view these instruments as being on the same plane, and letting the "breath" inherently found in these instruments, and the "breath" that the performers intuitively have, reveal itself. Ultimately, what we support is cross-genre collaboration and creation that remains true to the instincts, We want to pioneer in new genres through new unions.

Q : Hearing about ”Korean Breath” piques my curiosity about the creative processes at SE:UM and how you come up with your ideas.

A : To do what comes naturally, to do what interests us is what has defined SE:UM thus far. It’s not so much that we pay particular attention to our surroundings in the search for ideas about our music. Rather, when we are naturally curious about our environment, we discover our subject matter naturally through the creative process. Production also differs enormously depending on which performers play with whom. Collaborations with non-members will often lead to new ways of playing. Sometimes, the sudden appearance of an unfamiliar rhythm leads to improvisation and an entirely new track. So imagination plays a very significant role, and this is yet another defining characteristic of SE:UM.

Q : I’ve heard about recent efforts to expand the idea of what a performance is through collaborations with video media projects. I’m curious about how SE:UM approaches collaborations with video/media projects.

A (Bang Yeong-mun) : It’s difficult to clearly define the music of SE:UM, whether it’s from the perspective of the work itself, or from the perspective of the listener. To say nothing of the creative process itself, when you approach the more abstract parts of music from a solely musical perspective, it can alienate the audience. So we thought, what if we expressed the music visually, and articulated the energy felt in during a live performance, and we put that thought into action. First, we began with photos, and now we’re always on the spot with SE:UM, observing and listening to the creative process, and constantly thinking of ways to express the music in different ways, and then doing just that. In our performances of "Korean Breath," we showed elements of both video and alternative media with the music, and we plan to continue doing so in the future.

YOO Se-Woom, Director of SE:UM (Left); Bang Yeong-mun, Art Director (Right)

YOO Se-Woom, Director of SE:UM (Left); Bang Yeong-mun, Art Director (Right)

We Want to Stimulate the Intrinsic Imagination of the Audience

Q : What hopes do you have for SE:UM regarding the PAMS?

A : Last year, we participated in the PAMS with the aim of promoting SE:UM to the public and industry professionals. As SE:UM projects usually gravitate towards the experimental, and are focused on the artists, they are sometimes viewed as unapproachable to the public. But we aim to maintain our essence and to seek places that need our music. Whether it’s here in Korea or abroad, I hope that SE:UM, its music, and musical style will find those who can appreciate them, and I intend to actively seek out new markets for such audiences at PAMS.

Q : How would you like the audience to respond to the music of SE:UM?

A : I hope that visual shapes manifest naturally when they hear the music. Because there are many forms of art involved, it’s possible that you might feel a sense of disorder, but in another sense, everything is part of a consistent theme that we’re continue to pursue. As a musical tool, we’re using the sounds of SE:UM, but the hope is that this music provokes emotions already inherent in the audience. 
Bang: Even when hearing the same music, depending on who the listener is, the pictures it evokes are different. So I hope that the music itself is something that enables the audience to imagine. Music should be faithful to the emotions! 

KOREAN BREATH Edinburgh Fringe performance poster

KOREAN BREATH Edinburgh Fringe performance poster

Q : What are your performance plans for the future?

A : Last year, we played in a lot of clubs in the Itaewon area. This year, we’ll continue to play in clubs, but also have a lot of pieces planned for bigger stages. For overseas performances, we have a slot at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and will be performing at the Adam House C (-1) Venue from August 16 to 22. We’ll be performing the 2015 PAMS Choice selection, "Korean Breath." After that, we have performances scheduled at the Gwangyang Arts and Culture Center and the big theater at the Incheon Culture and Arts Center. Also, we’ll release our ep “The Abyss” before the PAMS.

 

ⒸKAMS


 
2015 PAMS Choice :   

"Korean Breath" was composed with the breath of Korean music as its foundation, through musical experimentation and research. Drawing its inspiration from the unique breathing techniques hoheup and sum) of traditional Korean performing arts (pungmul, yeonhui, pansori, musok and others), "Korean Breath" incorporates the improvisation techniques and of jazz that elaborate on the foundation of traditional Korean rhythms. Through an exploration of the texture of music, and a chemical union between genres, it’s a piece that aspires to a Korean version of trance music. 

"Korean Breath" was selected as the official performance for the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, which led to a more widespread awareness of SE:UM both domestically and abroad. The album SE:UM, which contains "Korean Breath," was nominated in two categories at the Korean Music Awards in 2015 (best crossover and best performance), which provided another occasion for the piece to receive recognition for its musical experimentation and artistic value

SE:UM  

www.seum.or.kr

SE:UM was established with the goal of helping artists establish a foundation upon which they could create independently. The group continues to express its artistic inspiration in liberated ways with this goal in mind. With music remaining as their primary focus, the group is stretching the character of what a performance can be through collaborations with video, photography and other forms of media, and continues to develop and exhibit various content. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a new genre through collaboration and creation between different forms.


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Performance Group Tuida]]> [People] An Intense Step Taken amid Tranquility
[PAMS Choice] Performance Group Tuida


June 2015, marks a full five years since the Performance Group Tuida left Seoul’s Daehangno district behind to settle in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do. As soldiers comprise more than half of Hwacheon’s some 26,000 inhabitants, the county naturally welcomed the group, which normally employs around 15 young artists. Having signed an agreement to promote the arts and culture of Hwacheon, the group relocated with the next 10 years in mind. They are currently exactly at the halfway mark. Now, in 2015, Tuida is seeking yet another opportunity to expand its international network, having been selected as a PAMS Choice artist for the fourth time with their performance Quartet on Pain. Tuida’s real vision, however, is still a long-standing concern.

Five Years in Hwacheon, Performance Group Tuida

Q (Lee Youn Kyung): Before moving to Hwacheon, you signed an agreement to promote the county’s arts and culture. What have you done to fulfill this agreement, and how you are cooperating with the county?

A (Bae Yo-seop): Hwacheon County helped us a great deal by letting us use the art space A Country Village’s Art Garden, which was built by remodeling a closed school. Last year, by the county’s request, we performed a piece titled Nangcheon Byeolgok, a traditional courtyard play that’s performed on water, thanks to the cooperation of about 130 county residents. To ensure a proper performance of a 90-minute play, the residents collaborated with us for around a month and a half. Of all the projects we undertook in Hwacheon, we considered this one to be the most ideal. All the participants, including ourselves, as well as the important county people, were highly satisfied, as we didn’t simply show an already produced play, but cooperated with the locals to offer an original play based on their real lives, an artistically honorable process with favorable results. If the opportunity to partake in such a project presents itself again, we intend to participate, as we value working with local residents, and view art as a medium of interaction. Yet as Hwacheon County has to worry about a lot more than we do, we believe that we’ve already established a good cooperative relationship, and thank the county for their efforts to help maintain it.

Performance Group Tuida

Performance Group Tuida

Q : Tuida’s journey can be divided into three phases: the Daehangno days in Seoul, relocating and resettling, and the third and present phase, five years after leaving Seoul. Now, in 2015, what’s on the agenda for Tuida?     

A : Although we had vaguely considered relocating to this region, our move was not based on a concrete plan. That is why, after settling in Hwacheon, we started to contemplate on what we can do in the present, rather than look into the distant future.

We’re currently focusing on the issue of how to properly utilize space. We have space, and we use it well according to scheduled programs, but play production consumes three months at most, out of the whole year. Excluding the time consumed by random work, there are vacant periods, so we want to efficiently utilize the space we already have. On top of that, we’re also taking time to ponder the concept behind the space we use. How to properly utilize a space, and under what concept – that is our current focus.      

At A Country Village’s Art Garden, we are preparing for the venue’s fifth art festival. Actually, we started the festival to network with organizations that we wanted to meet, but as time went by, we felt that the festival was too beneficial to be enjoyed by just us. So we invited other young artists, offering room and board, and expanded our arena of exchange. As we maintained this system throughout the third and fourth festivals, the event was reborn into a vigorous celebration, where artists, installation artists, dancers, musicians, and actors from all over the world gathered to both perform and network. Such a festival led to another interesting result. The artists who came to know each other at our festival continued to work together even after leaving Hwacheon. It was a great pleasure to hear that independent artists from Thailand and Korea in a previous festival collaborated on projects in Thailand and procured funding to work at Seoul Art Space Mullae in Seoul.          

Although our current platform of Hwacheon is a remote region, we tried to approach it in a positive light. This optimistic approach has resulted in a therapeutic and beneficial program and platform for artists, and we are trying to further develop such efforts.      

Whale

Whale

Whale ⒸTuida

Quartet on Pain: A Short Yet Long Trip

Q : Based on your remarkable track record thus far, Tuida has attained a degree of self-sustainability in the realm of international exchange. Quartet on Pain is said to have been inspired by years of personal experience. Can you elaborate on this play?    

A : It was very interesting to see how this play was created. Ironically, Tuida’s international network was suddenly expanded upon moving to Hwacheon. We relocated to Hwacheon at a time when we were putting much thought into the meaning of true international exchange and its sustainability, rather than focusing on a single performance. Since we continue to think in this light, it seems that our move to a new space has exerted substantial influence on the way we think.

This play went through multiple stages of creation after we met our partners in India, the first country in our international network. We did not plan this play before then, but actually encountered the original source while conducting an exchange workshop with an Indian theater company named Adshati. What was gained from the workshop was the chance to witness a traditional performance art genre of India called kutiyattam. Two of the youngest and two of the oldest members of the theater each formed a team to organize a storyline and craft a performance, and within a space of two square meters, the music and flowed according to the actors’ unique breathing methods as required by kutiyattam. After the production, two plays titled Neokson and Whale were performed under one encompassing event, since both shared the common theme of pain. Yet after taking out the common trait in their storylines, it is hard to find similarities between the two. Whereas Neokson unfolds a narrative on pain in a very fierce and detailed manner, Whale is quite poetic. Although the latter is poetic and ambiguous based on a message conveyed by images rather than narration, it offers the audience another way to ruminate on suffering.    

Q : PAMS Choice has to adopt a showcase format. How do you plan to present this play when its two stories are parallel?

A : Showcasing a play seems to be the most difficult part. Since there is an overall context of the play, and picking out a few scenes can lead to unintentional gaps and oversight by the director. This is our fourth attempt, and we don’t consider any of our previous attempts to be successes. They all had parts that we regret. Therefore, in this play, instead of trying to show both completely, we will focus on one, highlight its music, minimalist style, and other unique features.

Neokson

Neokson

Neokson ⒸTuida

Collaborations for Discovering New Possibilities

Q : They say preparations for the performance of Beyond Binary took four years. Creating a play through international exchange is extremely difficult and time-consuming, and Quartet on Pain, which was produced exactly in such a manner, was selected for PAMS Choice this year. When you consider it from a variety of angles, what do you expect from the Performing Arts Market in Seoul or from PAMS Choice?  

A : Actually, we cannot say that our plays are that popular. Korean audiences find our plays unfamiliar, and it seems that they interpret unfamiliarity as something difficult. On the contrary, when performing overseas, audiences demonstrate good communication and respond really well. We don’t know if any direct results will come about through PAMS Choice, but think it is very encouraging to think that we can satisfy a demand not fulfilled in Korea by going overseas, and thus expand the realm of possibilities for our next play.

In this respect, productions like Nangcheon Byeogok take on their own special meaning. We sink into contemplation when a difficulty arises in making a connection between our performance and the audience, and we believe that we cannot give up on this connection, because there are those who actively support what we strive to achieve. As we are clearly aware that changing the overall direction of the group can produce ambiguous results, our plan is to gain energy through direct communication with our audiences through projects such as Nangcheon Byeolgok, and keep searching for new projects.    

Q : What are Tuida’s plans for the future?

A : Our plan is to collaborate with Torino Gekijo, N.P.O. of Japan, who’s been having working with us since 2009. The theme will be war, and we’ve both been on the same wavelength since 2013, when we started discussions on the performance. As our partner is a Japanese artistic company, those around us are deeply concerned when they hear that war will be the theme. The most controversial issue that comes to mind is the concept of perpetrator and victim, but I personally believe that our theme of war should transcend such concept. In particular, when artists come together, discussion concerning meaningful results usually produces a greater artistic value. As a matter of course, since this will be no easy task, we are expecting a lot of hard work. We project about one year of research, which is currently ongoing. Either at the end of this year or early next year, we will meet again in Japan to review our research together, and see how we’ve both changed.  

Q : This time, the Performing Arts Market in Seoul has selected Vietnam, Singapore, and Cambodia as the countries of focus among the ASEAN states. What is your perspective on cooperation and exchange with these countries?

A : Our exchange is not limited to particular countries, and we intend to network with artists in any country that can inspire us. In this way, our options for future networking at present are France and New Zealand, but the countries we’re focusing on right now, other than Singapore, are interesting in that they boast original forms of performance art. 

However, in the case of Vietnam and Cambodia, as there are many variables in the process of modernizing a traditional performance art that is an intangible cultural heritage or close to being one, we should keep an eye out for such variables. Even for Japan, a neighboring country, a whole year needs to be invested for research, and Vietnam and Cambodia are basically uncharted waters. That is why, for the sake of exploring new possibilities for our plays, we would like to go on a performance tour throughout neighboring countries –funds or circumstances permitting. 

ⒸKAMS


 
2015 PAMS Choice :  Quartet on Pain

How do we prove that a person is alive? Pain felt in the skin when cut; the scream produced when bones shatter; the agony felt when the heart is being ripped apart—all paradoxically prove that a person is alive. Inspired by the traditional Indian performance genre of kutiyattam, the production Quartet on Pain is a play that is set on an extremely restricted circular stage, and explores a life in which words are excised, one that is accompanied by pain that expressed solely through bodily suffering.. The story is structured around a dying whale that is trapped in endless suffering because of the words it has said, and Neokson, who grew up on the sounds of its agony now wanders in a search for the grueling sounds of pain. The play illustrates a cycle as it shows that suffering, which is evidence of life, becomes sound, that sound later becomes words, and those words again invoke suffering.

Performance Group TUIDA

www.tuida.com
www.producergroupdot.kr

The Performance Group Tuida is a performance group that formed in 2001. Aiming to create an open, environmentally friendly form of theater that constantly evolves, they release new plays every year. Through acting that combines the traditions of both Eastern and Western clowns, their plays are interfused with fantastic and creative puppets, masks and music. Their unique style is crafted through continuous experimentation in each play, and their Korean-yet-cosmopolitan style has earned high acclaim through international festivals in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, and Ireland.

In June 2010, members of the group and their families moved their creative space and living space to an abandoned school in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do, and are in the process of exploring new possibilities of theater in a remote area.  


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theApro <![CDATA[A Producer Who Embodies the New Local Contemporary Trend]]> A Producer Who Embodies the New Local Contemporary Trend
[People] June Tan, Five Arts Centre Malaysia


Following Festival Bo:m’s Myanmar-focused program in 2014, which helped provide the audience with a new perspective on Asia, this year’s Malaysia-themed event was an equally resounding success. The 2015 exhibition featured a retrospective of past projects by three Malaysian artists—a showcase of the talent and trends seen in contemporary Malaysian art. This performance, executed with the assistance Five Arts Centre producer June Tan, was performed this past April 17 at Seoul Art Space_Seogyo. For 30 years, Five Arts Centre has functioned as a major axis of theMalaysian independent art scene. Artists and producers join together and share their own tastes and roles, practicing alternative and experimental approaches that blur the boundaries between drama, dance, and visual arts. KAMS recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tan, who attended KAMS’ Performing Arts Market in Seoul X Festival Bo:m Symposium, to discuss the arts scene in Malaysia and her work with the Five Arts Centre.

Five Arts Centre, Malaysian Creative Platform

Ryu Sounghyo: I heard that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Five Arts Centre. Can you please give us a brief description of the center?

June Tan: It was in 1984 that the Five Arts Centre was started. To help you understand the motivation for starting it, let me briefly explain the situation at that time. Malaysia was colonized by Britain and gained independence in 1957; this is one of the reasons I speak English. With everything from education, ballet, visual arts, and even Shakespeare, we were influenced byEngland in various fields. By the time the country entered the 1980s, a movement broke out to focus on specifically Malaysian arts, with each region focusing on its own creative culture. The goal was to place emphasis on the Malaysian tradition instead of the Western-influenced style.

Five Arts Centre was established in a response to finding and developing Malaysian creativity and included genres such as theatre, dance, local writing, visual arts and a fifth genre which was left open for experimentation. Through this process, the Five Arts Centre was made. In 1980s Malaysia, collaboration across genres was very popular. Visual artists would dance and dancers would perform in musicals, breaking down walls between the diverse genres.
Even today, the Five Arts Centre members are always open to collaboration. Though the members belong to their respective genres, we are very interested in collaborated performances with people from other fields. Because we are open-minded about this, we have an open structure wherein anybody can team up with anybody, depending on the project.

Five Arts Centre “Ten Ten Ten” Celebrating 30 Years ⓒ fiveartscentre

Five Arts Centre “Ten Ten Ten” Celebrating 30 Years ⓒ fiveartscentre

What is the meaning behind the name?

It means establishing and approaching theatre, local writing, dance, visual arts, and other fields as five units. But now, it’s more accurate to say that we operate these five disciplines more as platforms.

How do you secure the budgets?

Five Arts Centre has a lot of performing arts activities, and we apply to different sources - government and corporates. This is because the image of the production, the expected size of audiencethese elements that we can show are clear. The government andarts organizations have been rather cooperative when it comes to funding and helping operate programs.

When it comes to securing budgets, it seems that the Five Arts Centre is a special case compared to other cultural organizations or spaces in Malaysia.

In addition to its five main members, Five Arts Centre draws from a large group of talented contributors. Because we have a significant number of members, it is possible to divide responsibilities, with some of us working on projects while others run around to secure budgets. I am very grateful that we have support from the government and various companiesthrough thenetworks and projects we’ve been able to build up together.

Malaysia Day @ Festival Bo:m

Considering Extended Audience Development

How did you become involved with the Five Arts Centre?

In college, I majored in biology and also worked in finance. I got involved in Five Arts Centre activities in my evenings after work, and over time I became more and more interested in the arts. I gradually decided that I wanted to concentrate on developing and producing projects, and I moved the focus of my work to the Five Arts Centre. I first worked as a stage manager and eventually got involved in production, too.

I’m quite interested in the work that Five Arts Centre has done in terms ofencouraging collaboration between artists from different countries. Can you explain how your team approaches this?

There are normally two types of collaboration. The first is collaboration between artists, and the second is collaboration betweenproducers. We recently carried out a joint project with a team in Seoul, and now, I am preparing to bring a Five Arts Centre performance, directed by Mark Teh to Gwangju, South Korea in co-production with Asian Arts Theatre and TPAM. I am also attracted to international collaboration. For instance, when working betweencountries, you have to explain your own country’s work culture. I like how this makes me think more about how I appear and act, and I think that I can learn through the instances where I feel differences and similarities.

Even though performing arts comprises a very small part of Malaysian society, there has recently been an increasing amount of investment in small theaters as a result of both residential and commercial development. In light of such trends, it is a good time to consider researching audience characteristics as a means of cultivating a larger following. Even if you experiment with something new and create a great performance, it can be considered a failure if no one shows up to see it.

From talking to producers in Malaysia, I’ve heard that it is very hard to attract audiences.

I can think of many reasons for this. First, it is important that those who are involved with the performance promote the performance among their own networks,, but the responsibility of selling tickets should not fall on them alone; it is also necessary to develop specific means for other institutions or organizations to join in advertising the performances. Another thing to consider is language difference. In the case of multiracial countries such as Malaysia, there exists a limitation in communicating in different languages—Malay, Chinese, Tamil. Using English is a bit more helpful in overcoming these boundaries for urban audiences, but we still have to develop audiences with this in mind: More Chinese people attend Chinese-language performances, and more Indians attend performances in Tamil.

I heard that a great deal of effort is being made to overcome the limitations Malaysia faces as a multiracial country. What is the Five Arts Centre doing in this regard?

In considering Malaysia’s identity and focusing on telling the story of Malaysia, we naturally consider the role of language. The process of producing a performance in the language most effective for a particular situation and role is also a part of such effort. Until now, because we have been focusing on discovering artists, we haven’t been focusing enough on developing a larger audience base. I think we have to respect diversity and recognize the character of each culture and sustainably enhance the strategy to develop audiences through educational programs, for example, by visiting schoolsand reaching out to students.

류성효x준 탄 (June Tan)

Ryu Sounghyo and June Tan

Finally, I’m curious about the plan for this year.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Five Arts Centre, we have the “Ten Ten Ten” project that is continuing from last year. In 2014 we produced a series of small projects in collaboration with several organizations, and this year, we have slightly bigger plans. We have a performance-related conference, and this coming August we plan to publish a book of selected playscripts from Five Arts Centre 30-year production history. There are plans to visit Gwangju in South Korea, as well as projects with our network of Asian producers, which are currently in the conceptualization stage. If the opportunity arises, I want to work with Korea on more projects.

ⒸKAMS


 
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theApro <![CDATA[Dedicating Herself to Bringing New Works to the International Stage]]> Dedicating Herself to Bringing New Works to the International Stage
[People] Linda Crooks, Executive Producer for Traverse Theatre in Scotland


On February 27, I visited Space 111 at the Doosan Art Center to watch a rehearsed reading of Swallow by Stef Smith, the first production of the play. The fact that a new play by this young Scottish writer was premiering in Korea had piqued my interest, and my curiosity was satisfied when I learned about a collaborative project between the Doosan Art Center and Traverse Theatre. During the performance, a blonde woman in the audience caught my eye. She turned out to be Linda Crooks, executive producer for Traverse Theatre, who was playing a key role in linking the two theaters. Below is my interview with this Scottish woman, who seemed to be greatly enjoying the lack of rain in Korea.

Linda Crooks ⓒChad Park

Linda Crooks ⓒChad Park

Linda Crooks ⓒChad Park  

Discovering young artists whose talents can shine on the international stage

Lee Dan-bi: Traverse Theatre is one of England’s best-known production theaters. Why don’t you start by telling us about it?

Linda Crooks : Traverse Theatre began in Edinburgh 52 years ago. The founders were an American, a Scot of Italian descent, and a Brit, reflecting the theater’s international origins. While Traverse Theatre is famous for producing new Scottish plays, we don’t limit ourselves to Scottish plays. As I just mentioned, Traverse Theatre has international origins, so we’ve been working with international partners for years now and are bringing overseas performances to stages around the world.


The theater is composed of two performance spaces. The larger space has 280 movable seats and the smaller space has 115 movable seats. While we work on a variety of programs, our own productions are where we put our focus and passion. Along with this, we have a festival for puppet shows and cartoons and the Imaginate Festival for younger audiences, and we are connected with the Edinburgh International Film Festival. In August, we showcase works that we have produced in our own independent festival, and we also move outside the walls of the theater with site-specific performances held at city parks and other spaces.


In addition, we produce breakfast shows and have something called Lunchtime Theatre in an effort to satisfy the demands of our spectators by presenting as many shows as possible. Some audience members prefer coming early to see a breakfast show. Lunchtime Theatre is also ideal for staging short performances. Occasionally, the breakfast shows are moved to Lunchtime Theatre, and if the audience likes them they are sometimes moved to our evening slot. Recently, shows that have started in this fashion have been wowing audiences and are being staged in other countries. Some have even gained a following in New York.

One of the things that stands out about Traverse Theatre is how it incubates young artists. The theater is perhaps most famous for its “new writing” incubation program. Is there any special reason why you put your focus on programs such as this? I’d love to hear more about these programs.

Traverse Theatre has programs connected with new writing. The object of these programs is to provide stimulus to and draw out interest from participants to encourage writing from a very young age. To achieve this, we have programs that are designed for a variety of ages. One of them, just to give an example, is called Class Act. In this program, professional writers meet directly with students to write with them. Six writers work on writing with students from several schools and then perform the resulting pieces over two days. Since professional actors are involved as well, the children have an opportunity to see what they wrote being performed. We also solicit plays on the theater’s homepage at a number of points throughout the year. After reading all of the plays that are submitted, we give feedback to all the writers.


Two years ago, on the theater’s 50th birthday, we solicited plays about Edinburgh from writers all around the world through a program called Traverse 50. Altogether, 640 plays were submitted. After reading all of the submissions three or four times, we narrowed them down to 50 pieces and had them read by professional acting troupes over the course of two days. Finally we selected seven writers and produced plays with them. Some of them were produced as breakfast shows, and three of the writers took part in Lunchtime Theatre. We also asked one of these writers, John McCann, to write something about the controversial referendum on Scottish independence that took place last year. A reading of a piece by Lachlan Philpott, another writer that we got to know through Traverse 50, is scheduled for this year, and we are planning to present it in Australia in 2016 with our production partners there.


Through our 50th anniversary program, we were able to feature seven new writers and, over the course of the program’s three-year selection process, we have identified a number of writers who we would like to work with in the future. . Our goals are to encourage writers around the world, to identify new talent, and to produce good shows. We are making an effort to bring the works produced in this way to a wide range of audiences. Fortunately, the Edinburgh Festival in August draws people to this city from around the world; the local population nearly doubles during the festival, filled to the brim with all kinds of cultural consumers. Traverse Theatre serves as a key location for people who are looking for new and innovative works.

The main objective of international cooperation is producing excellent plays

When it comes to bringing new and innovative plays to the world, your connection with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe seems to be serving as an important liaison.

Of course. However, Traverse Theatre can be seen as occupying the middle ground between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival. While we are linked to some programs at Festival Fringe, the fact is that we have more in common with the Edinburgh International Festival—I’m speaking in terms of the artistic priority of the programs that we host. Recently, the Edinburgh International Festival recruited a new artistic director, Fergus Linehan. Linehan tends to put more weight on drama than his predecessors, meaning the genre will play a bigger role in the Edinburgh International Festival held this August. For this reason, I expect the spotlight to return to drama, which has not received much attention for the past few years, and that planners who are interested in the area will flock to the festival.

exchange project between the Doosan Art Center and Traverse Theatre ⓒDoosan Art Center

    Swallow Reading Performance,

an exchange project between the Doosan Art Center and Traverse Theatre ⓒDoosan Art Center

 Traverse Theatre’s various international exchange programs are also worth discussing. Can you tell us a little about your approach to international exchange and what you have done in that area so far? What has exchange with the Doosan Art Center been like?

Traverse Theatre has always placed importance on international cooperation. As I already noted, the very establishment of our theater had international roots. In the plays we’ve produced over the past few years, we’ve worked closely with France, Germany, and Canada. In the case of our relationship with Quebec City in Canada, I think that similarities in our political views probably had a major impact. In 2014, Jean-Denis Leduc, who was the artistic director at Théâtre La Licorne in Montreal at the time—which is similar to Traverse Theatre in the sense that it finds and produces new plays from the region—had four Scottish plays translated into French and then presented them to audiences in Montreal.


Conversely, Théâtre La Licorne arranged for three plays by Quebecois writers to be performed at Traverse Theatre. In the next phase of the project, a Quebecois writer will come to Edinburgh for the festival this year, and Orla O’Loughlin, artistic director at Traverse Theatre, will go to Quebec to lead a production. Next year, a Scottish writer will go to Montreal and go through the same process—this is what I mean by cooperation. In addition, we are also talking with Dot Theatre in Istanbul and are pursuing projects with Brazilian writers working in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.


In Korea, we are doing an international exchange project that is being organized by Kim Yoahen, a producer at the Doosan Art Center. I first met Kim Yo-an at Traverse Theatre three years ago, and in 2013 we had an exchange project involving writers and producers from the Doosan Art Center and Traverse Theatre. I visited the Doosan Art Center on this trip for the rehearsed reading of Swallow, the play by Stef Smith—the play’s world premiere. Currently, we are talking about how an exchange will work and what we can do together. When it comes to international exchange, the key is always bringing the best plays to audiences; it represents an attempt at a kind of international dialogue. Through the process of exchange, I have come to learn that our similarities outnumber our differences. I believe that there is plenty of potential to create plays for an international audience.

a rehearsed reading of Swallow 
ⓒDoosan Art Center

a rehearsed reading of Swallow 
ⓒDoosan Art Center

a rehearsed reading of Swallow ⓒDoosan Art Center  

Cooperation begins with relationships built on trust

Both Traverse Theatre and the Doosan Art Center have shown a great deal of interest in incubating young artists. Has it been interesting to work with a theater that has the same interests, despite the different cultural background?

I have been greatly inspired through exchange projects with the Doosan Art Center. I was impressed with how smooth and efficient work has been with our Korean partners. It was much more efficient than when I worked with our theater back in Scotland (laughing). The proposals we’ve gotten from the Doosan Art Center have been very clear—I mean that they have clear strategies for achieving their goals. I’ve been most impressed by their concentration and their drive. Our relationship with them has been formed on the trust that we have built over time. Ultimately, I think that cooperation is also something that is built up through human relationships. The better we get to know each other, the more we learn we have so much in common. In that sense, international exchange must also be grounded in personal relationships. To be sure, it’s also important to look at what each theater needs. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to realize through working with the Doosan Art Center, it’s that our theater, which has been serving as a hub for several cooperative relationships, needs to focus even more on what it really hopes to achieve. It has also been a time for me to take a good look at myself. In the end, we’re trying to find new plays to bring to the world stage.

Yesterday, a rehearsed reading of Swallow was held at the Doosan Art Center. What did you think about the performance?

It was a lively and very inspirational performance. I was also quite impressed by the outstanding ability of the actors. It was very interesting to see how the director teased out the nuances of the play. They also seemed to have found quite a few more comedic moments. I was also interested to see that the seats were full of young women. I was surprised and pleased to see that so many people came to see a play by a young female writer.
Orla and I may not be that young, but we are working moms, so we have to balance our families and our jobs. In England, women who make plays and women who do hard work have been a hot topic for some time. Orla and I are convinced that everything we do is ultimately for the future. Of course, our future is our children (laughing). We work even harder for those children, and for that future.

Do you have any plans to work with Korea in the future?

At the moment, I’m thinking about what approach we should take. For example, Park Ji-hye, who directed Swallow, could come to Edinburgh to work with us. The rehearsed reading that I saw yesterday made such an impact on me that I suddenly got that idea: We could also bring a number of artists to Edinburgh for some kind of workshop. But the thing to bear in mind is that this kind of exchange can only take place when it is based on an ongoing relationship that has lasted for several years at least.



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theApro <![CDATA[Music Does Not Require Any Boundaries]]> Music Does Not Require Any Boundaries
[People] Brahim El Mazned, Founding Director of Visa for Music


Good Music? No, There’s just Music

The world music market is changing. And the meaning of “world music,” a term that has provoked constant debate since the moment of its inception, is also changing. What does this all signify? World music began as a marketing term, from the aim of introducing non-Western music to the West. Seen from the perspective of such abstract concepts, production and consumption, the term world music itself has a very different feel from the literal “music of the world.” But whatever its beginnings, observing the recent showcases at the world’s largest world music market, WOMEX, it seems as though the original meaning has ‘fortunately’ receded.

The showcases covered performances not just from the so-called non-Western countries, but from a variety of countries and regions. And in the case of Asian music, besides the showcase stages of the early 2000s (from Asian-born, overseas residents in English-speaking countries or Asian music bands active in Europe) there are now an increasing number of cases where musical groups are actively and directly being introduced to the world, supported by their respective countries (Korea, India, Malaysia). As world music becomes more “global,” the boundaries between nations are beginning to fade. And so while the international political significance of world music is waning, it’s also a suggestion that each nation, or region, stands on increasingly equal footing, poised for mutual exchange.

But recently, as though to prove the aforementioned movement, it was announced that there would be a new music market launched to introduce the music of Africa and the Middle East. The name of this festival is Visa for Music (VFM), and it was held for the first time from November 12–15 in Rabat, Morocco. On the one hand we have WOMEX, in its 20th year this year, busier than ever. What significance does VFM have in this context? I visited the WOMEX booths this year, situated in the Cidade da Cultura, at the heart of the city of Santiago de Compostela, famed for its pilgrimage. Between the varied booths from around the world, I was finally able to catch up with Brahim El Mazned, the director of VFM.

El Mazned is a veteran festival planner with over 20 years of experience under his belt, including his time as director of the Timitar Festival, a world music festival featuring music from Morocco and Africa. El Mazned, who was also one of the official showcase jury members for this year’s WOMEX (one of the “Seven Samurai” of WOMEX), along with his involvement with VFM, was one of the busiest figures during the event. Yet despite the difficulty of getting in touch with him, when I finally did, his face was bursting with vitality, and it was relaxed. We sat face-to-face in a corner of the Moroccan booth and talked about new markets and various aspects of the world music industry.

VISA FOR MUSIC poster

The Timitar Festival booth at WOMEX 2014

VISA FOR MUSIC poster The Timitar Festival booth at WOMEX 2014

World Music and Visa For Music

Q(Lee Soo-jin): The news that VFM would be launching was very welcomed. The African and Middle Eastern markets are geographically situated so as to be an excellent bridge between Europe and Asia and other regions, wouldn’t you say? How did this launch come about?

A(Brahim El Mazned) : I have been doing this kind of work for 20 years. And doing this kind of work, I’ve been around the world’s markets and festivals. Besides WOMEX, I’ve been to PAMS(Performing Arts Market Seoul), APaMM, Shanghai China International Arts Festival and more. Visiting these diverse markets, what I discovered was the lack of a platform in the Middle East and Africa for sharing networks.

Q : As a director and planner in the field of Korean music, I am well aware of the need for a working relationship and a network between countries in Asia. This is because the younger generation in Korea is not interested in Korean music. They have preconceived notions about traditional music, and see it as unapproachable and boring. On the other hand, when traditional Korean music is introduced to the international world music market, they view it differently, and they see it in a new way. Even though it’s all the same Korean music. How is the situation in the Middle East and Africa?

A : The situation is comparable in the Middle East and Africa. This is why it’s so important that the Middle East and Africa are aggressive in initiating exchanges, and why we need to aggressively create a platform introducing Middle Eastern and African music.

Q : The meaning of the term world music itself is changing within the world music market. Departing from the previous definition of world music as non-Western music, past boundaries in world music are beginning to fade. What do you see as world music? You can’t find this term in the name of your festival, VFM, nor in the introductory booklets—is there any particular reason for this?

A : I think the definition of world music changes depending on where you live. For those who live in the West, the music of places that are not the West—that is, our music (African music, Middle Eastern music)—is world music. But because we do not live in the West, we can’t exactly call our own music world music. And for that reason, we don’t use the term at VFM. In my personal opinion, there are no categories in music. Rather, there are only two types—good music and bad music. And we also do differentiate by genre to an extent, such as between jazz and classical.

Q : But those who aren’t from Africa or the Middle East might see the music introduced at VFM and simply think of it as world music. Does VFM have any unique approaches of its own to this?

A : We have two goals, and the first is that from our perspective, we don’t just want to show off music that is exotic to us, or music that only focuses on tradition. What motivates us is probably what motivates the organizers of PAMS to showcase Korean contemporary pieces as well as other pieces. The main thing is that I want to show African and Middle Eastern music of “today.” To continue, musically, is not Korea the same way? For example, if you take a group like Jambinai, they have tradition as the foundation for both their music and their instruments, but at the same time their music has developed beyond tradition. It’s not that music has the role of connecting a country with the world. It’s that music also has the role of connecting tradition with the contemporary. And I anticipate that VFM will play this role also.

The second goal is establishing a network of countries in the Middle East and Africa. 100 million live in Africa’s 50 countries. Excluding foreigners, the number of native Africans is 70–80 million strong. The focus of VFM this year is the Middle East, and the reason is that war and famine have driven many Africans out of their countries, to the Middle East and overseas. The Middle East also includes wealthier places such as Dubai and Qatar, which can form the basis of a good market. Language also plays a role, and most North African countries speak Arabic. It will hopefully form the basis of a good platform for creating a network for exchange between Africa’s northern and southern countries, and between Africa and the Middle East.

Q : As you said, there is a lot of variety among the countries in Africa alone, and I expect the music is also as diverse. Do you have any plans to focus on a certain region for every event, like WOMEX does, and have a different host country for every event?

A : It’s certainly a good idea. But until we’re more established as an event, we don’t have any plans to host outside of our first location. As a long-term idea, I’m very much in favor of it. Africa alone has more than 50 countries, and as much diversity in music and culture.

Brahim El Mazned

Brahim El Mazned

Brahim El Mazned  

Music from Africa and the Middle East

Q : Do citizens of Buenos Aires love going to the theater? What genre do they particularly like? And if you can, please tell us about some popular productions that the audience has loved so far.

A : I operate two separate teams. The Timitar office is in Agadir, Morocco and in the case of VFM, the plan is to host it in Rabat, Morocco. Both festivals are run by institutions that are sponsored by the government (the Moroccan Ministry of Culture). We’re also looking for sponsors to supplement the government funding, and receiving help through various arts and culture networks worldwide, and media partnerships.

Q : Do you find your work very challenging or difficult at times?

A : Frequently, yes. It’s not easy. Financial difficulties, government issues, visa problems… for example, one of the teams had trouble working because their application for a visa was not accepted. But I’m working ceaselessly to solve these problems.

Q : I’d like to talk about music. When you look at the musical projects of many of the musicians introduced in the world music market, including Korean groups, there are a lot of teams demonstrating a great interest in creativity, with traditional elements as the foundation, and you actually see these teams on many stages. Would you say you see the same interest in this kind of creation in Africa and the Middle East?

A : Certainly. And we definitely need elements of mass appeal in the creation process. Because mass appeal means money. Young musicians are constantly working to develop fusion, rap, hip-hop and electronic music from traditional music. At the same time they are striving to remember the traditions. Because there’s also a sense of completion in the traditional form itself.

Q : Are these values reflected in the judging process for the showcases?

A : We’re looking for a variety of elements, with appropriate attention to the best of each quality. We try to balance, and attempt to divide the selections equally, with 13 percent of each of the following: regional elements, African music, Middle Eastern music, traditional music, fusion, acoustic and jazz music.

Q : I want to continue chatting about the younger generation. In the case of Africa and the Middle East, how are they educated on music, and how is tradition passed down?

A : There are two cases. There are cases where the traditions are passed down through the generations of a single family. This is most frequently the case for deeper traditions. And in the 21st century, students also learn music in middle school and high school. There’s no system in place for university degrees on this material; the lives they lead outside of what they learn in school and from their families depends on them. They themselves must become music educators or musicians, or travel throughout Africa learning music, exchanging ideas, and living their lives. Africa alone has more than 50 countries, and the music of north, east, south, and west of Africa differs dramatically, so there are hundreds of varieties of African music. So their lives cannot be anything but variegated, and it’s almost inevitable that they produce new music. I’m proud of the fact that I’m from a country that’s musically rich. In a capital-sized city, the musical performances in a single night come to more than 200. Clubs, pubs, outdoor halls and a variety of locations are all fair game for a liberated music performance scene, and I think it’s because a love of music is in the blood of the African people. There is a lot of demand for music in the Middle East, as well, although the atmosphere is different. There are more indoor salons and much of that has to do with a differing social atmosphere and different governments.

Two people being interviewed

Two people being interviewed

Two people being interviewed  

Visa for Music and Korean Music

Q : What is your long-term vision?

A : Right now my first, primary goal is to introduce African and Middle Eastern music to the rest of the world, and establish a stable network within Africa and the Middle East. But in the long term, I don’t want to stop at merely introducing it. I want to create a place that will bring in Asian, South American, and European music, and music from a variety of regions. In fact, many of the African teams in this year’s program are groups that have had experience in Europe. And historically we’ve always had frequent exchanges with South America. When you consider the people of the Caribbean, did they not originally come from Africa? It’s also true that many musical genres owe their roots to African music. There’s a fundamental network spread out over a broad expanse. I want to breathe new life into the significance of this, and create a genuine network —that’s my vision. Next year my plan is to invite more guests from Asia. I also plan to increase the number of overseas showcases by degrees. I want VMF to play the role of at true market, where we can all buy and sell — that’s also part of my vision.

Q : This year [the new wave Korean music group] Noreum Machi was selected at WOMEX, making it the fourth Korean group to debut at the event. I believe that Korean music needs a network like this, not only in Europe’s world music market, but also in Asia, and I’m hoping that Visa for Music can set a good example. Do you have any advice for the future direction of Korean music, or a network in Asia?

A : I think Korean teams being introduced at WOMEX is a very good start. The European market is huge but there’s a limit. In the near future, I hope that Korea music will be introduced to other markets, including in Africa, the Middle East, and South America. From a financial perspective too, Africa and the Middle East can be a good opportunity for Korea. We already have Korean companies such as Samsung and Hyundai. Using culture only adds to the influence. And Korean cultural content is, bit by bit, carving out a place for itself in Africa and the Middle East. Korean dramas and K-Pop are examples. I do hope that Korean music will be able to debut to the Middle East in a Middle Eastern market. To speak of an Asia-wide network, I see Korea as playing the role of a bridge within Asia. It has done this consistently through PAMS, and APaMM, and many overseas delegates can observe Asia through Korea. I hope Korea continues in its role as a bridge, and link, to the rest of Asia.

Brahim El Mazned

Brahim El Mazned

 

ⓒ《Weekly@예술경영》 editorial team


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theApro <![CDATA[Everyday yet Extraordinary: Buenos Aires’ Performing Arts Culture]]> Everyday yet Extraordinary: Buenos Aires’ Performing Arts Culture
[People] Alberto Ligaluppi, Director of the Buenos Aires Theater Complex


Argentina. A distant country, located at the opposite end of the earth. I’ve never been there. Not even once. When I was given the task of interviewing Alberto Ligaluppi, the director of Buenos Aires’ biggest performing arts venue, I didn’t know where to start. I suddenly thought of South American writers or novels and poem that seamlessly and effortlessly went from reality to fantasy in their works, with what appeared to be total disregard for barriers between both worlds. I like works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges, and daydream about the day that I am able to produce and showcase some of their works on the stage. But I’m never able to find a way to interpret and display this vast imagination, and it always ends up as a fantastic fantasy. But what about Argentina. Perhaps they had brave artists, successors of those famous writers, who were able to bring these works to life? I started the interview with Alberto with this hope.

Teatro San Martin (above), Teatro Presidente Alvear (below) Teatro de la Ribera (above), Teatro San Martin (below)
 

The Largest Culture Complex for Spanish Culture: The Buenos Aires Theater Complex

Q(Shin Min-kyung): Is this your first time in Korea?

A(Alberto Ligaluppi): No, this isn’t my first time. But it is my first time in five years. When I was working as the director of the Festival International de Buenos Aires(FIBA1)), I was invited to come to Korea by the 2008 Performing Arts Market in Seoul(PAMS). Before then, I didn’t really have an opportunity to come across Korean cultural arts, but thanks to them, I was able to see various works and productions. I saw by the Cho-In Theater Company, and invited them to our festival the following year. Argentinian performers, as well as the audience, loved the production, and tickets for the entire week were completely sold out. I’m very excited to be here in Korea again after five years, and I look forward to seeing various theatrical, dance and music performances during my stay in Seoul. After this interview, I will be going to see either<Bye Cycle> by Theatre Group Seongbukdong Beedoolkee, or<Faust>by Theatre Group Haddangse, later tonight.

Q : I understand that you were appointed as the director of the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires(CTBA2)) in 2010. Would you be able to give us a brief introduction to the center and what it does?

A : The CTBA is celebrating its 70th anniversary, this year. In fact, the 70th anniversary celebrations were held last week, and unfortunately, I was unable to make it here until PAMS was wrapping up. The CTBA is the biggest performing arts center for the Spanish cultural community, not only for Argentina, but for South America and Europe, as well. We currently run eight performance venues, along with a movie theater, a television and radio production studio, and a library complete with an archive. We currently have 1,200 staff working at the center, including our performing artists, and we are a public cultural organization that receives all of its funding from the regional government. In relation to the direction of our performances, we try to focus more on reinterpreting classics and producing more contemporary content.

Q : The scale of the center is so large, it’s quite difficult to imagine what it’s like. How are the programs for the eight performance venues put together?

A : Six or seven producers put forward recommendations for works that can be planned, invited, and produced for the venues. Three programmers, who are referred to as the jury, review the productions that have been put forward, and then submit a program outline or proposal to the finance, technical and managing directors. As the general director, I then get to choose the final proposal. Argentina’s peak performing arts season is between March and December. Of these months, June, July and August are known as the “theater season,” and October is the festival season. To come up with ideas to fill the halls and venues of such a large center like the CTBA, all on our own, is impossible. So, we have endeavored to maintain strong ties with seven or eight festivals with which we organize productions. This includes FIBA and other movie related festivals.

Musicians performing in the lobby of the theater Theatergoers waiting for the performance

1) The Buenos Aires International Performing Arts Festival (FIBA, or Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires) was first held in 1997, and has been held every second October in the years since then. The festival invites performance groups from Argentina and around the world from all different genres, including theater, dance, visual arts, sound art and contemporary art. Dario Loperfido is the current artistic director of the festival.
2) The Theater Complex of Buenos Aires (CTBA) was formed in the year 2000 by bringing together seven public performance venues run by the city government to create one large complex. The aim was to ensure that these theaters were run efficiently, by bringing them under the management of a sole organization. The complex currently has eight performance venues, and the oldest theater is the Teatro San Martin, which has an overall seating capacity if 1,200. The CTBA’s 70th Anniversary celebrations are focused on this theater’s history. The complex also has stage production, prop and costume design facilities, as well as a 400-seat movie theater, broadcast production studio, small galleries and live clubs for music concerts and experimental performances.

Astounding 500 Performances Every Week–Buenos Aires’ Special Love of Theater

Q : Do citizens of Buenos Aires love going to the theater? What genre do they particularly like? And if you can, please tell us about some popular productions that the audience has loved so far.

A : The most popular genre is theater or plays. And I think music comes next, followed by ballet. For citizens of Buenos Aires, going to watch a performance is a way of life. Do you know how many performances or shows are run each week in the city of Buenos Aires alone? Almost 500. Every single week. And closer to the weekends, like on Thursday, Friday and then Saturday, we schedule performances for 6 p.m., 9 p.m., and midnight. The shows are all different for those individual time slots, and they are almost always a packed house. In our city, there is nothing strange about going to watch a performance at midnight. What is seen at the Edinburgh Fringe and Avignon Festivals during the summer, is just an ordinary day in Buenos Aires. We have a performance culture that equals that of London and Berlin, and of this, I am very proud.

Q : Why do you think the citizens of Buenos Aires love the theater so much? Do people of all ages love watching productions?

A : Going out to watch the theater is a part of daily life, and this new tradition was created after the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War3)). Argentina is South America’s representative country of immigration. In particular, many from Germany and Italy migrated to Argentina, and Europe’s dramatic literature and performance culture came along with them and started to spread. Watching the theater naturally became a part of life for every family in Argentina, and going to the theater at night became a family tradition. There are many theater enthusiasts among the younger generation, and also a large number of artists who wish to make a career in theater. In Bueno Aires alone, many new theater companies, that are less than two or three years old, are constantly popping up.

Q : Who is the most popular theater writer/playwright among the Buenos Aires audience? Do they also like foreign productions?

A : One of the most popular playwrights is, of course, Shakespeare. Chekhov and Moliere are also up there on the list, and works by American playwrights Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams are immensely popular, too. Of the Argentine playwrights, works by Roberto Arlt, Eduardo Pavlovsky and AlbertoVaccarezza are highly sought after. The CTBA runs only about 20 to 25 foreign productions each year, and less than 10 percent of these are from Asia. Theater works from Germany are the most popular with the local audience. We invite productions that are unique to a country’s culture and have a specific storyline, such as Hotel Splendid by the Cho-In Theater Company, but the most popular productions are based on works by the international playwrights that I mentioned above, and also the unique reinterpretations of such works.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s <Hamlet> ⓒBronwen Sharp Teatro San Martin packed with audience member

3) As the international oil crisis endangered the national economy and social tensions were at an all-time high, the Argentine military declared a state of national emergency and carried out a military coup (coup d’état). President Jorge Rafael Videla’s military regime suppressed those who opposed the government through their actions or words, and approximately 30,000 people were tortured, went missing or were executed during this time. This military dictatorship, which Argentines refer to as the “Dirty War” (Guerra Sucia), continued through to 1983, where a general election was held and democracy was established.

Q : We can see that the local audience has a particular love for the genre of theater, but I wonder, what drew you to this industry?

A : Before I became involved in business and administration, I was a theater director. But I wasn’t a very talented one. [laughs] And before that, I was an artist. I was interested in observing the appearance of people and putting my observations on canvas. When I was immersed in drawing in New York, I first came across oriental art, including Korean art. I then became interested in the Orientalism and Occidentalism of Art, and my attention shifted from paintings and drawings to the genre of theater. I returned to Buenos Aires and started directing plays, and was given the opportunity to become an arts manager. I had to choose between staying as a creative artist or embarking on a new challenge, and I eventually chose to accept the challenge and embark on a new journey as an administrative/program director.

Q : Do you ever wish to start drawing again, or directing plays?

A : I think that it’s difficult to go back and forth between being creative and being an administrator. I faced my crossroads 20 years ago, I made my choice, and I am happy with my decision. I do have hopes to start drawing again once I retire from administrative duties.

Q : How much does the Argentinian audience know about Korean culture and productions? In your opinion, what is the difference between Korean productions and those from other countries?

A : The third largest immigrant community in Buenos Aires is the Korean community. First-generation Korean immigrants opened up restaurants and supermarkets. More recently, the Korean community is making its way in the fashion industry. And many young Korean-Argentines are teachers. The percentage of Koreans in society and those who contribute to the economy is quite large, but in comparison, little is known about the Korean culture and Korean productions. There is still a long way to go in this regard.

Personally, I think Korean theater is mild, soft and pleasant. Compared to Korean theater, Japanese theater is more direct, dramatic and dark. But I don’t want to be too hasty in drawing conclusions because I haven’t seen enough productions. And I also think that the Cho-In Theater Company’s production of<Hotel Splendid>, which I invited to our festival, may have been a little easier for the audience to grasp because it had elements of both dance and music. In 2014, CTBA invited two Korean dance productions. And to me, it appears that Korean dance has been heavily influenced by European productions. Korean dancers have exceptional skills and ability, and their performances are unique in that they are able to gracefully combine elements of European tradition and Korean tradition in their productions. I look forward to seeing more exchanges between the two countries in the field of dance. Compared to theatrical plays and dance, I did not get to experience or hear a lot of Korean music, and compared to music from India and Japan, South Americans are quite unfamiliar with Korean music. Due to this, I wish to more actively introduce Korean music in South America.

Alberto Ligaluppi

 

week after the interview took place, I received an email from Buenos Aires. Alberto had not forgotten my question regarding young, up-and-coming writers whom he was keeping a close eye on, and had sent me a personal list (that included not only one, but a total of 18 names.)4) I look forward to the day that the works of Borges’successors are translated and performed in Korea. And in 10 years’ time, I hope that Alberto’s email will include names and literary works by those from the Korean community, which is currently the third largest immigrant community in Argentina. I have hope, as I have often seen a diaspora, which grew up learning both cultures, create their own performing arts culture with their own sense of style, and this, in turn, becoming a new tradition.

4) The list I received (from Alberto Ligaluppi) is as follows : Mariano Tenconi Blanco, Santiago Losa, Luis Cano, Sofia Wihlemi, Nelson Valente, Patricio Abadi, Caterina Mora, Mariana Chau, Lautaro Vilo, Celina Arguello Rena, Matiaz Umpierrez, Mariano Pensoti, Eva Halac, Natalia Casielles, Andrés Gallina, Sebastián Kirszner, Agostina López, Sol Rodríguez Seoane.


 

ⓒCTBA Website


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theApro <![CDATA[The Curators of Our Generation: Bridging the Gap Between Artist and Audience]]> The Curators of Our Generation: Bridging the Gap Between Artist and Audience
[People] Philip Bither, Senior Curator of Performing Arts of Walker Art Center


We all know the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as an art museum. However, it’s also known for its revolutionary performance arts program, making it a stronghold in the contemporary arts scene. We got to sit down with head of the program, Philip Bither, whose job requires him to weave between a plethora of genres, including contemporary dance, experimental theater, new jazz, avant garde folk, alternative classical and more.



Q(Gu Hyo-jin): The official department for performing arts at the Walker Art Center came to be in the ‘70s, which was 30 years after the center’s inauguration. Can you tell us a little about the background and context?

A(Philip Bither):
I can give you a little history of how the program developed at the Walker Art Center. We are now celebrating 75 years as a multidisciplinary center, so it was quite long time ago that the director decided that we should be a center for more than just visual arts, but for concerts, education, and so on. But it was not until the 1960s that we actively presented work that had a particularly contemporary perspective. That came out of a group of volunteers who were knowledgeable in the community. Some were professors, some were artists, and some were wealthy donors—they just had a passion for jazz, poetry, and dance. They would recommend things, they would help build proper things that they thought should happen in Minneapolis through the Walker Art Center. They were all attached in some way to the Walker, and that evolved into a professional being hired to coordinate the program. Being ambitious and passionate, she raised a lot of money and built a program that would bring artists to Minnesota who were at the forefront of progressive and avant-garde actions in live theater, dance, and music too.

At the same time, we began an opera program, which was dedicated to connecting contemporary visual artists with opera design and staging. In many ways, that was very much part of the ‘60s movement of trying to find new ways to connect visual art to opera and performing arts. That ended up spinning off and becoming what is now the Minnesota Opera. So the Walker also played an active role in seeding a lot of other cultural activities all over our city.

Walker Art CenterⓒWalker Art Center Website
 
William and Nadine McGuire TheaterⓒWalker Art Center Website

It was from the mid-‘60s on that some of the great artists of our time, particularly American artists such as Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Lee Breuer, Merce Cunningham, (dance group) Grand Union, Steve Paxton, and Trisha Brown, all came to the Walker and established a very high standard. The Walker was not only inviting artists that had been already well received and recognized, but actually committed to young artists at early points in their careers. This led to great loyalty by those artists: As they became more famous internationally and continued to innovate their work, they would often come back to the Walker because we felt their works were still interesting and innovating and they felt loyalty to the Walker. Because we are mid-sized American city, we felt we had a true obligation to the audiences of the Midwest and to the general public, so we worked very hard from 1970s on to nurture and develop a home ground for creative artistic community—contemporary dance, experimental music, and new forms of theater. Whenever we could, we would find ways to develop that locally, even when the bulk of our work was inviting artists from different parts of the world to Minneapolis.

I would say that, after we established this program officially in 1970, each decade we saw several other organizations in the U.S. create similar models that were the combination of visual arts, performing arts, and media arts: the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and many others. There are now about 12 organizations in the country. Many of us, the curators in the performing arts, currently work together on supporting or finding another project that we find interesting. I came to the Walker in 1997. I felt that I inherited a program that I had a great belief in and really respected its history, so I wanted to create a place that was very open to combining ideas and approaches to work from different disciplinary orientations. We were not just booking the shows but invested in artists by having them in residence and co-commissioning.

Q : What was the spark to led you to be a curator in the performing arts?

A :
I was thinking about your question about the origins of the Walker performing arts program, and I think it’s interesting. It was a group of volunteers who did it out of passion and for the love of it, because now it has become an industry and professional mechanism. That’s why for me, personally, I was driven my work in the arts. I came as a lover of music and then contemporary dance; I did not train intensively or academically around the arts and learned kind of on the job. I started a jazz festival in college where I studied journalism and wrote criticism about art, and I moved to New York to join BAM’s Nextwave Festival. I was there at an early stage when we were trying to decide what to do with this festival. With Joseph Melillo, the current producing director, I helped formulate what the Next Wave should be. The president of BAM at that time had a vision that we should be a home for all great American artists who were innovators working in the avant-garde, (and) who had to go to Europe to be supported for their work and then increasingly be a home for international artists that were doing radical and interesting work. That was my training as well, because I knew music the best. I became the music curator and the associate director of Next Wave for the first eight years of the festival.

Later, I moved on to Vermont to join the Flynn Center. I wanted to see if my ideas around contemporary art and expression could work in a smaller city and connect with audiences in an authentic way. What was good about my years in Vermont was it really made me feel like I had to understand what works for an audience who did not have daily exposure to the avant-garde. How do we take the passion of the most forward-thinking artists? How do we make it actually connect with the people who are everyday people? It was about the introduction of ideas. Now at the Walker, I have been running the performing arts program and I am very committed to investing in the creation of new work, being a partner with the artists, and helping enable them to make better work and to take chances both in the contents of the work as well as the formal questions that they are looking at and shaping their work. We also have a very strong commitment to the global esthetic: who are working with in interesting way—not just in Europe but also in Asia, Africa and Latin America? For this, I try to travel a couple of times each year outside of just Europe and New York.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage performing <Dialogues>ⓒWalker Art Center Archives Trisha Brown’s <Man Walking Down the Side of a Building at the Walker>ⓒGene Pittman

Contemporary art: It is about people who constantly think how to destabilize their practice and how to push oneself into a brand new, maybe a failure, but a new situation.

Q : How do you define contemporary arts?

A :
Well, that’s really a pertinent question because I think we are now used to defining everything and nothing. I specifically define contemporary work as what is relevant to our times and what is looking to the future around where both art forms are going and where this society is going as a global place. That’s a very general definition, but I think it’s really about people attempting to work in new ways, but at the same time making work that feels like the current time.

We are careful about maintaining a balance between what we consider master artist, mid-career artist, and then new voices and people that we have not yet presented or maybe have never even been to America yet. How we determine curatorially whether to stay with an artist or to move on is based on how we feel—how inventive, adventurous, and risk-taking their work continues to be within their own practice. Artists are really challenging themselves even when they become famous and established. I could point to artists like Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown as real examples of people who constantly think about how to destabilize their practice and how to push oneself into a brand new—maybe a failure—but a new situation.

Q : From this definition, I thought we could define which relations need to be maintained with artists and audiences, and how to persuade the audience of what we are doing.

A :
I do think too often that, in the visual arts world, the notions of the impact that contemporary arts can have on our society at large is not as fully appreciated because it’s such a refined and scholarly approach to the curation of visual arts exhibitions and work in general. Sometimes it feels to me that art is being programmed and the exhibitions are being made just for other curators, scholars, or museums to see, which is important, but I know what drives me personally: It is that (type of art) when it’s very contemporary and at the same time can actually be read and have impact on people who don’t necessarily live in the art world solely. So the only way that one can do that is by providing mechanisms for context and develop ways that artists and general public meet one another, and ideas can be framed in a way that makes some sense—some that certainly have to do with the history of forms. So we do spend a lot of time at the Walker offering programs for the general public about where this contemporary dance comes from and what this work is about.

One of the things that I love and am proud of is, if you go to the media tab on the Walker website, we have something called Walker Channel. Whenever we commission a work, I or one of my staff have long conversation with artists and try to make it not so heady that people would not understand what they are talking about. Rather, we try to talk with artists about where the ideas came from, what they are trying to achieve from the work, and the moment and time. It has an archival purpose, but it also serves as a media contextual tool so the audience can listen to an artist.

One of the platforms that we also developed is called SpeakEasy, which is like a book club format. After the show, we open our bar and host a circle conversation. The artist is not invited to come, even though some of them want to be there to listen. We found that in traditional question and answers after performances, which we do as well, people are too intimidated around contemporary and avant-garde artists to ask. In SpeakEasy, people are very open with one another. They hear one another’s ideas about what they saw in the work. Especially with abstract works, it’s so helpful. They live with a whole different appreciation because they hear others’ perspectives on it and what they read of it.

75 YEARS OF WALKER COLLETIONSⓒWalker Art Center Website Bither (left) with artist duo Eiko & Koma (right)ⓒAndy Underwood-Bultmann
 

It’s important for curators to be present in front of the public so that people feel like there’s a real person, not just a big faceless institution.

Q : I was quite interested in the Walker’s curators’ meeting, which is open to public. Could you please tell me more about it?

A :
That was little unusual, I would say. We really value the partnership with organizations small or large, many grassroots and community organizations. We try to work with people with a great level of respect. We respect their knowledge, not just about their communities but also about arts and culture. So we try to have certain level of humility, otherwise I think we will be viewed strictly as the elite academic knowledgeable people that people don’t feel any connection with. That’s the background of how the idea of open curating table came out.

I try to be open to a public. I do the season presentation at the start of each year and tell stories about each of the artists that I am excited about and why I think this particular project will be interesting. We have 200 people come out to hear me talk about the season, then I open it up for questions. That is really responsible. It’s important for curators to be present in front of the public so that people feel like there’s a real person, not just a big faceless institution.

Some of the most interesting works come out of artists doing things that seem very implausible and potentially ridiculous.

Q : What inspires you in your work?

A :
My favorite part of my job is the direct involvement with the artists themselves, and that’s why I avoided taking a directorship position. I deeply converse with the artists about why they made the work the way they made it, what drives them and so on. Then I help provide resources that I can extend from mediums of other curators within the Walker, such as use of our archives and video equipment that they need for their work.

Q : How do you define your role in relation to them?

A :
I am very careful not to try to personally shape an artist’s work. This is a big debate in America: how much responsibility should we take in being dramaturges or directors. In the world of contemporary performance, it’s very important to allow artists to make the work that they feel they need to make. I think some of the most interesting works have come out of artists doing things that seem very implausible and potentially ridiculous. But of course, if they ask me and if it seems like they are lost, I try to make myself very available to be seated in rehearsals, give my perspectives, and give feedback after a show. Nevertheless, I try not to face unintentional consequences that will send the artists into a more conventional direction, and not to over-insert my perspectives. I also do like dealing with general public, explaining artistic work to people and hearing them. Hopefully it’s a genuine sense of curiosity both with the artists and with the public, which is what I feel I can bring to my work.

Q : It sounds like all we need first is trust. Curators put trust in artists, artists put trust in curators, the public puts trust in curators.

A :
Yes, I think the reason I decided to go to the Walker was partly because so many artists told me that it’s their favorite place to go. They trust my vision; they really believe in what I am doing.

We look to the artists who lead the way.

Q : What are you looking forward to in the future?

A :
We are set up in departments, but are increasingly evolving from a multidisciplinary into a much more interdisciplinary organization. Following the leads of artists, who are really central to the Walker Art Center, we look to the artists who lead the way. Artists have started to emerge based on the way that they work, and within the disciplines they no longer define themselves as just a visual artist or dancer. We have taken that as a sign for us to work more as a team curatorially, to collaborate together and to bring visual artists and performing artists together in new ways, while maintaining the expertise that individual curators have developed within those different disciplines.

I am also interested in having new interfaces with artists and the public. Artists are reinventing space and changing the modes of expression that they are working in. Despite the fact that we have a big building and new beautiful theatre, I am interested in supporting artists to upend notions of architecture so that they don’t see my institution as a hinderer where they have to make work that fits in. I think lot of artists are questioning, do institutions matter anymore? Do arts organizations really help or hinder their work? Now people can create work for the Internet and work on a small and intimate scale. Artists have the ability to make work without organizations, but I do still feel that institutions, if they are driven by the right mission, can play a central role in the lives of artists. For this, it has to be recognized that life and the sustainability of the institution is not the primary goal. Sometimes institutions become really driven by their own existence and by gaining a great deal of ego and self-importance. I try to keep in mind that we do have a lot of power, but that power has to be recognized—that we have it and it has to be distributed fairly and with great humility.

ⓒWalker Art Center Website


The Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center is a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences. Focusing on the visual, performing, and media arts of our time, the Walker takes a global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach to the creation, presentation, interpretation, collection, and preservation of art. Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities.

Philip Bither

Philip Bither has been the Walker Art Center’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts since April 1997, overseeing one of the country’s leading contemporary performing arts programs. He has overseen helped lead significant expansion of the Performing Arts program, including the building of the McGuire Theater, an acclaimed new theatrical space within the Walker expansion (2005);, the raising of the program’s first commissioning/programming endowment;, the commissioning of more than 100 new works in dance, music, and performance;, and the annual presentation/residency support of dozens of contemporary performing arts creators, both established and emerging. Presenting and commissioning innovative performances since 1940, the Performing Arts program offers a season that spans contemporary dance, experimental theater, new jazz, avant-folk, new global, and alt-classical music, and the multiple hybrids of forms in between.
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theApro <![CDATA[Changes to China’s Performing Arts Ecological System through Private and Civilian Platforms]]> Changes to China’s Performing Arts Ecological System through Private and Civilian Platforms
[People] Fu Weibo, Director of the National Theater of China, and Shao Zehui, Chief Director of the Beijing Youth Theater Festival


In the past few years, factors such as system reforms and an overall increase in market size has brought about a change in China’s performing arts community, not only from an industrial point of view, but also from a creative aspect. Changes such as the corporatization of national and public theaters and performing arts groups, a boom in the construction of large performing arts venues by regional governments, the active creation and distribution of performances by civilian groups, appearances by highly competent young artists and the diversification of genres are flowing rapidly through all parts of China. Due to such changes, it is no stretch to say that information on China’s performing arts community that was released only a few years ago, are no longer valid. Many are focusing on the industry’s current state and the potential profits that can be gained from projects that are yet to be realized, but to discuss the diastrophism of the creative sector and this territory that is yet unknown, we cannot leave out a few keywords such as “small theater,” “civilian” and “rising/up and coming.”

Director of the National Theater of China (NTC), Fu Weibo, oversees all venues affiliated with the NTC. But although his status or rank identifies him as being part of the national theatrical community, in China, he is known as the “Father of Small Theater.” He started life as a performing artist at the Beijing People’s Art Theater. (Founded in 1952, it has produced hundreds of contemporary Chinese “spoken plays,” and when it comes to history and tradition, it can be considered China’s representative contemporary theater group.) In the early 1990’s, he crossed over to Japan to study spatial design, and upon returning home to China, took part in opening a small theater within the People’s Art Theater, as well as managing and participating in the creative designing of projects. He then poured his own money into buying the North Theater, which was Beijing’s first civilian small theater, and then went on to create the university theater festival, and then the Beijing Fringe Festival, creating a platform for young artists who, up until then, had nowhere to perform, to show their talent.

Creative Director, Shao Zehui, who also agreed to participate in this interview with Director Fu, majored in Information Management in university, which seems a little remote from theater. But he made his theatrical debut in the early days of the university theater festival, gradually improved upon his talents by entering his works at various youth theater festivals, and is now a recognized next generation director with works entered in festivals across Asia and Europe. He also plays a central role in the Beijing Young Dramatists Association (BYDA), which is a gathering of young performing and creative artists.

National Theater of China

2013 Beijing Fringe Festival’s poster

National Theater of China 2013 Beijing Fringe Festival’s poster

The Founding of Small Theater and the Growth of Rising Artists

Q(Jang Hye-won) : China’s first small theater play, Absolute Signal by Gao Xingjian, was shown in the 1980’s, but even after then, people really didn’t really know about or have any idea of what small theater plays were. When it comes to the management of things, even after returning from studying abroad in the 1990’s, taking over the running of the small theater at the People’s Art Theater would have been a bit of a risky move in itself. But you continued to take over the North Theater, and then the East Pioneer Theater which is affiliated with the National Theater of China. What did you hope to achieve through all of this?

Fu Weibo(henceforth ‘Fu’) : There were many reasons for me doing so. First of all, Chinese theater was divided into two groups; the traditional and the contemporary. Traditional theater includes the likes of Peking opera, Sichuanese opera, Yueju or Shaoxing opera, and contemporary theater is casually referred to as “spoken plays.” In the case of the latter group, the works were put together and performed by the People’s Art Theater, and were very stylized or structured. If you didn’t graduate from a traditional theater institution such as The Central Academy of Drama and enter a national theater group or any troupes affiliated with them, it was impossible to even think of a career in the creative and performing arts industry. On this front, I believed that there would be a demand for performances with a different story, style, and aesthetic, and I believed that the answer to that was to get away from the mainstream and turn to new, rising artists, and give them a say and a place to show their skills. In order to do this, we needed small theaters, instead of the existing large theater venues, and I also thought that if we built a firm foundation, then we could contribute to creating an environment that could foster new talent.

Things have changed a lot now, but back in the day, civilian groups or individuals didn’t even have the right to book a venue. So, they didn’t even have the opportunity to show their work, let alone hope to have their work reviewed. At the time, I believed that environment was an obstacle in the development of performing arts. Of course, in the beginning, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t have a specific outline or plan, and there were times when I just wanted to give up and be sent to the theater library and spend the rest of my life quietly reading books. (laughs) In 1995, after I had spent 1,000 yuan on two desks and a mop for the theater office, I was broke.

Q : As a witness to the development of the theater industry from the appearance of the small theater in the late 1990’s which made way for the creation and co-existence of experimental theater and industrial theater, and the subsequent steps up until now, would you be able to give us a quick overview of what has happened so far?

Fu : In 1999, the play <Rhinoceros in Love> (directed by Meng Jinghui) gained huge success. (It is one of Meng Jinghui studio’s three major repertoires, and is still performed today). The music for the play was written by Zhang Guangtian, and small theater plays such as <Che Guevara>, which he wrote and directed, as well as Li Liuyi’s <Fei Chang Ma Jiang> gave the audience a pleasant surprise, shocked them, and paved the way for change in the theater industry. In order to produce <Rhinoceros in Love>, Meng Jinghui had to obtain a residential mortgage loan; his house was on the line. But the play’s success turned all that around, and he later earned 150,000 in investment money. People were lined up outside the theater in order to buy a ticket to see the play, and the earnings from one play could be used to invest in the production of other plays. These plays, which received favorable reviews from fans and critics alike, went beyond the borders of pioneering and experimentation, and created a market in the industry, as well as a foundation and drive for success and improvement. While all this was happening, my takeover and subsequent management of the North Theater turned out to be a failure, but in 2005, the founding of the East Pioneer Theater (an affiliation of the National Theater of China) kicked off the second phase of our experiment and exploration, and many young creative artists, directors and planners, and audiences, came on board.

Fu Weibo, Director of the National Theater of China

The poster of Meng Jinghui’s <Rhinoceros in Love>

Fu Weibo, Director of the National Theater of China The poster of Meng Jinghui’s < Rhinoceros in Love>
 

Shao Zehui(henceforth ‘Shao’) : That’s right. Many 30- and 40-year-old creative directors, like myself, who are active here in China and around the world, started out during that time, and I think that if those theaters mentioned earlier, along with the civilian theater festivals weren’t created, it would have been difficult for those without theater institution backgrounds like myself, Huang Ying, He Fan and many other contemporary theater directors to make our debut. And at the time, the absence of directors since Lin Zhaohua, Li Liuyi and Meng Jinghui was a hot topic of discussion and something that everyone was worried about. Before then, theatrical performances were only to be carried out by those with theater backgrounds and affiliated with a national institutions (and performers and directors were ranked as a national level 1 (A level) performer, level 2 (B level) performer and so on), but the weakening of professional authority and the blossoming of the idea that anyone could write and have their play performed on stage, was the beginning of some important changes.

The hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw a massive increase in the number of venues and theaters, and this also served as an opportunity for the theater industry to expand. Of course, it was good that the Shanghai Expo and the Beijing Olympics saw the coverage of a variety of genres, but getting an audience for the 20,000 performance runs gave us the biggest headache. For those on the creative side, there are definitely more opportunities out there, now. And we finally have a three-tier system where you have the university theater festival, the youth fringe festival, and then the winning performances being displayed at small theaters.

The Expansion of Exchange and Cooperation, Beyond Mainland China to the World

Q : For both of you, I guess that we should focus more on topics related to the small theater works that you have participated in, and the creative platform for young artists, rather than the professional titles stated on your business cards that connect you to national institutions and organizations (i.e. the National Theater of China and the Beijing Institute Of Technology Art Education Center). Would you mind telling us about the Federation of Small Theater in Beijing that was founded last year, and the Beijing Fringe Festival that has been running since 2007?

Fu : We had been planning to create the federation since 2012. Last Spring, the civilian theater group, venues and theater writers association got together to officially form the Federation of Small Theater in Beijing, and at the end of last year, we hosted an exhibition for excellent small theater works by artists within the theater federation. We also hosted a fair right after the exhibition, and the number of participating groups increased within just a small period of time. Of course, in the beginning, the provincial cultural bureaus organized the venues for such cultural exchanges, but the federation itself was open only to groups and individuals in civilian or small theater, and thus maintained its independence. Combining groups and individuals, we currently have a little over 60 members in total, and although it is a long way from government run associations which boast over 10,000 and 20,000 members, we can proudly say that when comparing the works that have come out, our association has produced more unique, original and interesting works. We’ve seen progress in many areas, but our members are cooperating on many different fronts, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of such exchanges expand in a positive direction.

Shao : The Beijing Fringe Festival was first held in 2008. Before then, the only official stage where young artists could perform or display their works were at university theater festivals, but when these artists graduated and moved on to the next level, they needed a new platform on which to work off. During the first year, the English working title for the festival was the Youth Theater Festival, but we’ve seen changed it to the Beijing Fringe Festival. The government also told us to get rid of the word international in the title. Currently, a lot of civilian commercial performances are free to do what they want, but we still rely on funding, and are thus subject to a few minor regulations that can be found here and there.

During the past seven years, 326 works from China and from abroad have been shown at the Fringe festival, with the number of participating artists reaching 5,500. And these days, so many works are submitted that the Fringe runs for almost a month to show them all. The Beijing Fringe Festival also has an exchange agreement in place with the Avignon Festival and sends some of its best works off every year, and this year, 15 Chinese productions were sent to the Festival OFF d’Avignon, while 15 French productions were brought to China and showcased to the Chinese audience. We are also in talks to secure a similar agreement with Australia’s Adelaide Festival, as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And when it comes to a variation of works, we’re seeing a fusion of performances which cross genres, as well as sound theater, physical theater and musicals, which is a big step from the spoken only or text based performances seen in our early days, which is very exciting.

Shao Zehui, Chief Director of the Beijing Youth Theater Festival

Yang Son Project’s work, <The Dog Is A Wild Beast>

Shao Zehui, Chief Director of the Beijing Youth Theater Festival Yang Son Project’s work, <The Dog Is A Wild Beast>
 

Q : Many small theaters, such as the Beijing People Art’s Theater, the East Pioneer Theater, the Feng Chao theater (which is the main venue for the youth theater festival) and the Chaoyang Cultural Center Nine Theater have all had theatrical work exchanges with Korea at a civilian level, and I am sure that you have come across a large number of Korean works. What was your most memorable Korean production?

Fu : I’ve seen many productions, so it’s difficult to choose just one, but the Nottle Theatre Company’s <Hamlet from the East> that was a participant in the 2002 BeSeTo Theatre Festival is one production that I can never forget. The small theater of the People’s Art Theater, of which I was director, did not have enough curtains or a dance floor, and we had to borrow materials from other theaters to finish setting up the stage. We had a difficult time setting up. But the audience response to the production was so great that I remember seeing people who hadn’t been able to see the play, lining up outside the theater in order to catch a glimpse of the directors and the performers. I also remember the production of <My Classroom> by the JookJook Theater Company whom we had invited to perform at the opening of the East Pioneer Theater. The production dealt with the subject of hardships faced by students, such as college entrance examinations, bullying or social outcasts, and problems with the education system, and this really struck home and was well received by the Chinese audience, especially by Chinese youths who were also experiencing similar problems. Many Korean productions have been shown here in China, but what I observe every single time, is that they all deal with different subjects, have a different way of displaying their topic, and have very distinct and individual directing styles. The directing is also extremely detailed, and I always feel that the performers show an incredible amount of concentration.

Shao : At the invitation of the Director’s Association, I was given the chance to direct and produce Bertolt Brecht’s <Frights and Poverties of the 3rd Empire> with Korean performers, and I’ve seen many Korean shows; from non-verbal performances like Nanta and Jump, along with a host of other plays at Daehangno. I particularly agree with Director Fu where he talks about the performers, in saying that compared to Chinese actors, Korean actors have a higher degree of concentration and are devoted entirely to their work. I witnessed this air of sincerity and devotion, especially during rehearsals, and have a good impression of Korean performers. As one of the organizers of the foreign programs at the Beijing Fringe Festival, I was able to oversee the invitation of productions like <Macbeth> by the JookJook Theater Company and Yang Son Project’s <The Dog Is a Wild Beast> right through to the setting up of the stages, and both productions are still talked about in China. We were able to help the Chinese audience understand a part of Korean contemporary theater by showing at least two productions, instead of making it a one-off show, and by holding workshops or Q&A sessions with the audience. In Beijing and Shanghai alone, there are so many productions being brought in from around the world, so continuous efforts need to be made to bring these works closer to and engage the audience. Overall, the diversity seen in Korean productions, and the passion shown by Korean actors, has given their Chinese colleagues, and the Chinese audience, a much needed push in the right direction. Being in charge of making the program at the Fringe festival, I always face difficulties in trying to invite foreign theater companies to come and perform, as the Chinese government and companies are funding less, but I hope we find more opportunities, and that more and more of these exchanges are made.

Shao Zehui (left) and Fu Weibo (right) during the interview

Shao Zehui (left) and Fu Weibo (right) during the interview

Shao Zehui (left) and Fu Weibo (right) during the interview

 

Civilian theater groups and young creative artists have, for some time, been on the outskirts of China’s performing arts industry. But it’s no exaggeration to say that, these days, they are going beyond what the national theater companies are producing, and are playing an increasingly central and important role with their creativity and size. For a long time, audiences have been the propaganda tools of cultural art and have played a passive role, but with the rise of people’s theater, the audience is growing and developing with them. The success of China’s large theater productions, whether they are produced and run by governmental organizations or not, are overrated. Excluding the Beijing People’s Art Theater, which has a long, rich history and repertoire and a respect for its performers, many productions include a ‘star cast’, and find it difficult to produce more than 10 runs of the show. These small theaters and a series of theater festivals in which they communicate have burst the bubble, and have opened a new paradigm. They are still lacking funds, need policy assistance, and are thirsty for fresh and exciting new productions, but we must acknowledge the fact that that they have opened up a new pace and platform for meaningful and valuable change which will only continue to grow, and we must pay attention to this fact when looking at China’s performing arts industry. 

  ⓒNational Theater of China Website


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theApro <![CDATA[Any Project Without a Response to ‘Why?’ Is Reckless]]> Any Project Without a Response to ‘Why?’ Is Reckless
[People] Ben Mandelson, Founding Director of WOMEX


WOMEX, the World Music Expo held annually at the end of October, is an event that anyone involved in the world music industry is bound to have visited at least once. This year was the 20th anniversary of the Expo, also one of the largest year-end music festivals. In commemoration of the occasion, I talked with Ben Mandelson, one of the founding members of WOMEX in 1994, both about past achievements and his plans for the future.

The Handiwork of 20 Years, and a Pause at Santiago de Compostela

On Wednesday, October 22, the opening day of WOMEX, Ben Mandelson, whom I met in Cidade da Cultura, a name that means a “city of culture of Galicia,” was naturally the busiest person there. Our interview had been agreed upon in advance, but actually finding a time to chat at leisure was no easy feat. On Saturday afternoon we were finally able to sit down for our interview—although there were still people clamoring to talk to him—directly after Mandelson’s press conference about WOMEX 2015, scheduled to be hosted in Hungary.

The first sentiment he expressed regarding the 20th anniversary was one of joy—“Happy Birthday to us; it was a very long but meaningful journey.” But because there was still the evening showcase and the finale of Sunday evening’s WOMEX awards ahead, Mandelson confessed that it was difficult to say, in a word, what he thought of WOMEX in its 20th year. Already preparing for WOMEX 2015, it was presumably difficult for him to pause and, with his staff, really let the realization of the 20th anniversary sink in. Mandelson began to speak of the significance of Santiago de Compostela (henceforth Santiago) as the host city of the festival for its 20th anniversary.

Ben Mandelson : Santiago is traditionally known as the place where pilgrims end their pilgrimage, so there’s a lot of meaning in the fact that it is the host city for WOMEX in its 20th year. “Wouldn’t you say that a pilgrimage is a personal and spiritual journey undertaken by a variety of individuals? Because of this, there’s a special significance to the fact that we had this 20-year-old journey and ended up in Santiago. I’m very grateful.”

An interesting aspect to all this is that because Santiago is a small town in the northeast of Spain, there were some who said that it would be difficult to access. But according to my understanding of a pilgrimage, the path can be nothing but difficult. You don’t get to the end until you have reached the pinnacle of your suffering, and naturally this only follows a long journey. Without this, it’s possible that there isn’t much meaning to going on a pilgrimage. I liked the idea of arriving at a place by way of a difficult journey. I am very happy about the fact that WOMEX was able to share this journey with many people. And although it’s not over, I’m happy about how far WOMEX has come thus far. But because you never know what’s just around the corner, and because there are always bound to be surprises, it’s not over yet. I’m a Brit, and I’m someone who works in music, and we don’t say it’s over until the curtain actually falls.

<Equilibrium>(2014)

<Gravity>

Ben Mandelson, Founding Director of WOMEX  

The Same Questions Continue, But Are Shared in New Ways

Prior to the conference session for the 20th anniversary of WOMEX, I discovered that Mandelson had been discussing concerns about the fact that the program of the first edition of WOMEX did not particularly differ from the program now. He confessed that he’d gone back and looked at the first program and thought, “Wow, absolutely nothing has changed. Nothing changes. People are still asking simple questions in different ways.”

Mandelson : These questions cover issues such as how we can communicate, who we’ll communicate with, and our means of communication. And are followed by questions of whether we’re doing something of artistic value, and whether audiences will like me (and my music). But although our world has been transformed by technology, our concerns still involve such questions, and our concerns today overlap with our concerns of yesterday, and we consistently ask the same questions. I feel that this demonstrates how, despite the changing generations, the essence of our concerns remain the same.

There was definitely change in the realm of technological advancement. I was curious about what other musical and cultural changes Mandelson observed following that first edition of WOMEX, 10 years later, and 20 years later, today. Initially, he answered frankly that he did not know. “Because WOMEX is a process,” he continued, adding, “WOMEX is not about defining that this is this, and that is that, and how this differs from that.” Rather, “Differences are not a problem, and it’s far more important that we recognize this ‘process’.”

Mandelson : For example, if we consider whether the showcase teams we selected in 2014 would have been able to manage a showcase 20 years ago, we see how it speaks to the changes WOMEX has undergone for 20 years. The reason we would not have been able to include the music we listen to today in a program from 20 years ago is that music of that kind simply may not have existed artistically back then, or perhaps audiences may not have been as open and receptive to that kind of music.

Personally, my first WOMEX experience was by way of Dulsori in 2005. Dulsori was the first arts organization in South Korea that aggressively pursued overseas ventures through WOMEX; it was also selected as part of an official showcase. The Korea Arts Management Service also began hosting the Performing Arts Market Seoul in 2005, and in 2010 hosted the opening performance of WOMEX in Copenhagen, Denmark — all of which factored into important changes leading to the greater involvement of Korean music in the global world music market.

Even at that point, it was difficult to hear Korean music on an official stage, but part of the changes brought about by WOMEX was the emergence and inclusion of Korean music. This result is also partially due to the cultural and political decisions of the Korean government. South Korea was also held up as a model country, demonstrating passion about its national culture, as well as determination and dedication towards venturing overseas. This is a well-known success story, and the result of this dedication and passion transformed into a spreading awareness of Korean culture, its values, and intangible cultural properties in the world market and began to communicate it, rather than letting it remain something valuable only within Korea.

<Equilibrium>(2014)

<Gravity>

2014 WOMEX
 
Noreum Machi invited to 2014 WOMEX

World Music — The Best Decision, with a Generous Ability to Accept

During a presentation titled the “Future Prospects and Vision of WOMEX,” in commemoration of the festival’s 20th anniversary, Marc Benaïche (Head of Atelier 144) brought up such issues as “How much do we value musical and cultural roots or nationality in music, compared to other genres of art?” and how the emphasis on dividing music by its roots and nationality before defining ‘good’ music is considerably different from identifying ‘good’ movies and ‘good’ books to watch and read.” I was naturally curious about Mandelson’s thoughts on the issue, and the concerns raised about the categorical expression of “World Music” itself. His explanation was unexpectedly simple.

Mandelson : Let’s consider sports. There are many different categories of sports, and of these, there are types that I particularly like. World music as a genre is relatively more open than any other genre, and the expression itself is admittedly ambiguous. But I don’t think the term itself is problematic. It’s just a container. This container, called ‘world music,’ may not be the best container, but it’s certain that it’s the only container that we have.

What I worry about is a rigidity in attitudes towards this container, or label, provoking categorizations such as “This is world music” or “this is not world music.” When we start differentiating in such a way, the inclusion and exclusion that arises from such differentiation creates a wall. And that is not a positive thing. Because I want to live in a world that embraces everyone. Perfect inclusion may not be possible, but I do believe that at the very least, we need flexibility. Therefore, to say that because your world and my world are different, something must be excluded—this is the cause behind geopolitical problems from a cultural perspective. In that sense, the ambiguous and yet simultaneous openness of the term world music can be helpful. And can we not embrace the idea of multiple identities being possible? People both like and dislike labels. And from a demographic perspective also, it’s possible that there’s music that for some can never be world music, while for others it most definitely can be.


The Future of WOMEX—A Response to the Needs of a Generation

Piranha, the company behind the planning and direction of WOMEX, leads in consultations for regional events hosted in all the corners of the world. Our conversation moved to talk of Piranha, and Mandelson discussed how the Piranha Company had been involved in a variety of projects over a long period of time, how it through subsidiary companies such as Piranha Events and Piranha Culture it directed festivals such as WOMEX and Classical: NEXT, and how it continued to grow and expand in the field of culture industry consulting through its advisory role in events such as Brazil’s Porto Musical, China’s Sound of the Xity, and Cabo Verde’s . Atlantic Music Expo. As an expert in this particular field, director of consulting Christine Semba oversees all of the consulting projects. With 20 years of expert knowledge and experience as a foundation, Semba is able to provide advice on hosting culture industry expositions of this kind. These consultations include not only how to plan for and organize such an event, but also information on what kinds of industry professionals participate, and on their respective fields of expertise.

Recently expo hosting has taken a turn in a new direction. In Korea also, with events such as the Performing Arts Market Seoul and the Asia Pacific Music Meeting, it’s been put forth that inviting the best of the best among the experts is a more prudent decision, and that inviting about 20 overseas experts to meet with domestic artists and industry professionals would be most effective. Inviting overseas industry professionals would naturally stimulate active and focused networking with the artists and professionals in that region, through the mentoring sessions, one-to-one meetings and showcases. As these tendencies rise to the forefront, he observed that new trends were emerging and transformations beginning to take root in the field of event planning.

According to Mandelson, “Among the business areas that we (the Piranha Company) focus on, the field of consulting for regional event direction is definitely at the top, and through the support of the local governments, we are guiding projects so that the direction of the event fits the goal, and are also inviting the appropriate industry professionals.” He added, “And in fact, 20 or 30 years ago, the ranks of all of the personages, and the scale—are these were very important.”

The world’s largest, the first in the world—indeed, these titles alone are enough to attract the participation of many. Mandelson himself has also been to events described in such superlatives. However, he noted that not all of these events were able to hold fast to their goals and aims. “Moreover, you realize that the exchange of information, and the expansion and establishment of networks, are much more effective and efficient in smaller groups,” said Mandelson.“From the perspective of the government that is sponsoring the event, naturally the status of being the best in a certain area is very important, but it’s also important to acknowledge that when 20 or so major overseas industry professionals gather together and engage in mutual exchange with domestic industry professionals, you get relationships that are deeper, less simple, and less about one-off meetings,”he said. I was also curious about what their primary considerations were, when they were entrusted with an advisory role. Mandelson responded that it was perhaps “Why are we planning this event?” In other words, the question that should come even before “Can we do this?” is the question one must ask oneself—“Why are we doing this, and what are we trying to do with this?”

company SIGA logo

Choreographer Lee Jae-young

Just WOMEX Is Not the Answer

WOMEX is now a hugely influential market, involving anyone who is anyone in the world music industry. But as previously mentioned, the event was recently reshuffled so that market trends and tendencies were divided by region in the organization of the expo. And along with the Australasian World Music Expo(AWME), held seven weeks ago, and Sounds Aotearoa from New Zealand, Asia Pacific Music Meeting(APaMM), the Borneo World Music Expo (BWME), and IndiEarth Exchange, this year we also have a new event, the India Music Expo (IMEX). I couldn’t help but ask what impact this tendency might have on WOMEX.

Mandelson : During the WOMEX period, we conduct a survey asking visitors what other events they visit other than WOMEX. The results are always interesting. They participate, in addition to WOMEX, in about 90 events, and the events that participants deemed important in the survey come to about 90. Among these events there are government-sponsored events with a scale to rival that of WOMEX, but there are also small, city-sized events.

Ultimately Mandelson questioned whether it wouldn’t be terrible if other events could not exist. He said that WOMEX alone is not the answer—WOMEX staff also participate in other festivals and learn from them.

Mandelson : It’s important that these regional events coexist. We sometimes receive requests from those who want to license WOMEX. But our recommendation is that they plan their own event, appropriate to their area of the world and their market. In truth, fundamentally WOMEX is an event that’s built around Europe. Because 75 percent of the participants are European, this is something you can’t change. And it’s an unchangeable fact, that even if you cloned WOMEX exactly and directed the clone, you can’t attract the same visitors. And unless there is a strong market and infrastructure within the region, it’s not just difficult to have an international-scale festival—it’s imprudent.


Directing Led By Necessity and a Consistent Struggle For Growth

WOMEX, traversing along the same path for 20 years, repeatedly sees success through its encounters with new generations, new culture, new music and new technologies. I wondered what new plans they had, with the 20th anniversary as a potential turning point. Mandelson responded, “Even while I think, ‘Can there be any more new things?’ I know that there will be new projects that crop up, in response to the demands of a new generation,” but there was some hesitation in his reply.

Mandelson : To begin something new, it’s like when you’re trying to construct a new building, it’s hard to destroy it, and so when you add something new the newly-created thing won’t easily disappear. I wonder if it wasn’t direction guided by necessity, and a consistent effort towards ways to grow, that brought us to this celebratory 20th anniversary. It’s because we’re looking forward to the new world music that the following generations will create that we look forward to the next 20, 30 years of WOMEX. Santiago de Compostela faces the Atlantic Ocean and is famous for being rainy. This year the weather was good enough to the point where I felt truly lucky.

The Cidade da Cultura where WOMEX was held is an edifice with a stunning contemporary design. Sitting below that building, in the warm sunlight, and chatting to Ben Mandelson, my interview wasn’t a self-congratulatory celebration for WOMEX’s 20th year, or an attempt to discover how WOMEX lasted for long. Rather, it was a richly inspiring, valuable meeting that provoked important thoughts on how WOMEX itself was still a process, and ongoing at that, and on the fundamental question of “why?”

Director, Choi ZinA

 

ⓒ[Weekly@예술경영] editorial team


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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Korean-style Contemporary Dance that Speaks to an International Audience]]> Korean-style Contemporary Dance that Speaks to an International Audience
[PAMS Choice] Company SIGA, Choreographer Lee Jae-young


Lee Jae-young is the leader of the dance unit known as company SIGA, a troupe founded in 2013 using the fundamentals he cultivated at Seoul Institute of the Arts and Hansung University. Since 2010, Lee has achieved remarkable success as an emerging choreographer and dancer with mass appeal. Beginning with winning the Grand Prize at the 2009 Seoul Performing Arts Festival(SPAF) and being named 2012’s Rising Star at the Korea Performing Arts Center(HANPAC), and has been invited to join the Seoul International Dance Festival(SIDance) and Performing Arts Market in Seoul(PAMS Choice) this October.

When examining Lee and company SIGA’s works, one could imagine and expect that their appeal could translate well to an international stage. A prime example is Rest, the work that swept that year’s Korean dance festivals since its 2011 premiere. Reading the production notes on this two-person performance that illustrates the earnestness and emptiness of rest: the body acts as a basketball. As we watch the movement progress through dribbling, pivoting, blocking, and shooting, the response was reminiscent of that received by Nanta(another non-verbal performance) at the The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Also present at PAMS, Lee connects with the audience through <Rest>. We met up with him to discuss what makes up this work’s combination modern dance, international viability, mass appeal, and artistic quality.

Segmented Movement, Differentiation by Partner

Q(Han Jeong-ho): The group name “company SIGA” is quite unique.

A(Lee Jae-young) : In Korean, it means “gradually permeating.” In English, we call it “company SIGA.” We also thought it would be fun to naturally think of “cigar” or “cigarette” when you hear the name.

Q : The performances set to be staged at SIDance and PAMS are different.

A : First off, the work <Equilibrium> is set to go on at SIDance (Oct. 8 at the Gangdong Arts Center) and derives its name from the movie of the same title. Personally, I enjoy mathematical theory and happened to read Jeremy Rifkin’s 『Entropy 』(1980). A friend of mine who is a scientific researcher explained it (entropy) as the highest point of disorder, a point when balance is destroyed. From here I thought the concept could capture a broader, societal meaning. Rest, the work to be staged at PAMS(Oct. 9 at the National Theater of Korea Studio Byeol, 3:30 p.m.), is a work in which I have gone through about four or five different partners, each time slightly changing the details. Each partner had their own individual style, so the details varied to accommodate each dancer’s characteristics. For example, with a female partner I would dance more carefully, whereas with male dancers it would be more acrobatic and with a higher volume of energy.

<Equilibrium>(2014)

<Gravity>

<Equilibrium>(2014) <Gravity>(2012)

Q : For instance, in <Rest>, some of the movements include using your partner’s neck as a basketball, bouncing from the ground, similar to Emio Greco. The amusement given by the intense movement is reminiscent of Xavier Le Roy.

A : I personally like to make each joint very segmented to move like a system. Perhaps Greco’s movements expand from a state of an accumulation of such a framework. Greco also mainly stages one- to two-person performances, which I prefer myself. If I do expand then I can comfortably stage a performance with up to five performers. When I make a new work it is usually about 20 minutes long, but for a work such as <Guitarist>, it can run for up to 40.


The Collaborative Scope/Range of Acrobatics and Hip-hop

Q : Filling a 40-minute performance with acrobats as well as holding the audience’s attention for that long is no easy feat.

A : I have yet to form a duet lasting 40 minutes or longer. I am in the process of pulling together a pure two-person dance. I first started working with my partner, Kwon-hyeok, on the performance in 2012. I found a solution while discussing hip-hop with him.

Q : can be easily understood and enjoyed by overseas fans as well. Do you believe hip-hop is the source of this?

A : When I am choreographing I am not the type to consider a piece’s mass appeal, and I do not worry too much about the final product, aside from it having wit. Many of my peers began dance with hip-hop. In my case, I do not draw a line between hip-hop and dance theater; I thought there was no need to discard the hip-hop that is in my body. When I first began choreographing, I wondered, “What is the essence of my dance?” and it seems to be mime and robot dance. I wanted to show exactly how I can fuse these movements together in Rest.

Q : What is the range of music that hip-hop can collaborate with? Choreographer José Montalvo and dancer Dominique Hervieu even fuse hip-hop with baroque music.

A : There are many genres within hip-hop itself, and there is a definitely a point where hip-hop meets classical music. I personally do not choreograph my routines to suit the music, but rather make the dance first and then find music to put on top of it. In my younger days, when I did street jam, I liked jazz and funky music. I do not restrict myself to one genre of music, and I listen to everything from pansori to jazz, but I still do not care much for classical music.

<Rest> on stage

<Rest>(2011)  on stage

The Difficulties of Building a Repertoire with the Current Production System

Q : How do you strike a balance with a new production and the existing repertoire?

A : I try to make a new work every year or so. I believe that it is necessary to have some time between works and to focus on improving portions of existing pieces as they are re-staged. The conditions are still quite tough for a choreographer hoping to receive commission and also create a repertoire. It is hard to continuously produce works with a mid- or long-term plan. Normally, we begin working on a new piece when I receive an invitation from a festival or we pass a foundation screening. In this year’s case, I wanted to upgrade an existing work and re-stage it, but it did not pass the screening stage. The current structure has production depending on yearly festival screenings since theaters do not make long-term plans, so it is difficult to build up any kind of repertoire in these conditions. Supposing we did pass the screening process, there still remains a lot of administrative work to be done. In these instances, we would ideally only use the card provided to us by the foundation, but when purchasing props or costumes we run into difficulties because there are many sellers that still only accept cash.

Q : How long have you been in cooperation with PAMS?

A : This summer we had a performance workshop in the Congo and South Africa, and Rest was offered sponsorship toward the end of this workshop. The domestic reception for Rest was positive, and when it was staged in Singapore last year or Belgium this year, the reviews said it was a work that invokes a humorous Korean image. I wanted to revive this in a modern way, communicating with the audience while thinking of myself as a clown from a theatrical perspective.

Q : Is it possible to stage a hip-hop performance with Korean virtues either domestically or overseas?

A : For <Rest>, I wanted to take one work and run with it to the end. Starting from movement, if you take daily happenings overlapping with other images and listen to music, it can be witty. Since hip-hop has a basic groove, though there are many segmented movements, if we can find an appropriately-sized theater then there should be no problem keeping the audience interested.


Hip-hop Infused with Korean-style Humor

Q : Is there any other genre that you use want to use to supplement the union of Korean humor with hip-hop?

A : Mime. It was interesting working with the performers to transform everyday movements. I had not seen many other dance companies’ performances since I was young. Somehow, I felt that if I did, the afterimage would linger too long and I was afraid I would become influenced by it. Though I enjoy ballet training, I did not once see any performances by the Korean National Ballet, Universal Ballet or any other domestic or foreign ballet companies.

Q : If you do not see other performances than you may miss out on the flow of the scene.

A : Personally, trendiness is what I most despise. Rather than going too deep into some scene and floundering about, I would rather be outside doing my own work. During university I deliberately chose to see works that other people said were not good; it was akin to finding a hidden gem. Alternatively, I enjoy watching movies and going to exhibitions. Though they are different genres, they express similar discourses related the modern times. For example, despite having my own feelings about the Sewol incident, I do not wish to create a work based on this issue. Dance is a genre that needs to be careful about giving direct commentary on current issues.

company SIGA logo

Choreographer Lee Jae-young

company SIGA logo Choreographer Lee Jae-young

 

ⒸCompany SIGA


2014 PAMS Choice
<Rest>


In Rest, Lee Jae-young wanted to represent the urgency and emptiness of relaxation, illustrated through the flexible and organic movements of a basketball. By using the constantly in-motion image of a ball and the burning out and fatigue from continuous exercise, he represented one image with the intense need for rest and the ensuing emptiness. After its 2011 premiere, it was invited to the National University of Singapore Art Festival (2013), Belgium’s Dance Biennale Pays de Danses(Land of Dances) (2014), Congo’s Rue Dance Congo (2014), and others to positive reviews

Company SIGA

Choreographer Lee Jae-young studied at Seoul Art College and graduated from Hansung University in 2004 majoring in Dance. Recognized as an outstanding dancer, he received the golden prize in 2004 University Dance Competition and silver prize in 2005 competition hosted by the Korea Contemporary Dance Association. In the 2009 Seoul Performing Arts Festival he was awarded the grand prize for choreography by the Seoul Dance Collection, and in the same year received the best rookie choreographer award by the Contemporary Dance Association of Korea (MODACO). In addition, through the Arts Council of Korea’s Next Generation Choreographer Incubating Program he was selected as 2012’s Korea Performing Arts Center rising star. Lee is also garnering acclaim as a dancer because of his outstanding technique and expressiveness, taking center stage in the dance world with his ability to showcase the body’s unique feel and extremely unique movements developed through mime and theater. Aside from choreography, he also participates in composition, demonstrating his various talents through collaborations in several fields such as theater, music, video, and others, displaying an adventurous attitude. Thus, company SIGA was established in 2013 and, in keeping with its name, creates works that are from the heart and can touch audiences deeply; they create meaning slowly, bit by bit, absorbing everything else in the process.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Human Values throughout the Past and Present]]> Human Values throughout the Past and Present
[PAMS Choice] Han Seung Seok & Jung Jae-il


There is traditional Korean vocalist, or sorikkun, Han Seung Seok, who learned the virtues of tradition through his exploration of pansori, gut (a shamanistic ceremony), and percussion. And then there is multitalented musical genius Jung Jaeil, whose artistic endeavors encompass all that is possible through modern music. The two were attracted to the universal message of the <The Tale of Princess Bari>, finding meaning in Bari’s forgiveness as she saves the lives of the parents who abandoned her. They also recognized a sense of humanity in the story that went beyond national boundaries. Although “in a world dense with dust, where can you find an open life (from the song ),” they say, but the 11 songs on their album 《Bari, Abandoned》(2014) seem to pray for a world a little bit more free of dust. The piece goes beyond merely combining traditional Korean music and Western music, instead managing to create a sense of dignity of its own, with values that resonate with today’s audiences.

Music that is born when the legacy of the past meets the language of the present

Q(Min Chung-hong): Congratulations on your PAMS Choice selection. Do you remember when you first met?

Jung Jae-il(henceforth "Jung") : Very clearly. Han Seung Seok was then a member of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea. He had horn-rimmed glasses and was carrying a briefcase, and was wearing a coat that a lawyer might have worn. I thought he must be the head of the agency (laughs).

Han Seung Seok(henceforth “Han”) : That was when I was involved in the group Puri with Won il and Kim Woong-sik, maybe toward the end of 2001. I then heard from someone that they had this talented friend named Jung Jaeil, and would I like to work with him? (When we first met) he didn’t have the charisma one might have expected from a genius in terms of appearance or manners, so inwardly I remained on my guard. But during the course of our first project together, Binari, when I heard him contribute his bass and gueum, a traditional oral technique, to my songs, it occurred to me that he was perfect.

Q : So, apart from Puri, you’ve been involved in many other projects, both on your own and together, over the past 13 years. Now, in 2014, what is it about traditional Korean music that continues to attract you, given that you’ve shown it such consistent loyalty?

Jung : Traditional music is very powerful. There’s an energy akin to coughing up blood, an energy of the artist expressing everything within them. I’m especially into singing and Korean shaman music, and although I’ve heard a lot of traditional music from the world over, I’ve never seen art like this anywhere else—a beauty that almost paralyzes. I began with Western popular music, which is why I want to have what I just described. And that’s why I continue to experiment musically.

Q : The results of that experimentation can be found within 《Bari, Abandoned》. A particularly important aspect of the album is that it’s not satisfied to remain as a mere “reproduction” of traditional Korean music. But at the same time, there are aspects that are hard to explain away with terms like “crossover” or “collaboration.”

Han : We weren’t concerned with fusion traditional Korean music, globalization, or widespread acclaim. Our only concern was “to do what we can do, and do it well.” We did hope that more people would understand our music. You can feel a powerful energy from the beginning to the end of a pansori performance, but we were always thinking about for how much longer pansori songs would remain firmly within the domain of a small group of fans, song meanings unrecognized, and whether, like most Korean of art forms, pansori could ever have universal appeal. So I did hope that Jung’s instruments could be more approachable to audiences. I was able to confirm the potential of this when we worked on a song called <Jaryong Shoots His Bow and Arrow>, a song from (the classic pansori) <Jeokbyeokga>. In the process of embracing each other’s musical language and recreating it, although we may not have hit upon anything huge, we did find ourselves with something in a new class all on its own.

Jung : Through my work with Puri, I realized that when dealing with tradition, the composer shouldn’t assert himself too strongly—so instead I focused on making it easier for the vocalists to express themselves through the music. Here, the original form of the pansori was important, but I also thought that to really bring out the sigimsae (the decorative musical elements or melodies that adorn the beginning or end of a piece in traditional music) and qi (氣), or energy, we needed harmony. Even when you’re singing a well-known ditty like “The School Bell Rings, Ring Ring Ring,” depending on how it’s harmonized, it can be a completely different song. So I worked with the piano, which could take on the role of the gosu, or the traditional drummer, to create the dynamic necessary to make the piece successful, and also introduce a harmony while maintaining the original sound.

Han Seung Seok & Jung Jae-il, <Bari Abandoned> on stage

Han Seung Seok & Jung Jae-il, <Bari Abandoned> on stage

A song of abandonment, forgiveness, farewell, production and disintegration, hope and salvation

Q : More than anything, the album is an accomplishment with a significant meaning. Yes, it recreates the episodes of the original story, but also alludes to the joys and sorrows of being human (the song <Laundry>). By projecting the process of searching for the water of life onto the figure of a young African refugee, it also recalls a love of humanity (the song <Crossing Children>). The story, remade with a modern face, is also interesting.

Jung : I want to turn the praise over to Pai Sam-shik, the author of the beautiful lyrics.

Han : That’s right. The three of us gathered and debated. That’s how the sub-topics and layout of the album were completed. In some respects, Bari is an obvious subject because she’s always been an icon of forgiveness, representing salvation and hope. But we strongly believed that she could be part of a message for this chaotic world. I’ve heard praise for how we’ve used traditional music to approach heavy topics or social problems, and I’m happy about that. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself personally as well. I didn’t want those who only listened to the form of the music to feel exhilarated or regretful. I wanted to tell my story, and that’s partly why I couldn’t stay away from this era. The Tale of Princess Bari is an old one (pansori work), but it definitely contains values that resonate in the present.

Q : <The Tale of Princess Bari> isn’t alone in being an old story with values, is it? Can you go into greater detail on your reasons for selecting <The Tale of Princess Bari>, and why you saw contemporary characteristics in the tale?

Jung : To be precise, there’s a considerable amount of distance between the original tale of Princess Bari and our album. But partly because didn’t bring all of the story lines to life, we thought it was even more important that we pay attention to the “emotion” of the tale. That might have been expressed through a song like <Maybe, Maybe Mero Maybe>, through which we commemorate Nepalese worker Madup Kuwer, who died of overwork as an illegal immigrant, or through <Song Without>, a song of hatred, blame, and missing someone. More than anything, the part that struck me most during my work on this album was the fact that Bari had been abandoned by her parents. Thus, she had to be responsible for her own salvation, and became a deity to guide the souls of the deceased, offering salvation to other souls.

Han : The song <Bari, Abandoned> has lyrics that go “Become bari, abandoned, and go,” which I’ll take as an example. Originally the lyrics went, “Become bari, abandoned, and be gone, poverty,” but later we purposely injected more intentionality into the phrase. In other words, it’s not about struggling in pain, but abandoning abandonment, so that you have the energy to go on. But these days I am confused. When I look at the state of our age, I can’t properly judge whether forgiveness will result in good. I try to sing with certainty, but I wonder if this is truly right … I do believe that it’s important to live with a belief of the goodness in humanity, a conclusion that comes from thousands of accumulated years of history, but there is a part of my mind that remains doubtful because I lack introspection, and because I haven’t come to such a conclusion in my own life.

<Bari, Abandoned> performance Poster

<Bari, Abandoned> on stage

<Bari, Abandoned> performance Poster <Bari, Abandoned> on stage

Q : I can certainly empathize with that statement—all the more reason that I hope that this piece can reach audiences farther away, beyond the national boundaries of Korea.

Jung : The power of pansori and traditional Korean vocal artistry has always crossed national borders. I believe in their power.

Han : I’m on the fence. Traditional pansori performance is unique and powerful, but I’m wondering how audiences will react to and understand our interpretation of it, which includes Western instruments. They may like the quietly hidden messages in the lyrical songs, or the musical beauty, but I wonder if they might not hold a different opinion on the other aspects of our arrangements.

Q : They lyrics may be in Korean, but even I could not understand 100 percent of the words with my first listen. Despite that, Bari moved me intuitively, and I believe that it will convey this quality to the other audiences too. I wish you success, and will end this interview with a question on your plans for the future.

Han : We’re collecting material, little by little, and currently discussing how we will embrace not only Korean subjects but also world classics. We also like stories about life, particularly that deal with jeong—love and affection—and whether we decide to approach it through love or friendship. We’re currently thinking of music that can knit all this together.

Jung : I’ve recently been involved in everything I could possibly do through music, from popular music to documentaries, working on the music for the movie <Haemoo>, my involvement in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the play <Incendies>, and an installation project with Jang Seung-min called The Moments. Of these, the work that I did with Han Seung Seok is what I can, with certainty, claim as the work of artist Jung Jae-il. This project was especially meaningful in that I learned a bit more about what genuine collaboration was, and what kind of energy could come from it. I believe that I can do even better from now on. The next project would be an album, a pansori piece, an opera, or a requiem. We want to keep working tirelessly, and do anything possible with language.

Han : As I gifted this album to some of my friends, I also wrote that, “For the first time, it seemed like I did something in this world.” It really does feel like I’ve at last filled my role in this world and done something truly “me.” Looking forward, my goal is to protect tradition as tradition, as well as to create new forms within tradition.

Jung Jae-il

Han Seung Seok

Jung Jae-il Han Seung Seok

 

ⒸBlue Boy


2014 PAMS Choice
《Bari, Abandoned》


Korea’s representative myth of a woman, The Tale of Princess Bari has been recreated into modern context as a worldwide music project under the name Bari, Abandoned, which has been brought to life by the vocals of Han Seung Seok, the rendition of Jung Jaeil, and the lyrics of playwright, Pai Sam Shik. The cohesion of pansori and piano offers a snapshot of life at the time of the Bari mythology, expressing a message of salvation and solace to the contemporaries’ life, which has been filled with conflict, division, isolation and pain. Musically, pansori combined with piano and other traditional and modern instruments such as guitar, bass, orchestration, computer programming, janggo, kwaenggari, jing, piri, and taepyeongso, bring together an alluring melody that is more complex than the simple infusion of Western and Eastern sounds.
Han Seung Seok is a renowned academic musician whose musical spectrum is not just limited to pansori but also percussion and other traditional music. His upcoming album with musical genius and multitalented artist Jung Jaeil is a much anticipated collaboration in Korea, both in and out of the cultural circle. With the addition of one of the most sought after stage art directors, Yeo Sin Dong, Bari, Abandoned is able to make its live performances even more spectacular. Established in April 2012, Blue Boy deals mainly with music production/promotion/distribution and artist management. The company currently manages artists such as Sister’s Barbershop and Jaejoo Boys, with a catalogue including over 30 albums from artists, such as Wouter Hamel, Autumn Vation, Sister’s Barbershop, Jaejoo Boys, Julia Hart, etc. The label has also organized and supervised various pop concerts, including Jeff Bernat’s first Korean tour, the Bari, Abandoned tour, and the headlining concerts of Blue Boy label artists.

Han Seung Seok
Han has done extensive research into pansori and other traditional Korean music. He strongly believes and lives upon his human values and carefully considers the nature of music and how it should be performed. Currently a professor at Joongang University’s Traditional Arts department, Han’s voice possesses a soft yet at the same time plaintive and powerful charisma
Jung Jae-il
Jung has grown from a gifted child into a multitalented artist. He is a former member of the group GIGS and a producer for top artists and movies, and performances. He has organized exhibitions, fusing music with performance, and continues to expand into various fields related to music.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] SEE: To See Unfamiliarly and To See Closely]]> SEE: To See Unfamiliarly and To See Closely
[PAMS Choice] Choi ZinA, Director of Thearter Company Nolddang


“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye,” the Little Prince famously said. There is hardly anyone who would deny those words. However, how are we to see something invisible when we can’t even accurately describe what is visible? It would be irresponsible to simply emphasize the importance of seeing with the heart. I am not saying that what is invisible is unimportant; rather, I am merely stating that what is visible can be just as important as what is invisible. The play <SEE>, as its title implies, contains a humanistic examination of the act of seeing. Sidestepping the conventional dramatic arc of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement, it instead provides a serious report that follows and explores the visual activities of the human being. The one who put together this examination is Choi ZinA, director of Theatre Nolddang, an artist who always finds new narrative methods to convey her material from a fresh perspective.

Neither Feminism, Nor Humanism

Q(Kim Il-song) : In one of the performance arts portal sites, you were introduced as “the playwright and director who became notorious for her fastidious and perfectionist tendencies in the Daehangno theater scene.” Do you agree with that description?

A(Choi ZinA) : It was an expression that the organizer came up with and wrote in the pamphlet without consulting me when we were performing <Geumnyeo and Jeonghee>. I suppose the organizer wanted to emphasize the “notoriety” part.

Q : Seeming quite contrary to your “notoriety,” the name of your theatre company is Nolddang, which is associated with nolja (playing).

A : I know. One of the new members of our troupe recently asked, “Why do we practice non-stop when our company name is Nolddang (playground)?”

Q : You are the leading director of Nolddang, but I heard that you didn’t get into theater to be a director.

A : That’s right. I tell my actors that I started directing because no one cast me as an actor. When I first joined the Theater Company Yeonwoo(Yeonwoo Mudae), I listed both acting and directing as my desired field in my application, but I never actually got a chance to perform on stage. Unlike now, when I first started out doing plays, it was the teachers that directed the work, and there weren’t even that many works for which we could audition or be cast, so there was always a lot of down time. But I wanted to stay in the theater scene, so I went on to graduate school and majored in directing. After graduation, I made my directorial debut with This isn’t a Love Story. That piece opened up a lot of doors for me.

Q : Your next work, <This Love>, Please was also received quite well. It was chosen as one of This Year’s Best Play 7 by The Korean Theatre Review that year.

A : I just got lucky.

Q : Well, I have some quotes from the critics about those two works. Kim So-yeon said, “Choi ZinA creates ample space for her female characters, through the dramatic space that goes beyond mere representation, in which they can be soft but daring, and are not defeated, even when they are badly hurt and bleeding.” Kim Myeong-hwa wrote that, “Choi ZinA has calmly and consistently presented a body of work that could be affiliated with feminism from the outset, without faltering or being overpowered by excessive self-consciousness.”

A : Neither works were intended to be feminist pieces. The main characters happened to be female, simply because I wrote what I felt. The works that followed also happened to be a romance called <Goddess Blesses> Romances and a story of a mother and a daughter called <Geumnyeo and Jeonghee>. The latter was put on stage in 2009.

<Geumnyeo and Jeonghee>(2009) performance Poster

<House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s>(2010)

<Geumnyeo and Jeonghee>(2009) performance Poster <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s>(2010)

Q : By 2010, you presented a work that seemed to go against the grain of your previous body of work. Kim Yun-cheol, the artistic director of the National Theater Company of Korea, said, “What is even more striking about <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s> is that the artist has broadened her interest and horizons to the humanism from the feminist perspective she had maintained thus far.” But judging from what you just said, is it safe to say that it was not your intention to broaden your horizons to humanism?

A : Since it was never my initial intention to do a feminist writing, it never crossed my mind to write a piece based on some other theory or ideology that could replace feminism. I did not consciously switch my thematic basis from feminism to humanism. I did not construct my story around any kind of theory or ideology. I drew up <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s> when I saw a housing construction site.

Q : The format you adopted for <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s>, which was to build a house on stage during the performance, was quite unique and unheard of.

A : When I have gone to see plays in the past, there were times that I felt like the way people changed scene during the intermission was more interesting than the actual performance itself. They usually do it in the dark while the lights are out, but I thought, “Why not show the audience such an interesting scene just as it is?” That’s why I adopted that format in my production of the play.

Q : <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s> was quite successful. It was even selected as 2011 PAMS Choice.

A : That’s right. Thanks to that selection, it was invited to the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, which also earned it the chance to be performed in Turkey in 2012.

A Play That Does Not Resemble a Novel, But a Thesis

Q : Now, let’s get into a more serious conversation. My next questions are based on an interview you did in 2010; I am curious as to whether your thoughts have changed or solidified since then. At the time, you said, “There are times I try to read the actors thoughts or reactions. Sometimes I feel like they expect me to not show up anymore. When the practice sessions are over and the play is put on stage, it seems like the actors want me to leave it in their hands. In the Korean theater scene, that kind of director is probably considered more tolerant and understanding.” Well, have you become a more tolerant and understanding director by that standard?

A : It is quite a sensitive issue. When I was sharing my notes with the actors yesterday, I did find myself asking, “Am I being helpful to the actors?” It has been an ongoing question for me to figure out what kind of virtues a director must acquire. Directors and actors basically share the common resolution to create a good play together, but that doesn’t mean that both parties can always be harmonious. Different demands constantly spring up; working through them and helping the actors pull off a good performance is the task of a director. I’m not saying that a director should not refrain from watching the performance every day and share their notes with the actors. However, when the actors make a request for the director to leave, it is probably necessary for the director to take a step back. Essentially, actors are the ones who feel the audience’s response and embody the text through their body. However, I still firmly believe that it is the director’s role to navigate the actors’ thoughts and ideas; if the play addresses something conceptual or abstract, the actors will sometimes miss something, restricted by the corporeality and concreteness of their body.

Q : During the 2010 interview you also said, “I cannot help but wrestle with the questions such as, ‘Is it possible to create a story that looks deeply into humanity?’ or ‘What is it that the audience is interested in now?’ What kind of play should I create? I keep thinking that addressing complex and profound issues are not good enough anymore.” In your answer to my previous question, you mentioned the conceptual and the abstract. Does a play become easier or more difficult by the way it actualizes the conceptual and the abstract?

A : While it is the actors’ task is to express the conceptual and the abstract embedded in the work through their concrete body, it is the director’s task to incorporate the conceptual and the abstract into the work. I believe that the conceptual and the abstract exist in ellipsis, rather than in sentences, and staging that ellipsis is an interesting work for me. That is why an unrealistic story can appear in a realistic performance; I actually enjoy the mixture of unreal elements on a very realistic stage. During a conversation, the thoughts of the listener may suddenly be heard as a monologue, or a thought in a character’s imagination that stemmed from a conversation may be staged. A character may abruptly stand up and dance, or even fly into the air in the middle of a conversation. What lies in the ellipsis and is not expressed in reality is our real thoughts and life, and I feel that it is my job as a director to express that ellipsis on stage.

<SEE>(2014) on stage

<SEE>(2014) on stage

Q : It seems like that answer may also apply to your current play, <SEE>. You mentioned that you cannot help but struggle with the method of expression. You added, “It is not that I want to use a different form, but that I want to tell a different story. Even when I discover good material for a play, I am concerned with the method with which to incorporate that material into the play.” I can imagine that the method of expression was something you had to tackle when you were creating <SEE>.

A : Around the time I was conceptualizing <SEE>, I wondered if a different type of play could exist that did not demonstrate the emotional ups and downs through drama. I questioned if it was really necessary to repeat the emotional drama in the theater when we already experience it in our daily life. That is when I received an offer to direct a play from the National Theater Company of Korea and came up with the idea of staging the act of “seeing,” which was something I was interested in at the time. I decided to create a play that treated human act of seeing as its subject matter. How exciting would it be to extend the momentary pleasure onto the play and then convey that pleasure to the audience? However, I wouldn’t say that it is the formal characteristic that penetrates through all my works. I always try to find the form that best fits each theme. When drama seems like the best fit, then I would choose drama; when another method seems like a better fit, I try to find a different form. Take <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s>, for example. As I tried to grasp and convey on stage the emotional impact that one experiences in the process of building a house, and what came out of it was a play that had the features of documentary. Yet, if you had asked me if I liked the documentary form, I would have said no. What I try to pursue is creating a play that does something other than give catharsis or be emotionally moving. I want to express the sense of enlightenment that one feels when a new horizon of perception opens up after reading some great dissertation or essay rather than a novel. I deliberately tried to develop a more objective and conceptual approach by excluding emotional tear-jerking scenes from the play.

Let’s Start from Accurately Seeing the Visible

Q : I am sure it was an incredibly demanding task to expand momentary action or perception into the theatrical temporality.

A : The act of seeing takes place in less than a second, so it was tricky to expand that at first. Of course, I could make the audience see something for over an hour, but then I thought the audience would not take away anything when they stepped out of the theater. So I constructed diverse episodes that could be associated with the act of “seeing.” I first premiered it in 2012, but I had a change in perception when I reran it in 2014. Before, I thought we could perceive the object through the act of seeing. But now I have come to think that perception is not a momentary action, but rather something that functions through a learned process that has been accumulated from the past. Until 2012, I thought that the act of seeing was a pure act that transcended the perceptions from the past, but now I have come to realize that we cannot see things completely detached from our past experience. It was a huge change in perception. If I were to produce <SEE> again in two years, I think it would be yet another work that is different from the current one. I have intentionally tried to exclude emotional charge thus far, but now I think that I may even create an emotional moment through the act of seeing. If <SEE> 3 were to come out, who knows? Maybe I could share this change in perception with the audience.

Q : Then was there an actual change in directing between SEE 2012 and the SEE 2014?

A : In Act 2, I modified a couple of lines from the medical explanations, but I found that the audience did not detect the change. I probably should have created a scene out of it, instead of modifying a few lines.

<본.다>(2014) 공연포스터

<본.다> 공연 모습

<SEE>(2014) performance Poster <SEE> on stage

Q : What is it that you wanted to show through SEE?

A : If we want to see something accurately, we must actively engage and approach the object. And if we put “the world” in the place of “the object,” the meaning could expand even more.

Q : Seeing properly may not necessarily mean seeing the hidden side of things, but to understand the entire spectrum of what is visible. For instance, if a person only knows red, yellow and blue, that person would only perceive the rainbow in these three colors; someone with a more refined perception of colors, however, could definitely see more colors from it. I think this could apply to the way the audience interprets the work.

A : Among Native American stories, there is a story of a Native American who can spot an eagle from ten kilometers away. This could perhaps be attributed to a connection between the Native American and the eagle; if one truly wants to see something, one may overcome the physical constraints. As a director, I have a desire to make the audience see more than seven colors, figuratively speaking. If the audience’s spectrum includes only three colors, I would like to provide them with the stimulus to expand the spectrum one by one. I would like my play to diversify the audiences’ perspectives. I want them to see the world through the raw, diverse perspective that was not learned or injected into them through textbooks. For that to happen, I must first start grasping the things that I did not detect before, and transform them into a play. That is the kind of play I aspire to create; I would be thrilled if the audiences could see a perspective or point that they missed out on up until then.

Q : In 2012, you went to Turkey with your previous work, <House Number 1-28, Cha-sook’s>. If things work out, it seems that <SEE> will get you another chance to show your work overseas.

A : The majority of discourses have argued that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” but <SEE> is saying that “one must see with the body.” In other words, we must not try to see the invisible, but see the visible as it is. Someone who got a Ph.D. in philosophy from France told me that <SEE> combines Western and Eastern philosophy. According to that person, there is some point in Western philosophy that crosses into Eastern philosophy, which is demonstrated in <SEE>, and that is why it would probably be received even more favorably overseas.

Q : I agree. By the same token, Korean audiences may find its unfamiliarity disconcerting.

A : Isn’t it fun to see something a little unfamiliar or disconcerting? I think an intriguing play can be born when it is unfamiliar and disconcerted, yet still interesting and not boring.

Q : On the other hand, international audiences may enjoy it more without feeling uneasy.

A : I think unfamiliarity brings freshness and fun to a work. On the contrary, if a play is thought of as dull and monotonous, that is a failure by my standards.

Q : Any last words for the readers and fans?

A : If I were to choose between depth and fun, I would like to choose depth. However, it is not until one finds something fun that one feels its depth. If one wants to create a play that the audiences can feel the depth of, it should be executed well, no matter what. I think it would be fun and interesting to find something fresh and unfamiliar in this world where it feels like everything under the sun has already been done.

Director, Choi ZinA

Director, Choi ZinA

 

ⒸThearter Company Nolddang


2014 PAMS Choice
<SEE>


This play was conceived from a question, “Would it be possible to create a play with only the sense of vision?” Visual sense is more immediate and intense than other senses, hence we tend to believe and expect that we can approach the essence of something or someone by seeing things accurately. The play comprises 15 individual episodes, which contain the discussion and exploration of (visual) perception and personal memories, among other things. Through this work, audience can discover the pleasures of encountering a new concept of visual perception, or “seeing.”

Thearter Company Nolddang

Theatre Nolddang is an intriguing troupe that pays attention to everyday life, observes the contemporary world and present that we live in and expresses these impressions on stage through sensitive and fresh theatrical language. The critics have commented that the company presents an interesting perspective on relationships, objects and the world with their unique themes and theatrical expressions, which brings a philosophical approach to their works. They have also earned a reputation as a stimulating troupe that creates impressive plays with a mixture of the real and the unreal.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Sorikkun Lee Hee-moon Keeps Tradition Alive with Adventure and Experimentation]]> Sorikkun Lee Hee-moon Keeps Tradition Alive with Adventure and Experimentation
[PAMS Choice] Musician Lee Hee-moon of the Hee-moon Lee Company


There are a variety of subgenres for vocalists in Korean traditional music, from folk songs to types of poetry, including japga, gasa, and the traditional three-stanza sijo, to pansori, danga, and changgeuk, a Korean aria, and vocals to accompany the gayageum. Of these, the legacy of the japga is also kept alive by the successors of the Gyeonggi Minyo(Gyeonggi-do Folk Song), which is government-designated Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 57. Thus the japga is also considered a type of folk song, or minyo. But unlike the minyo, which has always been a song of the people, the japga has always been the domain of professional sorikkun—a storyteller and singer—and the art of the japga has been kept alive in three regional forms, the Gyeonggi, Seodo (Hwanghae-do and Pyeongan-do), and Namdo(Jeolla-do) Japga.

Currently involved in the Order-made Repertory series—which draws from the Gyeonggi Minyo and Gyeonggi Japga—sorikkun Lee Hee-moon’s domain is the Gyeonggi Minyo. First debuting onstage last December, his piece —zap being a phoneticization of the Chinese character meaning mix—is a custom-created piece that involves 12 different musicians performing the 12 Japga songs. While japga was originally only accompanied by a janggu, or double-headed drum, composers Jang Yeong-gyu and Lee Tae-won arranged an accompaniment that included stringed instruments such as the gayageum, haegeum, and daegeum, as well as the flute. Contemporary dancer Ahn Eun-me, in her direction, added an element of dance and performance to the jwachang, a song originally a sung by a seated performer. The performers also took the segmented 12 Japga and rearranged the individual japga according to the lyrics, thus creating a japga with a narrative. Lee’s innovative efforts are particularly noteworthy because this new direction represents the birth of the nouveau japga. The following interview with Lee Hee-moon will hopefully act as a guide to appreciating his piece Jap, which will be shown at the PAMS Choice showcase of the 2014 Performing Arts Market in Seoul.

ZAP(雜), The Complex Amalgamation of Various Genres

Q(Song Hyeon-min) : has the 12 Japga as the foundation. Given that it’s strongly musical in nature, what motivated you to submit it to the Interdisciplinary/Other section of PAMS Choice?

A(Lee Hee-moon) : Music may be at the center, but the piece also contains a variety of performance elements. Contemporary dancer Ahn Eun-me oversaw the direction of the entire piece, and Jang Yeong-gyu, music director of Be-Being, and Lee Tae-won, music director of Music Group "Gomul" each arranged six of the 12 songs within the 12 Japga. The (latter) two are versatile composers that have worked in film, theater, and dance, with Korean traditional music as a foundation. The involvement of various artists enabled Jap to become the complex amalgamation that it is. It has dance and performance as well as song, and although Korean traditional music is at the core, I did think that, considering its external elements ,it belonged in the Interdisciplinary category.

Q : The name jap is derived from the word japga, though I feel like many of the audience members might wonder what a japga is.

A : Jap means "to mix" or "mixed." It’s sometimes viewed negatively, as is the same character you see in words such as japseureopda, which means "messy" or "chaotic," or japnyeon and japnom, vulgar expressions to refer to women and men of loose morals, respectively. The 12 Japga, just like a pansori performance, which in its totality lasts up to three or four hours, is something that requires the conclusion of its 12 songs. And unlike the minyo, which is traditionally sung by the common public, the japga is a song that has always required professionally trained vocalists.

Q : This might seem silly, but from the definitions alone it seems as though jap is almost interchangeable with the word interdisciplinary.

A : I want to compare the japga to today’s pop music. A single pop song might have elements of ballads, rock, and hip-hop. In the same way, the japga contains the musical language of many genres, and in that sense, the term japseureopda, meaning "mixed," is apt. Another similarity is that both pop singers and japga sorikkun draw on professional training and techniques. In fact, the japga was the pop song of Joseon-era society. There’s a legend that in 1896, Lee Hee-cheol, who at that time was studying abroad in the United States, was asked to sing a song from his homeland, and he sung the <jebiga(swallow song)>, one of the 12 songs in the 12 Japga. The folk singers who sung the japga were also very visible in the mainstream media alongside comedians and other singers, up to the 1970s and ‘80s. The japga already has a lot of inherent potential for mainstream popularity.


on stage with music director of Music Group, Gomul

Lee, Heemoon Performing <Seonyuga>with Sorikkun (Sori artists)

on stage with music director of Music Group "Gomul"
 
Lee, Heemoon Performing <seonyuga>with Sorikkun (Sori artists)

The japga that were popular in Seoul are known to have been enjoyed in the later years of the Joseon Dynasty among a new middle class that included city merchants, who modified the lyrics to suit their sensibilities. It’s also said that these japga were influenced by pansori. The japga sorikkun of late-era Joseon were also popular throughout Seoul. But 35 years under Japanese rule brought about the disintegration of traditional culture, and since 1975 the minyo, along with the 12 Japga, have been designated as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 57, andthe sounds have been kept alive by female sorikkun. The 12 Japga includes the following individual songs: <yusanga>, <jeokbyeokga>, <jebiga>, <sochunhyangga>, <seonyuga>, <jipjangga>, <hyeongjangga>, <pyeongyangga>, <dalgeori>, <sipjangga>, <churinga> and <bangmulga>.

Sorikkun, Crossing the Gender Boundaries

Q : The approximately 80-minute Jap will be shown at the PAMS Choice showcase in a reduced format of 40 minutes. What is the original piece like?

A : The original piece consists of two parts, each with six songs. The first part, arranged by Lee Tae-won, focuses on the music. The second part, arranged by Jang Yeong-gyu, focuses on performance. Overall, the visuals are also strong, not to be outdone by the musical elements.

Q : How do the two parts differ?

A : The protagonist of Part One is Chunhyang. Chunhyang is the sort of female protagonist that might be found in a love story anywhere in the world. To bring this story to life, the songs were rearranged in the following order, beginning with , then on to , , , and finally .

Q : What are some of the musical differences?

A : The cheong of Korean traditional music plays the same role that the key does in Western music. The six songs of Part One were tuned to the same cheong, giving the songs a fluid, flowing feel. The six songs of Part Two all have a different cheong, so the result is a much more heterogeneous feel.

Q : How would you explain the characteristics of the shortened, 40-minute version of Jap to overseas marketers at PAMS Choice?

A : I’m proud in my belief that a stage like this, where you can view the 12 Japga in such a way, is unprecedented. Joseon-era japga was influenced by pansori, and among the pansori repertoire the most popular is likely the Chunhyang of the Chunhyangga. Chunhyang is both the protagonist and not the protagonist of the 12 Japga. For example, take the . The , and sections feature playboys and male characters, and thus require both male and female voices. Director Ahn Eun-me was aware of this and accentuated the arrangements accordingly.

Q : Would you say there is a unisex aspect to Korean traditional art?

A : This is just a guess, but I’m wondering if maybe the overseas advisory panel involved in the evaluation was perhaps attracted to this very aspect of our piece—although of course I’ll have to ask directly to know for certain. In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channeling both male and female spirits. When I become Chunhyang and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun, and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going to back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps. Isn’t Madonna is the mother of all sexual minorities, embracing all genders? [Laughter] My teacher, master pansori singer Lee Chun-hee(designated holder of Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 57) saw Jap and joked that he thought Leslie Cheung of Farewell My Concubine(1993) had come back to life. I think it might be a good idea to think about the sexual identities of the opera singers in Farewell My Concubine in relation to this piece.


<소춘향가>를 부르는 이희문

<선유가>를 부르는 이희문

Singing Lee Hee-moon Singing Lee Hee-moon

Q : When you look at the history of japga, you can see that in the Joseon Dynasty male sorikkun such as Park Chun-jae(1881–1948) dominated, and today it’s female sorikkun that largely dominate.

A : There’s some painful history related to that. The disappearance of japga today has to do with the day-to-day hardships and realistic problems facing the sorikkun. When a song isn’t sung, then both song and singer die out. And so women kept the art alive, as there was relatively less pressure on women to provide a living.

Q : Then are there any advantages to being a male sorikkun?

A : There are currently very few male sorikkun among the japga sorikkun, so at times I am treated as a rarity. Minyo are designated important cultural heritages, but the history of minyo culture contains a world of painful memories for female sorikkun. During the period of Japanese colonialism, for women who were socially looked down upon because they were gisaeng, or female entertainers, minyo and japga were more a way to earn a living than an art form. And so, as a male performer, I turned my gaze to the history of oppression of women in the art. I also plan to continue exploring the painful corners hidden in these songs in the future. Exploring the history of the disappearing male sorikkun is also something that I plan to explore through song in the future.

Q : What are your plans for the future?

A : I will create two or more pieces under the Order-made Repertory umbrella, and work with artists from a variety of genres. It’s a pleasure to work with these artists, because I can immediately grasp what elements I need to become more complete. In late October, after PAMS Choice, KBS will air their "In Search of Poetic Adventure" episode of the show KBS Panorama. It’s a recreation of Joseon-era paintings that depict people enjoying the arts. In December I’ll be performing with Jang Yeong-gyu, doing another piece from the Order-made Repertory series—Kwe(快), which means freshness and enjoyment.


소리꾼 이희문

sorikkun Lee Hee-moon

Lee Hee-moon is something of an anomaly in the Korean traditional music world. He studied film at the Toho Gakuen Film Techniques Training College and, after working as an assistant director for music videos, came relatively late into his calling as a sorikkun, or singer of minyo. In many ways he’s a multifaceted grenadier, someone who is serious about both his responsibility to carry and pass on tradition as well as his commitment to venturing and experimenting. In the midst of these considerations, he is also struggling to rediscover the forgotten place of male sorikkun in a genealogy dominated by female sorikkun, and simultaneously playing with the boundaries between male and female sorikkun. This Lee Hee-moon is the artist behind Jap. Now, all we have left is to anticipate what sort of question marks and exclamation points the performance will throw at the domestic and international audience that gathers at PAMS Choice to watch.


 

ⒸHee-moon Lee Company


2014 PAMS Choice
<Order-made Repertory: ZAP(雜)>


ZAP(雜) means“mixed” and thus impure. The idea is that this varied, impure mixture comes together as a song through a special set of skills. This is what sorikkun Lee Hee-moon emphasizes when he asks choreographer Ahn Eun-me and musicians Jang Yeong-gyu and Lee Tae-won to recreate old japga into a custom-made piece to fit themselves. is a show from Lee Hee-moon and his friends in music, adorned in the pieces created with their very fingers. The performers wander across an elaborate stage and with their throats and their gestures, paint a picture of the japga. With the songs they sing they throw out a scornful, critical laugh towards the sense of authority and misunderstanding that surrounds tradition. The piece debuted in December 2013 at the Daehakro Arts Theater.

Lee Hee-moon Company

The Lee Hee-moon Company, with sorikkun Lee Hee-moon at its center, is a group of artists that are all at the forefront of their respective genres. Lee draws in a variety of traditional vocal art performers from their respective corners, from sijo to gagok, gasa, japga, and minyo of Gyeongseo-do(Gyeonggi-do, Hwanghae-do and Pyeongan-do) and puts them into the context of a performance built around traditional song joining genres with different natures. These uniquely created performances provide audiences with new ways to listen to old music. Starting with his 2008 Gyeonggi Sori Project <Emperor listens to Hee-moon>, Lee has also created and pieces including <Eolssigu Without Hesitation>, <Order-made Repertory: ZAP(雜)> and <Swallow, Summer, Folk Song>.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Ambiguous Dance Company, Distinct Dance Worlds of Two Men]]> Ambiguous Dance Company, Distinct Dance Worlds of Two Men
[PAMS Choice] Ambiguous Dance Company


Ever since making the transition from K-pop backup dancer to the world of contemporary dance, two members of the impish Ambiguous Dance Company have been presenting refreshingly stimulating performances with distinctive dance styles and unique choreography, capturing the attention of audiences and critics alike. They have been playing an active role on various productions and expanding their presence abroad. In this interview, the two men tell their stories about dance and their ambitions for the world stage.

>> The following is a group interview with choreographer Kim Bo-ram and dancer Jang Kyeong-min of <Rhythm of Human>. The two interviewees are jointly heading Ambiguous Dance Company.

 

Q(Kim Seo-ryoung): You seem to be quite busy lately. First, please talk about what you have been doing.

Kim Bo-ram(Choreographer henceforth "Kim") : From July 28 to August 11, Jang Kyeong-min, my fellow company member, and I participated in France’s Paris quartier d’été as dancers in N(own)ow, choreographed by Ye Hyo-seung. We gave four performances, all of which sold out, and received positive reactions from the audience. A False Worship, choreographed by Lee Eun-kyung and myself and performed by Gada Project, premiered and ran until last weekend as part of Tradition Re-invented, a special performance put on by the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company. Jang Kyeong-min and I performed the duet piece <Coexistenceon> August 19 at the Comedy Arts Festival in Daejeon, and on August 27 as part of the Art Platform 3: Taking the World by Storm, a seasonal program at Station Seoul 284.

Q : Kim, in the last month alone, you were engaged in various projects as a choreographer, co-choreographer, and dancer. Jang, you are a busy dancer sought by choreographers. How did the two of you first encounter contemporary dance?

Kim : Backup dancers do not have job security in Korea. I decided to go to the United States to find a more stable dancing career on a bigger stage. One of the ways that I could get a visa was to become a student, so I enrolled at a college. Studying dance was fun, but I was more interested in K-pop dance, and I went straight back to K-pop as soon as I graduated. Most students, including Kim Seol-jin, who graduated before me, found contemporary dance more interesting and went on to Korea National University of Arts after graduating from college. I studied contemporary dance at college, but I felt challenged in many ways. It was not easy to understand what the choreographer wanted. Then one day, Prof. Kim Ki-in, who had been my teacher in college, gave me an opportunity to choreograph. I tried again to answer the question, “Why am I uninterested in contemporary dance?” Determined to create a dance that was fun for me as well as for the audience, I set to work. The result was <Everybody Season 3>, which won the grand prize at the CJ Young Festival. Through this event, I suddenly became a choreographer of contemporary dance. Having been introduced by Kim Seol-jin, I joined Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group. Ahn Sung-soo’s work was different from the dances I had seen before. The feeling he exuded as a choreographer and as a dancer was undeniable, and even I could understand it clearly. I felt something I had never felt dancing. My connection to Ahn was lasting, and I continued to dance.

Jang Kyeong-min(Dancer henceforth "Jang") : I also started as a K-pop dancer. I entered the contemporary dance world in a similar way to Kim: I was in the same class as Kim Bo-ram at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, where I first encountered contemporary dance. I am one of the founding members of Ambiguous Dance Company, and have appeared in every performance by the company since the first piece in 2008. I have been dancing with Sungsoo Ahn Pick-up Group since 2010.

<Coexistence> Jang Kyeong-min(L), Kim Bo-ram(R)

<Coexistence> Jang Kyeong-min(L), Kim Bo-ram(R)

Catching Their Breath after a Long Dash

Q : How was Ambiguous Dance Company born? I understand that there was a big change in the company. Please elaborate.

Kim : After creating the piece introduced at the CJ Young Festival, I needed a name for the dance company. I formed Ambiguous Dance Company with the members who performed that piece. Being neither contemporary dance nor K-pop dance, our style was ambiguous; our identity was ambiguous; the contemporary dance world at the time probably thought that our dance company was ambiguous. I named the dance company casually, but we are still using that name. Jang Kyeong-min and a few other members have been with Ambiguous for six to seven years. We faced many challenges entering the dance world without connections. Luckily, after the CJ Young Festival, I won recognition from the dance world as a choreographer, and was invited to work on various projects. For the first three years, I created new pieces indiscriminately at every request. When I stopped to think, I felt as though I was not gaining anything by working in that way. I wanted to try for the overseas stage and began entering contests abroad, but without systematic planning, I became physically drained. It was significantly more challenging than working in Korea. So far, I have paid for overseas performances and tours with my personal funds. It has been financially taxing, and it dampened my creative will for a time. I thought seriously about whether I would be able to continue working. Last year, I produced a documentary, thinking that I would stop working as a choreographer.

Jang : We met planner Kang Eun-young while presenting <Coexistence> at the Forum for Independent Performing Arts Creation during the Mullae Arts Festival. She met us as a fan. We began collaborating with Kang, who was studying in Germany at the time, after getting in touch through Facebook. Kang is now working as the managing director of the dance company.

Q : Why did you think about quitting dance then? From an outsider’s point of view, it must have appeared that Ambiguous was doing remarkable work.

Kim : Not counting two years of break, we created 17 dance numbers in four to five years. However, we lacked the wherewithal to refine and complete our creations. I found myself exhausted in various situations, and thought about quitting. That was when I met our managing director. We are still getting to know each other, so the situation is a little bit confusing and unfamiliar. For a while, rather than working on new projects, we are going to take the time to reexamine old projects and go through the process of refining them.


Mad About Practice, Dancing Wherever They Can

Q : Your dance numbers tend to address universal themes with light, familiar expressions that delight the audience, but they have the power to move the heart. What message do you intend to deliver through your work?

Kim : I have no choice but to reflect reality. But I do not think that facing reality is sad. I think that when expressed through art, reality can encompass excitement or sorrow. I do not try to deliver a specific emotion; I compose as if I am unraveling words. I think about creating language when I work.

Q : Many people have said that you have a unique way of interpreting music. Could you explain the method of your choreography?

Kim : Music is the first thing that I think about when I choreograph. It may be presumptuous of me to say so, but I personally think that music is more highly developed than dance. I focus not on the music for the creation of my language but on the sounds; as sounds are connected to create music, the movements that express those sounds appear as dance.

Jang : Kim often tells his dancers to focus on the music. Moving to the sounds in the music, movement transforms into sound. This was the focus of much of our training.

Kim : At first, I tried to express everything I heard. I would analyze a piece of music, draw a picture, and express the picture in movement. I formed a methodology for expressing music and communicated it to the dancers. I tried to train for the qualities of the body that create the movement that most resembles sound. Both music and dance exist in time; that time is interspersed with pauses, which are silence. In order to express this perfectly, a dancer sometimes practices a 10-second movement all day long. One’s attitude toward expressing music is like a genre. Just as people assume that they are living right, we often think that we are dancing right. But I realized that we are often wrong if we do not concentrate. We have to be aware in every moment. When we think we know and take expression lightly, we end up making mistakes. I regard being present with the body on stage as important. Rather than simply expressing beauty, I can say that I pay attention to communication, temporal and spatial elements. I am slightly displeased by the fact that my work is simply regarded as “musical.” In actuality, I think that I am telling a story about language rather than about music. I hope to create art that is not boxed in that way. When I started doing choreography, I also began to draw. At first, I filled pages with drawings, wanting to know what it was like to concentrate [on one subject] and fill the page without leaving any blank space. This practice helped my choreography. Drawing is very useful for expressing the images in my head.

<Rhythm of Human> performance Poster

The Creative Notes of choreographer Kim Bo-ram

<Rhythm of Human> performance Poster The Creative Notes of choreographer Kim Bo-ram


Q : How much time is spent on the choreography of any given dance number?

Kim : For most new pieces, I generally work with the dancers for about six to seven months. I like to practice a lot, but because I have been accepting many new pieces, I work on production for somewhere between a week and half a year, depending on the piece and the situation. Most new pieces are performed only one or two times, but I feel like I practice all year round.

Q : I heard that when you did not have a studio space, you practiced outside, in the empty lot by the Seoul Arts Center, at Hangang Park, and other places.

Kim : We have even practiced in my flat. Because of the small rooms, we separated and practiced solo or in pairs. When the studio of the National Contemporary Dance Company behind Seoul Arts Center was under construction, we often practiced at the construction site. My shy personality kept us from practicing on the street. Ahn Sung-soo later told me that he saw us practicing on his commute. We practiced in public parks and whatever spaces we could find. Last year, we were selected as artists in residence at Seoul Art Space Hongeun and were finally able to practice freely in a studio. But because we had outside activities and could not focus wholly on the residency, we left the space. Recently we have been practicing in a rented studio space.


Dreaming of a Wider Stage, a Wider World

Q : Please briefly introduce Rhythm of Human, which was selected for PAMS Choice.

Kim : <Rhythm of Human> premiered at the 2013 Seoul Performing Arts Festival. All of the dancers happened to be male, and it seems to have become the <Rhythm of Men>. If I have the opportunity, I hope to recreate the piece with only female dancers. I think that human life has its own rhythm. I think that temporal and spatial changes to repetitive events create rhythm. What kind of dances do we dance in life? Free or not, everyone has rhythm within him or her. I wanted to understand that rhythm accurately and ride it freely. In my interpretation, a person is born naked and lives according to free rhythm until every aspect of his or her life becomes systemized through education. I think that even a person working at a company, competing with others in a formal setting, might find rhythm in his life. asks the question, “What kind of lives are we living?”

Q : PAMS Choice will mark the beginning of much overseas activity for Ambiguous. What do you think is the greatest appeal of Ambiguous Dance Company to a foreign audience?

Kim : Our work is more communication than art, and is often described as having popular appeal. I think that the audience is responsive to the energy focused on movement and sound. It is art you can feel upon seeing, rather than seeing it with your head. I think that our performances are enjoyable even if we cannot convey everything I have in mind. I believe that the most important element of a stage performance is the audience. The same elements that appeal to a Korean audience seem to appeal to an overseas audience. Ambiguous’s current repertoire includes three pieces:<Rhythm of Human>,<Coexistence>,<Rhythm of Human>and<Mistake>.

<Rhythm of Human> on stage

<Rhythm of Human> on  stage


Q : What are some of your plans for the future?

Jang : We will perform Rhythm of Human from November 25 to 29 at the 2014 International Dance Festival in Thailand. We will put on two performances, in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and run a workshop. <Mistake> is scheduled to be performed at the Budapest Dance Festival from September 21 to 27, 2015. We are negotiating performances in Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Romania to make a tour. Independently, Kim Bo-ram will perform in A False Worship with Gada Project on September 13 at the Bukchon Music Festival, and I will participate as a guest in the performance of Tournament by the National Dance Company from September 17 to 20.

Kim : I am preparing for the presentation of Rhythm of Human on October 9 for the PAMS Choice showcase program. For the time being, we plan to assemble a repertoire by refining existing pieces, and focus on creating opportunities to perform them steadily. For a long time, we have been planning an event where we would be immersed in nature for two to three months and work with five or six visual and dance artists on creative projects.

 

ⒸAmbiguous Dance Company


2014 PAMS Choice
<Rhythm of Human>
- Choreography: Kim Bo-ram
- Dancers: Jang Kyeong-min, Nam Hyun-woo, Park Si-ha, Koo Kyo-woo, Kim Bo-ram


In every relationship between the body and dance there exists a specific rhythm. In every person’s life, there exists a personal rhythm, though one might not feel it. This piece expresses the sorrow of the modern individual, who has lost his or her own rhythm within the confines of society, and rides only the rhythm set by the world. A person belongs to society the moment he or she is born and must compete in order to survive. Reality dictates that a human must follow the systemized rhythm of society rather than dance to his or her own drum. He or she will agonize endlessly, seeking his or her own rhythm. The flow of human life forms a rhythm, and the moments of dance express the vicissitudes of life. Thus, dance transforms simple movements into expressions of life’s rhythm. Dancing is not only for dancers, for we all live as though dancing.

Ambiguous Dance Company

Ambiguous Dance Company was founded by choreographer Kim Bo-ram and dancer Jang Kyeong-min in 2008. The name of the group describes the “undefinable and ambiguous” characteristics of their dance style. Escaping from genres and preconceptions, the group expresses what is in their hearts through bodily movement and music. Rather than focusing on delivering an artistic message or meaning, they intend to convey the true nature and purity of humanity, believing that the bodily expression of music and dance form the most accurate and truest language.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Sharing a Neatly Aligned Modernism]]> Sharing a Neatly Aligned Modernism
[PAMS Choice] Ground Zero Project Choreographer, Geon Hyauk-jin


A discussion with a young choreographer—who did not falsely believe that modernism was the opposite of classicism—went much deeper than anticipated. The conversation was refreshingly substantial, with more weight than what first met the eye. My belief is that the more deeply and broadly that classic styles develop, the more that modernism can shine freely. Choreographer Geon Hyauk-jin was well aware of this.




Q(Choi Jae-hun): Let’s start with the 2014 PAMS Choice selection, 〈Agape〉. PAMS Choice is targeted not at domestic audiences, but rather at market experts. What do you plan to tell them?

A(Geon Hyauk-jin) : Agape is about the seven sins in the Christian Bible. I always thought that, generally, people lose something fundamental in their ability to love through the sins they commit. But I also believe that a fundamentally supportive love is also what comes to mind at the end, when you’ve lost everything. So the first half of the piece features that which people generally forget about in their daily lives, and the last half is about absolute love.

Q : Your stage props aren’t particularly elaborate, but the symbols in your piece have so many varied meanings that I can imagine it must have been difficult to condense them all into a "showcase."

A : The painterly elements, music and various objects are classical, but I also wanted to keep everything naked and raw. I was motivated not by a desire to promulgate contemporary dance or to popularize it; rather, I wanted to create a story that I could be emotionally invested in, and to share that. I believed that I wouldn’t be able to properly share this if even a single element were missing, so I decided to use almost all of the symbols and stage props. Without the whole, I felt like none of it would be worth showing. When you’re talking about something like love, doesn’t it follow that you shouldn’t lie?

Q : Following the project’s admission to ’theDOT(Dance Off Theater)’ program, awarded to promising artists from the Seoul Foundation for Arts for 〈New World〉, 〈Agape〉 has a more religious feel. Is the nature of your projects undergoing an evolution?

A : I grew up in a Catholic household, and I expect that the influences of my upbringing must have naturally trickled into my work. But my intention wasn’t to talk about God or salvation through religion. Rather than intentionally inserting critical social commentary or religious elements, I tackled my own reality—my own lonely and difficult situations—and these chaotic conditions must have made their way into my work.

Choreographer, Geon Hyauk-jin

on stage

Q : I presume the PAMS Choice will lead to overseas performances in the future. Tell me about the performances you’ve had outside Korea thus far.

A : Last year I went to Sofia Dance Week with Companionship, a piece I did with Han Seon-cheon. I’m also preparing for performances in Japan and France. In 2010 I won the Jury Prize at the Yokohama Dance Collection, and in 2012 I won the jury prize for the best choreography at the International Contemporary Dance Festival of the Canary Islands, MASDANZA. I also choreographed apiece called 〈Venus: A Blind Angle〉 for the Pori Dance Company(PDC) of Finland. In the latter half of 2014, I have a collaborative performance planned at Mary Hall in Sogang University with the Susanna Leionen Company of Finland, a connection that was possible through PAMS Link.

Q : It seems as though you divide your attention between assembling new pieces and recreating older pieces to add to your repertoire of performances. Can we hope for another run of 〈Agape〉?

A : In the sense that it comes from a place where I was most honest with myself, Agape is a piece that almost feels like a first piece. It’s one that I would definitely like to return to—after some time.


Geon Hyauk-jin, an artist that pivots around dance

Q : You were a track and field athlete in high school, and you’ve also done everything from modeling to acting in a musical. You’ve even studied film at the New York Film Academy. Frankly, I’ve always been curious: were these activities an attempt to escape dance, or a roundabout way to return to it?

A : All of it was for dance. The connections I made through other projects often led to collaborative opportunities in dance. Studying film was also an attempt to lay down a foundation for a future dance film, which I definitely want to pursue someday. Of course, in many ways I have far to go, but I believe that the more I know of different fields, the more material I have to work with in terms of what I can apply to my dance work. Looking back, I can say that most of these experiences were really projects to ultimately bring me closer to dance.

Q : You’ve been invited to participate in various performances, you have a corporate sponsor(JTI Korea), and, having won prizes for both your potential as an artist as well as jury prizes, it seems as though the experts, at least, have affirmed your talent as a choreographer. Would you agree that, if you also found popularity with the general public, it could lead to another huge leap forward for your career? What kinds of things are you doing to become more visible to mainstream audiences?

A : Discussions about the popularization of dance and the mainstream popularization of pure art are always difficult but important to have. I once stayed up all night in Yokohama with choreographer Ryu Jang-hyun and debated whether the answer was to bring pure art to mainstream audiences, or to bring mainstream audiences to pure art. We disagreed then, but I feel like at this point we’ve met in the middle.

the Seoul Foundation ’theDOT(Dance Off Theater)’ Selected works <New World>

the Seoul Foundation ’theDOT(Dance Off Theater)’ Selected works 〈New World〉

Q : I have to mention the TV show Dancing 9. Would you say that widespread attention through mainstream media is more beneficial or more harmful to the choreographer?

A : I’m grateful that it did play a part in narrowing the gap between dance and the mainstream audience, but I do worry that contemporary dance will be misunderstood. I once went to the Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris to see William Forsythe perform. From a side seat on the third floor I watched the stage with my heart beating in anticipation. Then I saw an audience member from the VIP section stand up and leave after disparaging the performance. It turned out the audience member was a longtime fan that had been following William Forsythe for 10 years and had expressed his disappointment—for first time in all those years—in such a forceful way. Isn’t it a magnificent thing to have a fan like that? I want to be able to express the allure of dance to my audiences during such a time span. I don’t want to hurry, I don’t want my art being corrupted in the process, and I want my small audiences to grow little by little. For me, that’s what connecting with a mainstream audience means. But there’s no wrong direction. Every person simply has a different goal and a different road to travel on.

Q : You do have some pieces that seem to combine genres, but in terms of your choreography style or the development of your pieces, one gets the impression of classicism, of something neat and tidy. What is modern choreography to Geon Hyauk-jin, the choreographer?

A : This is an issue that surely every choreographer who does contemporary dance must grapple with. There are choreographers that achieve a contemporary feel and successfully experiment through a process of destruction and escape. But I do not attempt to forcibly remove what I have; I do like a well-organized stage. There are some who call me an "analog person that uses digital"—it seems that this inherent personality, these inherent choreographic methods, manifest as something classical. I always carry within me a longing for the old, the bygone.

Q : I’m also curious about how you got started. Was there a particular event that set you off on the path of dance?

A : When I was very young my dream was to be a professional baduk player, but I became a track and field athlete. This was when I was in high school. Then one day at daybreak I was training, and I was suddenly struck by the thought that I didn’t know why I was running. I felt like I was giving up too much for my training. Once, when I was dropping my girlfriend off at her dance school, the head of the dance school looked at my physical condition and recommended that I try out dance. Although I’d already decided to go to college as a track and field athlete, my curiosity was piqued. I started ballet, and it felt similar to track and field. The high jumps and frequent turns turned out to be helpful. I was ignorant about dance to the point where I wondered why dance wasn’t a category in the Olympics, but ultimately I fell for the peculiarity of contemporary dance and ended up there.

Q : Tell me about your first piece as a choreographer.

A : In college, I ambitiously wanted to create something immediately. My first work as a choreographer is a piece that ended up in the 2008 Yokohama Dance Collection. This was when I wanted to try everything, whatever it might have been. Looking back, my ambition then of wanting to do everything seems excessive. But it was all part of the process of trying to find my colors, trying to find out what I wanted to do. And, frankly, it was also a fact that there really wasn’t a stage in Korea where I could have my pieces shown.

Q : How did you come to create the Ground Zero Project?

A : I once met artists that worked in another genre for the sake of collaboration, and I noticed that each talked only about his role and his art, rather than the piece itself. I thought it was important that everyone was onboard for the process of creation from the beginning, and that the piece became smooth through this process. The Ground Zero Project began from that thought.

Q : I think of you as a choreographer that still has a lot up his sleeve. What are your plans for the latter half of 2014?

A : To be honest, I was a bit too ambitious in the first half of 2014. I heard a lot of criticism, and it has stayed with me in the form of anxiety. Through 〈Still Be Choreography〉, a performance with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, I began the process of conceptual research. Now I want to step back and reflect on the projects from two, three years ago, and let them ripen for a long while. I want to take plenty of time until the latter half of next year, when I begin conceptualizing my next piece.

Choreographer, Geon Hyauk-jin

Choreographer, Geon Hyauk-jin

 

ⒸGround Zero Project


2014 PAMS Choice
〈Agape〉


This work presents the motif of “Agape,” the absolute and complete love of God toward mankind, through mise-en-scène usinga variety of objects d’art and stage art. The artist uses a language of performance that deploys the semiotic symbolism of the human body to reflect on the sinful nature of mankind and its desire for transcendence. Appropriating the iconography, symbolism, body diagrams, and images found in medieval paintings, the artist attempts to transform the planar composition of painting into a three-dimensional space. A new aesthetic is derived by converting pictorial images that used to exist in a fixed, planar frame into an eventful, temporal art form with performative and site-specific elements. The weighty themes inhering in medieval art―humanity’s desires, its fallen state, and the hope of salvation―are pursued through the meditations of the individual artist, yielding art that is both personal and representative of the yearnings of our contemporary era. The work is grounded in religious and metaphysical themes but finds a way to render these perennial themes relevant to secular life in the present, inviting contemporary reflections and reinterpretations.

GROUND ZERO Project

The “GROUND ZERO Project” is a multi-genre art group led by choreographer Jeon Hyeok-Jin. With a focus on contemporary dance, the project engages in collaborations with artists in various fields including interactive art, string quintets, installation art, and film and has staged successful performances in Korea, Japan, and Europe. The group presents joint projects with artists in a wide variety of genres including contemporary dance, interactive art, installation art, and film. It approaches subjects that address contemporary concerns from diverse perspectives and presents works that stimulate contemporary sensibilities through the group’s unique and witty dramatizations and use of dynamic techniques.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Communicating with the World through Pansori]]> Communicating with the World through Pansori : 〈Pansori Hamlet Project〉
[PAMS Choice] Korean Musical Group TAROO


Works created by Korean Musical Group TAROO are young and vibrant. A group that has made various attempts to dismantle people’s prejudice against traditional Korean music is challenging Shakespeare this time. In TAROO’s , four different personas of Hamlet appear and tell the audience what happened to them—or him—in a chatty manner. The story of Hamlet is told by the Hamlets with different personalities, conveyed in comic chat, brushing away the gravity of the original work. I sat down with the music director, Jeong Jong-im, and director, Park Seon-hee, to hear about TAROO’s work and the unique story of Hamlet created by them.

TAROO’s Work is in Progress

Q(Park Byung-sung): The Korean Musical Group TAROO was established in 2001. Was there a catalyst that triggered the group to be formed?

Jeong Jong-im(henceforth Jeong) : TAROO was first conceived as a type of club among young pansori sorikkun(narrative singer), players of traditional Korean instruments, and producers and organizers of traditional performances. Many young people think of pansori as obsolete or un-chic, but when they actually engage with a performance, they find it enormously entertaining. It’s the kind of music that people can enjoy once they discard their prejudices and embrace it as it is. I wanted to let people know the joy of pansori and draw them in to enjoy it together. We’ve created performances through collective creation and gradually developed into a professional performance group in2006, when we performed 〈PANSORY, Eats the Applegreen〉 for three weeks. Nowadays, we are no longer limited to the genre of pansori musical alone, buthave grown into an organization that creates diverse content based on pansori, which ranges from educational programs and concerts to children’s pansori musicals.

Q : When I look at works done by TAROO, I can see your efforts to communicate with young people. What would you say are the characteristics that are unique to TAROO’s works?

Jeong : So far, we’ve been focusing on expressing modern materials through pansori. Once, we created works using the myths of Jejudo Island as the material, and later we dealt with the story of Jin Chae-seon, the first female to be the master singer of pansori in Joseon Dynasty. In the Pansori Hamlet Project, we are using one of Shakespeare’s works as material. The common denominator in our—TAROO’s— projects is that we use pansori as a means of shaping the stories. We have studied different languages as a way to express pansori effectively, and developed forms of accompaniment that can existin harmony withpansori. We don’t just stick to using drum accompaniment alone, but have also attemptedtointegrate Western instruments in with Korean instruments. We’ve tried diverse things using pansori, but I think it’s still too early to give a clear-cut definition of what characterizes TAROO. I think we’re at a stage of searching and finding out what we are.

<Pansori Hamlet Project> performance Poster

Korean Musical Group, TAROO

〈Pansori Hamlet Project〉 performance Poster Korean Musical Group, TAROO
 

Q : TAROO uses the catchphrase “Korean Musical Group” to describe itself. What is different about the musicals created by TAROO?

Jeong : In our musicals, people who majored in pansori songwriting, and sorikkun themselves, write the original pansori. Writing their own songs is very important to the performers, who are usually TAROO’s owns sorikkun. Each sorikkun has his or her own vocalization technique and different way of expression, thus allowing each of them discover the voice and song that best fits him or her. There is a huge difference between learning the singing techniques and songs that were practiced and written by others as a pupil and wrestling to answer the questions of why they are singing and how they would sing the song themselves.

Park Seon-hee(henceforth Park) : I would say that collective creation is the most important defining characteristic of TAROO. As the members are sorikkun themselves, it is inevitably up to them to find their own voice and technique.

Q : What characterizes the collective creation of TAROO?

Jeong : Once the script is done, we work collectively to decide what narrative songs and lyrics we should write in the pansori part. Synergy is created when we work on pansoricollectively. As each sorikkun has different vocalization technique, collective work is difficult, but we have learned the process of collective creation through our diverse experience.

Hamlet Created by TAROO

Q : TAROO expressed Hamlet through pansori. What sort of charm does TAROO’s interpretation possess?

Park : We understood the story of as a process of accepting death. If 〈Hamlet〉 had not chosen to avenge his father’s death, he probably could have survived, but once he chose revenge, death was inevitable. Shakespeare’s Hamlet portrays the process of him contemplating this revenge. Actors in TAROO acquired a deeper understanding of death through ssitgim-gut(the shamanic rituals for cleaning dead people’s souls), or sangyeo sori(the traditional funeral songs), and know how to produce the sound of deep sorrow coming from inside their heart. We have no inhibitions about telling this kind of story.

Q : Four female sorikkun appear to play the part of Hamlet. How did you come up with such a unique format?

Park : The concept for the whole format is that Hamlet tells his own story; this overlaps with the structure of pansori. Even if one performer switched between first person, second person, and third person, in a pansori, it would n’t be awkward at all. This is a structure not found in Western drama. We could have gone with the monodrama format, but we thought that it could n’t sufficiently convey Hamlet’s anguish. We thought that Hamlet’s agony was the result of his split self, and thus adopting four characters and having the story take the form of chatter between them did the trick. We didn’t need any other characters; in pansori, sorikkun can play diverse characters, in between him or her doing the explanation through aniri(stylized narration). We were concerned that our audiences might not understand the format very well, but they did.

<Pansori Hamlet Project> on stage

〈Pansori Hamlet Project〉 on stage

Q : Although TAROO is said to be a performance group centralized around sorikkun, or narrative singers, in 〈Pansori Hamlet Project〉 the dramatic quality seems to emerge more prominently than the musicality. Why is this so?

Park : Our members think that the audience might not like their traditional pansori-style singing, so they try to perform in a lighter and merrier fashion than what they would do in a more typical pansori. I think it is a transitional period.

Jeong : Sorikkun tend to think that the voice and song that they prefer is different from that which the audience prefers. However, we are slowly and carefully changing our thoughts to the direction that if sorikkun could deliver a piece well, then the audience might also like the voice and song that the sorikkun like.

Q : The scene where Hamlet pushed Ophelia away seemed to convey the emotion that was age-appropriate and natural for the character.

Park : I believe that was one of the scenes in which TAROO’s strengths shine through. The language used in that scene sounds archaic, and at the same time crude. When we give the lines to the actors in our creative process, they write the songs that befit their style. They not only write the melodies but also adopt the language that is necessary for the songs. They participate in the creative process without forcing it. The director’s role in a TAROO performance is to let the sorikkun play freely. Not only that scene, but we also transformed the last scene where everybody dies into a 14-minute authentic pansori scene. In this case, the lyrics and melodies were also written by the sorikkun themselves.

Q : In the last part, you expressed the dramatic sense of Hamlet’s revenge only through thesori(narrative singing). That scene seemed to set TAROO’s Hamlet apart from other versions of the play. Could this be the foretelling of TAROO’s style for future works?

Jeong : In the future, we intend to try creating works that put the musicality at the forefront. We would like to actively experiment with the incorporation of pansori into different music genres; it would be fascinating to produce works in which jazz, flamenco, or fadovocals are interwoven with pansori vocals to create a drama. There were works that incorporated traditional music and pansori before, but they usually stopped at the musical level. TAROO’s work would combine pansori with other music genres to create drama.

타루의 정종임 대표

<판소리 햄릿 프로젝트>의 박선희 연출가

Jeong Jong-im Director, Park Seon-hee Kim, Jongbum 

 

ⒸTAROO


 2014 PAMS Choice
〈Pansori Hamlet Project〉


〈The Pansori Hamlet Project〉 sets four characters to play Hamlet’s four different personas to maximize his internal anguish. In this pansori project, Hamlet is allowed to tell his own story, one in which the young man’s tormented journey to find out the truth behind his father’s wrongful death and overcoming his internal agony is revealed in detail. Hamlet’s lengthy soliloquy is told as a dialogue between Hamlets; Ophelia’s lines are expressed in song; and the highlight of the story, the final dual between Hamlet and Laertes, is constructed as a pansori, which is conveyed in a vivid and thrilling fashion. The weight of Hamlet’s internal struggle in the classic drama is reflected faithfully, yet the gravity of the canon is lightened, so as to show that Hamlet is no different from any one of us. 

TAROO

TAROO is a performing arts group that was established in 2001, which has created gugak musicals(Korean traditional musicals) that integrate diverse artistic genres while into Korean traditional music. Armed with youthful sensibility, contemporary approaches, and delightful wit, TAROO has been recognized for both its popularity and artistic quality by carrying on the legacy of traditional pansori, while producing bold and whimsical works that could speak to contemporary audiences. By recreating the Korean traditional music to fit today’s tastes and sensibilities, TAROO tries to make a name for itself as Korea’s representative performance brand that produces works with its unique touch.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Theater, and Telling One’s Own Story in the Present Time]]> Theater, and Telling One’s Own Story in the Present Time
[PAMS Choice] Kim Jae-yeop, Director of Dreamplay These 21


It’s been quite a while since the Korean theater scene has witnessed a production as impactful as Dreamplay These21’s 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉, which in the past year has been recognized at almost all of Korea’s theater awards ceremonies and has been well-received by critics, audiences, and the media alike. This production has broad appeal while also showing the potential and position of contemporary Korean theater. I met with Kim Jae-yeop, the director of 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉, one of the 2014 PAMS Choice selections. As our interview shifted between his past, current, and future works, the industry veteran did not once falter in answering any question as he confidently shared his perspective on theater with me—a fearlessness that serves as a hidden strength in 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉.

The Story That Creates Form

Q(Kim Seul-gi) : 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 tells the story of how the individual and society meet in chronological order. It is an interesting approach that excludes a blatant voice while still naturally making social commentary. I’m curious, what was the starting point for this piece?

A(Kim Jae-yeop) : While keeping up with the 2012 presidential election, I began to think of a situation where a significant public figure such as the president and an individual such as myself would meet. My child was born that same year, which led me to think of what kind of president my child would meet in their lifetime, and what kind of president my father had encountered in his. At first I experimented with dividing the story up into episodes, but along the way. I felt the need for a singular, penetrating message that could connect all the ideas as a whole. At that point I began to reflect on why I set out to tell this story in the first place. In the end, with regards to ideas such as authority and the individual, I reflected on what hardships my father had to handle to survive in that society, and I could call on him as a historical witness to these events.

2014 Poster of the Nova drama/New Drama Festival

The Nova drama/New Drama Festival is held in Bratislava

〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 performance Poster Kim Jae-yeop, playwright and director of 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉

Q : I’ve heard that the initial written form was not a script but an essay. It is no simple task to take over 100 pages of text and transform them into a script. Did you have any prior experience adapting novels to theatrical productions?

A : With my previous work, 〈Jang Seok-jo’s People〉, the author Kim So-jin had written such wonderful dialogue that we could simply use it as is. However, in this work, both the narrative and dramatic elements flow together. Whenever the dramatic elements begin to take over, I get the desire to put a stop to it. In a similar vein, if we get too caught up enjoying the banter of conversation, we become so focused on the fiction that we lose sight of the story we originally intended to tell. There is normally some misunderstanding about the role of a narrator in a play, as many think of the narrator as someone who pauses the action to insert dry description or commentary. However, if their words are ones that the audience will benefit from listening to in the long run, then what the narrator’s lines need to be considerably more engaging for the audience. Also, for a stage production it is much more effective to have the author’s words clearly presented in three lines than creating a two- or three-page dialogue about it.

Q : In the play, it appears that a first-person narrator began to appear naturally while you were putting the story together. Are you aware of the contemporary theater scene’s interest in “telling one’s own story”?

A : Actually, “drama” is just another form itself, but as I am writing I find that I forget why I started writing in the first place and begin to worry about other things like whether the work is being composed well. Though aesthetic completion is important, I guess you could say that it is n’t a great fit with me; I neither majored in theater nor have I ever been an assistant director for any other projects. I don’t even have the slightest clue what I have to do to get an aesthetic sense. It’s not as though I’m intentionally resisting the existing forms, but I don’t know that I can continue to make such efforts doing this and that.

Being Aware of and Expressing Reality

Q : Nevertheless, with regards to artistic completion, 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 distinguishes itself from the raw spirit of previous Dreamplay productions.

A : To be frank, the more complete a work is, the more conservative it is, because if it’s a story that can be understood in one viewing, then its story exists within pre-existing concepts. More importantly, I’ve recently been having this recurring thought: rather than objectifying the audience, I should simply be honest with myself, and by doing so, the audience will already be prepared to hear the story. In this day and age we don’t have the opportunity to see ourselves as the main character in any given situation. Have we not become alienated from many things and now live a completely separate, objective, alternative life? Thus, if we make reckless attempts to enlighten or teach then we will actually incite rejection. Audiences will always open their minds if they feel satisfied that the work is genuine according to their own terms. In this respect, 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 reverberated with the audiences, with many of them saying that it brought their fathers to mind or made them recall their own past experiences.

Q : In the works you have directed, it seems that there are many things derived from the reality of our times. In your own opinion, would you say that you make keen observations of the present times and put them to good use, beginning with the themes of the story and extending to the way the story is told?

A : That’s correct. Actually, from the time I began in theater to around mid-2000 I was not exactly interested in societal matters; at that time I was focused on creating fantasy-driven, absurdist, and allegorical works. Now, though, I want to search for more ubiquitous topics. If I simply criticized reality it would just be an endless repetition. Because of this, I try to look at it from a wider perspective; examining aspects such as the economy and history and then putting them in dramatic form is not somehow preserving them—it’s concerned with ways to press on. I am currently working on a project adapted from poet Kim Su-young’s work, and what has been bothering me most while writing the play is how to bring this author’s story from that time (the 1950s and 1960s) into the modern day. Of course, in the writing process you have to make many difficult decisions, which is a great source of joy to put on stage; it is sharing what I have learned and pursued with the audience. However, if I stay within the boundaries of what I know intuitively, then it will only confine the imagination.

〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 on stage

〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 on stage

Thoughts on Writing and Directing

Q : It seems as if the process you chose was an enjoyable yet painful one. Surely you have your own personal reasons for choosing a more arduous method, but how did the actors working with you receive this?

A : Since I am both the playwright and director, I first met with the actors as a writer rather than as a director. In some ways, they are the first audience, so I have to consider their feedback. If they can’t act it out properly then it’s clearly my fault for not writing the script clearly. I couldn’t very well ask the actors why they don’t understand it any more than I could tell the audience that they are watching it wrong. In the end, I can’t separate myself as the playwright and myself as the director; audiences will give me feedback saying that, as the director, I should take the final responsibility for the work.

Q : Although you have directed plays by other playwrights, you have been acting as both playwright and director for quite a while. You’ve stated before that writing is more enjoyable than directing—could you explain the context of this sentiment a bit more?

A : When I am directing a play written by another writer, for example, I find myself trying to understand the core of this person who I haven’t even met: this line is significant because of so and so, that is such and such so we have to keep it in. I thought that this was what a good director does. Then sometime I was talking with some other directors, when it was said that a director who only directs must be extremely good at directing. However, I think it’s foremost for those who both direct and write including myself to show why this play must be performed. If they can’t be very good at directing, they have to at least do this, or else there is no reason to see the show.

The Possibility of Theater (that isn’t “theater”) in Our Time

Q : How did you come up with the idea of Dreamplay These21?

A : I did it because I think there can be good "non-theater" theater. For a long time, I had worked in with a theater mind set but was met with various kinds of limitations in doing so. Actually, as our members, myself included, get along in our years, our range of activity is expanding, so joining together to collaborate on a project had become more difficult. On the other hand, however, I have also become concerned with other art forms outside of drama, trying to discover a thesis and themes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a "play," per se; t could be published as a journal, or be an attempt at any number of a variety of projects. However, most of the other directors in Dreamplay besides me are still mainly producing drama plays. We all gather as Dreamplay, where we can each pursue our own endeavors and do all that we can do.

Q : What is the significance for 〈Chronicle of Alibis〉 being selected for PAMS Choice?

A : After my premiere production at the National Drama Theater of Korea last year, it reopened starting from Daehangno and continued to the countryside. During this run, we tried to get the chance to be a national headliner. I think making this possible is my responsibility now—to see how well-received this production will be, and what benefit there might be in going beyond the private theaters of Daehangno to a larger stage. It would be an all-new thrill for me if this production could somehow go overseas. I’m curious to see the reception from audiences who have similar histories to ours, but in this age, we live among people with completely different cultural backgrounds. Although there are many Korean productions that have gone overseas, there doesn’t seem to have been many contemporary original productions that have had the opportunity to communicate with foreign audiences. In this respect, I feel that I can discover a new kind of tension and motivation.

Playwright and director Kim Jae-yeop

Playwright and director Kim Jae-yeop

 

ⒸDreamplay


 2014 PAMS Choice
〈Chronicle of Alibis〉

A father who is a graduate of the Republic of Korea Field Artillery School, and who fought in the Korean War as a corporal, is shedding tears in front of a boot camp. He is waiting for his youngest son who has just completed the four-week long boot camp before serving as a public officer. His older brother was a war veteran, and all his nephews and sons have already served the country as corporals. The director’s autobiographical narratives−including his dead father and his older brother−interlace a history of the Individual with a history of the Nation, harmonizing the viewpoint of history with self-introspection, overcoming dichotomy to, achieve a new political theater. 

Dreamplay These21

〈Dreamplay These21〉 is the project of Theater Company Dreamplay. 〈Dreamplay These21〉 is new type of theater that gose beyond the drama to treat the underlying contemporary social, political, economical, cultural problems of our day and age. Applying a new style of theatrical writing, it breaks down the border between drama and reality, all the while trying to develop a new type of documentary epic theater, and extention theater−ultimately branching out to fields like−economics, sociology, politics, history and meta-humanities.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] The Rich Reverberations of Humanists who put People First]]> The Rich Reverberations of Humanists who put People First
[PAMS Choice] Black String


Black String is an instrumental band that has its foundations in traditional Korean music and improvisation, borrowing from jazz. The group consists of members Heo Yoon-jeong on the geomungo, Lee Aram on the daegeum and sogeum, and jazz guitarist Oh Jean. The group has been expanding its musical horizons with the occasional addition of percussionist Kang Min-su and jazz drummer Shin Dong-jin, depending on the nature of the piece. I met with the three members of the group, one that is sharing the sonorous melodies of Korean music with the world, and discussed with them the past and future of Korean music.

The Geomungo—Sounds from Outer Space

Q(Kim Gwang-hyeon) : I would first like to begin by asking about the name Black String and what it means.

Heo Yoon-jeong(Geomungo, henceforth "Heo") : The geomungo is also known as the hyeongum, with the Chinese characters for "hyeon" meaning black, and "geum" meaning a stringed instrument. Geomungo essentially means the same thing in pure Korean, and in that sense Black String also naturally refers to the geomungo. However, "black" is also a layered term in the East, a word that suggests the endlessness of space. In the same way, "string" refers to stringed instruments, but at the same time it also refers to the continuous, melodious, string-like aspect of Korean music. It suggests dynamic curves as opposed to halting lines, and a sound that wanders in unexpected directions.

Lee Aram(Daegeum, henceforth "Lee") : Unlike the geomungo or guitar, the daegeum is not a stringed instrument. But when non-Koreans listen to the sound of the daegeum, they hear more yin (shade) than yang (sunlight), and so I think it also fits in quite well with the "Black" of Black String.

Q  : Your group consists of two traditional Korean musicians and a jazz musician. How did you all end up together in Black String?

Black String(henceforth "Black") : Black String was founded in 2011 as part of the UK Connection project, a cultural education and exchange program between Korea and the UK, sponsored by the KAMS. At first we met with promoters and musicians in the UK and looked for musicians that could collaborate with musicians here in Korea. At the time I was involved in the Tori Ensemble with Heo Yoon-jeong. That’s about when we started talking a lot about new kinds of sounds. Even right before going to London I had no idea if Black String would last, but somehow I was able to connect with the musicians, and all that brings us to today. We also got to participate in MosaiKOREA, a performance team with the touring program from the Korean Overseas Information Service in the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Q : I heard that your overseas performance was successful. I heard that your overseas performances were successful.Please talk about what you have been doing since then.

Heo : Through UK Connection, three Korean musicians and four British musicians were able to perform together at the EFG London Jazz Festival and in Poland. In 2013 we were invited to the Oslo World Music Festival and the Penang Island Jazz Festival in Malaysia. Most of the time foreign festival promoters invite us after seeing us in Korea.

블랙스트링

Black String

Q : Black String is likely often seen as world music or crossover music due to its combination of traditional Korean music and jazz. What do you think about this, and how do you see yourselves?

Oh Jean (Guitar, henceforth "Oh") : There are many genre names, from contemporary traditional Korean music to contemporary Korean traditional music, but our basic position is not to define our genre.

Heo : The fact that the festivals we’re invited to include both world music and jazz seems to indicate that Black String is already flexible in terms of what genre it belongs to. Defining genre is important, but for us the process of arriving at a certain unity in our music is more important. As you can see at a glance, the defining aspect of our group is not in the superficial combination of jazz and traditional Korean music, or Western and traditional music, but rather in the genuine fusion of the individual musical styles of our musicians. Thus the final piece comes out differently according to how the music within me reacts to the music within others. For example, we don’t want to collaborate with Jean because he plays jazz, but rather, we want to connect with Oh Jean the musician and draw what we need from all of the musicality, musical experiences and feelings that come with working with the musician.

When You’re Looking for a Solution, You End Up Meeting a Person

Q : There have been many attempts at combining traditional music with jazz, but it’s not an easy task. What would you say are the most difficult aspects?

Oh : Conversation. And that’s important, because the most difficult thing is striking the right balance between teaching, learning and letting go, because when music meets music, it’s really about people meeting other people. And unless you find a good way to communicate through all of this, it’s difficult to get good results. In the case of Black String, our personal relationship with each other helps us to make good music together and communicate well, thus helping us to maintain a good balance. In my case, for example, because the rest of the group thinks that more bass is appropriate for traditional music, I’m planning to take some time to learn that area; I think there’s a lot of room for learning.

Heo : There have been countless collaborations and attempts at fusing these two genres. But why have they never been able to produce good music up until now? There were some good projects from time to time, but nothing that made one say, "This is it!" This can be seen as an issue of method, but I always thought the solution was in the musicians themselves, so I concentrated on people. If a certain musician has played for 30 years, then the sum of everything he has learned is the musician, himself. I’ve collaborated with Southeast Asian traditional musicians and have been involved in ensembles that combine Western and traditional Korean music. But whatever the instrument and whatever the group, what I aimed for each time was always the same. I always believed that the solution was within the musicians themselves, and aimed to identify what it was. Of course, that could just be a personal inclination of mine, and I don’t know how these projects will be judged either, but at the very least I can say that that’s how I’ve tried to approach music with Black String. I do believe that sticking to this approach will bring me the answers at some point.

Q :  You were selected at PAMS Choice. Now all you have left is to perform, and perform, and perform. I suppose the key question is how much you will be able to perform overseas. Jambinai, for example, selected in 2012, remains active to this day.

Heo : I’ve seen the work that Jambinai does but I believe that their role differs from ours. Jambinai is youthful, has the attention of a certain market, and is working towards overseas success as a goal. But for us the PAMS Choice selection is simply an extension of a career of 20 years in making music, something that slightly improves our environment and increases the number of options we have. I see our mission as playing significant performances that leave a lasting impact, rather than achieving a certain number of performances. This includes playing good shows, collaborating with good musicians, performing onstage at good theaters, and creating connections with them.

블랙스트링

Performing at the Penang Island Jazz Festival in 2013

If we abandoned our prejudices and gave in to intuition

Q : I’m curious about your reception overseas. Isn’t the geomungo in particular unfamiliar to foreign audiences?

Heo : Whether it’s the haegeum, daegeum, or gayageum, most of these traditional instruments have a similar counterpart in each country. But because the geomungo is a sound that they haven’t yet experienced, audiences frequently react very intuitively to the music. And when audiences see the geomungo, they frequently assume that the music will be traditional music—historically significant music—but they are surprised when they hear an avant garde, contemporary sound instead, and we do deliberately attempt to create this twist in our performances.

Lee : The daegeum does have its counterparts, but the addition of cheong, or a buzzing membrane made of reed creates a sound unique to the daegeum, and so it inspires its own share of amazement and wonder. But even when people are amazed by a new sound, they look around for similar sounds and how the new and wondrous sound resembles that of instruments they’re already familiar with. And when you really get down to the essence of music, you also get the feeling that audiences are curious about the musician’s cultural background, and what kind of story they’re trying to tell.

Q : A continuous approach seems to be important to this kind of avant-garde music. And for that, I would imagine it’s difficult to perform abroad without the support of your own country.

Heo : It’s been the subject of debate for a while, but it’s difficult to create a domestic market for traditional Korean music. And this applies not only to traditional Korean music, but also to any niche genre. Our music isn’t audience-friendly. The moment we create music while anticipating an audience, it seems obvious that the music will go in a particular direction. Often, Korean audiences will shut off their intuition and only listen to traditional music through their preconceived filters. I believe that history and environment make that inevitable. Music is not tangible, and when the music itself is abstract, it’s true that it can be difficult for some people to appreciate. But as hard as it is to appreciate, it has that much more value which should be appreciated. In the Korean educational system or the cultural environment, creativity and uniqueness are frequently suppressed, but I believe that Black String can play a role in encouraging those values to emerge. At the theater I currently manage, the Bukchon Changwoo Theater, I aim to host a regular series of jam sessions for traditional Korean musicians. This kind of interest and a subsequent need are beginning to arise within the traditional Korean music community too.

Q : I’ve heard that head of engineering, Gwak Dong-yeop , is always involved in the work.

Heo : It was only possible to capture the sound of the geomungo because of consistent communication with the engineer. Within the industry we say that anything is possible with traditional Korean music if you solve the problem of sound for the geomungo and the janggu. This is an area that even experts in traditional music sounds have difficulty with.

Black : A performance needs to include the performers, the planners and the technicians. When domestic groups go overseas, there’s often insufficient preparation when it comes to transportation, as well as difficulties in communication. Gwak participates in all of the performances and does not spare himself in creating the best possible sounds, and he identifies with what is needed by all of the musicians.

Q : What do you have in mind for the future?

Heo : We have a collaborative project with a media creation group called the Oblique at the upcoming Jarasum International Jazz Festival in October. It’s not just us, but I think it will be a meaningful performance. With regards to Black String exclusively, in December we have a solo recital of new pieces, and next year we have a few performances overseas, including one in Germany.

?필립 피키에(Philippe Picquier)사에서 출판된 황석영의 『바리데기』

▲ 2007년 칸영화제에서 여우주연상을 수상한 이창동 감독의 <밀양>

▲ 한국의 삼지애니메이션스튜디오와 프랑스의 티몽 애니메이션 사이버 그룹 스튜디오(Timoon Animation, Cyber Group Studio)의 한-불 합작 프로젝트, 영화 〈피쉬와 칩스〉

Lee Aram_Daegeum Heo Yoon-jeong_Geomungo Oh Jean_Guitar

 

ⒸBlack String


 2014 PAMS Choice 
 Black String - A New Sound full of Intensity, mystique and beauty.

Black String aims to achieve a new sound that can internalize a variety of musical expressions through traditional music, as well as harmonize with other expressions in world music. Such a sound could be reinterpreted by artists who embrace traditional music along with jazz, and respond by reflecting it throughout various creations, be they composed or improvised. Black String especially focuses on improvisation as an important aspect of Korean traditional music and attempts to create a unique language through Asian intuition and musical idioms. The music of Black String is based on Korean musical traditions, and offer audiences a fresh, new sound. They also offer an experience that broadens the palate of world music audiences by presenting an “ancient” tradition within a modern setting.

Black String

World-music band, Black String, was founded in 2011 as part of a government sponsored Korea-UK cultural exchange program known as the "UK Connection" project. The band consists of Heo Yoon-jeong (Geomungo), Lee Aram (daegum and yanggeum) and Oh Jean (Jazz guitar). Since forming they have expanded their musical horizons by teaming up with prominent Korean artists such as Kang Min-su (Janggu and vocals) and Shin Dong-jin (drums and percussion). The music of Black String is based on Korean musical traditions, and offers a fresh, new sound. As musician Black String always seeks to lend an experience that broadens one’s appreciation of world music, presenting an ancient tradition within a modern setting.
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theApro <![CDATA[[PAMS Choice] Extending Park Woo-jae’s Geomungo]]> Extending Park Woo-jae’s Geomungo
[PAMS Choice] Beondi : Geomungo Player Park Woo-jae 


〈PARK Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉’s protagonist Park Woo-jae is a former colleague of mine, having performed with me in the Korean music ensemble Baramgot. Although Baramgot’s individual members now do their own thing, I’ve continued to work with him on occasion. We convened on this occasion as interviewer and interviewee, giving me a chance to hear about his new projects as well as chat on a deeper level.

Park’s work as a Member of Baramgot and with Dance Music

Q(Park Jae-rok) : Let’s hear about the Park Woo-jae before the Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension gig—let’s say, back in the Baramgot days.

A(Park Woo-jae) : I first met Director Won Il as a student when I started attending Korea National University of Arts, where he was a professor. Director Won Il was the conductor of an orchestral music class, and I was just one of several students studying the geomungo(a Korean traditional six-stringed zither). I was interested in dance back then, too, and since the LG Art Center just opened I would often go there to see performances and, oddly enough, run into Director Won Il—and that’s how our relationship started. Director Won Il was working on forming a new Korean music ensemble, and I ended up being scouted as a geomungo player. He wanted an ensemble that would retain a traditional base but rewrite the boundaries of sinawi, a traditional form of Korea’s shamanic music, and I had similar aspirations of experimenting outside the standard traditions, making us the perfect match. This union later developed into Baramgot.

Q : Didn’t you work with a lot of modern dance choreographers during your time with Baramgot?

A : After meeting modern dance choreographer Kim Nam-jin, who’d done a lot of work in Belgium and France, I became familiar with his work and eventually became the musical director for one of his projects. While working on a production with Belgian dancers for a Korea-Belgium intercultural relations event, he introduced me to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who was in town and with whom I’ve kept in touch since. After a few schedule conflicts I managed to get a spot as a musician in a production of his called 〈Tezuka〉, a performance that embarked on a world tour thanks to the joint investments of EastMan(Cherkaoui’s company), a Japanese theater called Bunkamura, and an English theater called Sadler’s Wells. I’m also currently involved in Cherkaoui’s new production, 〈Fractus〉. It’s in the works right now, and is scheduled to start its world tour in Belgium next year.

Production of 〈Crazy Swan Lake〉, a Dance Theater CHANG production, in collaboration with choreographer Kim Nam-jin

Park Woo-jae, who partook as a musician in the production of 〈Tezuka〉ⒸEastMan

▲Production of 〈Crazy Swan Lake〉, a Dance Theater CHANG production, in collaboration with choreographer Kim Nam-jin

 ▲ Park Woo-jae, who partook as a musician in the production of 〈Tezuka>ⒸEastMan


Q : What are the merits of working with a choreographer?

A : Every choreographer has his or her own way of working. My work with Cherkaoui had me collaborating with several other musicians. Production took the form of musicians from various countries crafting music according to each scene, with each musician actively and independently expressing his or her opinion. The production with Kim Nam-jin in Korea was especially inclusive, even permitting me to intervene in stage direction, turning my role into that of a musical director. Although it’s different from what I normally do, witnessing something I want to express musically appear before the audience visually—therein lies the beauty of dance.

Extending Park Woo-jae’s Geomungo

Q : Let’s talk about your own work. Would you mind introducing your concert for this year’s Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS), 〈PARK Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉 ?

A : I suppose a better way to explain 〈PARK Woo-jae Geomungo Extension> would be to simply describe it as "adding something to Park Woo-jae’s geomungo." That "something" is a new discovery about the geomungo, whether it’s a new sound or technique, even an electronic addition such as looping or overdubbing. Although there’s only one Park Woo-jae playing onstage, techniques like overdubbing or looping can make it sound like there’s four Park Woo-jaes, or even a hundred! For this performance I’m going to play various pieces that I did for the concert I did at the beginning of this year—〈PARK Woo-jae Geomungo Extension : Morphosis〉—such as 〈Passivity〉, 〈Elation〉, 〈Drifting〉, 〈Morphosis〉 and 〈Caress〉.

Q : Your music is different from Korean classical music or that of other professional composers. How do you usually compose your pieces?

A : My music usually begins with one of two things. Sometimes I start with an unseen image, and sometimes I begin with a new sound or technique. During the finishing stages, I picture the image or narrative that I want to create in my listeners’ minds and adjust the pace accordingly. I think my unorthodox approach to composition is both my strength and weakness. Rather than a concert where all the focus is placed on a single soloist’s skill, I want my performances to express a plethora of various colors and textures, one where the music doesn’t communicate just one fixed image or narrative. Through composing and performing I want to give my audiences freedom of imagination.

A poster of the concert〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension: Morphosis〉

〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉concert

▲ A poster of the concert〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension: Morphosis〉

  ▲〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉concert


Q : The creative new ways in which you play the geomungo—escaping traditional methods by playing with a bow or by using the stroke1) method; even utilizing electronic effects—has always left a great impression on me. Why are you so interested in finding new and different ways to play?

A : I found that I enjoy experimenting. At first, a lot of it was just for kicks or completely coincidental. Eventually, what started as harmless fun developed into the techniques and style that I use today. For example, 〈Morphosis〉, a piece I’m performing in the upcoming show, is the result of an interest in different acoustics and electronic effects, such as sound effectors(an electronic device used to synthesize sounds to alter them), that developed during my days with Park Jae-rok and Baramgot.

1) a technique of playing the guitar in which the performer strikes or strums several strings simultaneously


Q : Was it because you felt certain limitations or boundaries after so many years of playing the geomungo?

A : No, it’s not like that. It didn’t start from a need to expand upon the geomungo’s identity or surpass some kind of boundary—it was just a personal fascination. Instead of just discounting the fun ideas I gathered during my musical trials as invalid, I’d focus on them more and further develop them.

Q : Did you experience any limitations during your new undertakings?

A : Experimenting with a new technique means going through a process of trial and error. Because I was classically trained to play traditional Korean music, stepping out of that box required a lot of effort. Even the techniques I use now need to be further developed and refined, something I need to keep working on.

Park Woo-jae : Using the Geomungo as a Creative Musician

Q : Although you’ve accomplished a lot in your career, I’m willing to bet you have new aspirations. What are your plans for the future?

A : I want to play a few more concerts that expand upon the concept of "geomungo extension." I want to cooperate more aggressively with the energy that sounds carry to create music that is modern, music that expands upon the geomungo’s borders. You could say I’m working on music that redefines what traditional geomungo music is. I want to reinvigorate what’s considered a static musical tradition in my own way, expanding on orthodox inflection techniques known as sigimsae(a technique used by traditional zitherists of inflecting end notes) without imitating those of Western music, creating a new style of play that still stays true to geomungo’s principles. I’d also like to continue working with artists from other genres, starting with choreographers, to develop myself as a musician. I don’t want to just perform musicon the geomungo- I want to use the instrument as a creative musician.


Q : Are these plans currently in the works?

A : Everything that I want to do is in the works. In that sense, I’m a happy person.

Q : What kind of musicians do you want to be in the far future?

A : There’s trend in the Korean music community these days to preserve the tradition while seeking new deviations. Perhaps what I’m doing is just another one of such deviations. However, I want to be remembered purely as someone who sought something new. Don’t you think the Korean music community needs at least one person like that?

A Musician with Geomungo, Park Woo-jae

A Musician with Geomungo, Park Woo-jae

▲ Park Woo-jae, GeomungoPlayer

 

ⒸBeondi


  2014 PAMS Choice 
 〈PARK Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉

〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉 is an eclectic concert that’s revolutionized geomungo music and elevated it to the world stage with four songs—〈Passivity〉,〈Elation〉,〈Morphosis〉and〈Caress>—displaying Park’s unique stroke technique and bow utilization that transforms the geomungo from an instrument you pluck into one that reverberates with the strokes of a bow. Park Woo-jae’s geomungo fuses with the sound design of music director Kim Byeong-geuk to form a free-flowing style of play that’s never been witnessed before, where the sounds of a single geomungo onstage intertwine with pre-recorded tunes refined through sound design techniques to deliver several musical layers to the audience: a far cry from the standard performances that simply play a recording—in a class all its own. Offering audiences a chance to experience a brand new world of geomungo music through Park’s manifold techniques and experimental sounds,〈Park Woo-jae Geomungo Extension〉has enthralled musical circles since its launch in February 2014.

- Performance Arts Consulting Group Beondi

Performances Arts Consulting Group Beondi: Beondi is a professional music agency with a foundation in traditional music that works in the planning and production of concerts in traditional music, world music, and various other genres. From geomungo master Park Woo-jae to Baramgot, Park Soon-a, Kim Hyo-young, Jung Min-a, and several other great talents, Beondi works to uncover skilled musicians and show them to the world.
- Park Woo-jae
Park Woo-jae is a composer, music director and geomungo artist. He has crafted his musical world by pushing the envelope while subverting tradition and convention. He challenges the limiting definition of the geomungo as a traditional instrument, creating unique techniques such as his stroke method and the his bow utilization. Although the geomungo is known as a traditional instrument, Park Woo-jae cooperates with renowned contemporary dance choreographers, including Belgian artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Park’s Europe tour is scheduled for 2015.
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theApro <![CDATA[Slowly, little-by-little, and all Together]]> Slowly, little-by-little, and all Together
[People] Park Chang-su, Founder of the House Concert series


Do you recall the series of “surprise performances” that simultaneously struck from all sides last summer? On July 12th, 2013, three hundred or so artists came together for one day only in the aptly named One Day Festival, sharing their music with audiences in 65 venues in 35 cities nationwide. It was a unique event that offered audiences a rare opportunity to experience various genres of music such as classical, opera, jazz, and world music, in a wide range of venues, from culture centers to galleries, cafés and even residential homes. Sitting not in an auditorium but on the stage, and not in chairs but on the floor as they listen, concert-goers can witness the boundaries between the musician and audience crumble, letting everyone experience music with their whole being in a fresh, vivid way. All this was made possible through House Concert. Then when summer returned, we met House Concert’s organizer Park Chang-su as he was putting together this large-scale event that spans Korea, China and Japan.

2014 ONE DAY FESTIVAL Poster

▲ 2014 ONE DAY FESTIVAL Poster

House Concert’s History of Proving Itself

“In the end, is this really possible?”
This is the question most people have for the creative mind behind House Concert. His response is always the same.
“Yes, I’ll show you.”

Park’s first House Concert took place on July 12th, 2002, in a residential house in Yeonhui-dong, making this year the event’s 12th anniversary; the past 12 years have seen over 1,500 musicians performing over 400 concerts. This is exactly the sort of history that serves as “proof.” That proof is seen in how he can produce these concerts that both musicians and audiences are satisfied with, even without a large production budget and nothing but a bare floor. The road to proving himself was a solitary, arduous one. There were frequently deficits rather than gains and a minority rather than a majority. Questions expressing concern came one after another. Like the popular television program, everything seemed to be an “Infinite Challenge” (or “MuhanDojeon,” a popular variety show in which the celebrity cast is assigned difficult but entertaining “missions”).

“In the entire run of House Concert, there hasn’t been a single time when we made a profit. A common misconception is that it is like this because I have a lot of money. But really, I am driven by the desire to move people’s hearts and open their minds. I am not concerned with making profits; it’s difficult to explain rationally in an economic sense.”

The ticket price for the concert is KRW 20,000, the same now as it was ten years ago. Half the ticket price is guaranteed to go to the musicians, and the rest is used to fund the production of the concert. “I struggled with whether I should raise the price to KRW 30,000 because people were telling me, ‘Is n’t the admission price too cheap?’ I decided to leave determining the value of the concert up to the audience’s judgment. We left out a collection box for audiences to pay for admission as they saw fit, and when we calculated the total at the end it was more or less the same as what we had made through regular admission fees. Though there were a small number of patrons who gave a generous amount, we refused any corporate sponsors.” There was the problem of “conditions.” "Work that requires heart and sincerity cannot be done under conditions" is his unwavering stance on the subject. On the other hand, there are other aspects that have changed over the past ten years.

“Recently we have received a lot of interest from musicians wishing to participate in the event. A few years back when we suggested holding a House Concert in rural areas, they refused because of things like littleto no guaranteed pay, it was far, the expected audience level was low, etc. However, now they are volunteering to go. They rediscovered just wanting to experience the joy of sharing music with an audience. It took ten years for us to come to the point where musicians believe in House Concert and think only of what they have to offer in that moment.”

The trust musicians had in House Concert was first visualized in 2012 in Free, Music Festival where 100 performances were staged in 23 theaters throughout 21 cities in the course of a week. At that time Park’s sights were set on the musicians and the stages set in local areas nationwide.

“Korea has many very talented musicians, but there are not many venues where they can play. Although there are approximately 400 larger than mid-size theaters they are utilized less than 50 percent of the actual time they’re available. There needs to be a good match with the musician and the venue to reach potential audiences, which is how the House Concert came to be held in different stages in its 10th year back in 2012.”

When Park first said that he would stage 5,000 performances in a year, most people just laughed. What evidence he gave as grounds for this statement was not important. People tend to not believe what they cannot see with their eyes. Before he was able to organize 5,000 concerts in one year, Park first started his festival under the idea that it was possible hold 100 concerts in the course of a week; in the following year, 2013, he continued momentum with a project that had 65 concerts proceeding simultaneously: all on the same day, at the same time. Of course, the festival was run in the same vein as the House Concerts, with no boundaries between the artist and the audience, who sat on the stage floor. As artist and audience became physically closer, the audience seemed to concentrate harder and become more entranced by the music. Even those who might not have listened to classical music before, complaining as they shouted "What is this?", could not help but become captivated by the raw musical experience, taken back to music’s roots.

402nd House Concert(Baroque Company, June 27th Fri) In concert ⓒ The House Concert homepage

402nd House Concert(Baroque Company, June 27th Fri) In concert ⓒ The House Concert homepage

▲ 402nd House Concert(Baroque Company, June 27th Fri) In concert ⓒ The House Concert homepage

Basic Culture Changes People’s Sensibilities

When speaking of the continuous deficit since the inception of House Concert, Park said that one who devotes himself to the arts is not concerned with business matters. He also stressed that House Concert and One Day Festival are not produced with a business mind set.

“My job is bringing something new to the table and seeing it through. It is not hard to present people with something just within their reach so that they can follow suit. I may be setting myself up in the process, but I think my disposition from being a composer makes it possible for me to do so.”

The process of laying out a plan, looking at the whole picture, then creating the structure in detail: In mapping out the big picture in one-year and ten-year increments, there has not been much significant change in determining the necessities or how to get more musicians. That is why for Park, House Concert is no different from being one single project. Just as he concerns himself with structure when composing a piece, he continues to develop the structure and flow within each House Concert performance. Whilst conversing with Park, the words that most frequently cropped up were“basic culture.” People’s sense of what their rights are rises as society develops, but on the flip side their sense of responsibility falls lower. The right to something without responsibility is simply selfishness or entitlement. Park says this cannot be remedied simply by changing the domain, but a more discerning level of consciousness for all citizens overall will make this possible.

“Many people say that there has to be a change in politics or the economy. However, culture is what changes a person. Change within people and in society can only be made with the development of the fundamentals of the arts, and through the reinforcement of the foundation of culture. Now in our time we have this sensual and momentary popular art, behind which lies pure art, with its serenity and long history. While both play important roles, pure art and basic culture need to gain ground and be recognized above all else, for it is with that base that popular art can grow naturally. Without Bach’s music, K-POP could not be what it is today.”

Basic culture needs to become a foothold for the next generation’s development, and to do so the overall cultural consciousness needs to be raised, which is the ultimate goal that House Concert hopes to play a role in and why Park continues to keep it going. Up to last year, with the turning point being the revitalization that followed with matching artists to suitable venues, Park has expanded his sights to include Korea, China, and Japan. On July 12, in all three countries, a total of 94 performances will be held simultaneously for this year’s One Day Festival, using art as a medium for closing the distance between the stage and the audience, breaking down ideological and cultural boundaries and forming a space and time in which the two can see and understand each other through art.

“The three nations, Korea, China, and Japan, are tangled up in their long, complicated history together. Though sharing similar cultural backgrounds, they still come into conflict in various areas. Now we need to transcend these boundaries as we share our cultures with one another, to create a community where we can respect and preserve each other’s culture. We set out on creating the festival with this in mind, to incite a meaningful change for the next generation."



ⓒPark Chang-hyeon(Chad Park)

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theApro <![CDATA[Crispy New Cultural Content]]> Crispy New Cultural Content
[People] Heo Seong-il, Chairman of Cultural Content Planning-Production Corporation, Toastor


This past winter, Disney’s animated movie 〈Frozen〉 was a sweeping success in theaters worldwide. With over 10 million tickets sold, 〈Frozen〉 fever ran well into spring, and the film now holds the record for all-time highest box office in the animated film category. Its presence spread from the theater into several other areas. Idina Menzel’s performance of the song “Let it go” featured in the movie was a hit, the official soundtrack topped the music charts, and related books became bestsellers, a ground breaking feat for an animated film.


Animation has also begun to make its way into the world of classical music performances. At the center of attention is the Toastor production, 〈Flying Symphony: Kids Concert〉. The 〈Flying Symphony〉 is a production featuring musical performances of ’s “The Nutcracker” and Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” accompanied by animated sequences designed especially for each piece. The concert will feature the Korean Symphony Orchestra’s Lee Byeong-wook(Christopher Lee) conducting, as well as pianists Cho Jae-hyeok and Lee Hyo-joo. I met with the chairman of Toastor before the show’s first performance on May 24 at the Concert Hall at Seoul Arts Center.

Poster of 〈Flying Symphony〉


Adding to Live Orchestra with 3-D Animation

Q(Ryu Tae-hyeong): I see thatyou studied business administration in the United States. How did you end up working in the film industry after graduating?

A(Heo Seong-il) : I was born in Korea and went to the States with my parents in the sixth grade. My father was a computer science major there. After I graduated, I had a brief stint working in finance for about two years. It was not at all what I had thought it would be, which led me to think I could not do this kind of work for long. I did not immediately go into the film industry after; I travelled a lot. Travelling across Europe and India by myself gave me the courage to try doing what I loved, and what I loved was movies. Even before I started working in film, I never missed out on watching new films opening in theaters.

Full of resolve, I entered Myung Films (“MK Pictures“ at the time). Without any education in film, English was the only thing I knew well. I started out in the overseas business team and learned about film on-site. Then, I was put in charge of production investment of Korean films by 20th Century Fox. We (the company) make Korean films using actors, directors, and scenarios from Korea. One of the recent films 20th Century Fox has participated in is the 2013 work “Running Man,” with Shin Ha-gyun in the lead role.

Q : What was it that led you to get into classical music production while in charge of production investment for the Korean film division of 20th Century Fox films?

A : I met Toastor’s CEO, Kim Seung-ju, during my travels in India—we hit it off. I was vthe first to suggest starting a business in classical music performance content. In the beginning, he was the musical director in charge of both the planning and production of the 〈Korean Symphony: Kids Concert〉 from 2012 to 2013.

Q : What kind of work does Toastor do?

A : As you might have guessed, our name comes from the toaster appliance, except the spelling of our company’s name, “Toastor,” is slightly different. We thought of the name to express our desire to create programming that was as fresh and crisp as bread taken straight out of a toaster. We want to make universal cultural products that include classical music. 〈Flying Symphony: Kids Concert〉 is our first project, our first at bat as a fusion of classical music and animation.

Q : 〈The Flying Symphony: Kids Concert〉 opens on May 24 at the Seoul Arts Center. As you said, it is a combination of classical music and animation. Although we have seen this combination before in Disney’s 〈Fantasia(1940)〉, this is the first effort we have seen in Korea. How was this project organized? What unique characteristics does 〈Flying Symphony〉 have?

A : 〈Fantasia〉 is an extraordinary work. It seems there were many similar attempts made following 〈Fantasia〉. After its release, many of the new ideas that came out would somehow involve the application of creative editing to film. We started by first selecting the musical pieces. Then, using our own re-interpretation of the original score we created new characters to fit the music and then produced the animation. Also, while 〈Fantasia〉 was made to play on theater screens, our 〈Flying Symphony〉 does not add a recorded music track to the animation, but instead has a live orchestra performing the pieces.


Bringing Missed Analog Sensibilities into the Digital World

Q : Considering the characteristics of Korean movie audiences and of classical music concert goers, what did “Flying Symphony” place its focus on?

A : The largest demographic of movie audiences in Korea is women in their 20s. With the growth of Korean film, the affection towards it was greater than expected. Unlike in the past where marketing was necessary, [nowadays] if the quality of your product is high people will seek it out through positive word of mouth. In short, the content itself must be good. We have high expectations for classical music in this respect as well. Though there are all kinds of programs and stories out there for children, we wanted to create something that stands out from the rest by combining animation with something we can do well and have confidence in.

〈Flying Symphony: Kids Concert〉 live in the Concert Hall at the Seoul Arts Center on May 4, 2013, photo Source_Toastor

First and foremost, the children must like it, and it should be an engaging experience for the entire family. Our aim is to make quality content that children and their families can all enjoy together while experiencing and appreciating music.

Q : What was the reason for selecting “Carnival of the Animals” and “The Nutcracker” to use as the basis for the 〈Flying Symphony〉 score? Also, when using these to create the animation, which parts were emphasized?

A : During the 2012 and 2013 performances of 〈Kids Concert〉, the Korean Symphony Orchestra oversaw the production while Toastor took part in the production of the animation. At that time we dealt with “Carnival of the Animals” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Shéhérazade” The reaction was tremendous. It started as a project by the Korean Symphony Orchestra to draw in new audiences and create kid-friendly entertainment, but we worked so well together that our company, Toastor, continued working with them for further development. We put effort into finding music that would fit well when mingling with video. We also wanted to choose pieces that were familiar to both the children and their parents and can be enjoyed by the entire family. It will be a display of unique character establishment and interpretation.

“The Nutcracker” was also used in the 〈Barbie〉 animated film series (2001). That series used motion capture of ballerinas, but we wrote a summary and developed a plan for our production that would use a storytelling format, so the music acts as dialogue as it flows out and stimulates the children’s imaginations. “Carnival of the Animals” does not just lay out the animals one by one, but looks at it as one big picture, and we can use a storytelling approach as the tale unfolds. With nothing to work off of, we made the character design and story with its own universe. Each animated segment is 25 minutes long, for a total runtime of 50 minutes. A lot of time goes into the production of the animation. Short on time and manpower, we had to make it up by working overtime and pulling all-nighters. When making our first piece, we used the know-how we had at that time and the combined efforts of our staff, giving our all to create quality work.

3-D The lion, mule, and pianist characters of Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” reinvented through 3-D animation, photo Source_Toastor

〈Flying Symphony〉 is a type of universal content. Works made with Korean dialogue require the viewer to understand Korean, but this piece has no lines and relies entirelyon the animals’ movements and the accompanying music. It is more accessible because it breaks through language barriers.

Q : What difficulties did you face while bringing “Flying Symphony” to life? When you faced these things, what gave you strength?

A : Since we are in pursuit of creating new kinds of entertainment, it has been difficult to spread the word about our business before anyone actually sees the product. Animation in and of itself is a field that requires heavy investment, so with this package it was not a simple task. It also makes it hard to enter the market without an existing platform. However, this was something I also felt when working in film. As the world progresses to become more and more digitalized, we come to miss analog. Two-way communication is beginning to be hailed as more important than unilateral. Even the recent rise of festival culture in Korea—and its corresponding emphasis on in-person experiences—is related to the demand for analog and this kind of communication.

Q : What was the experience like as you transitioned from the film industry into classical music?

A : That there are audiences out there who love classical music. However, the barrier for entering the market is considerably high for ideas trying to break new ground. It is still quite a conservative world.

Q : How does the marketability for “Flying Symphony” seem? What will Toastor focus on after this?

A : DVD sales have substantially dropped. However, with the invention of great formats like IPTV, the VOD market is growing. If we are able to secure a place in overseas markets as producers of content that overseas orchestras can use in performances for families, then it can be another form of Hallyu. There’s a lot of interest in entering foreign markets. We are both curious and look forward to what kind of reaction we will be met with there. If this business had focused solely on classical music concerts, it would have never begun. Using performances as a starting point, we want to try a variety of things through a one-source, multi-user format. Though it is appealing as a digital offering, for now we want to introduce the 〈Flying Symphony〉 brand, putting on one or two productions each year. By adding up one by one, our aim is that the shows will not be limited as standalone works but as pieces of a larger picture of a . This will take some time, though.

◎ Photographer_Park Chan-hyeon (Chad Park)

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theApro <![CDATA[<100% Gwangju> by Rimini Protokoll]]> Reality Hidden behind the Numbers –〈100% Gwangju〉 by Rimini Protokoll
[People] Stefan Kaegi and Helgard Haug


Last May, Last May, Rimini Protokoll’s〈100% Gwangju〉, which had been produced by the Asian Arts Theatre to be opened inside the Asian Culture Complex in 2015, premiered in Gwangju and Seoul.〈100% Gwangju〉 is part of the serial project called 〈100% City〉 performed by Rimini Protokoll, a Germany company which is taking the lead in the documentary theater. Gwangju became the 15thcity to be chosen for the company’s project. This work codirected by Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi is a large-scale social participation performance. For this, 100 citizens are selected based on the demographic composition of a given city and they tell their own story.〈100% Gwangju〉is no exception; 100 local citizens of Gwangju were chosen based on their age, gender and hometown, to tell the audience what Gwangju City is all about. Since the first performance of〈100% City was presented in 2008 at Hebbel am Ufer Berlin (HAU1), it has travelled to other major cities in the world such as London, Paris, Brussels, Melbourne, Tokyo and Vancouver, drawing great attention. It is the third time for Rimini Protokoll to perform in Korea after〈Call Cutta〉and the semi-documentary play〈Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Erster Band>. The Company has been known as connecting people’s daily lives to Dramaturgie from a socio-scientific perspective, thus reflecting on both drama and life. The title〈100% Gwangju> is composed of a number, which symbolizes statistics, and Gwangju, which symbolizes Korea’s modern history. However, what makes the work impressive is that it actually shows the “present” instead of the “past,” “life” instead of “numbers,” and “us” instead of “anonymity.” Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi tell us about the power of their series〈100% City〉, which is being upgraded while traveling around the world, and the unique attractiveness of〈100% Gwangju〉.

Redefine the Theater with Experts from Our Daily Lives

Q(Nam Ji-soo): As Rimini Protokoll presented three performances in Korea, your name is no longer unfamiliar to Korean theatre-goers. Would you explain the meaning of the unique and interesting name of your company “Rimini Protokoll”? We suppose from the word “protokoll” that you aim to go toward the so-called “documentary theatre.”

A(Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi) : We are three artists that are working in various constellations together – Rimini Protokoll is the label we are using to communicate all projects that one, two or all three of us are creating. Our main common interest is to stretch and re-define the definitions and limits of the theatre. The output can have diverse forms. We often start projects like journalists by studying a certain topic, meeting interesting people to talk to and often find our protagonists through this process. They will finally be on stage to perform. All this is often described as the “documentary theatre” but we also always mix reality and fiction in our plays...
We have been to Rimini only once but the Italian City sounded good when it was combined with protocol: something we write, study and are interested in.

(Left) Rimini Protokoll gathering together Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi. All three of them studied applied drama at the University of Giessen in Germany

(Left) Rimini Protokoll gathering together Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi. All three of them studied applied drama at the University of Giessen in Germany

(Left) Rimini Protokoll gathering together Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi. All three of them studied applied drama at the University of Giessen in Germany

Q : The fact that you cast “experts” and you use “verbatim method”1) in your works may be constitute the most interesting theatricality in your works. In particular, it is very interesting that you cast the ones whom we do not usually have chances to meet, let’s say that the ones who work in special a field or who are in a quite unacknowledged status. It seems that casting is not totally easy. Regarding this, would you explain the general process of producing your works?

A : The “casting” is the most important research period for our plays. When we started to make theater, as students, we were bored by what was happening on the conventional stages in Europe at this time. It felt very artificial, based on skills but not on content, it felt as well being detached from reality and the lives of the audience. There was a big distance between what was happening on stage and the people’s life. In reality, there were so many interesting stories to tell and we knew that theater can be a great communication tool for this, if only you take communication with the audience seriously. This is how we started – we realized it is very exciting to also reflect on people’s role – to ask them to perform in reality – the role of a politician, policeman, nurse, elderly persons reflecting on their lives, intellectuals talking about their access to Karl Marx’s The Capital... and so on – the list is long... People are actually very open for a talk with someone who comes to meet them. – I guess it is an unusual way of reflection and most people enjoy it.
The next step in the artistic process is then to see if this person would be a good partner for a theater-production. One of the criteria of a good partner is his or her willingness to take time off for the performance.


1) “Verbatim,” which means “literally,” refers to a style that is about using materials such as interviews and documents to show exactly what has been studied so that the concent can be as close as possible to reality.

Relay Casting Tells Us What Social Networks Are

Q : Your cast is large because you cast 100 people for your project 100% City. I suppose that you need to change some ways, more or less, in your rehearsal with these experts.

A : The 100% city project uses a slightly different method. Here we are looking for 100 people that (in terms of five demographic categories) represent the city. We choose a starting figure, often a person working in the field of statistics – and ask this person to link us to another person that fits the categories.

Rehearsal of <i>〈100% Gwangju〉</i>

Rehearsal of <i>〈100% Gwangju〉</i>

Rehearsal of 〈100% Gwangju〉

Q: Casting 100 people seems absolutely not easy. Especially as time goes by, it may be hard to find someone who fits your criteria. I heard that you finally found out the 100th person for the performance a week before its premiere. Please tell us some behind stories or difficulties that you have gone through during the casting or rehearsal.

A : It is a very exciting process because it also tells a lot about the social network people are included or excluded... Some people are so connected to others that they do not have any problem when finding someone whose living space, age group and ethnic group are totally different, for example. On the other hand, others stay more with their peer groups... At the end, we have 100 people on stage and play a game with them with which we can mirror the city. It it different from other projects due to the fact that we only had about 4-5 rehearsals whereas we sometimes rehearse six to eight weeks for other shows.

Q : Let’s focus on 100% Gwangju. First of all, I would like to express gratitude for the performance. Gwangju was chosen as the 15th city of your project. When you travel to different cities for this project, what needs to be done would be to adjust the actors’ costume to each city. Do you have any principles that you may consider as the most important for this project?

A : We have a local team that carry out interviews with the 100 participants – we read these interviews to prepare our performance and to understand the people, their thoughts and questions. We then come up with our draft script – basically a set of statements and questions – some general ones that pop up as we travel from city to city, some very special ones focusing on the current situation of the city/country and then a whole lot of personal questions. And then of course there are local conditions that we try to adapt to – maybe you can call this a basic temperature – well, a cultural background.

Q: The way of gathering 100 people is what characterizes your performance. In this way, you want to show the microcosm of the city. They are not randomly chosen. Through “relay casting,” 100 people are connected or have possibilities to be connected in a way. What do you want to tell us by choosing this demographic chain reaction?

A : it is an advantage if a person knows at least two more people in the cast already – often there are whole families involved or a set of friends joining in – I think this makes a difference instead of choosing 100 people through a bird’s-eye view – of course the whole casting process is also framed – so in addition to the 5 categories (age, gender, ethnicity, household composition and district where they are living), we have a list of profiles that we do not want to let out. This is something we develop together with our local team. It makes sure that there are all social and economical classes represented, some special professions, some special constellations, some special opinions and lifestyles.

Q: However, this microcosm based on the strict rules brings some sort of gaps, I think. In fact, the questions are not to aim to shed light on this sort of formula. The questions are more private than public, more intimate than universal. I would like to say, I feel kind of freedom in spite of sticking to the strict statistics. At this point, your unique theatricality occurs, I think. It is based on the statistics outwardly, however, you may intend to show reality hidden behind the numbers. What kind of reality you actually want to show us?

A : We want to show the people behind the numbers – there are so many surprises and it becomes very emotional, too, if you track certain people and their answers throughout the show and write (in your mind) a kind of biography for that person by watching him or her. At the end of the show, we ask people to always stand together like a family portrait answering a statement with yes, for example, “I grew up without a mother,” “I have been in jail” or “I have a family member who is suffering from Alzheimer.” First of all, it takes a lot of guts to answer those questions publicly and then, you’ll find people standing next to each other that have a completely different lifestyle and opinion but they join this very emotional moment and get glued together for this snapshot. I think it is beautiful to see the different layers and potential of a city as well as the missed chances and conflicts which don’t always have a rosy picture – it is an honest and sometimes brutal reflection of a city.

100% Gwangju, Speak up! Do Not Hide!

<i>〈100% Gwangju〉</i> presented at the Main Hall Hae at the National Theater of Korea on May 26, 2014

<i>〈100% Gwangju〉</i> presented at the Main Hall Hae at the National Theater of Korea on May 26, 2014

<i>〈100% Gwangju〉</i> presented at the Main Hall Hae at the National Theater of Korea on May 26, 2014

〈100% Gwangju〉 presented at the Main Hall Hae at the National Theater of Korea on May 26, 2014

Q : As you may know, the city of Gwangju has a symbolic meaning to many Koreans, making their emotions run high. So we naturally expected that you might bring a certain sociopolitical context regarding the Gwangju Uprising on May 18, 1980 or the ordeals that Korea went through in modern times. But you didn’t do so. In fact, the date of the performance, which is close to May 18, also made us anticipate such historical elements. Is it your intention to make Gwangju deviate from such a sociopolitical context? In fact, I have thought that Rimini Protokoll’s works usually focus on small stories in order to draw a big picture such as a country’s system and structure.

A : Well, I think we did – I think it was the right choice to produce the first Korean 100% City show in Gwangju and not in Korea’s capital, for example but we did not want to reduce Gwangju to the place of the uprising. During our survey, we asked the citizens a couple of questions about the massacre, in an attempt to understand how they want to live with this memory. Surprisingly enough, many of them wanted to forget about the past and carry on. I think that it is not about forgetting but about cultivating democracy so that nobody may be afraid of expressing their thoughts and feelings. I think this is what 100% Gwangju is all about: Speak up! Do not hide! Attempt diversity and the freedom of speech!

Q : Let’s compare two performances in Gwangju and Seoul. Whether you may know or not, the audiences’ reactions are quite different. Hearing from news, I may suppose that the Gwangju performance brings a more social and political context than that in Seoul. Were there any changes? You also told in an interview that you might change some questions for the Seoul performance.

A : It is the first time that we took a 100% City production to another city. An exciting experiment and somehow it seemed to work. The audience in Seoul was very moved – they enjoyed seeing the differences and overcoming clichés and we were able to provoke them a little bit by reminding them of living in the capital and always drawing attention. We added a scene where the audience in Seoul was given a chance to answer exactly the same questions as those for the people of Gwangju on stage and were able to compare the results!

Q : I know that you have stayed in Korea more than one month to produce the performance. I would like to know what you think of Korea and Gwangju, I mean your impression. Plus, during the production and presentation of 100% Gwangju, did you gain anything or were you influenced by something?

A : We enjoyed the people’s humor a lot. Of course there was a cultural gap at first and we can’t speak Korean, unfortunately, but I really felt that they trusted us and that they were eager to take this as an experiment they would all benefit from.

Q : Last question. I would like to know what kind of theatrical value Rimini Protokoll pursues or focuses on most. What kind of theatre do you want to create?

A : Surprising Theater!



◎ Photo provided by_Asian Arts Theatre

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theApro <![CDATA[The National Gugak Theater and Its Reincarnation of <br> Hong Dae-yong]]> The National Gugak Theater and Its Reincarnation of Hong Dae-yong
[People] Kim Hae-suk_Director General, the National Gugak Center


Anyone who’s ever visited or is familiar with the National Gugak Center(NGC) describes it as being located "next to the Seoul Arts Center" - an apt summary of the NGC’s image in the minds of Seoul citizens. The NGC first opened in Busan during the heat of the Korean War in 1951 and stayed there until it moved to its current location in Seocho-dong. All throughout its initial years, the NGC’s size and reputation hardly lived up to the institution’s official name. But in time, with governmental support, interest from the people, and hard work from the people in the gugak industry (Korean classical music), the institution grew to encompass not just court music but also folk music, and proportionately grew in capacity. Arguably the heart of the gugak world, the NGC comprises of the Small Theater, Umyeon-dang, the Main Theater, Yeak-dang, the Gugak Museum, and two new additions made in 2013, the recital hall, Pungnyu Sarangbang, and the outdoor stage, Yeonhee madang. It is open nearly all year long, and even offers introductory level Saturday Premium Performances that are held every weekend.

▲The National Gugak Center, Yeak-dang(Main Theater) Internal and externalappearance ◎ Photo sources_ The National Gugak Center

Gugak and International Exchange

Produced by Ocora Radio France, the French record label that has produced over 600 types of world music, and distributed by Harmonia Mundi, NGC’s first album was released in 2011, titled Jongmyo Jeryeak (royal ancestral rites music). Its second album, Coree: Gayageum Sanjo - Ecole Choi Ok-Sam (performed by Kim Hae-suk), was released in 2012. It is worth noting that NGC’s for second album,of the many schools of gayageum out there, it was that of Ecole Choi Ok-Sam that was chosen. Choi Ok-Sam (1905-1956) was the exclusive dance accompanist of the leading Korean modern dancer, Choi Seung-hee (1911-1969), who had already been touring the United States, Europe and Latin America as early as the 1930s. Choi achieved commercial success and great popularity in all her foreign performances, perhaps excluding those in the United States, from the very early stages of her expansion into the international market. Director General Kim Hae-suk pointed out the problem of how such successes such as this could not be properly capitalized in the past, and repeatedly stressed the responsibility of organizers and planners and the importance of distribution.
Choi Ok-Sam Ecole Gayageum Sanjo ◎ Photo sources_YES24

Director General Kim Hae-suk pointed out the problem of how such successes such as this could not be properly capitalized in the past, and repeatedly stressed the responsibility of organizers and planners and the importance of distribution. I asked her whether she was interested in taking the problem into her own hands, to use her experience to analyze how organizational techniques have failed to improve, always going back to square one, or how the field always seems to be one step behind in the distribution of the performing arts market. In response to the argument that if the NGC, possibly the field’s most representative player, hosts free shows overseas, that other private actors could not get paid their worth in the foreign markets, this is what she said.

"It is true that the four performance groups of the NGC tour for less than what they deserve. So far, they have been traveling, not to showcase themselves on artistic stages, but as part of national events, to play music for the occasion. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must consider how best to present Korean culture with class when sending off national performing arts organizations."

"Young artists have their airfares subsidized by the Korea Arts Management Service(KAMS), and the hosts pay their travel expenses and performances fees. Thus, the National Gugak Center should have a standardized system for reimbursing travel costs and performance fees, at the very least. When the NGC has all its expenses subsidized by government revenue, it upsets those hard at work in the private markets."

The National Gugak Center in 2014

Unlike the National Theater of Korea, which became the talk of the town with its introduction of the repertory system, the NGC had a quiet year in 2013. For the performing arts, which often have difficulty just managing to stay afloat, the repertory system is one of the few available channels that may actually turn a profit. For this reason, in many countries where the performing arts have long-established traditions, publicly funded organizations are strictly forbidden from adopting the repertory system, and are encouraged to pursue experimental, one-off projects instead. The kinds of performances that may appeal to the masses, such as those of the repertory system, are left as the domain of the private sector. In the current Korean market, where private actors, unable to remain self-sustaining, are pushed into doing highly experimental, one-time performances to catch the public eye. National theater actors are praised for their work in highly commercialized productions, which isn’t right. The theater itself may become financially richer, but at the expense of the overall health of the field.
▲Poster of Subscription Concert Contemporary Gugak Orchestra ’JongGa(宗家)’ ◎Photo sources
_The National Gugak Center

"Though 80% of the NGC’c projects are performances, it engages in other areas such as education, it engages in other areas such as education, research, and training. Because schools and the public fail to teach the things they should, the NGC takes it upon itself to share that burden as much as it can. It’s hard to see the immediate effects of such education in the arts, however."

“Of the shows planned for this year, the four groups of the NGC (Court Music Orchestra, Folk Music Group, Dance Theater, and Contemporary Gugak Orchestra) will perform subscription concerts as well as planned performances. In the past, the NGC did a lot of Yoenryeak pieces from the Joseon Dynasty.The original plan had been to do King Sukjong’s giroyeon, but I changed it. Giroyeon is the ceremony in which the king holds a feast in honor of his aged vassals, but today, people worry about living past their prime. I didn’t think it fit to perform something that doesn’t work for today’s society, regardless of its traditional value. Instead, I wanted to host shows for which the four groups of the NGC could be the center, and concerts which could include young gugak teams, from both Seoul and the provinces, to be held three to four times a week. I wanted there to be an opportunity for the NGC to demonstrate all the traditional music that it had, and for other performance organizations to do the same, where everyone could examine and discover gugak and other traditions that could be revived and shared. That was my goal and still is."

Can the National Gugak Center Navigate A Turning Point?

At the press conference,Kim Hae-suk, newly appointed Director General of the National Gugak Center, said that while some changes will be minor, the NGC’s shows for the end of the year will definitely take on her own unique brand.

“I heard rumors circulating last year, before I took this position, that the NGC’s end of year performances would center on General Yi Sun-shin. Any story about Yi will have to feature Japan as the antagonist, and considering the diplomatic troubles between Korea and Japan, the story seemed untimely. Rather, I think it is the NGC’s responsibility to facilitate the relationship between the two countries through cultural diplomacy, so as to benefit Korea as a whole. So instead, I thought of Hong Dae-yong (1731~1783), a scholar of the realist school of Confucianism, who founded the techniques for playing the yanggeum. Hong sought to create beauty through music, the type that can be felt and tasted.

"In the early Joseon Dynasty, music was not thought of in terms of its effect on the sensibilities, but merely as an aid to ritual and enjoyment. That changed in the dynasty’s later period. Hong played an instrumental role in this transition, as he introduced the idea of music as a measure of beauty and taste. This was a pivotal moment in the history of Korean music."

Before, music was an instrument of rule through which Joseon sought to manage ritual and play. Hong Dae-yong, who lived in Namsan, was a key figure in the transition of music from a means to an end to an enjoyable end in and of itself.

“For the NGC, the idea of music as an apparatus for power may be an uncomfortable notion, but it must be understood in the context of the times. For the monarchy to enforce its rule, the rigidity of ritual needed to be offset by the enjoyment of play, and the latter existed to counterbalance the former, not to satisfy the people’s musical sensibilities. That changed in the late Joseon period, when people started to create music as a means with which to assuage the people’s musical desires, eventually giving rise to folk music." "The NGC started out with the objective of preserving royal court music such as Yeonryeak (royal court banquet music) and Jeryeak

(royal ancestral rites music),and within the NGC, the a Court Music Orchestr is the body in charge of the preservation of such music in its original form. The Folk Music Group is concerned with the music of the late Joseon dynasty. They protect different types of music, all equally important. The Contemporary Gugak Orchestra focuses on more current m