In the eyes of a Korean dance veteran, the Covid-19 pandemic is the result of “an error in the cycle of nature.”
“The earth has suffered from unprecedented heat waves, fine dust and heavy snowfall. There were signs of abnormal climate change around the world, ”said Sohn In-young, artistic director of the National Dance Company of Korea.
As a state-run Korean traditional dance troupe, Sohn says she wanted to fight the pandemic through dance and raise awareness of the environmental issues facing the world today. She chose “Daseot Oh” or “Five Elements” as her first choreography since taking office last November.
“Daseot Oh” will debut at the Korean National Theater of the Daloreum Theater in central Seoul from September 2 and will last for four days. The performance was supposed to be premiered last year, but was pushed back due to Covid-19. Sohn says the extra time helped her polish the job.
To express such a problem through Korean traditional dance, Sohn said in a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily that she naturally remembers Korea. cheoyongmu dancing, which was traditionally used to drive away evil spirits and pray for tranquility at royal banquets or during New Year’s Eve exorcism rites. The dance was inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage of Unesco in 2009.
The dance is based on the Korean legend of Cheoyong, the son of Dragon King Yongwang, who took on human form and saved his human wife from the spirit that causes smallpox by singing and dancing. The dance is performed by five men each dressed in one of five colors representing the cardinal directions known as obangsaek: white (west), blue (east), black (north), red (south) and yellow (center). This also represents the ohaeng, or “five elements” – the title of the upcoming performance. It is a dance of the masks transmitted for more than a thousand years since the kingdom of Silla (57 BC).
“The dance ultimately expresses the natural flow,” Sohn said.
“Our body, the earth and the universe all need to flow and flow naturally. If there is a problem with just one part of our body, the whole body suffers. It’s the same with the earth and the universe, I believe. I think we should stop this rapid industrialization and look at the attitude of our ancestors towards nature and think about how to recover from this catastrophe. I believe that the restoration of his daily life is only possible when the flow of the universe returns to normal.
In the third final act of the show, a dancer appears on stage to express the rest of her daily life. Sohn says it is “the future restored”.
Although it is a “traditional dance,” Sohn said the work itself bears no resemblance to tradition.
The costumes are not hanbok, or Korean traditional dress. Instead, the dancers appear in modern-looking clothing. The stage will not have curtains using the five colors of obangsaek. Even the music, although it only uses traditional Korean instruments, sounds very contemporary.
At first glance, people may misunderstand it as a performance by a contemporary dance troupe. But Sohn says audience members will be able to relate the traditional Korean dance moves throughout the show.
“To show what traditional Korean dance is, we don’t need to be so obsessed with using everything traditional, from traditional costumes to traditional music,” Sohn said. “The main difference between Western dance and Korean dance, I think, is the breath. We breathe differently. I think most of the Korean traditional performing arts genres have the same breathing style. He has this unique energy and depth. There is this breath in pansori (Korean traditional narrative song), playing piri (Korean flute) and in Korean traditional dance. You start out strong and then, using that power, there’s speed and that weightlessness. It’s really hard to explain in words. You just have to experience it.
As a dancer mastering both traditional Korean dance and contemporary dance, Sohn said she was well aware of the pros and cons of both. Her talent takes advantage of both and modernizes traditional Korean dance performances.
“Among Koreans, there is this sensibility that no other ethnic group can emulate,” Sohn said. “I say this because I have witnessed so many things studying and teaching different dancers from all over the world in the United States, I realized that this ‘thing’ that Korean traditional dancers have cannot be trained. overnight. This is achieved through long and arduous training while observing and living in the culture.
This is why the age range of the dancers of the National Dance Company of Korea is quite wide, with the youngest members in their mid-twenties and the oldest members over the age of 50.
“Especially for Korean traditional dance, dancers have to go through this long period of training to reach a certain point of ‘maturity’,” Sohn said. “Young dancers can never achieve this goal, even with intense training, because this is only possible with time. In this sense, such a diversity of dancers, who can express different emotions, vitality and full maturity, if you know what I mean, is another strength of our company.
In order for Korean dance to gain worldwide attention, it should maximize this unique identity that Korean dancers have, said Sohn, rather than dress up. the stage or the dancers with traditional objects.
According to Sohn, now that she is artistic director of the National Dance Company of Korea, her previous experiences in the United States – studying dance at Columbia University and eventually teaching Korean dance there as well as Queens College. from New York City University – made him realize that his company has great potential on the world stage.
“I always stress to my dancers that we should practice and rehearse for a global audience although the works are staged in Korea,” Sohn said. “I also think at a global level when I create works. I don’t choreograph thinking it’s just a show for Koreans.
Sohn says she vividly remembers the day she saw Stuttgart Ballet dancer Kang Sue-jin perform “Onegin” at Lincoln Center in 1997. Kang is currently the Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Korea.
“I think she was playing Tatiana for the first time in the United States and this show made her a world star,” Sohn said. “I was sitting quite far back and I could even see her expressing the emotions all the way to the tips of her hands. It is the sensitivity of Korean dancers, which is acquired through long and arduous training. This detail was so exquisite that it still gives me chills.
“We have so much to offer and this unique sensibility that no one else has,” Sohn added. “I’m not saying we’re the best and what we have is the best. But I’m sure what we have is a lot different and so refreshing that while it looks so modern, it is so traditional.
As one of the three resident companies of the Korea National Theater (NTOK), the dance company kicks off the theater’s 2021-22 season with “Daseot Oh”. In November, Sohn will create a larger piece she choreographed, titled “See you, I’m Home,” which deals with the culture of Korean shamans.
In December, “Solos and Duets”, a collection of dancers presenting traditional dances reinterpreted in their own styles in solos and duets, will be presented at the Daloreum Theater. For the New Year, the company’s popular piece “New Day” will be staged from January 29, followed by “Double Bill,” a collaboration with choreographers from the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company. In June, “Vortex” will be staged at the Haeoreum Grand Theater, “probably for the last time”.
“We have a busy year ahead, but I really hope to start encouraging choreographers within the company from next year,” said Sohn. “The budget is really tight to even stage new works at the moment, but I hope the government can realize the need to support artistic troupes to draw the world’s attention to this K-dance. unique and different. ”
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]