Reviewed from film
January 20, 2021
In Tete-A-Tete, Kim Modeun teams up once more with fellow choreographer-dancer Jeong Kyuyeon, who featured in the dramatic and haunting ‘death dance’ in Kim’s Goliath in the Water, seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. Fascinating and atmospheric, it put several interpretations in my mind over its fifteen minutes as I kept seeing and imagining different things.
As the title suggests, Tete-A-Tete is in many ways a conversation between Kim and Jeong, who together choreographed and perform the piece. The pair appear from behind a giant white ball. The impression immediately evoked is of an egg, especially as they appear to come from inside it.
The atmosphere soon turns other-worldly, however, a mood emphasised on the film by visible overhead stage lights that appear to be stars or distant moons in an alien sky. The blackness of the surrounding space makes the stage feel simultaneously vast yet empty.
The costumes also lend to that feeling. In their gender-neutral, identical white tunics and trousers, and white hoods, Kim and Jeong appear humanoid. But are they human? Whatever, their dress certainly has an amorphous effect, making the couple appear at the very least non-binary, certainly concealing identity and individuality.
The pair consider, examine and seemingly attempt to understand whatever the strange round object is. When the pair converse, it’s often through echoed movement, as if one is agreeing with the other. There is a sense of wonder and awe, but also of fear and a certain powerlessness as they struggle to make sense of this object that has invaded their space.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of the present circumstances, but I couldn’t help reading something else into the piece: humankind’s continuing struggle to understand or to come to terms with the world as it is.
The choreography features much broken movement and robotic isolations. Stylised gesture is emphasised. Unusually, while very expressive, apart from one early and less successful short scene that is all about the facial movement, faces barely register. It is all about the whole body and the landscape it occupies.
Kim and Jeong come together perfectly as they prompt the viewer to conjure multiple ideas about meaning. The white costumes cause them to stand out clearly against the black background. It is impossible to miss just how clear their movement is; how spot on is their timing and how together is their unison work in those more dynamic moments that see them shift around the stage with ease.
There is no conclusion. As the lights go down, that ball is still there, albeit now hovering above the stage. Kim and Jeong look up, reach up, still wondering, leaving me with thoughts of the strangeness of it, and those many ideas Tete-A-Tete painted in my mind.