Korean students in a thrilling programme: 2017 K-Arts Dance Company

Laban Theatre, London
November 21, 2017

Maggie Foyer

K-Arts Dance Company exploded onto the Laban Theatre stage with energy that would leave a Duracell bunny standing. The tightly packed, well-balanced short programme of Korean contemporary dance was presented by second year students from the Korean National University of Arts, in a performance well up to professional standards.

The company of ten men and seven women presented three vibrant ensemble works, interspersed with two duets both on themes of the traditional Korean manner of greeting, the bow. Bow, choreographed by artistic director Misook Jeon to music by Jae-duk Kim, took an obvious title then set out to deconstruct the traditional cultural practice by interpreting the value of the polite bow and its hierarchical status in modern terms. Seunguk Song and Holwon Jang gave compelling performances; he initially wearing the mask of an elderly man and attended by Jang scurrying around the stage in tiny, timid steps. Tea cups and rolled out mats, together with conventional moves referenced former hierarchies in ritual repetition. However, times shift, and traditional fans become the props of choice now used with contemporary fierceness to complement Jeon’s eloquent choreography. Jang, in particular, offered a persuasive subtext to underscore her fine technique in this most intriguing work.

2017 K-Arts Dance Company in No CommentPhoto K-Arts
2017 K-Arts Dance Company in No Comment
Photo K-Arts

Thank you, choreographed by Bora Kim, worked on a similar theme, but the oddity of Seunguk Song’s headgear signalled an altogether different character. Together with Donghun Go, the pair demonstrated bows of various depth and infinite shades of deference, milking the humour, notably in the clever partnering, and gestures full of ironic wit.

Of the three ensemble numbers, Carcaca, from Sung Hoon Kim, (known to London audiences from his performances with Akram Khan’s company) gave the young dancers a welcome opportunity to express individual personalities while colourful modern dress lightened the mood. Yewon Choi, executing the challenging choreography in high heels while the rest stayed in comfortable flats, provided a charismatic central figure in a well-structured work assisted by a lighting design that constantly shifted mood and focus.

Mob, which opened the show, was a high energy, pulsating work, the cast ready for action in dark suits with sleeves rolled up. Choreographer, Dong-kyu Kim, who also mixed the musical score, explored the tension between the individual and the crowd. The virtuosity of the individual dancers was shown in break-out moments, but later absorbed into a fierce wall of powerful movement. It was a gripping work that managed to deliver its message.

The closing item, No Comment, by Changho Shin, shared a similar high energy pulse and showed the brilliance (and stamina) of the young men. It would have benefitted from judicious trimming but the phalanx of dancers, slapping bodies to the mesmerising tribal beat of Transglobal Underground Ali Mullah, made a show-stopping climax.

Dance programmes in Korean universities benefit from more liberal funding and this shows in the quality of the graduates. However, the work ethic of Koreans can not be denied and there is living proof of their dance talent in companies worldwide. Korean contemporary dance, while often engaging with deep philosophical ideas, never loses its relationship to movement making this a thrilling dance form for performers and audience alike.