Kontemporary Korea: A Triple Bill of K:Dance

The Place, London
May 9, 2023

The third programme in this festival of Korean dance delivered what we expect from these talented performers: skilled craft, intellectual rigour and something distinctive and unusual. The three short works in this K:Dance triple bill, delivered all three.

Howool Baek opened with Did U Hear? a work she performed and created. Searching for new ways to express dance while avoiding facial expression, the focus was on her back as she sat cross legged on stage. The detail was precise. To an electric score from Matthias Erian bristling with tension, muscles in shoulders and back twitched in sharp reaction. There were moments of humour as wriggling fingers ran along shoulder blades like so many inquisitive insects.

The texture of the score builds as the range of movement extends to upper arms, that opened with extreme stiffness to suitable creaking sounds. Flapping knees joined the dance as Bael rolls up to a shoulder stand, legs locked in a lotus position. The invention and range of movement is extraordinary and keep the interest through to the final blackout.

Howool Baek in Did U Hear?
Photo Tanz Hotel Ernst Grünwald

Her second piece is a film, Foreign Bodies, but also on a theme of faceless expression. The freedom to choose sites across Berlin is exploited to good effect as dozens of clone-like figures, congregate in an informal manner. Their bodies are generally doubled over and touching toes, so the camera only catches the mop of hanging hair. Although faceless they exude a strange, slightly humorous group personality in the strange little half-size figures they present. The figures trot through a variety of settings including travelling on escalators, waiting at train stations, next to the autobahn and outside the dome of the Berlin Reichstag. Their presence denotes ‘foreign’ while their grouping suggests community. It is skilfully filmed and edited by Marc Poritz, an entertaining theme suggesting many possibilities.

Rush, was presented by Company SIGA, choreographed by Hyuk Kwon and danced by him with Jinyoung Yang. It contradicted the title in showing the beauty and poetry inherent when the dancers paused to listen to the inner self and address those needs. A sequence of slow arm gestures became almost hypnotic, a mood which was destroyed as the movements were quickened to a manic blur, proving Kwon’s theory. Full body movement came into play enhanced by fluid floor work. Finally, the dancers left the stage to return with sticks of incense which they lighted, finishing on a few quiet minutes of meditation: an unusual but potent close to the evening.