The Place Korean Season: W.A.Y (re-work) by Sung Im Her

The Place, London
September 17, 2021

I read the programme sheet for Sung Im Her’s W.A.Y. with some trepidation. The words conformed to the requirements of contemporary dance theoreticians but Sung is no conformist. She is a choreographer with keen, inbuilt creative instincts who understands the communicative power of movement, she and her three dancers gave a performance that was both engaging and highly enjoyable. Avoid the words, enjoy the dance and never underestimate the fun factor!

The dancers dressed in bright coloured jeans and shirts are already in the space as the audience enter. Each is a separate identity, moving on a separate path, in individual patterns, but the telepathic connection is alive and electric. Even when standing back-to-back or at furthest ends of the space there is an amiable warmth between the dancers, consolidated with an occasional smile.

The steps are minimal. A serviceable ‘step, touch’ is a constant motif, repeated effectively to shift the dancers into lines, to change places, to respace patterns or just to keep turning. The geometry and the mathematics are amazing: subtle, full of variety and at times, mesmerising. But these are not abstract forms, the arms held akimbo give a feisty, no-nonsense appeal to four women making their presence felt.

Short individual solos extended the minimalist choreographic style allowing some exciting dance notable from Iris Chan. The commissioned music by Husk Husk builds the pace and sets in motion athletic moves with rapid gestures in a sort of K-pop without the overt sexuality. However, the extended section of violent head swinging, imitating Rite of Spring in its dance to death theme was disturbing and added little to the structure of the piece. Thankfully after collapsing to the floor, they recovered to join together in harmony.

Sung Im Her spoke in the aftershow Q&A of the conformity of Korean society and how, despite this people sought their own identity – the themes on which she based her choreography. Over successive visits to Seoul I’ve noticed how contemporary dancers, notably the women have marked their individuality. First it was the men who adopted street style and grunge while female dancers, even when dancing in bare feet and modern style still maintained the perfect grooming we usually expect from Korean women. This has started to change Sung joined by a mixed trio, Chan, Martha Gardner and Yanki Yau literally let their hair down and celebrated being free spirits.