Matthew Paluch sees ‘Kontemporary Korea, a triple bill of K:Dance' by Howool Baek and Company SIGA
|Company||Howool Baek | Company SIGA|
|Venue||The Place, London|
|Date||9 May 2023|
My second instalment of the ‘A Festival of Korean Dance 2023' was definitely more successful than the first… but still left one a tad unsatisfied.
The triple bill had two works by Howool Baek, and one by Hyuk Kwon, with Baek offering one dance, and one dance-on-film piece.
Did U Hear is a solo, choreographed and performed by Baek herself. It's also one of the rare times when someone does what they say they're going to. Baek promises a choreographic language of “faceless body expressions through body fragments” – and she's right.
For the 30-minute-ish solo, we didn't see Baek's face at all, in fact she was often headless. The content itself is both original and focused, and most importantly it's choreographically intricate, which subsequently draws the observer into the work in a very distinct way.
The first 20 minutes saw Baek sitting with her back to the audience, the movement starting small and subtly, and growing in relation to the music and duration of the piece. The main shtick was isolation, manipulation and the form and connectivity one can find within them. It was a purposeful creation with nothing unnecessary or superfluous featured. Though the music wasn't for the faint-hearted – think static electricity, digital alarms, flying insect light killer crackling, and eternal motherboard whirring.
As there was no obvious individual executing the movement, it became almost immediately about the body and not the person. Through this perspective the back becomes a canvas, the shoulders an intricate, geometric framework, and the fingers an endless source of minute detail. Baek's idiosyncratic use of (faceless) body fragments offered a truly different viewing experience and a connected contemplation of the moving body.
If the first section offered minimalism, the second showed bigger, brasher movement. Baek also altered the located sitting pose, later using the shoulder bracket as the point of floor connection, allowing the legs to become airborne, which then offered a whole different perception of the body visually.
I saw many things within the work: Henry Moore statues relating to both form and the space found within, roast chickens, and dismembered yogi legs. And though weird and intriguing, we need to escalate to the next level already. I'd propose either language development or some editing is needed, as the last 10 minutes definitely started to drag.
Next followed Foreign Body (also by Baek) which felt like another study of her Did U Hear language explored through the medium of dance on film. Set in Berlin, it saw the same faceless creatures do their thing in numerous different locations: underpasses, metro stations, the Reichstag roof, Brandenburg Gate etc. This time the alien beings (as there were more than one) additionally communicated through an unintelligible language – all chirps and squeaks. Movement-wise they were mostly doubled over in a deep, hamstring style stretch, either en place, walking on all fours or sped-up running. At one point three masses of hair simply bobbed up and down on the screen. It was all a bit on the bizarre side of interesting, and the same suggestion still applies as before: develop or edit.
The final work was the Company SIGA production Rush, choreographed by Hyuk Kwon. Kwon performed the duet alongside Jinyoung Yang, and it was a very different kettle of fish altogether.
I'll start with the last section which I didn't really get. Kwon was going for ‘multisensory' including smell, so we had two men sitting, lighting incense, then proceeding to meditate as a light show accompanied by pretty epic music surrounded them. The vibe felt disconnected, random, and not that relevant to us in the audience.
The first half however was more engaging. The two men are beautiful dancers who execute their movement with care and consideration, and have a veritable sense of awareness of each other, the space and their individual and mutual intention(s).
Choreographically we see experimentation of unison with challenging use of speed acceleration and deceleration, contact partnering, spatial tension and refined exploration of movement planes accessed through Tai Chi style, razor-sharp precise phrasing, using both swing impetus and slow-mo controlled dynamics.
The duet also had moments where the dancers broke away and moved as individuals, but in general, the majority was about connection and mutual consciousness.
It was definitely skilled work but somehow didn't rock my world. I kept thinking ‘this reminds me of really good contemporary technique class enchaînement' which is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Most, good contemporary dance teachers are also competent choreographers as their techniques have less formalised, recognisable phrasing to pull from – unless we're talking Graham and Cunningham – so they have to devise extended content themselves out of necessity. But does high-level classroom creativity constitute performance environment language? I fear the fact one's even having to contemplate it suggests the work in question isn't yet transcendental. I rest my case. For now.
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma in 2007, and is currently on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.