Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflections on Hyunok Kim's Dance Films

Hyunok Kim, a dance choreographer and professor of dance at Kyemyoung University, Daegu, presented on her own dance films and what inspired her and her choreography. Initially she studied French Literature at Korea University but later became an actress. Then, at the age of 23 she did a career shift to dance, eventually studying in Paris where she became the first Korean to obtain a PhD in dance. She then spent seven years in New York working as a choreographer and dance filmmaker, and furthered her studies in filmmaking in the New York Film Academy.

Her successes have been many. Her work L'heure du Coz was selected for the Video Dance Festival of the Paris Pompidou Centre in the 1980s. Teile Dich Nacht was selected for a Gold Award at the Dance on Camera festival in New York, and she was the first ever Asian awardee in the festival. Her dance films were officially selected by the Brooklyn Film Festival, the Moving Image Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, Jumping Frames International Dance Video Festival in Hong Kong, Sans Souci Festival of Dance cinema, Cine Dans in Amsterdam, the International Festival of Film on Arts in Montreal, Canada among many others. Her films have been broadcast by Shanghai National TV, KBS, MBC, Canal+ (France), Kanal 4 (Germany), and ABC (Australia).

Tonights program showcased her works from 1991 to 2013, which highlit her pursuit in search of Korean and Asian identities and the aesthetics as well as the concept of time and space from an Asian and most specifically a Korean perspective.

Hyunok Kim presented on three of her celebrated dance films and explained how her sources of inspiration are related to Korea's philosophical and cultural heritage.

(1) TEILE DICH NACHT (film: 11 minutes)

Translated into Korean as "Philosophy of three worlds"

Teile Dich Nacht is a dance film set to the music of Isang Yun, who was one of the most important Korean composers of the twentieth century. The basic philosophy influencing his music was the Korean philosophy of the three worlds: heaven, earth and humanity. Isang Yun greatly influenced the artistic path of Hyunok Kim when she read his autobiographical book Wounded Dragon (상처받은 용) as he blended tradition with modernity. Through this reading she discovered her path which began to deviate from her current New York art scene which focused only on the diversities of expression from the classical to extreme avant-garde. She emotionally identified with Isang Yun's musical composition "Fluctuation" which was based on the concept of flux of sound. After first listening to it, she found herself soaked with tears and felt as if she had traveled a great distance with the flow of music. She became determined to go to Berlin to seek out such a great music master.

When she met Isang Yun in Berlin, she discovered not so surprisingly he was a philosopher too and he explained the emotions he attached to "Fluctuations" and his use of the Korean philosophy of Three Realms (계사상).  The Three Realms consist of earth, heaven and the human, and together they are the fundamentals of Korean philosophy, mainly that humans exist between heaven and earth. In Isang Yun's music, he employs this philosophy: the high notes convey the fact that heaven is beyond human reach. Low notes convey the realm of the earth and things under it (the tuba and other low note instruments represent earth in his music). Humans exist in the middle tonal range.

The philosophy of the Three Realms is represented in other Korean traditional arts, such as architecture and dance. In Korean architecture, the Three Realms are reflected in the three levels of traditional temples: the high roof eves representing the heavens, the low level elevated from earth by columns, and the idea of the humans existing between these. Also in the Korean Hahoe Mask dance the primary dancer is lifted up and performing in the celestial sphere, with humans beneath supporting the heavenly while walking on the low horizontal earth level. This same principle of elevation applies to the jakdoutaki in Shaman ritual dance. And it was this philosophy that inspired her choreography of "Interludium A". Hyunok Kim translated the philosophy of the Three Realms into visual imagery of her in a white celestial gown standing abnormally tall in a field (in France). The music to "Interludium A" was written by Isang Yun, her inspirational master.

Also, it was through this concept of the Three Realms that she performed Teile Dich Nacht, with her the dancer sitting, lying and dancing on the chair with the back of the chair and wide space of sky representing heaven and the chair sitting in water which represented the unforeseen depths of earth.

(2) ODE ON A KOREAN URN (film: 12 minutes)

The Korean Urn represents Korean culture. As an object close to daily life, used to ferment and preserve basic foods, it is the symbol of the long time spent waiting for life to be ready. In the film, the Korean urn is used as a metaphoric object, represented visually and audibly in a poetic way. In ancient times people communicated through drumming. In the dance, the urn becomes a percussion instrument and the symbol of global communication. It is the representation of awakening souls. The drumming was inspired by the drumming in Buddhist temples which symbolizes the awakening of the souls.

The film was shot in both Korea and France, with her dancing and drumming with the Korean urn. With various traditional backgrounds in Korea and famous backgrounds in France (the French castle Jardin du Palais Royal, rue Payenne in Paris), Hyunok Kim makes a visual motif of cultural interactions crossing borders. There is much focus on camera work and the use of the horizontal and vertical to depict once again the spatial relationships yet distances of the Three Realms.

An extension project of the Korean Urn is to take it global, not just the drumming and movement between two cultures but between continents. Such future locations desired for filming are (continents): Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and more specifically (countries): Greece, India, Tibet, Indonesia, Armenia, France, Italy, Brazil, Korea (of course), China, Hong Kong, Russia to name the initial few.

Hyunok Kim took the Korean urn to Pinnacles in the Western Australian Desert where she juxtaposed the urn against the mysterious and surreal backdrop of the Pinnacles. The film conveyed a journey of wandering souls, which was inspired by shamanist ritual. The film "Isle of the Waiting Souls" (almost 7 minutes) is a short version of Spirit of the Pinnacles presented at an art exhibition together with British collage artist John Digby.

(3) PASSION & REBIRTH (film: 15 minutes)

The film consists of two contrasting parts. The first part centers around the theme of death with the music of Bach, the St. Matthew Passion, and depicts a woman in sorrow and a man who consoles her with his intense attention. The second part was inspired by the philosophy of reincarnation and deals with a journey to be reborn. The dance itself was inspired by a Buddhist monk's dance called Seungmu. In this choreography, Hyunok Kim transformed the angular aesthetics of Seungmu into soft curve linear aesthetics. Her choreography is particularly enhanced by the expressiveness of her eyes, a mark of her choreographic style.

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