New steps for old taleWhen was the last time that a local audience felt moved by a contemporary dance performance? Probably never for most Korean audiences, whose dance knowledge too often stops at “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.”
The contemporary dance scene in Korea was almost nonexistent until Ahn Eun-mi showed up, her head shaved bald and wearing outfits that looked like a shaman’s costume (that is, when she wore any outfit at all).
Outrage was her middle name. Ms. Ahn, a dancer and a choreographer, delighted in bringing discomfort and sensation to local dance professors and elitist, mainstream dance critics.
Now, Ms. Ahn is doing it again, in her performance “Chunhyang,” a radical reinterpretation of a popular folktale that will be performed this weekend at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul.
There’s plenty of anticipation surrounding the event, considering the public enthusiasm she garnered from her last project, “Galaxy Express 000,” a revival of the Japanese animated cartoon “Galaxy Express 999” and “Little Match Girl.”
Ms. Ahn’s take on “Chunhyang” is meant to challenge the romance of the original fairy tale. It’s certainly not the usual mild love story of a submissive girl who falls in love with the bright, young scholar from a wealthy family and waits for him to return to bring her a life of happiness.
The heroine in the upcoming show, who will be played by Ms. Ahn, is a woman in her 40s, at least 25 years older than the original Chunhyang.
Chunhyang in Ms. Ahn’s dance is vivacious and flirtatious, far from being passive like in the original text.
Having been raised by her geisha mother, who has lived a promiscuous life, Ms. Ahn’s Chunhyang tends to think little of men. She has a dark mole on her left cheek, blurts out sexual remarks and lowbrow comments in front of men and is desperate to get married.
Colorful visual presentation ― one of the trademarks of Ms. Ahn’s works ― will be will be expressed through her design of the costumes. To strengthen the main themes of “Chunhyang” ― love and passion ― the stage will be styled with red lighting and a vibrant display of bojagi, traditional cloth often made from scraps and used to cover food or wrap objects.
Uhuhboo Project, an alternative rock band and Ms. Ahn’s old musical partners, will perform live on the stage, along with other percussionists and pansori artists. Members of the Daegu Metropolitan Dance Troupe, which was little known before Ms. Ahn became the company’s director in 2001, will play several roles in the production.
Ms. Ahn studied and performed in New York City in the late 1980s. Her performances, at such respected venues as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, earned laudatory reviews.
Her productions in Seoul upon her return in 1992 also created a sensation. In “White Grave,” she appeared onstage with her hands firmly tied together by a piece of rope dangling from the ceiling. She was completely naked, with a thin coat of flour covering her body. Her works quickly garnered followers among Seoul’s contemporary dance scene.
Her visual power has been evident in more recent works, such as “Seoul Rainbow Cafe” and “Fresh Track,” both of which earned favorable reviews from New York critics, although they failed to capture the Seoul public’s attention, at least to any substantial degree.
Some local critics have criticized Ms. Ahn’s performances for being devoid of meaning even though they are loaded with visual cues and symbolic gestures. She has admitted in interviews that a significant part of her work is improvised.
Ms. Ahn’s public persona, often shaped by her appearance and eccentric style of dressing, has led to her having a reputation similar to that of a pop star rather than a serious dancer.
by Park Soo-mee
Ahn Eun-mi’s “Chunhyang” runs tonight through Sunday. Tonight’s show begins at 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m. Ticket prices range from 20,000 won to 40,000 won ($16-$32).
For more information call the LG Arts Center at (02) 2263-4680 or check out www.lgart.com.
The LG Arts Center is near exit 7 at Yeoksam station on subway line No. 2.