Korean dancers take center stage in Liege

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Korean dancers take center stage in Liege


Korean dancers have been in the spotlight at this year’s “Pays de Danses,” a dance festival in the Belgian city of Liege. Counterclockwise from left: “Rest” by Lee Jae-young, “Raw Material” by Lim Jee-Ae and “Dancing Grandmothers” by Ahn Eun-me. Provided by Liege Theater

The Belgian city of Liege is known for its beautiful combination of the past and the future. Having endured two world wars, the city stands proud, with cultural heritage that ranges from medieval palaces to urban skyscrapers.

The city added a more contemporary vibe to it when it began hosting a dance festival called “Pays de Danses” (Land of Dances) in 2006. The festival celebrates creative performance artists by showcasing their eccentric works. Thanks to “Pays de Danses,” Liege has emerged as Europe’s cultural hub, luring connoisseurs from places like Paris, Amsterdam and Luxemburg.

Now in its fifth edition, the biennial festival teamed up with the Arts Council Korea this year to launch a program focused on Korea, featuring performances, art exhibitions and conferences.

While Europe has held Korean arts festivals before, this festival is particularly unique and unusual in that it focuses specifically on Korean contemporary performances.

The program started on Jan. 24 with Kim Ji-uk’s dance “Mist,” a work about a typical Korean worker in a company, desperate to escape from that dour reality and frustrated by the strict codes of society. “Mist” questions the meaning of existence through Kim’s simple and refined movements.

Lim Jin-ho and the Goblin Party followed with the work “I Go.” The title - which is a pun on the moaning sound Koreans make at funerals or when distressed - depicts a man facing imminent death.

Two days after, Lee Jae-young presented “Rest,” a work which featured the act of dribbling an imaginary basketball with the head. And Berlin-based artist Lim Jee-Ae blended tradition and modernity with an offbeat sense of humor in “Raw Material.”

Leading Belgian publications, such as Le Soir and La Libre Belgique, praised the four performers for their agile body movements and unique techniques. Lim in particular was singled out for her classic yet unconventional movements. On the other hand, the male dancers - Kim Ji-uk, Lim Jin-ho and Lee Jae-young - were celebrated for their dynamic and delicate moves, considered to be a strength of Korean dancers.

The festival will end Friday with one of Korea’s most prominent contemporary dancers Ahn Eun-me, who will present “Dancing Grandmothers,” a work that is an ode to Korea’s older generation who went through much turmoil. The famously bald dancer created the moves based on her observations of countless old women from Korea’s rural areas. The performance incorporates professional dancers and dancing by regular Korean grandmothers.

“Belgian audiences will be thrilled to enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing the real grandmothers of Korea. This will certainly help them understand the complexity of Korean culture,” said Pierre Thys, the program adviser of Theatre de Liege.

“The idea of transforming ordinary people’s movements into artistic choreography will be more than enough to mark the grand finale of ‘Pays de Danses.’”

In addition, the Korean Cultural Center in Brussels at the end of last month held a roundtable conference led by Pierre Clement Dubuisson, the former Belgian ambassador to Korea, about contemporary Korean choreography.

By Chang In-joo contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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