Local choreographer looks to North for inspiration
The decades-old division of South and North Korea has produced two unique variations of what was previously one single Korean culture.
The two Koreas’ language, cuisine and music began to diverge when they were divided into two different states after the Korean Peninsula’s liberation in 1945 from Japanese colonial control.
Dance may be one of the few cultural sectors where the division is most acutely felt, given that dancing entails little communication, other than the purely physical movement of bodies.
With little outside influence and the communist party’s control of the arts, the North is where the archetype of Korean culture is better preserved, compared with the South, where culture underwent a wild transformation.
That exact quality of North Korean dance has inspired the renowned dancer-choreographer Ahn Eun-me in her quest to fuse Korean originality with contemporary dance.
In June, Ahn plans to stage her rendition of a North Korean dance in a show entitled “Ahn Eun-me’s North Korean Dance.” It’s the first time a full-length South Korean-made performance featuring North Korean dance will have been staged here.
The 70-minute act, to be performed by Ahn herself and the members of her company, is her interpretation of North Korean dance, Ahn emphasized in a press conference on Thursday.
What made up for the lack of reference points stemming from the isolation of the past 73 years was the video-sharing website YouTube, home to a vast pool of films on state-hosted North Korean dance performances. She also sought help from Japan-based dancer Song Ae-sun who was educated in dance in North Korea.
“What sets North Korean dance apart from South Korean dance is [the dancers’] rapid steps and frequent snapping of the wrist. Dancers also retain the upright position of their torso, a hint of basic influence from Russian ballet,” Ahn said.
“Looking more closely into North Korean dance, however, it’s clear that almost all of the raw sources for South Korean dance are also there, although they were preserved in different forms,” she said.
“What made me turn to North Korea is the homogenous quality running between the peoples [of Korea] after all those years when everything North Korean was almost taboo here,” said Ahn, who is also known for her shaven head.
“Throughout the project, I have learned that dance moves could be a means of communication when the two Koreas are unified after the long decades of division,” she explained.
Two popular North Korean songs - “Nice to Meet You” and “Whistle” - have been chosen as the background music for Ahn’s latest choreography, but no further North Korean music was allowed due to copyright reasons, she said.
Following the debut of the new piece, Ahn also hopes to invite North Korean dancers to perform the dance in the future, she added.
The performance runs from June 1 to 3 at Arko Arts Theater in central Seoul.