Last night’s UK debut of Korea National Contemporary Dance Company at The Place was a total surprise; a unique opportunity to meet closely with a company whose work is strongly inspired by the history of its country. Immixture feels like a journey to Korea, where everything – from the music to the costumes – is connected to its past, but also enriched with modern flavours. The whole show is a pleasant glimpse of Korean dance and culture that can only trigger curiosity to learn more about it.
As the title suggests, Immixture is a beautiful piece that skilfully blends different influences and plays with contrasts between tradition and contemporary style. A feature clearly seen in the opposition of black and white colours of the costumes, in the fluctuating expression of emotions – shifting from apathy to joy and then despair; and in the music choice that includes folklore, Turkish tunes, and classical scores.
Immixture opens with a very effective solo of a female dancer in a traditional white Korean dress, with red socks appearing from its wide skirt, engaging in a sequence of moves that might derive from an ancient ceremonial choreography. Standing out against a black background, this white figure steps forward, sinuously curving and waving her arms with an incredible elegance that makes her look like a princess. It is a sublime introduction that beautifully clashes with the more informal solos and group dance coming next.
The group of five dancers, now wearing dark contemporary clothes, engages in more folkloric phrases made of quicker off-balance gestures involving the entire body. Often arranged in lines or circles they draw imaginary lines with arms and legs, in perfect harmony with the music. Later, the energy explodes in repetitive patterns of club-like moves, very joyful, until the music stops suddenly and the silence is broken by an intense cry.
Another section sees dancers executing a traditional sword dance of militaristic origins (Geommu dance). It is a truly hypnotic experience, as those small swords create fascinating visual and sound effects when rotated in patterns. They reflect the dim lights and create scratchy minimal sounds that perfectly accompany dancers’ graceful movements, and at the same time allow a hip hop solo in the middle of the group. Even though this dance is purely traditional, the choreographer Sungsoo Ahn doesn’t refrain from mixing it with a more contemporary vocabulary, which feels a bit weird as the hip hop dancer is performing on a score that only he can hear through his headphones.
The common thread of the entire choreography is the stunning virtuosity and precision of the arm gestures – often stretched, waved and curved fluidly with amazing grace, or simply with extended sleeves to recall the typical Korean costumes.
Immixture is an eclectic work with different layers of interpretations and references to Korea’s past and present history, and other events that shaped the company’s mindset. A remarkable piece, packed with emotions and originality.
Reviewed at The Place on 9 May