NOTE: this is more of a meditation and a report. also, it is long (for a blog). also, i would add more photos, etc, but i can't find any documentation of the performances on-line
'i'm interested in the kisaeng as the holder of culture' dean moss, during the q&a
october 25th i attended the world premier of 'kisaeng becomes you' a collaborative event orchestrated by dean moss and kim yoon-jin. i want to call it a collaborative circuitry for a few reasons which i will flush out more fully as i continue to write, but to start with, this was not what we are conditioned to view as a 'regular' dance performance (as i know it) and what i left this event with was the feeling of having witnessed a profound meditation collaboration.
the seoul arts center's jayu theatre is essentially a black box on steroids. it has 3 levels of 4-sided catwalks, and i would guess it holds about 100 spectators on folding-back seats (that is, the seat part is attached to the ground, the back simply folds up or down if it is being used). the performance was sold out. the stage was unadorned (which from the limited dance performances i have been to is not uncommon) with a suspended screen, mid-stage, stage right, approximately 15 feet from the ground. downstage there was a table with speakers, a camera, speakers, electronics, and props.
like dean moss, at least initially, i came to this performance lacking a socio-historical context. unlike moss, i also lack a deep socio-historical dance context. what exactly was i getting into? first a dancer walks upstage, extremely close to the audience, and looks us over. immediately the 4th wall is broken, and it would be completely removed in moments. she walks away and heads for the table and begins to sew her skin (left thumb) making a series of knots. the camera is used to project this onto the suspended screen. i'm already thinking about social inscription and the well-worn historical thread. it is an elegant gesture to start the performance.
slowly, 3 dancers enter from various sides and are on their toes, their mouths look like feeding fish. these long bodies, extended, begin to travel like a school of fish, essentially heading in the same direction, but with only a weak bond uniting the mass. eventually sewn hand joins them and they continue to travel as a group--except she is marked with her hand and thread. sewed hand stops, looks us over in the audience, and enters the audience and speaks. of course, beyond 'hello' i don't know what is being said--and the language lack shows up more later, but with no real problem from my perspective, though i am sure it colors my perception and pushed me towards focusing more on the collaborative meditation. taking an audience member on stage, after she looked us over from the beginning, the feeling of collaboration grew. while she takes the audience member on stage, 2 dancers are setting up a scrim more or less at centerstage.
the audience member is introduced to the dancers and is given a mic pack, dressed in a white gown and given a wig (later i learned this is a kisaeng wig, i'm willing to bet the audience member's costume was based on traditional kisaeng clothing). the audience member is slowly paraded around, and video-taped the entire time. she performs a (traditional?) gesture, and then enacts the same route and gesture. a circuit is made.
the dancer with the sewn hand serves as her director/choreographer. she feeds the audience member lines, the audience member is being video-taped the entire time. the audience member enacts the circuit again. the scrim at centerstage now has flowers projected. 1 dancer is standing behind the scrim casting a shadow.
the audience member is again photographed and videoed. the director/choreographer (director from here on out) continues to feed her lines and then a gesture. the gesture seems sad, a stylized crying, loss. she picks up a veil, holds it to her eyes--the director is constantly talking.
it is all a beautiful way to represent collaboration/exchange--its like watching a piece incubating. workshop as performance. she performs crying, lifts veil again, music begins. soft.
artaud speaks of how in theatre now gesture can be made the same way twice.
the director and the audience member are watching the video on the suspended screen that was taped earlier. the video switches to a live feed. no longer performing a rehearsal, now a performance.
a dancer is blindfolded with the veil and performs the same acts as the audience member. they are from up stageleft, cascading backwards to the scrim at centerstage. this act is repeated with another dancer joining in. the 3rd circuit. finally, the director yells cut and it all stops.
1 dancer is 'fish feeding' as in the beginning while the director takes photos of the audience member with the other dancers. audience member is given the veil to keep and paid 20,000 won.
pt2 (make lack of experience taking about dance is apparent hear, its mostly base description)
this begins with the only appearance of a man in the entire production. it is a 'man-on-the-street' interview, but is all in korean, so i have no idea what happened.
2 dancers approach the audience, with about a 5-7 second delay between them, lip synching something. they lay down, then go into all fours, mouth wide open. we've clearly entered the sexual aspect of the kisaeng, which makes me wonder about what the man said on the screen all the more.
janis joplin plays, they now look angry (there still is the 5-7 second delay between the two), now they walk holding their crotch. sexy jig, then squat. while they squat, the put the fingers in their anus, smell them--sodomy. then, sexy again. finally, they begin to scurry in a crab-walk of sorts, then lament. silence. they get up and begin to walk in circles around the stage, then they run in circles.
walk up stage.
shaken breath, like angry or terrified. the original gestures from act 1 are occurring with these two, but the staging is reversed. the director shows up, and the 2 dancers leave. a new dancer arrives and dances like she is being choked.
the 2 dancers that have left are now at the back table. one of them is using the camera that is connected to the projector. it has a webcam/porn aesthetic. upstage 1 of the dancers takes the directors microphone away, and they do this very entertaining dance as she tries to speak into the microphone that the dancer is keeping away from her.
the director is now on-screen, pre-recorded, speaking lines. this dissolves into 'random' shots, mostly flowers if i recall correctly, and the dancers dance and the director is given her microphone back.
pt 3 (if pt 2 was sexual and controlling, pt 3 is sexual, crude, and expressive)
2 dancers. 1 (the smaller of the two) walks into 2, repeatedly, like the beginning of a fight. 2 walks away. 1 and the director walk arm in arm. director rubs 1's face with the microphone, puts it against her mouth. she opens her mouth, then licks the mic. she takes the microphone away from the director, and now the director watches. a new dancer holds the mic against 1, she willfully tries to put it in her mouth. all leave the stage, except the microphone girl who chases the dancers with the mic.
she strokes it. it goes limp. she then tries to put it in her mouth. meanwhile,
a dancer stands statuesque on the back table and is touched by the 3 other dancers (which is projected via what was the webcam). now all 4 jostle her in her pose--she is taken away on 2 dancers backs while being showered in flower petals and is taken on a lap around the stage. circuit. she is then layed down on the table. the wig from earlier is placed on her head. circuit. she smiles into the camera. she is touched.
a dancer runs, screams, dies. another covers her in flower petals.
director tries to put table girls' fist in her mouth. circuit. she is dragged away, screaming, then placed on top of her. 3 dancers then put the dress the audience member was wearing on top of her. circuit. the woman on the table, wearing the wig, wraps her legs around the director, strokes her head, like a baby at the bosom.
meat is projected. 2 dancers push flowers into it. 3 dance slowly, upstage, with leaves in their hands, in the petals.
a korean table is brought out with hite (beer), windsor (whiskey), and snacks.
2 women are brought down from the audience. a very korean party ensues. they knock shots of whiskey into the beers and go. they yell "one shot, one shot", chant, etc. audience and dancers are drinking on stage. slowly, a few dancers begin to perform/dance in a more obvious way. they go in and out of it in 5 second spurts. the audience and the performers have melded into one mass at this point.
eventually, they sing a song everyone in the audience knows. i do not know if it is a kisaeng song, or a korean drinking song, or neither. everyone is clapping. this small little gesture, this song, goes further in uniting the performers and the audience. they (all) take turns dancing and singing the song, while those on stage not participating stuff money in each others pockets, shirts, boots. anywhere, really.
a short break as 1 audience member is given the video camera, and the other has the audio feed. director again is providing the audio feed. circuit. the director instructs her to move the camera to the other's side. they hold each other. she is feed words to say. she takes the camera from her and walks away. 1 audience member, on stage, by herself. spotlighted. lights fade for 60-90 seconds.
so what i witnessed was a series of repetitions with difference. as these gestures begin to overlap and add up and create their own narrative, my lack of socio-historical context for the kisaeng matters very little for me. and this may be the triumph and potential problem (at least for some) with this piece. if i, as a non-korean, can walk out of this piece feeling like i saw a truly artistic accomplishment, while the aesthetic beauty of this piece 'take away' from what could otherwise be a historical production? i don't care, really. art shouldn't be just about documenting and recreating (even when it uses documentation), it should be about providing an experience. again, there could be so much cultural coding that i missed--and i am certain there is--but i would still recommend anyone who could see this show as it travels the world to go see it.
i've really been quite busy lately, and i can't remember when it happened. i like it mostly, tho it has interrupted a typing project i began. i am very close to a routine, it is basically this: monday: work, gym, home tuesday: work, huh? wednesday: work, gym, home thursday: work, huh? friday: work, gym, home, out saturday/sunday: mystery guests
here is an overview of the last few weeks
some of the 1000s of korean students that were at seoul land on 16.11.08 went to seoul land with my school and about 50 other schools from around seoul. it is not korea's biggest theme park, but it is seoul's theme park.
the ones looking right at the camera, with the V-sign are with me.
she dressed up in heels and wore make-up etc. she suddenly looked like a little adult. funny outfit for a theme park, tho. on tuesday, it took me a moment to recognize her.
when we left, i bought a cup full of bugs for about .50 cents from an old woman on the way to the subway. my co-teachers said, 'first dog, now bugs, you are really becoming a korean!' they were okay. bugs in liquid. they tasted like unwashed mushrooms, essentially. extremely earthy. my co-teachers kept laughing that i was calling them bugs. 'they are...larva.' and indeed they are, but my counter point was 'what would you call this if you saw it in your apartment?' we then, collectively, ate my bugs. larvae.
i had what turned out to be all you can eat sushi, and it was marvelous. i turned into a fish, was placed in the han river, and swam home.
the post below has two lil vids from the seoul contemporary art museum. that was saturday. they are illegal videos. we went to a tapas restaurant in hongdae. it was good and not completely unreasonable. it was the first time i had used a fork in over 2 months, it felt clumsy. afterwards, we met up with some people, who were drunk, so we left to my bar.
we got drunk, had a hard time asking for two-more drinks when we handed over the card and the bill, and convinced two koreans whom we didnt know to join us at a norae-bang*. it was alot of fun. especially singing 'bohemian rhapsody' with them.
sunday i was invited by a professor from a local university to go to a concert. in the backyard of the 3rd president of korea's house. i have a knack for stumbling into this type of thing anyway, but in korea it has been amplified. while there, i met dean moss. he is a choreographer from nyc and now on saturday i am going to see the premier of a piece he has collaborated on with kim yoon-jin (the korea times is by no means an exceptional paper, but you at least get an idea). leafing through the brochure he gave me, i have decided to go see a production of electra called 'electra perpetrator'. the photos i have seen look beautiful. i had my co-teacher call for tickets and my fortune continues as they are half-price for foreigners. koreans can stare at me all they want if i get half-price tickets. but back to the 3rd president of korea's backyard. its nice. very nice. and in the middle of seoul. it doesnt feel like it. the rich always have a way of making it seem like they don't live in your surroundings. i then had dinner with a class of people i shouldn't know: an architect who lived in paris for 10 years, a gallery owner, a man designing the future of digital tv programming, etc. thankfully i have read some books in my life.
monday was a grateful day: to work then gym.
tuesday met zach and ross (ross is linked at the upper right) and, as it always seems to turn out, 10 other people, for mexican. it was actual mexican food. not even the 'not quite' that is korea's take on everything. it was pricey, which wasn't actual mexican food (unless your are close to the mci center in dc) but worth it.
last night, after working out, marta and i went to get our grill on. then she told me she hasn't been to rolling stone, so we went there and ended upstaying too late. i will be back there on friday, which made the whole staying there late thing all the more silly. i do like that bar. a lot.
so, there you have it. tired thursday, got a haircut, and had to save my beard from being completely scrapped when the korean guy accidentally hit one side of it with the clippers (they wont touch my beard below my ear lobe), looking forward to sleeping early (tho i want to chat with people back on the other side of earth), and transfering money to my US account since tomorrow is the monthly pay-day, then hanging out with jin-woo. saturday is world premier dance, and sunday is open as of now.
* from the web Norae-bong
Norae literally means singing or song. So, yes, you guessed it, this is your own personal karaeoke room. Koreans love to sing and took Japan’s karaeoke and made it all their own. You rent a room by the hour and it includes funky lighting, a disco ball, several televisions, a huge song book (English songs too), comfy seating, and even tambourines. If you had qualms about karaeoke before, it is suddenly erased with this added privacy, the accompaniment of friends and, for most Koreans, a bit of alcohol.
i have been teaching my class how to make plans, prefacing it by telling them 'it is one of the most useful things you can do in english'. no idea if that is true or not, however i have made tentative plans for the summer and thought i would share them here.
i will go to scotland in august and visit mr ross gardiner before i go to portugal for a wedding. while in scotland, we aim to introduce comic vignette #4.
comic vignette #4 equipment: hand held camera, modes of transport setting: anywhere, especially pubs
kev kev enters numerous scottish pubs. the camera should already be placed inside, it follows his walk up to the bar.
kev kev (with pride) Hello, and how are you? My name is Michael Jefferson, from the States, and I would just love to try one of your famous fried Scottish cunts.
the online dictionary of etymology says that "gook first pops up in 1899, U.S. military slang for "Filipino" during the insurrection there, probably from a native word, or imitative of the babbling sound of their language to American ears (cf. barbarian). The term goo-goo eyes "soft, seductive eyes" was in vogue c.1900 and may have contributed to this somehow."
however, this is debated historically. it certainly returned to currency, and i guess, as this is not scientific, took on its more familiar term for asians in general during the korean conflict. the word in hanguel 국 (pronounced 'gug' 'guk' or 'gook') means person/native things along those lines. as an american i am a 미국 or 'me gook' (humorously enough). it seems likely that during the korean conflict that beyond 미국 americans heard 한국 'han gook' which means korean and also 외국 'way gook' or foreigner. hearing all these 국 why wouldn't americans just start calling their koreans enemys (and i imagine their allies) 'gooks'. you take this one step further, when in viet nam some of the higher ups have experience in korea and are influencing the soldiers already in or headed to viet nam, and the sticking power of 'gook' becomes complete.
the first time i heard all this 국 talk from koreans, this was my immediate hunch, so i am sticking with it--not that it is a revolutionary thought, and i know there is some on-line documentation that supports my thinking, i just thought i would type about it here in case some of you didn't every google 'gook etymology' on your own. also, i couldn't help but laugh as all of my knowledge of 'gook' comes from viet nam (vietnam being another example of bastardized language) movies.
if anyone has more solid information, please leave it in the comment box.
i met park for dinner--it had been a few weeks since i last saw him. we had spicy cuttlefish and i had a chee-gay (stew) made from beans. it was quite good. it turns out i can use chopsticks well. i get told this often enough. we ate, then left, as is so often the chronology. he asked during dinner, 'how often do you drink?' these questions always sound so big, but usually its because there is a lack of nuance with english. 'two times a week or so.' 'at home? alone?' 'no, generally out at a bar.'
generally, park and i have easy nights--some dinner, then some talk about hangul and english, with a coffee or tea, then we part. when he asked if i wanted to go do something else after dinner, this was what i had in mind.
apparently the drink-frequency questions were to gauge what i could handle.
we went to yangpyeong, which has a reputation for being a smidge seedy. we were driving through back alleys trying to find somewhere to park. he was telling me, unlike hongdae, which is a late teens-20s crowd, yangpyeong is more 30 plus. as we were looking for parking we passed THE RITZ MOTEL, THE DYNAMIC MOTEL, and THE BEST MOTEL. the seediness was becoming more than a rumor.
as we were crossing the street, he pointed to a large neon sign and asked if i could read it. (i could.) he said it means 'massage'. i asked, 'just a massage? its near quite a few motels.' 'yes (laughs) it may be illegal'.
while discussing what i like to drink at dinner, i mentioned that i really like makgeolli (or makkoli) and so we headed into a traditional korean bar. basically, it was set up with all these old contraptions that use to be common to korean life. we ordered our makgeolli and anju (in most korean bars--always if you are with a korean--you have to order anju, which is basically some food to eat along with what you drink).
bowl of makgeolli and anju
we drank and talked. we talked about kristin a bit. how she is going to be a poor lawyer. i acted out representing abused women and animal rights. 'very good person'. he told me how he went to law school, but failed the examinations to actually become a lawyer--which i thought was interesting as he is a director at a company that designs cellphone games and ring tones. then we talked about how my hangul limits shape 'my korea' in that most everyone i talk to is well educated, otherwise they wouldn't know english. amongst other assorted things. then he asked me, 'do you find korean women attractive?' 'some,' he laughs, 'there are attractive women all over the world.' we talk about that for a bit, then, 'are you okay to drink some more?' 'yes, i think so'. 'i have a friend who is fillipino that you should meet.' i went to the bathroom.
i paid the tab (as i also paid for dinner, since he had bought me dinner every time prior to this), and we left, as is so often the chronology. 'i like liquor, but it doesn't like me'. i thought this should be a t-shirt if it isn't already. 'i turn red when i drink'. 'ah, it just means you are korean'. (many koreans turn very red when they drink, even if it is one or two drinks.) 'let's go meet my friend, it is a very bad nightclub, but that is where she is'. 'okay'.
we arrive at the CARNEGIE NIGHT CLUB and it is weird. the women who great us all have red blazers on, all the male waiters look like they are at a prom, or in a wedding--paisley gray vests, with pink paisley ties. the club is extremely dark, and the club area is partitioned off with giant black walls, with blue neon piping. we are lead to a table, and we sit down--no friend of his in sight. we sit for a minute, then park tells one of the women in red blazers something. he turns to me 'we are going to get a private room, it is too loud out here.' it is loud. the patrons are korean couples, mostly, in the 40s or 50s, completely dressed up, doing the fox-trot to house remixes of WHO LET THE DOGS OUT.
we get in the room, and it is basically a u-shaped couch, with a table, a closed circuit feed of all the action on the dance floor, and two microphones. essentially, it is like a deluxe nor-ae bang (singing room). a moment later, a bottle of whiskey, some iced teas, some green tea, a carton of milk, and a fruit tray arrives.
'do you want to get girls?' 'um...' 'or do you just want to sit in here and drink?' 'um...' i have no idea what this means. especially given the occupation of most fillipinos in korea. lots of scenarios are running through my head. most of them involve things that i shouldn't be doing until kristin gets here.
'do you normally get girls?' 'yes, it is common.' ohfuckohfuckohfuck. 'okay, let's get some girls.' a minute later this ridiculously cute girl enters the room and sits down right next to me. 'um...do you need some more room?' 'maybe he doesn't like girls,' park says. 'i could be a man if that makes you more comfortable,' she says. i am now in some adolescent-psycho-sexual drama.
we start to drink, i am being feed fruit, things could be worse. he keeps being called 'mr park' and i decide for the rest of the night to call him 'chairman park'. i'm on the verge of thinking everything will be fine, then chairman park leaves the room. i light a cigarette, so at least i have a weapon. 'you need to calm down.' and i should. but the only time anyone has ever said this to me has been in my strip-club experiences, which i haven't had in years. 'well, i just have never been in a place like this, so i don't know anything.' 'well, you seem like a good one, and mr park is very kind.' 'oh, there are some real assholes here?' 'yes, some just say to me 'how much?' just like that. the owner hates me, because i won't sleep with anyone in here. i am just here to work tables. and i tell them, 'no, no, no. julia doesn't do that.'' i am relieved. she is just here to hang out. chairman park comes back in. he is married with two kids, i wouldn't have known how to react to that. we sing songs, and all sorts of shit.
i go to the bathroom, and look to the neon white disc in the middle of the dance floor where earlier a heavy-set korean man in a shiny white suit was singing TOM JONES. currently, there is a stripper/dancer. she is wearing a jeweled g-string and bedazzled pasties. this was quite surprising. my experience in korea is generally you can get a handjob when you get your haircut, or go to the numerous whore-houses (there are two around the corner from my apartment), but pronography is off limits, and there aren't any strip-clubs. i suppose 'cabaret' gives them enough wiggle room. in the bathroom i look up and see two korean men gazing at my dick, they give me thumbs up.
as the night goes on, i find out i look like bruce willis, am handsome according to the male waiter, and cute, but not frightening. bruce willis threw me for a loop. we get outside, late, and chairman park says, 'i have had too much to drink. do you have money for a taxi?' 'yes, what are you gonna do?' 'sleep in my car'.
tried to sweat it out, which i did, but for different reasons. i joined a gym a few days ago, and decided since i was out last night, but not too wounded, i should go initiate myself at the gym. (i have not been to a gym since i lived in baltimore, 2005-06?)
i know how to get to the gym from school, but school is past the gym, so i tried to find it from my apartment. it took a little while, about 40 minutes or so, carting my clothes, a towel, soap, etc on my back, but eventually i found it.
i walked downstairs and went to turn in my membership card for a locker, but the woman working that desk said (at least) 'no' and sent me back up stairs. the women behind the front desk, i am sure, tried to explain to me why my card wouldn't work, but damned if i know (the stroller). eventually she shows me a calendar, and i know today is a national holiday, so perhaps that is why. i motion to my wallet, and yes i can pay to workout today. nothing much, just 4500 won (about 4.50). i get my receipt (which the woman downstairs showed me before i went upstairs) and head back downstairs. i turn in my receipt, the woman who originally sent me upstairs is smiling. my locker was number 63, i walked in the men's locker room.
there are no benches really, and you take off your sneakers before you enter (reason 63 i need to get some flip-flops sent over). kids are sitting on the floor changing, there are a few men about. pretty light day, which i wanted. i am nervous enough going to a gym the first few times, add to that i am a sweater, and in a foreign country, and it is all underlined the more.
i change, carry my sneakers to the small hallway between the main hallway and the locker room, put them on, and am ready to go. i walk out into the hallway with my water bottle, towel, and iPod and the woman shakes her head 'no'. i'm confused. i make motions that are to convey 'running' and 'weights' and thankfully there is a guest at the desk who says, 'you want to train today?' 'yes' 'ahh, no, not today. just swimming.' damn holidays. i smile a bit crooked and head back in, making sure to take off my sneakers first, change, and walk out. the woman at the desk hands me back my receipt after i give her the locker key. she motions that i should stop at the front desk with my receipt to get my money back. lightly giggling, thinking i should be annoyed, but am not, i head back to the front desk and she is on the phone, i assume with the lady from the desk in the basement. we are both smiling as she refunds me money, and then i walk home.
most of it is obvious, and aimed more towards the 22yo who came here after college for some quick cash, but the article becomes quite useful when writing about the last 50 years of korea to give some perspective:
A cursory look at Seoul shows a fantastically futuristic city. Peole carry around crazy technological gizmos. The internet works at blinding speed. Everywhere you go there are flat-screen panels showing moving images. . . Upon seeing this spectacle, it is only reasonable to expect Korea to be a fully modern country, and for its citizens to behave in a fully modern way.
But this outlook could not be more misleading. This is really the point that anyone who wishes to understand modern Korea must know - Korea has only become this way in the last 15 years. All those born and raised in the pre-modern era are not only still around, but they are people who are in their 50s and 60s, leading the country.
Few people, including younger Koreans themselves, understand this point: only 50 years ago, Korea. . .occupied the place in the world where the poorest African countries are now.
There is a Korean expression describing poeverty - a person is so poor that "his anus would tear out." This expression came to be when Korean people were starving, and they would peel tree bark, boil it and eat it. Since tree bark has a lot of indigestable fiber, one's anus bleeds. This is the kind of world in which Koreans in their 50s and 60s used to live. Can any expat from a wealthy country (regardless of how poor s/he may have been in that country) imagine the worldview of a child growing up in this level of deprivation?
Miraculously, Korea managed to pull itself out of such abject poverty into the wealth is currently enjoys. However; that was not a normal development. This incredible, borderline mutative economic growth could not have happened without the attendent mutative changes in Korean society and culture. A country does not go from $87 per capita GDP in 1962 to $24,783 per capita GDP in 2007 without instances of things that appear strange and not readily comprehensible.
Truly, this is the keystone in understanding any aspect of modern Korea. . . . Accordingly, almost all complaints about Korea are related to this central keystone in one way or another. For example: "Koreans drive like maniacs!" But the vast majority of Koreans did not start driving until the early 1980s.