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.