What happens when a talented choreographer takes something ancient (Korean alphabet, Hangul), combines it with an element made popular by another artist (chance operation), and adds an original idea? The answer is original art. Closing out the six week long Dance at the Odyssey festival was exactly what dance artist DaEun Jung accomplished. She gave merit to the axiom ‘saving the best for last’ as her two works under the title of BYOULNORRI (별놀이) were indeed the best of this year’s dance fare produced and curated by Barbara Mueller-Wittmann at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. A festival that one hopes will continue for many years ahead.
To produce her 6 minute solo Byoul (별) Part 1: 246 at 40, Jung combined several elements: Korean dance movements; a chance procedure utilized by the late choreographic genius Merce Cunningham;a mesmerizing sound score by Daniel Corral; vocals by Melody H. Sim (Shim), and math. Add those to her exquisite dancing and performance abilities Jung has created a mind twisting and totally engrossing work that I could watch again and again. The program notes explained the numbers in Jung’s title Byoul as “consisting of 246 syllables, movements, and beats at 40 bpm.”
The set involved the stage floor covered by a colorful grid and two video counters suspended overhead ticking off seconds of time. Corral’s electronic music equipment, which he performed live, was positioned just off stage left. Dressed in all-white, and obviously inspired by Cunningham and John Cage’s use of space and time, Jung literally glided across the stage with mostly small movements that were repeated throughout the six minutes. These never became stale, however, because of the unique way Jung put them together and combined them with the Corral’s score, Sim’s vocals, and the visible passage of time. Time that was, on one video counter, constantly interrupted and repeated, while on the other it continued to its time goal. The audience uttered an audible “aah” when all the ingredients ended together on the dot of 6 minutes.
The second work by Jung titled Norri (놀이) appeared to use some of the same elements as the first, but it included not only a wonderful music score that incorporated Sim’s haunting vocals, but four dancers wearing white tops and bright Korean-inspired skirts of red, green, blue and yellow. They entered with a repetitive walking phrase that traveled along the edges of the space; a phrase that consisted of simple steps, a slight hip movement and an almost indistinguishable twist. The phrase proceeded to break apart, shift directions and develop into amazingly complex groupings, timings, small and large gestures and even an occasional turn in the air.
My thoughts drifted back to the early works of postmodern choreographer Trisha Brown, but Jung took Brown’s idea of simple pedestrian movements, added an element of surprise, vocal syllables from the dancers that appeared uttered at random, and created an entirely new concept of an earlier choreographic exploration.
Jung’s work should be seen to fully appreciate the intricacies of what she has created. It is math art in motion. The extremely talented performers who helped Jung visualize her complexity of time, space and movement were Arletta Anderson, Chantal Cherry, Hyoin Jun, and Talsi Shah. The appropriately clear lighting design was by Chu-Hsuan Chang.
Hopefully, DaEun Jung will be given an opportunity to show her work again very soon. If you see that she is performing near you, do go. You will not be disappointed.
For more information about the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Dance at the Odyssey – Norri (놀이) – by DaEun Jung – Photo by Michael Palma.