Park Soon-ho’s "acomodador" style of choreography

2016.08.12

Park Soon-ho’s "acomodador" style of choreography 


Park’s delicate sensibilities and insight allow him to draw inspiration from indigenous genres such as pansori and traditional percussion and fuse them into modern movements, and to borrow from competitive activities with rigid rules like judo and baduk to craft free-flowing modifications. He is a choreographer whose dynamic and precise movements are meticulously calculated, and who is frequently invited to festivals and theaters in Korea and around the world. He studied choreography at the European Dance Development Center (EDDC), collaborates with international residencies, explores media art and other outside genres, and partakes in various community programs, always expanding his creative and professional realm. In 2007 he launched the Park Soon-ho Dance Project, renamed the Bereishit Dance Company in 2012. He established himself as a formidable choreographer two years later, when he joined forces with LIG Art Hall to direct Judo and Bow, or his “sports series.” Rich in fascinating movement and objets d’art, Judo was selected as the PAMS Choice performance for the 2016 Seoul Art Market.
We spoke with Park in July to discuss his views on dance. His deliberative speech patterns and timid reluctance to go onstage at the curtain call are in stark contrast to the provocative energy that suffuses his performances, recalling Zatoichi, Japan’s famous blind swordsman. Just as the silent Zatoichi speaks through his blade, Park lets his dance speak for itself. Still, I asked him a few questions in the hope that he would answer in a language I could capture on paper.

The author with Director Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ The author with Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

Do you get a lot of questions about the name, Bereishit? What does it mean?

Bereishit is the first word in the first verse of the Book of Genesis. In fact, bereishit literally means “genesis.” B’reshith, beresheet—there are many ways to pronounce it, but I opt for “bereishit.” I’m areligious, but I liked the feeling of the word. Going beyond religious connotations, the meaning of “in the beginning” seems to imply a creative act and the energy it contains. I get many questions about the name of our company overseas as well, but I think people will get used to it as we gain exposure.         

Would you tell us about your company and the projects you’ve undertaken so far?

Our company comprises five alumni from Hansung University. We started off as the Park Soon-ho Dance Project in 2007, when we were invited to perform at Festival Trayectos in Zaragoza, Spain, but as I did more overseas tours people suggested that I give the company a different name. Since 2012, we have been the Bereishit Dance Company. We used our 2007 performance in Spain to further our international repertoire with shows in Mexico, the UK, and India. Our domestic output has been sluggish, as I haven’t released that many new works. So far, my résumé consists of Life Force, Balance and Imbalance, Bow, and Judo—so it’s not much.

Doing several shows with a limited repertoire may indicate that your company strives to achieve a higher level of quality. Korea’s current support programs usually favor new works. Yet perfecting one’s existing repertoire is equally important, and I hope your efforts will be rewarded one day.

I agree. In fact, continually perfecting a single piece is how I prefer to work. I can’t do several pieces simultaneously. Even if the same piece is invited to several different venues, it’s never the same performance. I always try to develop it further. Of course, the dancers often struggle with this way of doing things. But as the piece evolves, it attracts more people, and their applause helps us better understand the meaning of the piece and to approach it from different angles. Lately, my dancers have been more understanding, and I’m satisfied with our results. In the Korean scene, it’s common for pieces to be performed for a short period and disappear. It’s disappointing when your dedication isn’t rewarded.

What sort of image do you want for Bereishit, and how do you perceive the company personally?

They say you need four things to live: work, love, play, and companionship. The years I’ve spent with my dancers have made them like family. If asked to describe our artistic style, I’d say that we’re a company that interprets tradition from a modern perspective. Seeing the images others impose upon us is like rediscovering a different version of myself. I’ve seen several American media outlets refer to us as “urban cool,” calling our work chic. They’ve described us as fast and full of energy, something I wasn’t consciously aware of. It was fascinating and made me think. So this is how other people see us.

▲ Judo © Bereishit Dance Company

▲ Judo © Bereishit Dance Company

Let’s move on to Judo. I remember the initial performances having a great deal of alluring dances and interesting objets d’art. As the choreographer, would you tell us what kind of piece Judo is?

The initial inspiration for Judo came from something I read about foxhunting, which made me think that aggressiveness and violence are inherent to sports and competition. Our violent instincts survive in the modern world under the banner of sports. While investigating the nature of violence, I visited Auschwitz after seeing a show in Poland. The horrific events there happened a long time ago, but it was still spooky. Just as biologists claim that violence is a natural instinct for survival, I started the project under the notion that violence in the modern world may be lesser in quantity but that its quality remains unchanged. What interested me about judo was its use of a mat, which I thought of applying as an objet d’art for the stage. That’s how it all got started. 

Some judo imagery appears, but most of the story seems to be expressed metaphorically. What did you want to tell the audience?

To be honest, the initial performances at LIG Art Hall felt incomplete, like an unsolved equation. I did a lot of research on movement, the ideas behind each scene and object, and the lighting and sound, but I couldn’t figure out how to expose the audience to human violence (through dance, of course). The answer to that riddle marks the zenith, and the following emotional response was supposed to be my way of communicating with the audience. Truthfully, I still haven’t figured it out. I want to go beyond the nature of competition and elicit an emotional reaction from the audience when they witness the athletes’ journey to their peak. I’m trying to determine how the talents of professional dancers can express such a journey.

How does it feel to approach your third performance for PAMS Choice?

PAMS Choice is more than simply an international showcase for Korean works. It’s a solid support structure that helps small companies like ours transcend the limitations of the domestic market and perform on international stages. Every time we perform abroad, we have received invitations from other international presenters who were present at a PAMS Choice event. Entering new markets is important, because it determines the livelihoods of companies and dancers. PAMS Choice will continue to play an important role in the international market. Counting our upcoming performance, the platform has given us three opportunities to perform overseas, and each opportunity has boosted our morale. For that I am grateful.

Recently, Korean performances have become more focused on smaller companies, making it easier to gain opportunities overseas. Thus, many productions are planned with the objective of making it to international audiences. You could say that people have higher standards for PAMS Choice these days. Organizers and artists have to operate under the same vision, and recruiting outside expertise also seems essential. What do you hope to achieve through Judo at this year’s PAMS Choice?

Through PAMS Choice, we can keep perfecting our productions through repeated performances, in turn creating a virtuous cycle of more invitations. Our company even landed a deal with an American management firm. Our first step into the vast American market was through Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, which led to even more work. One of our main goals was not only to perform abroad but to be recruited for international collaborations, and that’s what happened. I hope this year’s PAMS Choice leads to similar opportunities.           

Do you think about maintaining a balance between overseas tours and domestic performances?

Of course, I keep that in mind. That’s why I planned a program to perform in culturally marginalized regions throughout Korea, which we started implementing last year. Last year, we did ten performances in places like retirement homes and youth centers in marginalized communities, and we completed five performances in the first half of this year. While it’s nice to perform within the dance scene, I’m very pleased with our community projects as well.

▲ Director Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

▲ Park Soon-ho © Lee Kang-hyeok

What’s it like to live in Korea as a choreographer?  

Truth be told, I actually considered quitting choreography this year. On the surface, I’m busy holding shows all over the world, but I often despaired at having to constantly switch between the roles of choreographer and administrator. My original goal was to become a choreographer, but one day I discovered myself being calculating, looking at the market from a business-and-administration standpoint. What’s the point in doing this if I’m going to make my fellow dancers nervous with financial matters? I think it’s the conflict between reality and idealism that everyone encounters.  

How did you resolve that conflict?

I haven’t. I’m still in the midst of overcoming it. The same inner conflict resulted in the production Bow. While producing Bow during those tough times, I learned about the Portuguese word “acomodador.” It means “to adjust or control,” something essential to archery. But as time went on, I started to look at the word differently. I interpreted it as directing my concentration inward. Rather than living through the subconscious or on pure instinct, I realized I needed to concentrate entirely on my inner self and examine it properly.

What are your hopes for the future?

Personally, I think I’ll eventually reach a point where I want to quit choreography. Since I’ve done nothing but choreography for more than forty years, I think it’s a good idea to do something else for the next forty years. The Bereishit Dance Company will become stable enough that it won’t need me anymore. So far, I’ve led the company single-handedly, and it’d be nice to focus entirely on dance for a change. And I hope to let my dancers gain valuable experience within the company that will help them grow as choreographers. Honestly, we’re all thinking realistically at this point. We’re satisfied with where we are, but we’re prepared to say farewell and part ways in good spirits should the company disband. Eventually, everyone will have to survive as independent choreographers, but we have decided to accept that path. 

ⓒKAMS



Author

Kim Yerim (dance critic)
Kim Yerim (dance critic)
Kim Yerim is a theater critic with a background in dance. After beginning dance at the age of seven, Kim attended Yewon School, Seoul Arts High School, and Ewha Womans University, majoring in ballet. Following graduation, she was a dancer and choreographer for TAM Dance Company. She was first published in 2007 in the monthly publication Dance & People. Having extensive firsthand experience in the field, she continues to be actively contribute to various publications. She previously served as head professor for the ARKO Performing Arts Academy as well as a member of the review board of Arts Council Korea, and is currently an editor for Dance & People