Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company’s “Confluence”
Korea National Contemporary Dance Company’s “Immixture”
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
March 9, 2017
by George Jackson
© 2017 by George Jackson
Two different approaches dealt with the demons of history and current reality. Grief was sublimated concisely, formally, musically in Dana Burgess’s 2014 choreography for “Confluence” whereas “Immixture”, no matter how long this 2016 work by Sungsoo Ahn lasted, hardly rid itself of being haunted. Burgess is an American choreographer of partly Korean heritage. Ahn, a citizen of South Korea, was involved with journalism and film prior to studying dance at New York’s Juilliard. In this initial OnStage Korea presentation by DC’s Korean Cultural Center, the Burgess piece, performed first, seemed different in retrospect after Ahn’s long work.
The starting point for “Immixture” is a stately, historic solo. A woman, gowned elaborately in colorful silks, dips from a proud stance, straightens and twists while repeatedly throwing her sleeves, which extend way beyond her hands’ fingertips, out into space. Presumably this “Chunaengmu” solo is an authentic 1828 dance from the court of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty and alludes to a nightingale singing on a spring morning in the branches of a willow tree. There is dynamic duplication and also some variation in iterations of the select motions. Yet this solo was of fairly short duration. It was then undressed. That is, another woman, clad in just tight black dancewear, performed the stance, dip and body twist plus the pitching motion of the arms. Variations on the movements appeared as her rendition continued. Then this soloist was joined by another woman and in a while by still another. Ahn developed and diversified the choreography skillfully at first. What had been a period relic became a timeless anatomic study of select poses and actions. Always, though, the original’s ingredients appeared to be the basis for the elaborations.
Gradually the size of the cast increased to consist of four women and one man and the dance acquired diverse characteristics. Instead of the long funnel sleeves on the original soloist’s court attire, the women in simple black held short swords in their hands for some variations. This gave the dancing again a period flavor. The man turned the original dance’s basic motions into bravura ballet and hip hop solos, adding a rather current touch to the proceedings. The leading woman, who was short and intense, seemed particularly attached to the sword blades, using them often in her stints. As “Immixture” went on and on, the man’s solos seemed less and less to be variants but instead just approximate repetitions. He exhausted himself and collapsed into one corner of the stage. The leading woman grew more and more rigid except for a spell of vibrations. Was she in shock? In an odd way, the man running out of steam and the woman stiffening reminded me of “Giselle” Act 2. It seemed, though, that “Immixture” would never end as Ahn kept adding repetitions.
“Confluence”, for a cast of ten, has lyrical strength and seems to be about sadness and consolation. All the dancers were visible throughout but often there are two foci to watch simultaneously, not quite duplicates of each other. The overall mood is earnest, as is that of the music – Ernest Bloch’s “Suite Hebraique”. Remembering this dance after witnessing the fraught exhaustion and extreme tension depicted in “Immixture” intensifies the emotions of “Confluence”. In retrospect its grief seemed more persistent and remained inconsolable despite the efforts of partners who lifted without reservation and doubled up on the ground. Might some among these ten people not also overstep sane bounds the way the man and short woman did in “Immixture”? There is that potential in “Confluence”.
The dancers in both companies were unstinting.
Photos, both from Sungsoo Ahn's "Immixture." The photo above is by Aiden Seungtaek Hwang.