Each year, M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival gathers and connects artists from around the world. Beyond the diversity of the kinds of work that different ones bring to our stage, it’s also the Festival’s way of learning about one another’s culture, appreciating the different backgrounds that we all come from, and finding common ground. In this post, we find out more about Korean culture and contemporary dance with Bokyung Jung, choreographer and performer of GAKSI.
Hi Bokyung, what is the value of history and tradition in your dance practice?
I see a great value in history and the past. Tradition plays a huge role in my practice. I was trained as a traditional Korean dancer, and with that foundation, I am making contemporary works today. Ritual ceremony is an important part of traditional Korean dance; in order to create contemporary dance pieces, I usually begin with deeper research into traditional techniques.
How was your award-winning work Gaksi inspired by tradition?
In traditional performances, we have so many different types of masks. The mask itself has become a signature of traditional Korean art and contains many images and story from the past. The creation of Gaksi tapped on my research into these historical masks. Thematically, Gaksi also draws from the past. I explore the stereotypical role of women in Korean society from past to present, but through the lens of a modern women. It portrays the paradox of being a woman in Asian culture, where women are often expected to sacrifice for their husband and family.
As the old Korean saying goes, “When a woman gets married, she becomes deaf, blind and mute for three years”.
Would you say Gaksi is a feminist work?
I’m not looking at the past from a negative point of view. I don’t think one can fully understand our Asian culture. I wanted to bring humour and lightness to the subject and take an honest look at the way my parents lived and how we continue to live in today.
When Gaksi was performed in Korea, members of the audience from the older generation were crying and laughing because they saw themselves in the piece, while the younger generation viewed it as a witty work.
What are your thoughts on women’s position in the Korean arts industry?
I don’t necessarily feel a sense of inequality in terms of opportunity. In college, the ratio is around 80% female and 20% male in dance.
Once you step into the professional dance world, you find almost an equal mix of both genders. However, this is due to the fact that many of my female co-workers and co-creators have resigned from the dance world because of their own personal life and choice. They tend to stop practising.
How has the pandemic impacted you?
It has been quite restricted in Korea and the theatre has been very quiet in the past year. We look at the current situation and we try to overcome by doing a number of different things, such as creating work for the online medium, yet we have not reached a point where we can see the future just yet. But we keep on trying.
Most on the focus has been on public projects which are more restricted in terms of subject and method. There are not many independent projects being funded. I’ve taken this time to rest and to make plans for the future when the pandemic comes to an end.
Has the pandemic taught you any lessons?
I think we will all be much more devoted to our audience when this time is over.
I teach at the Korean National University of Arts. In the past, our students were able to perform their work to a limited number of people. But over the past year, our students have been in constant dress rehearsal where they literally have no audience. They start to realise the importance of the audience and are much more grateful to have one.