“I’m discovering a new way of working.”
Choreographer Kim Jae Duk chats about reinventing his choreographic style in his upcoming work Filled with sadness, the old body attacks.
Hi Jae Duk, we’ve heard you’ve been “messing with your style” for your new work Filled with sadness, the old body attacks. Tell us more about that.
I’ve been really bored with my old stuff after all the works I’ve created. This time, I knew that I didn’t want to repeat what I’ve done before. I wanted to develop my movement style, even if it’s not a complete overhaul of the way I work.
How would you approach choreography in the past?
In the past, I would know exactly what I wanted before going into the studio. I’ve worked in Buenos Aires and El Salvador, where the dancers are used to chatting and discussing things with the choreographer before getting into the work. I would just say hi and get them to start moving immediately! (laughs) I would talk with the dancers only if they were not able to understand what I needed them to do, so I could help them further.
How have rehearsals gone this time for Filled with sadness, the old body attacks?
It was a bit hard in the first week. I was a little nervous and initially, it was bad (laughs). But it was also interesting for me, as I knew that I was in the process of discovering a new way of working.
This time, I focused on a lot on the “feeling” and what was being communicated through the movements. I wanted to move away from just “aesthetics” to something a lot more internal.
I would also throw out key words to the dancers about ideas I wanted to express or specific intentions behind the movements. We would then try out the movements using words such as “arms attacking” or “arms relaxing” (starts moving his arms), and layer these movements with emotions like “sadness” or “romance” (alternates between expressing sadness and romance in his arms). Other metaphors like “the old body” were also used in this work.
This was how we developed the title, Filled with sadness, the old body attacks. I would say this work evolved from my time with the dancers in the studio, rather than from a pre-determined idea or sequence of movements.
I know some of the dancers in this piece have worked with you for a while. How do they feel about your new approach?
They can’t afford to talk about how they feel (laughs). The situation is already challenging enough for them. They have to concentrate on how to move. But they are enjoying the process, as it’s a new experience for many of them.
You’re not just exploring a new movement style, but also creating the soundtrack for the work. There’s an interesting section on the soundtrack where it’s just you “coughing” – tell us more about that.
I haven’t used my voice in this way since 2011. Creating the music was really challenging. I really wanted to create a very contemporary piece of music that brings together “opposites”. In the apartment that I am currently staying in during my residency in Singapore, I started creating “weird” noises when I was recording my voice, but I also combined that with more classical instruments such as the cello and violin.
I’m also bringing in a classical tenor singer to sing in Filled with sadness, the old body attacks.
What does he sing?
Well, the lyrics themselves have no meaning (laughs). They are gibberish! You know gibberish is also a form of aesthetic; the way words enunciated can create an artistic quality.
So you’re creating a very formal image of a classical tenor, and yet he’s singing words that don’t mean anything.
Yes, I’m in a bit of a pranky mood! I wanted a tinge of dark humour in the work too. The whole approach appears humorous from the outside, but the singer will also express a sense of soulfulness from deep within himself – sometimes he’s soft and sad, and sometimes he’s funny.
I would like to give the audience the space to access and feel different emotions when they’re watching this piece – it could be sadness, love, or humour.
The things I’ve done in this work are things I personally like and enjoyed doing. It was great to also feel a sense of personal breakthrough.
Are you glad to be back in Singapore too?
Of course, it’s warm (laughs)! Every time I come back here, I feel very free to do what I want and have control over the things I want to do. Not forgetting the Tiger beer, duck rice and bak kut teh (laughs).