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When personal stories become art

Israeli choreographer Idit Herman presents ‘Into Thin Air’ with nine young Korean dancers

“Into Thin Air” by Israeli choreographer Idit Herman and Korea National Contemporary Dance Company. (KNCDC)
“Into Thin Air” by Israeli choreographer Idit Herman and Korea National Contemporary Dance Company. (KNCDC)
When Israeli choreographer Idit Herman asked to share “something personal” for their joint piece, her nine dancers ― all members of the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company ― were very “shy” at first.

“They are very, very much reserved,” Herman told The Korea Herald. “They really keep things inside. But they don’t just do that for nothing. They have a great depth and they are resilient.”

Herman is premiering “Into Thin Air,” her collaborative project with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, in Seoul on Friday. The highly experimental, kitschy dance-theater piece was inspired by each dancer’s personal experience, including marriage, disillusionment and despair.

The two-month creative process required the dancers to make a video featuring their homes, attend writing workshops and challenge “what they think they know.” The process was very difficult, mostly because the dancers ― who were selected by Herman through an audition ― found it hard to open up, and were sometimes overwhelmingly emotional.

“I remember at one of the rehearsals, almost everyone cried,” Herman said. 

Israeli choreographer Idit Herman. (KNCDC)
Israeli choreographer Idit Herman. (KNCDC)
Yet the piece isn’t about the dancers. It ultimately is about the “emptiness and disappearance of values” in our modern society, said the choreographer.

“I am observing these nine young Korean people as a foreigner,” she said.

“So maybe I cannot see all but maybe I see other things. I think the situation here is not very different from other places in the world where there has been a very rushed development. ... There is almost no place for purity anymore. We are so much surrounded by excess of things and information. We are always facing more than one thing in one moment. So we are losing all of our moments.”

In the piece, each dancer is labeled as the following: the prophet, the magician, the waiting man, the bad girl, the truth, the lover, the hero, the wife, and the fortunate one. The dancers, dressed in silly, colorful costumes, act as if they were children’s cartoon characters, or feckless protagonists in B-movies. Almost all of them desire something that seems practically unachievable: the magician firmly ― and naively ― believes anything is possible, while the bad girl wants to “have it all.”

And then there is the waiting man.

“He is so afraid of the world,” said Herman about the character. “I think we are spending most of our lives waiting. We are waiting for our future to happen. We are too busy worrying about the past and anticipating the future.”

When the piece almost reaches its end, the hero makes a little confession to the viewers. “I’m not actually a hero,” he says. “You know why? I’m not a hero because I live with my mother. And she’s been ill for the last 20 years.”

“There is something also very beautiful about the nine dancers,” Herman told The Korea Herald.

“Because of the situation here, many of them still live at home. So there is a certain amount of innocence and childishness even at age 30. Which, for me, is wow ― very surprising. But there is beauty in it.”

“Into Thin Air” runs from Nov. 22 to 24 at CJ Towol Theater of Seoul Arts Center. The featured dancers are: Kim Dong-hyun, Cho Hyun-bae, Ji Kyung-min, Park Seong-hyeon, Lee Hye-sang, Park Myung-hoon, Kim Ho-yeon, Lee So-jin, and Choi Min-seon.

Tickets range from 30,000 won to 50,000 won. For more information, call (02) 3472-1420 or visit

By Claire Lee (