Finnish choreographer teams up with traditional Korean dancers

By Claire Lee

National Dance Company collaborates with foreign choreographer for 1st time

  • Published : Mar 31, 2014 - 20:31
  • Updated : Mar 31, 2014 - 20:31
Since its establishment in 1962, the National Dance Company of Korea has been focusing on Korean traditional dance.

The troupe is making a meaningful step this month by collaborating with a non-Korean choreographer for the first time since its inception. Their latest work, “Vortex” ― slated to be staged on April 16 ― is choreographed by Finnish artist Tero Saarinen.

“One of the main reasons behind this project is to give more opportunities for our dancers, who are the best in the country, to prepare to showcase their talent to an international audience,” said Yun Sung-joo, the artistic director of the troupe, during a press conference in Seoul on Monday.

Saarinen, a former soloist at the Finnish National Ballet, is known for his unique philosophy and movement, combining influences from Butoh ― a form of Japanese dance theater that encompasses a diverse range of activities for performance ― classical ballet, contemporary dance and even martial arts. Director Yun said Saarinen’s choreography, which often centers around a dancer’s legs rather than the upper body, shares a lot of similarities with Korean traditional dance, which emphasizes the movement of the feet, hands, and breathing. 
Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Monday. (National Dance Company of Korea)

“When I first met the dancers, I think there were a lot of details in their movements and a lot of sophistication,” Saarinen told reporters. “Also I found that there was a lot of strength, like inner strength ― it always felt like I was working with ancient bodies with contemporary minds.”

Kim Mi-ae, the principal dancer of the company, said working with Saarinen was a pleasant experience, and it wasn’t too difficult for her to get used to his style, which is inspired partly by Finnish nature ― the forest, the wind, and the absence of light.

“During one of the first workshops we had, I remember Mr. Saarinen asking us to ‘say hi to the earth,’” Kim told reporters. “I just felt like he is very genuine as an artist. And although he is from the West, I found a lot of his sensibilities strangely familiar compared to my own.”
Tero Saarinen and the members of the National Dance Company of Korea practice for their upcoming show, “Vortex.” (National Dance Company of Korea)

The upcoming show is also a huge breakthrough for the troupe’s young apprentice dancer, Park Hye-ji, who has been selected by Saarinen to play one of the main characters. It is very rare for an apprentice to win a leading role.

“Sometimes you find younger dancers, and the way they move, very special,” said Saarinen. “There is that expressiveness that somehow goes beyond their age. I think Park has that kind of talent. That’s why I want to have this ‘Vortex’ with her.”

Saarinen also expressed his opinion about dancers’ role in today’s society.

“I think we are becoming more and more detached from our physicality, from this knowledge that we have in ourselves,” he said. “I think dancers and choreographers have a lot of responsibility. I think everybody should dance. If we stop dancing, I think we are lost.”

“Vortex” runs from April 16-19 at the National Theater of Korea in Jangchung-dong, Seoul. Tickets range from 20,000 won to 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2280-4116 or visit www.ntok.go.kr.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)