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Seoul International Dance Festival explores death and aging through movement

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Aug. 28, 2023 - 16:22

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"On the blanket" (SIDance)

The 26th Seoul International Dance Festival (SIDance), organized by the Seoul Section of the International Dance Council CID-UNESCO, is set to kick off this Friday.

A total of 23 dance troupes (196 dancers) from nine countries including Korea will showcase 26 works across Seoul until Sept. 17.

As the curtains rise, the theme that will also carry over into the next year is “death and aging,” aiming to explore the profound dynamics of mortality and the human life cycle through the medium of dance.

“We chose the theme to explore concepts that are intimately connected to us, as opposed to something that feels distant. Our focus is on the internal aspects of existence, rather than external factors,” said SIDance Artistic Director Lee Jong-ho at a press conference at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Aug. 18.

Lee said he initially hesitated to embrace the theme of death, fearing that once the subjects of death and the divine were examined, there may be no additional themes to explore.

“But with COVID-19 and my personal experiences with aging, I thought it would be too late when it’s actually close to the time of dying. It would be necessary to approach this theme with a philosophical mindset. So we chose ‘death and aging’ as a two-year special feature theme for the festival.”

Artistic director Lee Jong-ho speaks during a press conference held on Aug. 18. (SIDance) Artistic director Lee Jong-ho speaks during a press conference held on Aug. 18. (SIDance)

This year, the five dance works that delve into the theme include: “On the Blanket” by Hong Sin-cha; "Aging Body" by Nam Jeong-ho, Kei Takei, Mitsuyo Uesugi and Ryuichi Fujimura; "Traces (feat. Flow of Consciousness)" by Blue Poet D.T.; "Technology of arTaGame" by Kim Hea-yeon; and "For Whom Want to Die Well" by Yang Han-bi.

In particular, “Technology of arTaGame” scheduled for Sept. 9-10 at Yeonhee Art Space in Mapo-gu is a dance piece created using ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot.

Choreographer Kim said that she and the creative team have been having a conversation with the chatbot encompassing not only the textual content utilized in the script, but also extending to aspects such as conceptualizing the direction, choreography methods, music selection and discussions regarding costumes and stage design.

“The important part was to not wholly accept what ChatGPT was telling us, but to talk with human experts about how to use its ideas,” said Kim. “It was interesting to see that an AI has come to be a ‘counselor.’”

The 17-day festival will kick off with an opening performance featuring an international collaborative piece by Germany and Korea.

"Koreality" (SIDance)

Korean dancers will appear in “Koreality,” choreographed by Yoshiko Waki, the artistic director of the German dance troupe Bodytalk. Waki said she drew inspiration from Hallyu to create this piece that explores the dynamics of strength and vulnerability, portraying the pressure exerted by the strong and the resilience displayed by the weak. The hourlong performance will be staged at Sogang University's Mary Hall in Mapo-gu.

In the “Focus Australia” segment, "Split" by Australian dancer-choreographer Lucy Guerin and "Exposed” by Restless Dance Theatre, a dance troupe of dancers with and without disabilities, will be showcased at the Quad in Daehagno.

Other overseas invited works include Israel’s “Somewhere” by c.a.t.a.m.o.n Dance Group; Barcelona’s “The Very Last Northern White Rhino” by Gaston Core; France’s “Waiting for James B” by Cie Art Mouv'; and Italy’s Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s “Triple Bill” and “Vivaldiana.”

Among the Korean works, Choi Soo-jin's "Alone," by a former dancer of New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is set to be performed on Sept. 9-10. "The Compliments of Life" by Kim Soo-jung, a member of Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company will be performed on Sept. 10.

Full details of performance times, locations and prices can be found on the SIDance website.