Part of A Festival of Korean Dance and performed by the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, <Immixture> blends successfully the old and the new, the energetic and the (seemingly) static, without losing sight of Korean traditional and contemporary dance.

One of the expectations I had from this show was that it should speak of what ‘dance’ means in Korean culture, and I was not disappointed. While giving it a fresh twist, <Immixture> is steeped in the rich tradition of Korean dance, from music to costumes, to the very quality of movement. The show almost creates a trajectory from traditional Korean dance to modern days, a journey sprinkled with influences from different dance genres and music styles, but very much a Korean one.

The performance explores the relationship between past and present as one of the main themes. As the first dancer, Seoyun Jeong, majestically takes centre stage, dressed in a vaporous white costume inspired by traditional designs, she performs a choreography that reinterprets a royal dance, an allegory of a queen wishing prosperity and peace for her kingdom. The way she glides on the stage, walking as if she was skating on a smooth surface, is just astonishing. After this brief but mesmerising intro, where inner breathing imbues every single movement, she continues to be a “lady from the past” throughout the show, with slightly slower, but just as absorbing movements.

At the other end of the spectrum is the only male member of the cast, Ilyoung Seo, who seems to represent the “new” and possibly the West. His dance moves have a distinctively Hip Hop flavour, which creates a stark contrast with the silky, elegant movements of the rest of the cast.

The show features an eclectic mix of music. Korean melodies prevail, but they are interspersed with Schubert (which according to Artistic Director and Choreographer Sungsoo Ahn works very well with traditional Korean dance, thanks to its rhythm in three beats), Turkish music, and Eminem (!). The use of silver rattles and even human voice provides an even richer range of sounds.

Some elements may strike a Western audience as odd. One of them is the hieratic faces of the dancers, which convey hardly any emotion for the majority of the show. This is counter-balanced by the vigour and expressiveness of Seo, whose facial expressions make up for the overall paucity of emotions. And even more unexpected is the sudden explosion of feelings we get when Juhee Lee stands in front of the audience, and slowly, inexorably, busts into tears. During the post-show talk, Ahn explained that the scene is inspired by the incomprehensible violence of terrorist attacks, and by the idea that we can’t understand sorrow, but we can show sympathy and provide consolation.

Such unexpected, perhaps even startling moments are the very soul of <Immixture>, which brings on stage the sensibility, elegance and profundity of Korean contemporary dance.

A Festival of Korean Dance is playing at The Place until 16 May

Photo: Aiden Hwang