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Korea’s Improvisational Dance and Music Presented at Bimhuis

The Trust Dance Company of Korea presented a joint performance, with the Magpie Music Dance Company of the Netherlands,at the Bimhuis on January 12. This was a fantastic performance that featured the vibrant music of traditional Korean musical instruments, like the geomungo, taepyeongso, and janggo.



In May 2007, the Trust Dance Company conducted a workshop and joint performance with the Magpie Music Dance Company, a prominent improvisational dance and music troupe from the Netherlands. Katie Duck, the head of the Magpie Music Dance Company, who co-organized the events in Korea last year, was greatly impressed by the uniqueness and passion of the improvisational dance and traditional music of Korea. She thus sought to introduce Korea’s music and dance not only to her colleagues but also the performing arts community in the Netherlands. Just prior to her departure from Korea, she expressed her intent to have our group perform in the Netherlands.
Eventually, the visit of our group to the Netherlands for an invitational performance was scheduled for January 11-18, 2008, which followed six months of thorough preparations, via e-mail, fax, and phone calls. The Trust Dance Company selected ten members – seven dancers and three musicians – for this performance. Before departing for the Netherlands, the selected members practiced daily, including the preparation of impromptu routines in response to the enthusiasm of the Dutch audiences.
Upon our arrival in Amsterdam, we were totally amazed by our host’s hospitality and attentive care. Well before our visit, they had already made arrangements for everything, for our convenience, from hotel reservations to the complicated documentation and required procedures for our performance at the Bimhuis. Only musical performances are staged at the Bimhuis, a leading center for music in the Netherlands, like the Concert Hall of the Seoul Arts Center in Korea. Therefore, it was an exceptional case for improvisational Korean dance to be presented there. We visited the Bimhuis venue prior to our performance on January 12. While similar in size to the Opera House of the Seoul Arts Center, it was a very modern facility. Posters of representative artists from all over the world and concerts of prominent jazz musicians attracted our attention as we entered the building.
The venue for our performance was a medium-size theater. Although designed for musical performances, it included an almost semi-circle stage, which would allow interaction between the performers and the audience. The setting was perfect for Magpie and Trust to become one with the audience during the course of our almost two-hour-long joint performance. The performance at the Bimhuis was indeed a great challenge for our improvisational style of dance and music.
The performance opened with a program by the Trust Dance Company. The audience as well as the musicians and dancers were soon overwhelmed with delight, while the first 20-minute program was presented. In the second program, which was greeted by enthusiastic applause, three dancers each from Magpie and Trust performed in wondrous harmony to the music played by Magpie musicians. The audience was clearly delighted that this kind of harmony could result from the dancers and musicians, despite the obvious differences in our appearances and backgrounds.
Following a 15-minute intermission, the third program was presented. This could be regarded the highlight of the performance in which all of the dancers and musicians performed together. The first two musicians on the stage, geomungo player Shim Eun-yong and well-known drummer Han, launched into a medley of improvisational music that created a sense of excitement among the audience. With all the performers on stage, the order and chaos existed for and by itself, while everyone in the theater became one, through the universal language of music. Much of the audience remained in the lobby to congratulate us, well after the performance.



Fantastic Performance
Lavish praise can make us feel somewhat uncomfortable. But the compliments from the Dutch audience, who thoroughly enjoyed and participated in the performance, left us with a memorable sense of pride, humility, and gratitude, unlike our performances in Korea.
The following day, a “Wonderland” performance, an improvisational dance program organized by Magpie for children, was presented. Over the years, the Trust Dance Company has also staged improvisational dance programs for children, physically challenged individuals, and the general public. Magpie is similar to Trust in several regards, including their programs and thoughts on dance. These two improvisational dance companies, on opposite sides of the world, have unknowingly been sharing a variety of characteristics.
By participating in Magpie’s programs and activities during our stay in the Netherlands, we were able to share and learn so many things. This included a workshop on Korea’s traditional mask dance that we conducted for the Dutch performing arts and cultural community on January 14. During this four-hour-long workshop, the basic principles of Korean dance were introduced, which helped the workshop participants to experience and understand aspects of Korea’s improvisational dance.
There was only so much that we could do during our brief stay. But improvisation has a latent power, which enables us to transcend our acquired knowledge, based on our intuitive senses. Learning about Korean dance and seeing the elation of the performers, the people there might have sensed the fields of Korea’s countryside with their open-minded perceptiveness. To the sounds of the taepyeongso, wafting in the breeze, and the janggo’s rhythmic beating reverberating into the ground, is it somehow possible for this music from Korea to be reaching our cohorts in the Netherlands?