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Art&CultureReview
The heart remembersAn evening at the Jeju International Healing and Art Festival
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승인 2014.10.16  11:40:10
페이스북 트위터
▲ Artists perform and lead workshops with audience interaction. Photo by Song Junghee

“The heart remembers everything.” So dancer Rama Simon said to me, and it was this sentiment that permeated the performance hall of the Jeju Stone Culture Park as renowned dancers Hong Sin-cha, Rama Simon, and Parvathy Baul performed for the September 19th opening of the three-day Jeju International Healing and Art Festival.

The festival opened amid a backdrop of grey sky and grey stone. But the color of the room changed as Dr. Phil Werner Sasse, a German scholar of Korean culture and husband to dancer Hong Sin-cha, pulled out a guitar and began to play Korean and Irish folk melodies while the audience joined in song.

As the lights dimmed, dancer Rama Simon appeared at the corner of the stage in a long, white robe for his performance of “Al Fatia,” an interpretation of the Sufi ritual known as Sema. “It is not a modern dance,” Simon later said of this performance, further saying that he had added his own spin to the ancient whirling ritual. Sema is based on the concept that, as the heart rests on the left side of the body, spinning will bring it into motion and connect it to the past and present of experience. “The heart remembers,” Simon said. “It remembers Homo sapiens, and it remembers past lives.”

▲ Artists perform and lead workshops with audience interaction. Photo by Song Junghee

Simon’s face was devoid of emotion and his hair hung in a single plait down to his waist, resulting in an impression of fierce, angelic devotion. With a startlingly loud clap, he beat roses against his back. Red petals scattered across the stage.

As the music started Simon began to spin, slowly. There was a pulse to the spinning, a steady beat that created an almost centrifugal force. His face remained devoid of emotion, but in the pulse itself hovered a feeling of intense longing that slowly grew into its own presence. His hands moved inward, outward, expressions of a feeling so intense that it was almost maddening to observe. Watching him, I was reminded that longing can never be empty.

After a short intermission, the audience moved into the main hall for the performance of Hong Sin-cha. Internationally renowned as a dancer, writer, and choreographer, Hong Sin-cha is the iconic figure of the avant-garde movement in Korea and is considered to be one of Korea’s most influential contributors to the performing arts. She is the author of Excuse for Freedom, a Korean bestseller, and has worked with artists as internationally recognized as musician John Cage.

▲ Artists perform and lead workshops with audience interaction. Photo by Song Junghee

The lights dimmed as Hong Sin-cha’s performance began, when the curtains opened to reveal Hong crouched outside a large window that looked onto the rain-drenched woods. Hong Sin-cha revealed her expert use of scene, as the bleak landscape framed the excruciating tension in her body to create an impression of anguish outside the capacity of words. Her fingers inched across the glass, as though searching for a crack. I was struck by her commitment to this portrayal—each motion of her fingers and each arc of her foot contained the same level of tension as that which doubled her back.

As the performance progressed and Hong moved inside, this tension was juxtaposed with an unexpected sense of weightlessness. With perfect control, Hong gave the impression of her body moving without her direction, feet floating up to the ceiling. Interspersed between these two extremes came moments of bizarre gaiety, where Hong clapped her hands erratically as though striving to mimic the appearance of joy.

Hong turned her attention to a conspicuous pile of white feathers on the stage. With her initial level of intensity, she attempted to drop handfuls of feathers on her head, but they fell past her black cloak and scattered across the stage. Hong finally lay upon the feathers just as another moment of weightlessness caught her body. The performance ended with the relief of detachment, as Hong slowly pulled her cloak over her face and lay still beneath the pile of white feathers.

▲ One of the outdoor performances at JIHAF 2014. Photo by Song Junghee

The theater was completely silent after Hong’s performance had finished. The doors opened, and a subdued audience moved out into the foyer to discuss the performances over a vegetarian banquet.

After some time of discussion, the final performer, Parvathy Baul, came to the front of the room. A mystical artist in the tradition of the Baul minstrels of Bangladesh, she cut an impressive figure in saffron-colored robes and dreadlocks that hung past her waist. To the accompaniment of a single drummer, she strummed an instrument while singing in haunting tones. As she sang she also spun, her hair spreading outwards in a wide circle. Her performance radiated a healing presence that provided a soothing contrast to the urgency of Rama Simon’s portrayal of Sema and the intensity of Hong Sin-cha’s performance.

With that the evening concluded, and we dispersed back into the rain-wet world with the dances held fast in the memory of our hearts.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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