Korea, Republic of


Gwangju, South Korea

Gwangju, Korea, Republic of

Dates

  • February 3 - 11, 2017

Sponsors

  • U.S. Embassy Seoul
  • Asia Culture Center

Participating Groups

  • Gwangju City Ballet Company
  • Eunhye School
  • Gwangju Arts High School
  • Songwon University
  • Happy School 36.5
  • Kukje High School
  • Namgu Multicultural Family Support Ctr.
  • Healing Dancing Team 'Sisters'

Articles

Program Specifics

  • Nearly 100 participants across 8 schools and institutions

  • Aimed to extend the American values of inclusion, individual empowerment and freedom of expression to a diverse group, ranging from classically trained ballet dancers at one end of the spectrum to wheel-chair bound and cognitively impaired students at the other

  • Conducted by a team of seven comprising Artistic Director, Jonathan Hollander; Production Designer, G. Benjamin Swope; and Battery’s dancers, each of whom double as teaching artists and choreographers: Sean Scantlebury, Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Bethany Mitchell and Razvan Stoian.

  • We found that Battery Dance’s previous experiences in South Korea as well as its work with disabled students in other countries helped to prepare the teaching artists for the challenges that they faced that would have been daunting otherwise. It is safe to say that each of the Battery staff learned, adapted and grew through the experience.

Battery Dance carried out its acclaimed Dancing to Connect program in the South Korean city of Gwangju over nine days in February, 2017. The program was conceived of and supported by the U.S. Embassy Seoul and its local partner, Asia Culture Center, one of Asia’s newest and most well-equipped centers for the arts. This was the Embassy’s first collaboration with ACC and benefited from the meticulous preparation, care and handling that was invested which ensured the successful outcomes that were reached.

The mission of the program was ambitious: applying the American values of inclusion, individual empowerment and freedom of expression to a diverse group ranging from classically trained ballet dancers at one end of the spectrum to wheel-chair bound and cognitively impaired students at the other. The Company worked with North Korean defectors, some of whom had never attended school during their complicated young lives. They also worked with ‘mail-order brides’ from the Philippines. Most striking about the program was the fact that these groups were mixed, pairing abled and disabled, mainstream and NK defectors, South Korea-born with new arrivals. The variety of experiences entwining created something quite special, and it is safe to say that there was not a dry eye in the packed audience at the Asia Culture Center during the final performance of the program.

One of the side goals of the program was to help the disparate schools and community groups in Gwangju engage with the ACC. In meetings that took place in November, 2016, as a precursor to the program, Senior Cultural Affairs Specialist Eun Kyong Choi and Battery Dance Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander heard from several sources that the ACC was inaccessible to the community. Certainly that was not the case during the week that Dancing to Connect took place; ACC could not have been more generous with the provision of two beautiful dance studios and a state-of-the-art theater, along with thoroughly professional technical staff. The presence of ACC President Mr. Bang Sun-Gyu at the final performance and his adulatory response to the program may be a harbinger for better times to come with regard to community outreach programs by the ACC.

There were make unique aspects of this program. Ms. Choi wisely engaged the support of five Embassy interns, some veterans of previous years, and others finishing out their terms of service. These young people jumped into the program with fervor and impressive language skills. One even translated from Chinese since most of the NK Defectors had lived much of their life in China and had limited Korean (and no English) to draw upon. In that particular group, led by Mira Cook, it was common to hear English, Korean and Chinese being spoken simultaneously during the workshops!

One of the most striking elements of the program was the achievement of the disabled students whose parents were deeply involved in the program, coming every day and sitting through the 4-hour-long workshops. It became apparent that the parents had anticipated a very ‘lite’ experience for their children; certainly not the highly physical, deeply immersive program that Robin conducted. To see students whose mobility appeared to be severely limited, even in pedestrian mode, actually dancing and focusing 150% on complex movement sequences, was truly heart-rending, and the parents were often wiping tears as they watched their children exceed all expectation. A short video clip may be found here.

The night of the final performance followed a day of snow and foul weather, so everyone was concerned about the turnout, despite excellent media attention and signage. The ACC has yet to establish a robust schedule and a loyal fan base and thus the Embassy staff and Battery Dance were trepidatious as to how many bodies would fill the seats and cheer on the students. However, these concerns were unwarranted. The theater was filled to capacity and the opening speech by Chargé d’Affaire's ad interim Marc Knapper was enthusiastically received.

Gwangju Metropolitan Ballet Company’s artistic director, Ms. Shin soon-ju, thrilled with the opportunity her dancers had been given to be stretched in their thinking, technique and mode of movement through the work with Battery Dance’s Sean Scantlebury, expressed her interest in having him return to choreograph a longer work for her dancers in the future. While the Company was in Gwangju, one of the ballet dancers was selected to perform a solo role in Battery Dance’s choreography, proPULSion, and executed it beautifully with only three rehearsals.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, Curtis Chin, a member of Battery Dance’s International Advisory Board and a frequent writer of OpEd pieces in the international news media, flew in to witness the last day of workshops and the performance at the Asia Culture Center. He subsequently posted an article on the importance of cultural diplomacy and cited the Dancing to Connect program as a powerful example. Our third tour to South Korea again proved the continual importance of developing cross cultural understanding: challenging preconceptions, building bridges, empowering one another. Working, collaborating and creating in Gwangju provided impactful experiences for all parties involved.

Videos

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Busan, South Korea

Busan, Korea, Republic of

Dates

  • January 23-31, 2015

    Sponsors

  • US Embassy Seoul
  • American Presence Post

    Project Activities

  • 1 Public Performances – Over 1000 Audience Members
  • Dancing to Connect workshops with North Korean defectors and their South Korean counterparts; creatively transforming teenage residents of an orphanage; a high school show choir; and a group of young working women from international backgrounds.

    Partners

  • Dongseo University
  • Busan Foundation for International Activities
  • Westin Chosun Busan Hotel

    Venues

  • Sohyang Musical Theatre

    Articles

  • Article for Busan Haps

  • Strong and durable partnerships and alignment of goals are key to achieving great results in the conducting of international projects. In Busan, we found that honest and respectful relationships between individuals allowed for candid communication and a true dialogue. Alignment of goals between the parties -- in this case, the US Embassy in Seoul, the American Presence Post in Busan, local academic and social institutions and Battery Dance Company -- created a feeling of joint-ownership of the project, leading to the flow of resources. Among many examples, we were non-plussed when the technical director at the magnificent Sohyang Musical Theater said, "Would you like an extra day for us to start hanging the lights?" This was an offer that we hadn't presumed to expect and a first in 20+ years of working internationally. Icing on the cake: Our production designer was not happy with the lighting board in the theater and had mentioned that another model would be more appropriate for a pre-cued dance performance. Presto: the better board was sourced and provided, resulting in an impeccably lit performance, which was to everyone's benefit.

    Six months of planning for our second program in South Korea set the groundwork for a program that left us with a feeling of "mission accomplished" and more! The essence of the program and the factor that differentiated it from our 2008 program in Busan was the implementation of four Dancing to Connect workshops over a span of 20 hours. The composition of each group was distinctive and challenged the Battery Dance Company teaching artists to craft the approach accordingly:

    • Group I: Mixed group of North Korean defectors with their South Korean counterparts
    • Group II: Residents of an orphanage, primarily boys
    • Group III: Members of a high school show choir
    • Group IV: Young adult women of various nationalities mixed with their South Korean counterparts

    Groups I and II commuted to their workshop locations each day, adding extra hours and exhaustion to their work; especially Group II which was located in a village located some distance away from Busan (1 - 2 hours, depending upon traffic.) Groups III and IV were provided with studio space by Sohyang University, beautiful studios with wooden floors and ample space (and a short distance from our hotel.)

    Group I was initially split down the middle, with the South Korean teens much more self-confident, mature, and physically stronger than the defectors. The North Koreans appeared shy and reticent and clung to each other and their counselors. However, over the course of the week, the differences began to melt away and in the performance, audience members commented that they couldn't differentiate. This group was the center of much media attention, with cameras present for much of the workshop time.

    Seoul, South Korea

    Seoul, Korea, Republic of

    Dates

  • April 11 – 19, 2008

    Sponsors

    Project Activities

    • 7 Master Classes
    • One Panel Discussion with a Q&A
    • One Joint Performance with Korean Dance Association in Seoul
    • One Performance Kyungsung University, Busan
    • One Performance Gangnam District Hall, Seoul, South Korea

    Partners

    Venues

  • Bringing a dance program to a country with such highly accomplished dancers and dance training institutions as South Korea requires special attention. You don't want to feel that you are bringing "coals to Newcastle", being redundant, and certainly not arrogant.

    On the other hand, it was truly surprising for us to hear our Korean counterparts complaining that American dance has been absent from the scene in Korea for a dozen years, having been so pivotal and inspiring in earlier times. As such, we felt very much appreciated and that our decision to pitch to a high level for our master classes and performances was the right decision.

    Once upon a time, one of my mentors, Twyla Tharp, named a piece "Sue's Leg". She said that every time her company toured in the Mid-West and hit the territory that was covered by

    Suzanne Weil (who went on to run the dance program of the National Endowment for the Arts) it was pure bliss because everything ran like clockwork. Taking a cue from Twyla, we've got to title a piece "Dae-young's Wing", because we were certainly under Kim Dae-young's in Busan!

    How can it be that we could have had innumerable meetings, logged in many kilometers shuttling between three different venues, run a half-dozen master classes, meetings and interactions, dealt with a 13-hour time difference and 20+ hours of traveling and simultaneously felt like we were on vacation? We came into contact with wonderfully open and receptive dance teachers at Kyungsung University, Dong A University and Busan Arts High School and their talented charges -- all 150 of them who took part in 4 master classes taught on one day (a BDC specialty, since each of the dancers is a teaching artist as well!). The first performance of this year’s Asia Tour was exhilarating. Barry Steele, BDC’s great production designer, worked like a fiend in the theater, ably supported by John Lee and Kim Chi-young and a crew whom he said was one of the finest he has encountered on tour.

    If you were a dancer or dance student in the 18-24 age range in Busan, our performance at Kyungsung University's very nice auditorium was evidently the place-to-be on Tuesday evening! I was amazed as the crowd flooded into the auditorium to see such a young audience. Obviously the master classes were the best possible marketing tool since it seemed as if, of the 150 or so students who took part in the classes, maybe 149 showed up to our performance?! Given the young crowd, I assumed that "I'll Take You There", with its goofy cartoonish style would be the hit of the evening. Not so. The fans waiting outside the dancers' dressing rooms after the show told me that "Notebooks" was their favorite. Later, at the reception, I heard a lot of buzz around "Shell Games"; and at breakfast the next morning, Mayuna told me that she heard "Moonbeam" praised for its purity. My conclusion: a varied repertoire travels well!

    It is interesting how I always find myself drawn to the beauty of Asian countries, their food, traditions and their way of living. There is something pure, completely real and precious in the soil here. As we are leaving South Korea, a country that I visited for the first time (and hopefully not last), I am left with much to remember. Most importantly, I am both personally and professionally inspired. Though both performances were received with great audience reviews, the true highlights of our stay here in Korea were (was it 12?) Master classes taught by members of the Company. I was most impressed by the openness, artistic hunger and ability of the students in both Arts High Schools in Busan and Seoul as well as the Universities where we taught. I can say that with all of my extensive international teaching experiences, I have never been so impressed by the talent of the students as well as the work done. It leaves me wondering how much more could be accomplished, if we could only stay longer… Or return soon! I must thank the American Embassy and its staff for understanding the true value and importance of such cultural exchange. But this should be just the beginning. Let’s not be satisfied with what has been done here, pat ourselves on the shoulder for what we’ve done, but rather start building a cultural bridge with constant exchange.

    South Korea 2008

    Seoul, South Korea
    Busan, South Korea

    Busan, South Korea

    Busan, Korea, Republic of

    Battery Dance Company worked and performed her in 2008.


    Varied repertoire travels well

    There is usually 'favorite' performances amongst audiences on International tours. However in Busan, there were several favorites in the varied repertoire that BDC presented at the Kyungsung University Auditorium. This lesson has proved valuable in future tours.

    Once upon a time, one of my mentors, Twyla Tharp, named a piece "Sue's Leg". She said that every time her company toured in the Mid-West and hit the territory that was covered by Suzanne Weil (who went on to run the dance program of the National Endowment for the Arts) it was pure bliss because everything ran like clockwork. Taking a cue from Twyla, we've got to title a piece "Dae-young's Wing", because we were certainly under Kim Dae-young's in Busan!

    How can it be that we could have had innumerable meetings, logged in many kilometers shuttling between three different venues, run a half-dozen master classes, meetings and interactions, dealt with a 13-hour time difference and 20+ hours of traveling and simultaneously felt like we were on vacation?

    We came into contact with wonderfully open and receptive dance teachers at Kyungsung University, Dong A University and Busan Arts High School and their talented charges -- all 150 of them who took part in 4 master classes taught on one day (a BDC specialty, since each of the dancers is a teaching artist as well!). The first performance of this year’s Asia Tour was exhilarating. Barry Steele, BDC’s great production designer, worked like a fiend in the theater, ably supported by John Lee and Kim Chi-young and a crew whom he said was one of the finest he has encountered on tour.

    If you were a dancer or dance student in the 18-24 age range in Busan, our performance at Kyungsung University's very nice auditorium was evidently the place-to-be on Tuesday evening! I was amazed as the crowd flooded into the auditorium to see such a young audience. Obviously the master classes were the best possible marketing tool since it seemed as if, of the 150 or so students who took part in the classes, maybe 149 showed up to our performance?! Given the young crowd, I assumed that "I'll Take You There", with its goofy cartoonish style would be the hit of the evening. Not so. The fans waiting outside the dancers' dressing rooms after the show told me that "Notebooks" was their favorite. Later, at the reception, I heard a lot of buzz around "Shell Games"; and at breakfast the next morning, Mayuna told me that she heard "Moonbeam" praised for its purity. My conclusion: a varied repertoire travels well!

    It is interesting how I always find myself drawn to the beauty of Asian countries, their food, traditions and their way of living. There is something pure, completely real and precious in the soil here. As we are leaving South Korea, a country that I visited for the first time (and hopefully not last), I am left with much to remember. Most importantly, I am both personally and professionally inspired. Though both performances were received with great audience reviews, the true highlights of our stay here in Korea were (was it 12?) Master classes taught by members of the Company. I was most impressed by the openness, artistic hunger and ability of the students in both Arts High Schools in Busan and Seoul as well as the Universities where we taught. I can say that with all of my extensive international teaching experiences, I have never been so impressed by the talent of the students as well as the work done. It leaves me wondering how much more could be accomplished, if we could only stay longer… Or return soon! I must thank the American Embassy and its staff for understanding the true value and importance of such cultural exchange. But this should be just the beginning. Let’s not be satisfied with what has been done here, pat ourselves on the shoulder for what we’ve done, but rather start building a cultural bridge with constant exchange.

    South Korea 2008

    Seoul, South Korea
    Busan, South Korea