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.