Kisaeng are Korean young women trained in the arts for the entertainment of aristocracy. In Kisaeng becomes you, at Dance Theater Workshop, Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim invite selected audience members to "become" Kisaeng. Not really, but they are placed in the uncomfortable position of being onstage for our entertainment, paralleling momentarily the lives of Kisaeng. Mainly, this brilliantly constructed piece serves as a portal into a world which is foreign and mysterious to westerners.
The atmosphere is established from the beginning with both beautiful and disturbing images. Five Korean women skitter on tiptoe, with their necks bent back, faces to the ceiling, and mouths open painfully wide. A woman stitches, and strings thread through the skin on the palm of her hand. Live video projection serves as a magnifier of this image, and is used throughout the piece to show varying angles and amplify selected details.
Audience volunteer number one, a woman, is greeted by the Korean cast with girlish, comically over-exaggerated hospitality. They dress her in costume, wig, and wireless mic, and direct her through stage blocking and delivering lines of poetry. Opposed to typical sappy love poems, these lines of Kisaeng poetry are beautifully devastating: "When I love, I make you my enemy".
Even the girls' night party scene has an underlying ominous feeling. Two other audience volunteers are "recognized" and brought onstage for a celebratory reunion. The girls chug beer and maintain a rowdy drunken noise level. Surrounding this noise, there is a hollow emptiness, like in a bar that's closing, when the voices are still loud but the music has been turned off.
The new audience participant "Kisaeng" are instructed through actions and interactions. At times it is unclear what is going on. One documents with live video, while the other acts, and vise versa. In the end, one is left alone, standing center stage, creating a feeling of loneliness and isolation. The volunteer looks suspiciously comfortable in this position, either due to the beer she just chugged, or perhaps she was prepared for this role.
Dean Moss' multi-layered pieces blur the line between, dance, theater, and performance art. In this collaboration with Yoon Jin Kim, he creates a disturbingly believable environment where nothing in the performance is precious or contrived. It's sophisticated work with a complexity which I'm unable to appropriately articulate. True to my definition of effective art, it left me with something to contemplate for days afterwards.
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Julie Fotheringham
Performance: Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim, Kisaeng becomes you
Venue: Dance Theater Workshop, New York City
Date: February 26, 2009
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