I made my way to see SEOP Dance Company at the Ordway Theater on March 5th, with no pre-conceived notions, no expectations, no prior knowledge of any kind; only the kind of anticipation that accompanies the rare chance of experiencing something totally unknown. South Korea’s SEOP Dance Company, founded in 1992 and one of the groups featured in the Ordway’s 2015-2016 World Music & Dance Series, is completely new to me.
In A Man’s Requiem, a one-hour, gender-bending, theatrical dance piece, they took on the themes of life, death, and judgment.
SEOP’s dancers—many of whom are also skilled acrobats—moved like water. Swift, smooth, and elegantly powerful, they moved through subtle and vigorous movement phrases in a deeply symbolic onstage environment, where paper, mirrors, confetti, fabric, umbrellas, instruments, and color amplified the visual and cultural impact of the onstage action.
In A Man’s Requiem, I saw a range of opposing ideas, forces, and qualities. Complete stillness was periodically upset by bursts of movement and sound. Absolute uniformity was punctuated by glimmers of individuality, sometimes in the way a dancer moved his arm or gazed at her audience. The dancers’ facial expressions shifted between angelic and grotesque, incorporating elements of Butoh. Sometimes they gazed out to the audience with tranquil faces. Other times, they opened their mouths wide, bared their teeth, and stared with bulging eyes.
Moments in A Man’s Requiem reminded me how pleasing it can be to watch an unmoving, or barely moving, group of dancers. When time slows onstage, we have the opportunity to take in every aspect of an image. When that image is captivating, as it was in this case, the experience is all the more satisfying.
Slowing down feels good, but it’s hard to do. I appreciate that A Man’s Requiem required that of me.
Kim Yong Chul, SEOP’s director and a lead performer in the company, was inspired to create this piece in response to a tragic event in his home city that took many lives. He wanted to find a way to mourn through art; he found it in a mixture of traditional and contemporary Korean dance, paired with other sights, sounds, and colors steeped Korean cultural tradition.