Kisaeng becomes you was based on my chance encounter with 500 year old “love” poetry written by kisaeng (artist/courtesans of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty). It lead to a recognition of the enduring relevance of traditional expressions of emotion and how, given the appropriate translation, cultural otherness, and distance, both geographic and chronologic, disappear. The work was a collaboration with modern and Korean traditional dance choreographer, Yoon Jin Kim, and it rehearsed and premiered in Seoul. Understanding the subject matter of the artist/courtesan and the casting of women skilled in Korean traditional dance risked both exotic and erotic exploitation, the work was conceived to eschew men, romantic historical depiction, and replaced the dancers, in the performance of the poems, with audience members - casting the viewer as kisaeng. The acute vulnerability of the audience participants, contacted in the lobby just before seating, engendered a direct immersive experience for the viewing audience and allowed the work to translate and articulate a sense of fragility unattainable in conventional viewer/performer relationships.
Vietnamese artist and scholar Maura Nguyen Donohue comments in WNYC Culture, Performance Club Blog: “kisaeng - made me weep. The entry point for the audience into the work through the vessels of the audience participant members was so wrought with “real” energy and vulnerability - both for the work (will this work?) and for the participants (will they survive this? are they okay?) - that I was buzzing in my chair. They made the experience of the “Other” so alive for me. This could be the experience of the courtesan, the contemporary artist, the traveller, the immigrant. “I’m new here” - “What are the rules” The care and detail taken with those moments was so effective ... that [it] allowed the audience member to experience a work from the inside...”.
Kisaeng becomes you, premiered at the 2008 Seoul International Dance Festival and in 2009 at Dance Theater Workshop. (presented above)
Cast: Yu Ri Bae, Ji Sun Kwen, Mi Hyun Lee, So Yeoun Lim and Jeong Eun Yang
Guest Audience Performers: Khalia Frazier, Susan M. Goodman, and Sarah Lipstate
Concept & Construction: Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim
Original Music: Okkyung Lee
Audio and Visual Design: Dean Moss
Costumes: Joomin Kim with Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim
Poem Translation: Wolhee Choe and Constantine Contogenis
For more information please visit gametophyte.org