Dec 2022

Music Scores #2, Fantasia is published.

Dec 2022

The revised edition of Thomas is published.

Nov 2022

The second print of Post-Texture is now available.

Oct 2022

Workroom Specter’s new series Music Scores #1, Prélude Non Mesuré is published.

Sept 2022

Post-Texture is published.

Invitee. The Body, Time, Space, Risk, and Performance

Conversation with Choreographer Hyeongjun Cho

Min Oh in collaboration with Hyeongjun Cho

2020

This text is the reorganization and adaptation of memories and memos during the rehearsal process from February to November 2019. It is mainly based on conversations with the collaborators Seokmin Mun and Hyeongjun Cho, but it also includes conversations with other figures who were not directly involved in the work. Things that I have read or heard or previously written are also quoted and weaved together as if parts of the conversation. Conversations with a source are referenced in the footnote.

  • Oh

    The body of musicians has been a means through which to manifest sound. Meanwhile, the body of dancers has been the main subject in itself and material in the dance tradition. I’m curious as to whether it’s possible to make a dance in which the body of dancers operates similarly to the body of musicians.

  • Hyeongjun Cho

    Choreography, to me, is the creation of a sort of system or environment. Dance is what makes that environment operate. In that context, the movement of dancers and that of musicians are fundamentally the same.

  • Oh

    I find it intriguing how you define choreography as work that creates an environment. However, I’m kind of joking, but it might seem that the environment choreographs the work, rather than the choreography creating the environment. Many decisions that are made in the composition of this performance should be based on the elements that used to be regarded as technical or secondary, such as the size and shape of the space, ways of operating equipment depending on the technical specification of the model, size, and height of the props, which must be considered to the millimeter, physical properties of all sorts of cables, and even the slope of the floor on which the equipment is placed, and so on. I feel like I am providing you with too many restrictions.

  • Cho

    Choreographers frequently encounter situations that cannot be predicted or controlled while choreographing. I don’t think there are particularly a bigger or higher number of restrictions for this work.

  • Oh

    I expect that there will be restrictions while performing it, as well. I’m still debating with the technical team about what type of technology should be used, but depending on the case, each running time to transition the scenes can be set to precise units of minutes and seconds. This means that the performers must sense and share time that’s mechanically standardized to the clock hands. Musicians use the metronome to standardize time, yet this standard is often shaken or adjusted by the body in the process of music being performed. In contemporary dance, I noticed that time is subjectively managed according to the choice made by the body in action, rather than the standard time. I hope that the time by clock hands will not become constraints of the convention, like dancing to background music.

  • Cho

    As to what sensibilities to time restrict the body or liberate it, or what is classical or new, this changes depending on how one thinks. I rather prefer standardized time. I’m interested in time that it is precisely composed, refined, and controlled in some way.

  • Oh

    Time is often closer to a concept in visual art, where the history of treating time as a material is relatively short. However, in music, time is a practical material for composition. Dance, like music, has also been involved in time from the moment it came to be until now. I think how time is composed and what time structure is developed must have been an important issue in choreography.

  • Cho

    There are many dance works that focus more on the moment than structure. Recently, it seems to be difficult to see works that focus on composition of time.

  • Oh

    I call making the entire structure of time as the horizontal composition of time and designing the moment as the vertical composition of time. When I vertically organize time, I focus on how the elements of the performance operate and relate at the same time. I participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by a music magazine1 a few months ago, and the question was raised concerning the possibility that one component of the performance doesn’t become the background for another. Based on the actual team that I organized in my previous performance works, the vertical composition of performance can be divided into the following four layers: Body (choreography [in a narrow sense] and performance), space (stage design and stage management), light (light design), and sound (sound design and technical supports). I want these four layers to collaborate and implement the concept of the work; I don’t want any one element to be the background for another. However, there are moments when I’m skeptical of such a possibility. What does it mean for one element of performance not to be the background for another element? Before that, what is a background in a performance?

  • Cho

    A focus naturally occurs when we look at something. The focus becomes the subject, and everything else becomes the background. The focus can change at any time, and when it does, the subject and the background also change. Taking certain elements as background means an intent to emphasize the focus. However, there are cases where the background actually blurs the focus. I also try to set a couple of focal points and try to treat them equally. In a way, a process of organizing these multiple focuses over the whole running time is the process of composing the environment. I always want to find ways for multiple focal points to properly work, standing independently while collaborating with each other at the same time. But sometimes, it’s difficult to say to what point I would define it as ‘working.’ It is a big question, indeed.

  • Oh

    Let’s move to the horizontal composition of time. Act One is to present film installations and Act Two is to transition the film installation. Act One is organized into five scenes, and another five scenes of Act Two are inserted in between. In other words, Acts One and Two do not follow a sequential order; they take turns. With that, they alternate between recorded and live material, sound and movement, hypothetical space and material space, fixed time flow and unpredictable time flow, and (seemingly) natural light and artificial light. Acts One and Two contrast with each other in many ways, and despite this, I wish for the two acts to trespass each other’s territories and make exchanges with each other. The nature of time and space cannot be altered, but light and movement are comparatively flexible. Can there be a way to cross light and movement in between the two acts?

  • Cho

    It’s not possible to bring natural light into the space due to the architectural structure of the Platform-L Contemporary Art Center. But it might be possible to bring in certain qualities of natural light. I’ve made attempts in the past to achieve natural light in a theater. It was obviously different from real natural light, but it definitely did show certain qualities of natural light. In the end, it no longer became important to question if it was real natural light or not.

  • Oh

    What is light in performance? Before that, I might have to ask myself what light is in film. The spaces in my film works are usually hypothetical ones. They’re spaces constructed in the head. Despite this, I develop it as something tangible. In the films, light suggests a way for that space to exist for real. What is space in performance?

  • Cho

    A performance is about making spaces. Spaces can be made physically within the stage, or conceptually as an environment that is operated through the performance. There are also other kinds of spaces that emerge both conceptually and physically the moment bodies start to move.

  • Oh

    Not only the performers but everyone who is involved in the production, such as technicians, the production assistant, myself, and even the audience, inevitably fill the physical space in a performance. Maybe I’m being too ambitious, but I want everyone in the space to use the space in an active way during the performance. When maintaining a state of “sats,” being ready to move anywhere and anytime, not only the performers but also the audience will see more from the performance. More can be read when more is seen. In this work, the stage moves. As the performers, the equipment, and the stage move amidst the audiences and rearrange the space, the audience must also unavoidably move. Depending on the response of the audience, the performance can proceed smoothly, get delayed, have an accident, or be met with an interesting outcome that is unexpected. When it’s unpredictable as to how the audience will move or respond, it becomes,

    Judith Dunn: “an opportunity and a problem.”2

  • Cho

    It may be impossible to predict the audience’s response, but based on my experiences, I presume that they will try to cooperate as much as possible. Although, there is always the possibility that they might not figure out how to cooperate.

  • Oh

    A performance is an ambition to plan beforehand a certain length of time in a certain future moment and let it flow exactly as planned in that future moment. However, whatever kind of performance it is, it doesn’t happen the way we expect. The longer the duration, the more people involved, and the more experiments attempted, the greater the risk that it will not flow as planned. Even the plan not to flow time as planned lies on the premise of planning; thus, it cannot be free from this risk. All collaborators in the production of the performance do their best to minimize this risk. Rehearsing with an elaborate plan is part of the effort to decrease this risk. I often think that planning on risk, controlling it, and looking for another risk when the existing risk is stabilized, and repeating this cycle, is like the process of making art. In that sense, maybe a performance is a state of maintaining, intentionally in an unstable way, the balance between risk and safety. I look forward to all the risks we will plan and go through together.

1 “Round Table: The Creators Who Are Seeking New Forms of Performance―Ye-song Ra, Minhee Park, Seungbin Bae, Ji Soo Shin, Min Oh, Eunhee Cho, Hye-In Seong, Yeasul Shin”, Korean Contemporary Composers and Compositions, Vol. 15 (2019), p40.

2 Judith Dunn, “We Don’t Talk about It. We Engage in It”, The Vision of Modern Dance, ed. Jean Morrison (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Books, 1979), p152. In the text, Dunn writes that the finiteness of dance is an opportunity and a problem.