Authors write books to express themselves. A poet conveys messages through poems. Singers share their feelings through their lyrics. All of these types of artists use words, either visible or audible, to communicate various messages to their readers or listeners. However, there are some things that cannot be read or heard to be appreciated, but viewed with a calm heart and an open mind. Dance. On a stage, music starts to play while the beat is counted. Then breaths are taken, and suddenly fragile bodies begin to move with the flow of music. Colorful costumes fill the stage as beautifully choreographed movements harmonize with the rhythm. Who are these performers? They are enthusiastic students of Professor Yul-ja Oh (Dance, 75’), who is currently working as the dean of Hanyang University (HYU)’s Department of Dance. “We are a creative dance company leading Korea’s art world,” she says.
Oh has been leading Beaknam Dance Company and is currently the director of her own dance company. Founded in 1985, Beaknam Dance Company has been working to mold intellectual and emotional desire into a form of creative art. Oh and her company’s most recent project is called Eternity & A Day, and was performed on Nov. 23 and 24. What kinds of messages did Oh want to convey to her audience? To find the answer and to learn more about Oh, Internet Hanyang News (IHN) met with her.
Oh was appointed as a professor in HYU’s Dance Department in 1985. She then established Beaknam Dance Company in that same year. “At first there were only two other professors majoring in Korean Dance and Modern Dance. All three of us had been abroad to study more about dance. When the opportunity arose, we gathered and agreed to create our own performance which led to the foundation of the Beaknam Dance Company,” said Oh. The company’s name was initially Milmul Korean Dance Company since Milmul , meaning “high tide” in Korean, was the symbol of the ERICA Campus. However, to directly advertise and spread the name of HYU, Oh changed the name into Beaknam Dance Company.
Beaknam Dance Company studies the repertory of Korean creative dance and continues to perform refined dance on stage every year. Also, it acts as an unofficial diplomat of Korea by members participating and performing in global dance festivals to internationalize Korean art culture. “I only select graduates of HYU as members of my dance company to show our Hanyang pride. The current members include mostly graduates and two undergraduates of HYU. We always work and practice to our fullest capacity just like professionals. For our recent performance Eternity & A Day , we met four times a week and practiced until midnight,” said Oh.
What message does the ambitious work Eternity & A Day convey? Inspired by the Greek film Eternity & A Day , which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, the dance performance depicts the life of a female violinist who suffered greatly from her failure to achieve her dream. The dance consists of 5 scenes and the respective scenes are called, “A Beautiful Dream,” “A Sorrowful Occasion,” “Departing Souls,” “Parallel Lines,” and “Eternity and A Day.”
The first scene, “A Beautiful Dream,” shows the failure of a woman in achieving her dream due to the strict social system she is living under. The second scene, “A Sorrowful Occasion,” shows the woman weeping from fear of starting new life and love. The third scene, “Departing Souls,” shows the agony of someone having to choose between ideals and reality. The fourth scene, “Parallel Lines,” employs an artistic rendition of a quote from the poet Nam-jo Kim, “We have never met but have never been apart.” The last scene, “Eternity and A Day,” is intended to shows the message that a dream is just a dream, and beautiful things and perpetuity only exist in one’s mind. The performance ends with a final message that there is someone who will wait for the tomorrow of eternity and a day.
Directing the dance performance, Oh said that Eternity & A Day was designed to convey an important message to the world of Korean dance. “The world today is full of advanced digital technologies that greatly affect the art world. The art world is losing fine art along with its analog characteristics. Korean dance is much more complicated than that of other countries due to its continuity without much breathing by the performers while the music is played with a slow, adagio tempo. As a result, Korean dance might be viewed as dull and boring. This is why some people will try to add eye-catching visuals by investing in installations or props. However, what I think is that they end up pursing things out of a sense of pride,” said Oh. Instead, she relies more on analog and focuses on fine art. These efforts are paying off as it is noticeable that the dance moves in her performances appear simplified rather than showy or overdone.
Living her life as a dancer, what Oh emphasizes is not innate talent but vast amounts of practice. What Oh has learned throughout her dance career is simple: whatever you do, you will succeed with diligence. She started dancing when she was in elementary school. Oh says concentrating on one field for 10 years will bring about successful outcomes. “My lifetime dedication to dancing has enabled me to find inspiration from whatever I see and wherever I go. I remember the feelings I had when looking at leaves, trees, and mountains, and develop those feelings into dance movements,” she said. For example, many people tend to connect bitter taste with coffee. However, for Oh, coffee is not just about its taste. When thinking of where coffee is from and how coffee beans are harvested, creative thoughts and inspiration can be elicited.
What does dance mean to Oh? She says dance is an expression of what is inside one’s mind. However, since there is a limitation in the size of the stage and time, Oh believes that one would never be able to fully share what is in one’s mind. She said, “The size of the stage is not proportional to what we want to express. Also, since dance a is non-verbal movement, expressing one’s thoughts is much harder. On top of that, dance performances do stay as a form of a written record but disappear after performed on stage.” The challenges she mentioned are expected to be lessened as Korea’s cultural level and understanding continues to progress over time.
Oh was a student who was always ahead of her time. She believed in what she did and did what she liked to do. She says that one can freely dream of achieving one’s dream but to truly do so, one should be prepared to bravely step off the road planned ahead if it does not seem to work out. She emphasized that it is most important to evaluate oneself in order to determine the right path to take for the future. Although Oh was interviewing off the stage, she was still as elegant as she is when performing. IHN expects memorable performances from Beaknam Dance Company in the years to come.