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Third Annual Wave Rising Series

by Sarah Hart
October 23, 2008
John Ryan Theater at White Wave
25 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-855-8822
Alexandra Beller and Company, what comes after happy, Christopher Williams, The Portuguese Suite (excerpts), and WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company, Ssoot II (excerpts)

October 15th to November 2nd, 2008
Hosted by WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company
Anyone wandering the narrow streets of Dumbo on an autumn evening, when the streetlights throw slick yellow pools on wet cobbles and the river shimmers beyond the darkened buildings and ropes of white lights from the looming bridge sling across the sky, would be forgiven thinking she'd stumbled into a magic world. Against such a backdrop, to come upon the cozy John Ryan Theater and the vibrant dance scene within feels something like stumbling upon a treasure trove.

The Wave Rising Series was conceived of and is hosted by Young Soon Kim, founder and director of the WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company and also founder of the highly-acclaimed Dumbo Dance Festival. This year, Wave Rising's third, 20 companies from six countries and many cities across the United States came to showcase their work in the three-week series from October 15th to November 2nd.

On Thursday, October 23rd, I saw performances by three New York-based companies: what comes after happy by Alexandra Beller and Company, excerpts from The Portuguese Suite by Christopher Williams, and excerpts from Ssoot II: the jewel in the lotus by Yong Soon Kim.

The first two did not particularly impress. what comes after happy was comedic dance-theater poking fun at the pursuit of happiness as engaged in by a youngish, single-ish, hip-ish city-dwelling population. At times the piece was funny and perceptive ("You're so beautiful as long I don't know who you are!" and "You can't be happy where you are, you have to get over there! But you can't get over there, because you're not happy!" and "You don't love me because you tell me you love me too much!" are approximations of what dancers screamed at different points) but it was painfully overdone. In striving to be a parody of contradictory and self-defeating self-help messages, the dance relied too much on cliché devices—a bowl of fortune cookies that the dancers rush towards and rifle through urgently, or blatantly simulated sex—thereby succeeding only in being a parody of dance theater itself.

Portuguese Suite suffered from the opposite affliction. Christopher Williams and Paul Singh were the principle dancers (with a brief appearance by Jennifer Lafferty). They wore high-wasted black pants of vaguely Spanish suggestion, ribbons, and their hands were painted red as if gloved. It was an odd, somewhat uncomfortable affair. The dance seemed to be about eroticism and sexual attraction, or maybe it was about narcissism. That was just the problem—the meaning was so obscure that it was difficult to remain engaged. It became monotonous. At one point, as my mind started to wander, it occurred to me that these two men in inexplicable costumes were, perhaps, jumping and lurching around for no particular reason at all.

But, all that said, the third performance, aptly named the jewel in the lotus, did, indeed, prove an absolute gem. It was excerpted from Ssoot II, by Young Soon Kim and was performed by six members of her company. Ssoot is a Korean word for a particular kind of charcoal, which is used to purify and energize.

Ssoot II: the jewel in the lotus, is the sort of piece that makes me want to describe it with metaphors and analogies that no doubt will make little sense. It was organic and natural—and yet urban. It was velvety and intimate—but somehow cool and utterly impersonal too. It was like watching someone else's dream. Or sea kelp swaying in the ocean's depths. Or a post-apocalyptic landscape where deer nudge through debris and vines push from boutique shop windows.

What accounted for this otherworldly feel? The soundtrack was part of it—an impressive original score by Allen Won, Hahn Dae Soo and Jang Young Kyu—which flowed seamlessly between drumming, bird song, and jazz. Also the intimacy of the performance space. We were so close we could study the impassive expressions on the beautiful dancers' faces and the rise and fall of their rib cages. The lighting helped too. It was often muted and sort of rusty-golden, as if we were peering through the smudgy windows of an abandoned warehouse. Then suddenly it would switch to a cold, florescent blue. And there were the odd details of the dancers' outfits. In many movements they wore street clothes—a button down shirt, a sparkling tank top and khaki shorts straight from Banana Republic, dresses that could double as sexy cocktail gowns. The dancers looked like modern wood sprites. Mops of hair obscured their faces. They were watchful and unemotional.

The quality of dance was superb. Especially impressive was Yin Yue. She is a tiny woman, but her body seems limitlessly agile and packs tremendous vibrancy. She had several long solos and a particularly lovely dance with Benjamin Degenhardt where they stood on chairs and seemed bound to a pillar. The color scheme was mossy green and their fluid movements had them clinging and detaching, reaching away, curling back.

Ssoot II took risks—there was a lot going on, many details and many tangents. For example, the piece opens and closes with dancer Khoi Le doing aerial acrobatics—suspending himself above ground with clever twists of two long strips of cloth. One expects such moves in Cirque de Soleil, not in modern dance. But in Ssoot II it works perfectly. The impression of the dance as a whole is that of a mosaic, or a cabinet of curiosities, where every small part fits thematically with the rest.

And the closing visual is appropriately ethereal. Le hangs from the ceiling and arches gracefully from pose to pose, the white silk streaming to the ground below him. It is as if we are in the presence of a milky white cobra of fantastical proportion, winding and unwinding, silently flaring its pearly hood.
WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu


WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu


Khoi Le from WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

Khoi Le from WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu

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