DANCE REVIEW: BYOULNORRI (DaEun Jung; 2023 Dance at the Odyssey)

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by William C. on February 18, 2023

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles


DaEun Jung‘s Byoulnorri closes Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s dance festival, 2023 Dance at the Odyssey, with playful austerity. The hour-long concert is performed in two parts, Byoul (별): “star,” a solo performance by the Choreographer herself, and Norri (놀이): “play’, a four men ensemble work.

DaEun Jung, a trained performer of Korean traditional dance, continues her work of redefining the art form’s principle, form, and structure in inter/multi-cultural settings. Both works stem from the vocabulary of her training. The dancers’ hand gestures — quickly activated yet graceful — reside in liminal spaces, breaking the kinetic connection of stillness to movement. Paired with the fantastic pansori vocal recording by LA-based pansori singer Melody H. Sim (Shim) and composition/sound design by Daniel Corral, the works’ messages are powerful and precise.

Both works are at once ceremonial and quite funny. The solo Byoul is a well-executed game of time perception. The recording and choreography are set at a continuous singular pulse (40 BPM, to be precise), never wavering once. Two tally counter screens add each occurrence — 10 apart from each other — reinforcing the linear and monotonous experience for the viewer. The rule of the game is revealed when both vocals and movement seem to be glitching like a skipping record. With one screen’s tally continuing forward and the other stuck at the displayed number, the dancer, in an incredible feat of technique, repeats the same movement for a comically long duration. Then, move forward once more as though nothing has ever happened. It is a humorous work performed with incredible precision. What I appreciate the most is the experience of belonging instantaneously to the past and present. The cognitive dissonance created by the visuals and music is a mind fuck. I may be reading too deeply into this, but in a way, Jung is also inviting us, the audience, into her own experience as a trained performer of an ancient art working in the present time. The expressed idea felt personal and meaningful.

Norri is a whimsical ensemble work performed by four incredible dancers. The choreography uses cannon, unison, and counterpoint built from phrases of traditional Korean dances, continuing the chosen thesis of working in a limited, restrained world. The music is rhythmic, and the recorded vocals have taken on more shapes, expressions, and vibrant tones. Contrasting with the singular thesis of Byoul, Norri is a celebratory, less scholarly pursuit, more kinetically focused. The collaborative process is present when dancers perform phrases outside of the traditional vocabulary, bringing in hip-hop and modern phrases as if to consciously break away from the confines of limited vocabulary. It is particularly mesmerizing to watch the “accents” of each dancer. Borrowing the language metaphor from Ms. Jung, each dancer’s body recreates the exact phrases with slight but discernible differences, almost like hearing different accents of the same language. This demanding piece asks the dancers to perform in a controlled frenzy. Their smiling faces during the applause are evidence of their joy with sharing and performing the work.

It is very uplifting to see DaEun Jung’s work presented on the stage. Her approach to dance is a combination of scholarly exploration and humor. It breathes much-needed life into the stoic nature of Modern Dance. Congratulations to Ms. Jung, her fellow collaborators, dancers, and the team at Odyssey for finishing another year of the Dance at the Odyssey festival.

photos by Michael Palma, all rights reserved 2022

Dance at the Odyssey 2023
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd in West L.A.
ends on February 19, 2023
for tickets ($25), call 310.477.2055 ext. 2 or visit Odyssey or DaEun Jung

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