Friday, January 27, 2006
A Decade Later: A Remarkable Choe Sang Cheul
I remember him as an intense young Asian who was a dancer and choreographer. I remember him as a young man engaged in research, already an artist on a journey, the first man in Korea to earn a Ph.D. in dance, blazing a trail just as the subject of his research Sung-Hee Choi pioneered Korean modern dance, in spite of the Japanese Occupation. In 1946 she defected to North Korea with her husband who was a writer and lived in exile after her husband lost power in that regime. The division of Korea into two forces polarized by political ideologies is perhaps the greatest unresolved political and cultural tragedy and travesty of modern times. All of this brought to my awareness through my work with Sang Chuel as I served to mentor him through this research and writing.
I remember the momentous occasion of his oral defense in 1996 and his return to Korea and then to Arizona... losing touch, but keeping track of him through others. His presence as a memory began fading like worn pages of a classic book or the vanishing image of a photograph as the emulsion surrenders to time and ultimately dissipates into nothingness.
Then after all these years Sang Chuel calls and says he will be in New York on Friday.
Fast flash forward ten years to 2006 as I sit across from a distinctive and elegant individual whose demeanor embodies his remarkable journey as an artist. Impressive. He has fought through difficulties and persevered. He has collaborated with major artists, film directors, musicians, and composers to create major contemporary multimedia works such as Red Swan and Black Angel. Despite his artistic success, it isn't hasn't been an easy entry into Korean Academia. In some ways, his artistic vision and success, along with his Ph.D. in dance, have made him seem something of a threat to others on the faculty and administration. He has had greater success teaching in the United States, but his heart and his mission is with dance in Korea which has a rich tradition and enormous promise for the future. He is determined to have a voice in that future.
What makes my experience of his return so extraordinary is the many layers of development that accompany him, that cling to him like an artistic aura. We did not talk that much about his work, but it was resonating in every word and gesture. I could see that he had transformed his proclivities as a researcher into an inner inquiry, an inner searching out of values and ideas that would inform his creative work. There is a burning energy that uncovers the ideas as poetic revelations translated into movement, gesture, music, and image.
He is in New York to discuss showing his work at White Wave, a showcase for contemporary dance, located in DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) at the John Ryan Theatre, which has been responsible for introducing more than 2000 dance companies from all over the world to New York City. It creates a new challenge for him since the works that would be practical to bring may need to be much smaller in scale, compared to the monumental multimedia works he has choreographed and produced in Korea. Whatever materializes as the dance works for White Wave will be distinctive. They will bear the imprint of a mature artist entering a new and important phase of his work. They will be remarkable.