San Francisco International Arts Festival Features South Korean company, Ambiguous Dance, presenting the American Premiere of “Rhythm of Human”

by Charles Kruger

In “Rhythm of Human,” Ambiguous Dance make the point that “though people may not know it, there is a personal rhythm inside of everyone.” Photo Credit: Ambigous Dance. Quote from the website of the San Francisco International Art Festival.
This author of this article is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Faced with the assignment of preparing a feature article on Korean dance troupe, “Ambiguous Dance,” I began with the typical strategy of seeking an interview with the troupe’s co-founder, artistic director and choreographer, Kim Bo-Ram. But when I consulted with Andrew Wood, the energetic director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, he informed me that Mr. Bo-Ram does not speak English.  Not only that, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information available, beyond the company’s sterling reputation for excellent performance. Hmmmmm….. Is this lack of the usual plethora of press promotion part of the ambivalence of the company’s name?  I am intrigued.

A bit of research reveals that Kim Bo-Ram is an unusual fellow. Most of the choreographers participating in the Festival have more-or-less traditional training, even if their work has evolved into something wholly original. But Mr. Bo-Ram’s resume indicates that he spent ten years as a street dancer, which led to work as a back up dancer for music videos.

Following this clue, I googled “Korean street dancing” to see what I could find out. What did I learn? Korea boasts one of the leading hip-hop influenced, B-Boy, street dancing cultures in the world, with crews winning awards over and over again in international competitions. When I searched Google Images  I turned up literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of photographs. In 2016, the New York Times ran a feature about the Korean B-Boys (street dancers), noting that “South Korea is known for many things: kimchi, K-pop bands, inventive electronics, [and] Korean dramas {but} .. . break-dancing doesn’t exactly come to mind, even though South Koreans have been a dominant force on the international B-boy scene for 15 years.”

Alright. I can conclude, then, that “Ambiguous Dance” will be influenced by pop culture and, probably, a hip-hop sensibility. That’s a start. What else can I discover?

In a brief publicity blurb on the website of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, I found this intriguing remark: Kim Bo-Ram “seeks to return to the core of music and dance. . .sound before music…and body movement before dance.” Perhaps, like certain modern composers, he seeks his musical inspiration from what some might call “noise” or “nature?” Wind, perhaps, or footsteps, or a clapping hand, a tapping foot, the soundscape of a city or a country retreat? What is sound before it is music? Or movement before it is dance?

The second question might have an answer to be found in some of the company’s publicity material where Kim Bo-Ram references Thoreau, and the desire of so many to “march to a different drummer.” He suggests that this implies that every one of us has his or her own beat, our own natural dance, that exists before there is any learned dance or formal choreography. A rhythmic way of moving that is uniquely our own. But, he says, our own rhythm, the beat of our own drum, “gets lost in the rhythm of society.” Can it be rediscovered? Kim Bo-Ram answers with an empathic yes. In “Rhythm of Human,” he seeks to “tell a story of the difficulty and beauty of acknowledging freedom of expression.”

Clearly, this man is a street dancer who likes to think. But words are not his medium. In a statement about the company that was issued at an International Dance Festival in 2015, we read: “Ambiguous Dance Company was created in an attempt to escape preconceived notions about dance, and to deconstruct these with music and movement. We would rather tell a story about the importance of nature and pursue our beliefs of expressing music and movement through our bodies rather than with words. To us this is the most accurate and truthful language.”

And finally, I stumbled across this brief video of clips from “Rhythm of Human” that demonstrates some of that “accurate and truthful language” that Ambiguous Dance Company tries to express:

Like I said at the beginning: I’m intrigued! Aren’t you?

Ambiguous Dance will perform “Rhythm of Human” at The Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture on Thursday, May 31st (8 p.m.).

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) hosts this performance as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs from May 24, 2018 to June 3, 2018. The Festival features more than 60 performances by close to 40 different artists, ensembles, and companies. Get discounts on tickets to see multiple shows at the Festival by buying a Festival pass. More details HERE.

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