Bongsu Park’s two-part work, Crossing Over – Ritual of Grief, is an ambitious piece lasting for almost two hours which saw its first performance spread over two weekends in two different locations during August. It blends contemporary electronic music with traditional Korean music, and contemporary dance with traditional Korean dance such as Salpuri.
Appropriately enough for a work dealing with a journey to the afterlife, the venue chosen for the first part of the performance was a church crypt (that under St Mary Magdalene’s near Royal Oak tube in West London). The five dancers performed in two aisles separated by brick pillars and a metal railing; in a third side aisle were positioned powerful spotlights. As the budget was tight these were lights more normally found on a building site, but they did an excellent job of providing an angled light which caught the dancers’ movements from the side, supplementing the low-level lighting provided by candles.
The performance started with a solitary dancer making her way down the central aisle with uncertain, unsteady movements, like a toddler making her first steps in life. As she was joined by the other dancers their moves got gradually more confident, building in energy and vitality until we came to a section which seemed to denote love and passion, as the dancers launched themselves into each other’s arms in passionate embraces. But tragedy was not far away, and there followed an extended section dealing with bereavement and grief. Two black-clad mourners beat the ground as they expressed their loss, separated by a long, white cloth of the sort used in Korean shamanistic ritual.
The second part of the performance was a week later at Rosenfeld Porcini gallery, which also hosted Park’s Cord – Cell – Cube performance in 2014.
If the first part was a telescopic (and haunting) view of life, love and loss, the second part was more reflective. An opening solo presented Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus – a meditation on the absurdities of life; then, as other dancers joined, rolling dice on the floor – or inviting audience members to do so for them – we seemed to be encouraged to struggle onwards in life, regardless of the hand we have been dealt by fate.
Like the crypt a week earlier, the gallery also had two distinct spaces. One room was dominated by a shrine-like space defined by bundles of white twigs and dried flowers hanging from the ceiling – in Korea these objects have associations with the ritual of cleaning and wrapping the dead body. In a closing section of the performance those bundles would be cut down by the dancers one by one and handed out to the onlookers.
In the other room, five such bundles hung from the ceiling representing the five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Metal) and their associated emotions. The dancers rotated around these bundles in turn, taking on the characteristics of each different element as they did so.
The final section, which ended with the white bundles being cut down from the ceiling, had the five dancers moving slowly round the shrine lamenting the brevity of life and the fragility of everything we see, hear or feel.
I am grateful to the time that Bongsu Park spent with me trying to explain some of the ideas behind her work, and I apologise to her for not having grasped one tenth of what she told me. In a way, it is up to the audience to react to what they see and hear according to their own emotional and intellectual response. In the first part of the work the audience responded to the joyful emotions expressed during the central section and to the contrasting grief-filled section which followed; at the second venue people responded to the immediacy and intimacy of the piece – the space was much smaller and we were much closer to the performers, enabling direct interaction between performer and bystander. At the end of the second performance, most of us held cradled in our arms one of those bundles of twigs, making us feel that we had been part of the ritual we had witnessed, and feel grateful that we had been part of this very special two-part journey.