Review: Jinyeob Cha in Bongsu Park’s Dream Ritual

Dream Ritual
photo: Quan Van Troung

The stage is black, preparing you for sleep; the floor slightly mirrored. The space is empty apart from a curtain of transparent silvery organza fabric whose flowing folds represent the peaks and troughs of a typical sleep brainwave, and between which the dancer will move like a ghost.

The dancer enters, pulling a another fabric curtain across the stage, and we are ready to start.

Dream Ritual photo: Diya Mitra
photo: Diya Mitra

The dancer’s face is projected onto the curtain, eyes closed. The eyeballs underneath are beginning to twitch as she enters REM sleep. But the audience is still wide awake. Almost as if to lead us into a state of slumber where we too can encounter the dreams that are the object of this journey, the dancer slowly moves first her arms, then gradually her body, in imitation of the brainwaves which are now projected onto the layers of fabric, hypnotising us as they drift in opposite directions across the stage. She slowly subsides to the mirrored floor, gently moving her gracefully extended arms and legs in counterpoint to her mirror image, and is joined onstage by projections of herself onto the curtains as if she is beginning to prepare herself for multiple dream encounters.

Dream Ritual photo: Quan Van Troung
photo: Quan Van Troung

Later, she will encounter many dreams. She will watch them as they unfold in words before her eyes. She will reach for them, grasping at the texts. Finally, she will be possessed by them, absorbed by and into them.

The performance is a seamless combination of three components: the dancer herself (Jinyeob Cha) and the choreography; the video projection; and the sound design (by haihm). The dancer responds to the sounds and also the video projection. At one point, the stage seems like a disorienting hall of mirrors, with multiple iterations of the dancer projected onto the fabric, moving backwards and forwards, converging and diverging from each other as the dancer engages with them.

There is actually a fourth component in this performance: the audience and other members of the public who have contributed the dreams that will ultimately be sold at auction in aid of charity. For the purposes of this performance they provided some of the raw material for the soundtrack and video projections that in turn provided the inputs into the choreography. This aspect of the performance, together with the photographs that are animated in the video projection, and the overall conception and direction of the project, is the brainchild of Bongsu Park.

Dream Ritual photo: Quan Van Troung
photo: Quan Van Troung

Just as the video projection alternates between images of the dancer and the dream texts themselves, so the soundtrack has both voice recording – vocalisations of the texts – and music. The music is abstract, ambient, some of it sampled from aboriginal dream ceremonies, some of it drawing on Korean percussion sounds.

Sometimes the projected text is meaningful and coherent – first as a complete exposition of the story from the Samguk Sagi that represents the earliest documented instance of a dream sale transaction, and then as presentation of dream texts as submitted by the public, some of whom were able to be present in the audience. At other times the text is fragmentary, meaningless – elusive individual words or just scattered letters trying to assemble themselves into a coherent narrative perhaps signifying that the dancer has reached a state where she is encountering a collective dreamworld where the dreams are combining into the textual equivalent of white noise.

At times the dancer seems free from the specific dreams submitted by the public, and instead is possessed by the nightmares we all have: running without escaping; floundering with her legs without making any forward progress.

Dream Ritual photo: Quan Van Troung
photo: Quan Van Troung

Then, in a whirling frenzy, as the dream letters float upwards into the rafters, the dancer seems to be freeing herself from the dreamworld before one final scene of stillness: bathed in a red-gold light she  steps imperceptibly slowly towards us. For a moment we recall the vengeful, white-clad ghosts from the classic East Asian horror genre. But only for a moment: this ghost seems more benign, struck by a combination of grief, awe and exhaustion. She leaves the stage, replaced by kaleidoscopic memories of what has passed before as mandala-like combinations of some of her earlier dance moves course gently across the folds of the curtain.

Jinyeob Cha in Dream Ritual
photo: Bongsu Park

The whole project, more than two years in the making, required the faith and investment of many parties: the theatre donated the space for free, having worked with the artist before, and the participants donated their time, talents and passion while the prospects of funding from some of the traditional sources of finance seemed to evaporate before their eyes. The series of performances was a monumental achievement, profoundly satisfying for the audience and, one hopes, for the performers themselves and all the helpers behind the scenes. If this isn’t LKL’s event of the year 2019, it’ll be because there’s something even more stunningly good in the next couple of months. Right now, I can’t see that happening.

Dream Ritual photo Soohyun Chang
The final curtain call. Photo Soohyun Chang

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