South Korean artists Bongsu Park and Jinyeob Cha join forces to produce Dream Ritual, a delicate, mesmerising and fascinating multi-sensory journey through sleep and dreams, writes our arts contributor My Ly.
Upon my arrival at The Coronet Theatre I’m directed down a corridor crammed full of interesting furniture pieces, display cabinets and vintage knick-knacks. I follow the signs for Ritual Exhibition and I’m led down a staircase into The Print Room; it’s a dark room and shows three films of wildly different contemporary dance performances by Bongsu Park on a continuous loop: Lethe (2015-2016), Internal Library (2017) and Cube (2011). Each short clip is part of Park’s internationally award-winning repertoire exploring human relationships, movement and the body within an enclosed space.
It is the piece, Internal Library, that was the catalyst for Park’s latest passion project, Dream Ritual. In 2017, members of the public were invited to sit down in front of old typewriters that were positioned within a series of fabric partitions and asked to type their own dreams, memories and secrets. Their submissions formed an integral part of this new live dance and video show in which Park collaborates with Jinyeob Cha, an innovative contemporary dance performer, to produce something truly unique. Watching Park’s first projects ahead of entering the main theatre is a great way of introducing the audience to her work.
As darkness falls on the cosy theatre auditorium, its curved stage and the audience, the first thing I notice is the minimalist stage setting with only a few full-length, semi-translucent curtains hung from the ceiling. These layers of fabric represent different stages of sleep and the dormant activity of the brain.
Dressed from head to toe in white, Cha floats onto the stage with porcelain skin and the elegance of a swan. She pulls the front curtain across the entire width of the stage to allow for the face of a sleeping Korean woman to be projected onto it – and this marks the start of Park’s intriguing and ambitious performance.
For the next hour, the audience is taken on a journey into Park’s fascination with dreams, sleep and the subconscious, which is made all the more enchanting by Cha’s beautiful choreography and contemporary dance performance. The piece is set to a hypnotic soundtrack by Haihm, a Korean musician and sound designer with two albums already under her belt. Park’s immersive show focuses on the quaint Korean tradition of dream selling; dating as far back as the 12th century, people could buy and sell dreams, allowing the purchaser to benefit from the good fortune predicated by the dream. This Korean belief still holds true today and it is one of these myths that is projected onto the front curtain. The projection tells the story of a woman called Munhui who buys a dream from her sister, Bohui, then marries a Prince and gives birth to six children (therefore fulfilling the symbolism of the dream that she purchased).
As a Korean living in London, Park is keen to incorporate the cultural differences and similarities between East and West into her work. This influence comes through strongly as the Eastern and Western worlds collide with Korean characters and English words being projected onto the front curtain. Figures, words and shapes intermingle with each other as they dance off and onto the fabric. All the different patterns displayed reminded me of my childhood days where I would squint with one eye and look with the other into the eye piece of a kaleidoscope, twist the cylinder and watch various psychedelic shapes and colours forming, changing and multiplying.
Cha uses her whole body to express each dance move; she is extremely supple with such graceful limbs that as she dances she reminds me of flowing water. Whilst she performs to different beats and speeds and holds alternate poses, Cha captivates the audience with her focus and precision. To say she makes light work of some difficult dancing sequences would be an understatement. Towards the end of this immersive dance performance, I was astounded by her effortless ability as a single dancer to command the stage and hold the audience’s attention.
The circle of life – or should I say dreams – comes back round at the end of the performance when Cha pulls the front curtain across the stage again. For one last time we see the projection of the Korean woman, still deep in a dream-filled sleep. A few seconds of silence and then a rapturous applause breaks out from the audience, whilst both Cha and Park step onto the stage to bow and take in this well-deserved response. It is unlike anything I have seen before; Park’s exquisite and seamless blend of dance choreography, music and visual projections is highly captivating and original.
Heading home to what I can only imagine will be a good night’s sleep, I can’t help but think that this is one mesmerising multi-sensory performance that Freud would be extremely proud of.
Dream Ritual is part of a wider project called ‘Dream Auction’ which is an actual auction of dreams with the profits going to charity. Click the links for more information about ‘Dream Auction‘ and Bongsu Park.