Just Don’t Ask Her Why

Opus Osm

Choreographer Ji-Eun Lee instructs Prague Chamber Ballet dancers in a workshop.

For Ji-Eun Lee, building the dancers’ confidence is a crucial first step to her choreography. She wants them to risk new movements — without asking her why they should.

Some choreographers start by listening to the music to be used in a performance. Or they compile concrete dance steps. Or they draw upon traditional characters to fit a narrative.

For her Condition of Disappearance world premiere with The Prague Chamber Ballet June 24, Ji-Eun Lee started by asking the performers to dance to pop music by Michael Jackson and Beyoncé – for all four hours of their daily rehearsal time. She tells Opus Osm that as the dancers begin to relax and gain confidence, that’s shifting away from MJ’s to Ji-Eun’s own dance movements, but for the moment still using that pop music.

“I told the dancers, ‘Every-day movement is also dance movement. So if you want to do something very adventurous, just go with me. If you promise not to ask why, we can go further,’” she says.

She also gave the dancers the option to stay with conventional choreography if they felt more comfortable. “So they said it is quite unusual, but they want to do it quite adventurous,” she explains.

“It could be quite risky, but I will see.”

Even in an interview, Ji-Eun Lee dances
– at least with her hands.

One risk the young South Korean choreographer does not like to take is explaining her work in words. “Even yesterday after my show, many people asked me to explain the meaning of the scenes but I said, ‘No, the audience has the right to develop their [own] artistic ideas.”

Finding the right word to characterize her works is also difficult, she says. “I prefer not to mention anything about my piece. It’s just ‘a dance production.’ Writing even that itself limits my ideas. I prefer just using ‘project,’ something like that.”

She recently returned from performing her Play. Back. Again. Then (watch an excerpt, below) in Bulgaria. “And they said, ‘But it’s not a dance,’” she laughs.

Dance Performance: Play.Back.Again.Then

That’s why she’s glad in London, at least, choreographers are starting to use terms like dance theatre, conceptual dance, or picture dance art. They don’t ask “why.”

It All Started with a Tree … and Then a Book

Mrs Lee says she had always wanted to be a lawyer. But one day in high school, she happened to look out the window and was charmed by the swaying movement of a tree in the wind. “It was mysterious, it was a strange feeling, it was indescribable in language,” she says. That’s when she decided to become a choreographer.

After studying dance at Hanyang University in Korea, she gained a choreography scholarship and MA at Prague’s Academy of Arts, and later, a scholarship for her current PhD studies at the University of Surrey in England.

Mrs Lee has worked as a guest choreographer on projects all over the world. But it was a Czech novel that eight years ago made her curious to learn more about the Czech Republic. Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being brought her to Prague, her graduate study at the Academy, and the opportunity to first work with the Me-Sa Dance Company. And she didn’t have to ask why. — oo

– Mary Matz

Ji-Eun Lee and the Prague Chamber Ballet (Pražský Komorní Balet) will premiere The Condition of Disappearance June 24 at 8 pm at The New Stage (Nová Scéna).

Photo Credits: Top: Michal Hančovsky; center, Miroslav Setnička; video: Live Arts Research Institute

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