Young Soon Kim is often called a pioneer of the Korean Wave, known as Hallyu—her dance company is even called White Wave for that reason. But her impact on North American dance long predates “Gangnam Style”, K-pop, or any of the cultural forms that started flooding out of her Asian homeland in the 1990s.
In fact, you could say her course was set from the womb. “Whenever I do interviews and people ask me ‘When did you start dancing?’ I usually say, ‘Since I was in my mother’s womb’—because my mother wanted to be a dancer but was unable to do so,” the superenergized choreographer and White Wave Young Soon Kim Dance Company artistic director tells the Straight from her New York City headquarters before heading here for the Vancouver International Dance Festival.
Born in Gwangju, Korea, Kim began studying traditional Korean dance when she was six, later moving on to ballet. Kim never stopped, on a journey that would take her, almost inevitably, to America.
Graduating from her studies in modern dance at Korea’s Ewha Womans University in 1974, she was invited to the Martha Graham School, in the U.S., in 1977.
“When I was in Korea and I looked at what was happening in the contemporary dance scene, I didn’t see much of my hopes there,” she admits. “My mind and spirit was already in New York before I even got there. America was the motherland of contemporary dance and I longed to go to New York.”
From that big move, Kim made her mark and developed her own voice—first as a vibrantly expressive dancer for the likes of Jennifer Muller and Pearl Lang, and then as a choreographer, launching her own White Wave in 1988.
She’s been an unstoppable force, building 58 original works for White Wave, over its 30-year history, and making many trips back to Korea and other parts of Asia to present shows and classes.
“When I start choreographing and a theme is set, the first thing is I try to create a new dance vocabulary. I dance and dance and dance like a madwoman,” she says about her process. “I’m trying to build a new language. For me that is the joy: creating new dance movement. For me that is unlimited and then I start moving my body and it’s pouring out.”
Her works have evolved in diverse, visually stunning, and intricately crafted ways, from her aerial, Korean-inspired “SSOOT” series to the more recent, years-long four-part series called “Here NOW” that integrated multimedia video projections. The finely polished piece coming here is a bit of a departure: it’s a collaborative work with her dancers that concentrates on intimate human relationships and pure movement. Made for nine performers and nine simple white chairs, it’s called iyouuswe—as in I, you, us, we.
“What I wanted to convey with this piece was meaningful relationships as human beings,” she explains. “This society is very divided and this piece challenges how we relate to ourselves and each other—the struggle to find a sense of I as part of a we. I want the audience to examine themselves and society.”
The Vancouver International Dance Festival presents iyouuswe at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre next Thursday through Saturday (March 15 to 17).