Sense of Darkness and Tongue Gymnastics – The Place.  London

Sense of Darkness and Tongue Gymnastics – The Place. London

Choreographers: Soo Hyun Hwang and Yun Jung Lee

Director: Yool Lee

Korean dance is averse to pre-prepared composition, preferring instead to let its performers create their own sounds as the piece unfolds. Last week, the noise of a piano’s destruction inspired MUAK and now The Place’s Festival of Korean Dance has two further human-generated musical accompaniments – the harmonies of Soo Hyun Hwang’s Sense of Darkness and the unusual clicks and tuts of Yun Jung Lee’s Tongue Gymnastics.

Performed by dancers Hojung Kang, Yeonwoo Na, Yura Park and Dasom Hwang, who close their eyes throughout, Sense of Darkness is a story of connectedness and an exploration of soundscaping in which they test the qualities of suspended microphones to create layers of harmony as the dancers move. Building from slow sways seated on the floor to broader movements around the room, the proximity of the performers to one another and their changing directions create tones in the music, varying pitch and projection to suggest changes in emotions as Sense of Darkness unfolds.

Finding themselves frequently separated, they emit choral and operatic sounds that draw them back together like sonar detection alerting them to the presence of others. And while the jerky speed of their movements has a rather sexual connotation, Hwang’s piece certainly experiments with the possible effect of movement on the sound created.

So too does Lee’s cheekier creation Tongue Gymnastics performed by the choreographer and Eun Jung IM, using the physical shape, projection and sound of the tongue to inspire a sequence of movements. It begins within the mouth, with the in-sync pair using their tongues to create shapes in their cheeks and chin as well as lapping and curling aimed at the audience.

This expands to a Henry Higgins scenario as the protagonists experiment with word pronunciation, over emphasising their tongue placement for effect as they develop from silly words like Stella Artois or Camden Hells to more vigorous tongue twisters that tax the speed of lip, jaw and tongue placement in rhythmic patterns.

Tongue Gymnastics builds to a sensual, also implicitly sexual, finale in which the movement of their tongues leads the rest of the body in writhing movements, as though kissing an invisible being. Occasionally the pair seems to use their whole bodies as a representative tongue while at others their own tongues determines what they do next. This award-winning piece is a strangely intimate experience but, like its counterpart, certainly innovative.

The combination of these works, that rely on the vocal qualities of the performers, is simultaneously unusual and entirely fitting with both thinking more broadly about the emergence of movement and dance expression from within the body. And across this interesting festival these pieces reinforce the notion that music is out there waiting to be captured, even in the most unexpected places.

Reviewed on 21 June 2022


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