|What is the Cultural Partnership Initiative?
It is a residence grant program created in 2005 as part of the Cultural Exchange Project aimed at cultural exchange with the countries of Asia. After that the scope was broadened to include South America and Africa. Unfortunately Japan is not included in the project. Perspective study residency candidates are solicited through 21 organizations in the fields of general culture (8), arts (6), culture industries (3), media (1), tourism (1) and sports (2). In the arts, the participant organizations include the, Korea Arts Management Service, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, the National Folk Museum of Korea, the Arts Council Korea and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea from the public sector and our CID-UNESCO Korea Chapter from the private sector.
The specifics of the residencies differ with the different organizations, but in our case we chose six people for six-month residencies and have them participate in multi-country workshops, creation of works and performances to gain experience in dance exchange and collaboration know-how. During the six-month residencies we also provide programs offering Korean language classes and Korean cultural experiences. Although only the support only covers the actual costs of residence and allowance for creating works, it is still an interesting and rewarding program.
What collaborations are you planning from 2010 onward?
We had plans for collaborations with artists in Singapore, Italy, and Eastern Europe, but with the current economic downturn we have been forced to postpone them. We want to wait until the situation improves. The only project now set to be held under the Cultural Partnership Initiative for 2010 is one with Brazil. As for other countries, we haven’t decided whether do things again with Asia and Africa regions or just Asia, since we have done projects with Africa for the last two years in a row.
You have contributed to Korean dance in many aspects. How do you view the Korea’s present dance scene?
I think it has finally freed itself from the academic establishment, the network of connections and the preconceptions about what creative dance should be like. In the past we often heard foreign critics say often that the Korean dance world is unable to free itself from academism. To some, academism may sound like a positive term, but what it meant in this case is that Korean dance was unable to go beyond student [college circle] dance. Because of the strict teacher-student relationship that dominated in the academic establishment of the dance world, even when independent choreographers created works, they would often be subject to review and revision by their professors. Lately the individual dancers are free of that influence and their creativity and choreographic skills have improved. As a result, they are now producing works worthy of being performed on the international stage. Of course, in the past there were always some people active on the international scene, but it is only recently that we have a large number of emerging artists capable of working on the international level.
I feel that we are finally beginning to see real reason for optimism in the Korean dance world. After the launching the SIDance festival in 1998 and beginning to build an international network, there were a number of years where there were still no works of Korean dance that we could send abroad with confidence. But now we are seeing the emergence of works and dancers that are worthy of the international stage.
Furthermore, the government is much more aware now of the serious need for internationalization and taking Korean culture abroad. In the past, government funding might be made available for overseas performances of traditional Korean dance, but never for contemporary dance. Recently, the consciousness is spreading among officials that when Korean dancers are invited to attend respected overseas festivals it is only natural that they be supported with public funding. At the end of October (2009), a “Korean Contemporary Dance Week” was organized jointly by the Korean Arts Support Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the City of Sao Paulo with five companies traveling from Korea to participate. This kind of event was unthinkable until quite recently. The realization of this event pleased me greatly, because it shows that the government now feels that international exchange through dance should be supported with funding from the government, whereas in the past participants in overseas exchange events in dance always had to pay their own way. Another thing that impressed me in Brazil was the fact that Korea has finally begun to follow the path of overseas performance projects to North America and South America pioneered by Japan a good number of years ago.
What trends do you see recently in dance?
In the past there were trends taking place in the Korean dance world, but recently there are not movements that might be called trends. The Korean dance world has become much more diverse with the emergence of new talents in their 20s to early 40s. A highly diverse range of impressive choreographers representing a wide demographic, such as Lee Kyoung-Un, Shin Joung-Chol, Lee Tae-San, Chung Young-Do, Choi Hyok-Jin, Lee So-Na, Park Sung-Ho, Shin Chang-Bo and Cha Jin-Hyok are now working with great freedom and originality in genre ranging from physical dance and theatrical dance to technology-enriched dance.
It has been two years now since South Korea’s administration change and there have been rapid changes in culture/arts policy and the system of support and grants for the arts. What are your thoughts on these developments?
There have been proposals for a variety of revisions in the system, such as entrusting the allotment of grants to the local governments, putting the Arko Arts Theater and other public theaters in the Dae-hak Street area directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and scaling down the activities that have been conducted until now by the Arts Council Korea, but currently these changes are in a state of flux, so I don’t want to make any comments about them at this point in time.
How has the designation of the Arco Arts Theater as a facility specializing in dance influenced the Korean dance world?
I was very happy to see the Arco Arts Theater designated as a dance theater. For any genre of the arts to grow it needs its own specialized hardware and infrastructure, and that is something the dance community in Korea has not had until now. The dancers and choreographers active in the dance scene don’t have much capability or means to secure the necessary social conditions or environment by themselves. That is what we are very fortunate that the government has recognized the dance world and taken the initiative to build a theater for dance.
According to what I have heard, there are now plans in motion to group together the four Dae-hak Street area theaters—Arco Arts Theater, Arco City, Dongram Theater and Sansan-nanum Theater—together as the Daehakno Arts Theater to be managed by a new foundation to be launched a foundation in January 2010. It is still in the preparatory stage and the artistic director is not decided yet, so we don’t know what specific effect this move will have on the Korean dance world.
Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview.