In the House – Korean dancer and choreographer Yong Min Cho

Asia House's first Performer in Residence Yong Min Cho directs tomorro's Bridging Colours - White performance at Asia House

Asia House's first Performer in Residence Yong Min Cho directs the Bridging Colours - White performance, which takes place at Asia House on 13 June, 2014

In the House – Korean dancer and choreographer Yong Min Cho

12 June 2014

By Naomi Canton

Korean dance company Pyung-In and musical ensemble Nol Eum Pan will perform Bridging Colours-White at Asia House on Friday, 13 June 2014. Yong Min Cho, the Korea-born London-based artistic director, tells us about his background and what the audience can expect.

Tell me about your background

I was born in Seoul. I studied architecture at university and after graduating I worked for an architect’s office for one year. But I decided it was not for me because, back then in 1993-1994, architecture was already all being done on computers. I felt that there was no connection between what I was designing on my computer and the reality of architecture and the buildings outside. In the same way, I studied English for six years, but when I left Korea I could not speak a word of it. There was a disconnect in both situations.

So, at that time I knew I did not want to do architecture, but at the same time I did not know what I really wanted to do.  I had not done any dance.  Then at the age of 29 I got a scholarship to go to Milan where I did a Masters in set design.  It was a four-year course. Then there was an Italian theatre director, whose show I designed a set for, who suggested I train in dance, as she saw my movement when I was doing some exercises with some actors.  She suggested I go to the Piccolo Teatro dance theatre school in Milan to train in choreography and dance. The Italian Government paid for it. Piccolo Teatro, Italy’s first civic theatre, was founded by the Italian theatrical impresario Paolo Grassi.

I spent three years there studying Italian contemporary dance. After that I was very lucky to be one of just 20 people to get a scholarship to go to the renowned contemporary dance academy Accademia Isola Danza in Venice to train with American contemporary dance choreographer Carolyn Carlson. I am now fluent in Italian.

What did you think of Carolyn who is now based in Paris?

She is tall and thin and has lots of energy. She said to me, “Don’t just copy my movements. Create your own ones. Be different and unique.” I liked that.

You gave up architecture but you stuck with dance. Why was that?

I began dance and I felt so happy. In dance I have a real space and I can work with my body in it.  I found architecture rigid and restricting. I like creative movement and what you can imagine about a space. Every day we use the same space. But it’s not the same, it’s changing because of the weather and the light and so on, but so often we don’t have time to listen to our bodies. We can change the space around us with movement and the atmosphere. So in a way it’s similar to architecture.

Tell me what you know about Korean dance?

Well, I am trained in contemporary Italian dance and not in Korean dance. But I do know that contemporary Korean dance is very Western-influenced and classical ballet is very popular in Korea. There are no good contemporary dance choreographers in Korea yet but the dancers are very prepared physically. I think people in Korea are very influenced by American techniques, so contemporary dance there is Western-style. I don’t understand why they don’t keep Korean traditions alive. I remember when I was training in Italy, I was thinking I was doing the same movements as other students and my teacher said, “Why are you dancing Korean style?” So maybe my image is different.

 What is happening on Friday at Asia House?

This is the first time I have collaborated with Pyung In and Nol Eum Pan. They are going to perform at Asia House on Friday and after that in Italy.I picked them up from the airport in London on Tuesday. Three dancers and four musicians have come. The dance troupe Pyung In has flown in from Seoul and the musicians have flown in from South West Korea. We were going to get sponsorship from the South Korean Government but after the Sewol ferry disaster all of that got cancelled. Pyung In is a professional dance troupe which puts on traditional Korean dance performances and although this is the first time they have performed in London, they have been to Europe before. Nol Eum Pan plays with traditional Korean instruments such as the Daegeum (the Korean bamboo flute), the Korean drums and the Ajaeng (a seven-stringed bowed instrument). Pyung In and Nol Eum Pan have performed together many times.

Korean dance company Pyung-In will be wearing white costumes made from recycled materials at their performance on Friday, 13 June 2014

Korean dance company Pyung-In will be wearing white costumes made from recycled materials at their performance on Friday, 13 June 2014

So what is your role?

Well, I am the artistic director so my job is to conceive Bridging Colours and make it connect to Asia House as well as direct the whole performance. They will perform three traditional pieces over 50 minutes and as people arrive, we will be putting on dance in different spaces of Asia House too.

They will be wearing white costumes made by the Korean brand Re:Code which uses recycled objects such as disused fabrics, airbags, parachute material and car seat material to make fashionable clothes. These are traditional Korean dance outfits. White is an important colour in Korean culture and tradition. It means death and rebirth as well as purity and cleanliness. It is thought that white cleans a place of negative energy. In Korea if you wear white it also symbolises that you are of high status and not labour class.

How well known is Korean dance in London?

Korean dance is rarely shown in London. But yet is very unique. When people think of Asian dance and music they just think of Indian and Japanese dance and music. But now Korean culture is coming to London. The Tate Modern in London featured an exhibition of Sung Hwan Kim and London Book Fair had a Korea Market Focus this year. Korean food is everywhere in Soho. Dance is always the last form of a culture to get recognised. I want to show Korean culture to people in the UK and to show them that it’s different to Japanese and Chinese.

What have you been teaching in your lunchtime creative movement workshops at Asia House?

I have been doing breathing, simple movement and stretching exercises. Dance is just in our gestures. It is not that difficult. The lunchtime classes give you energy and are a chance for you to spend 20 minutes by yourself, to listen to our body and be calm and keep positive thinking.

Korean dance company Pyung-In will perform at Asia House on 13 June, 2014

Korean dance company Pyung-In will perform at Asia House on 13 June, 2014

Yong Min Cho’s last drop-in creative movement workshop takes place on Thursday, 12 June, 2014 at Asia House at 1pm. For more information click here.

To purchase tickets for the spectacular Korean dance and music performance Bridging Colours-White, which takes place at Asia House on Friday, 13 June at 18.45 click here.

To read about a discussion that best-selling South Korean author Kyung-sook Shin took part in at Asia House with South Korea-born author Krys Lee click here.

To read about a private briefing held at Asia House with the South Korean Ambassador to the UK, HE Sungnam Lim, and AMEC CEO Samir Brikho, click here.

For fascinating insights into UK-Korea trade, the secret to doing business in Korea and partnering with Korean companies in joint ventures outside Korea, read this interview with Samir Brikho, Co-chair of The UK-Korea CEO forum and CEO of AMEC.