I wanted to re-create an Asian temple in London, says Korean dancer

Korean traditional dancer Jaehyun An is seen performing the Solo Monk Dance, a traditional Korean dance. She will perform at Asia House on 13 July. Image copyright: Hyunhui Lee

Korean traditional dancer Jaehyun An is seen performing the Solo Monk Dance, a traditional Korean dance. She will perform at Asia House on 13 July as part of the Silence project. Image copyright: Hyunhui Lee

I wanted to re-create an Asian temple in London, says Korean dancer

01 July 2015

By Naomi Canton

On Monday 13 July two dancers from Korea will re-create a unique and meditative temple experience at Asia House.

Asia House’s former performer-in-residence Yong Min Cho will perform contemporary Western dance, whilst traditional South Korean dancer and choreographer Jaehyun An will perform traditional Korean dance. The project is named Silence. The two dancers will be putting on separate dances on the first floor of Asia House.

Asia House caught up with both performers ahead of their performances.

South Korea-born London-based Yong Min Cho is artistic director of A+M (Asia Movement) and a choreographer, contemporary dancer and creative movement teacher.  He performed Bridging Colours at Asia House in collaboration with Pyung In and Nol Eum Pan in June 2014.

Yong Min Cho trained in choreography and contemporary Italian dance at the Piccolo Teatro dance theatre school in Milan. Piccolo Teatro, Italy’s first civic theatre, was founded by the Italian theatrical impresario Paolo Grassi. He spent three years there and after that he got a scholarship to go to the renowned contemporary dance academy Accademia Isola Danza in Venice to train with American contemporary dance choreographer Carolyn Carlson.

What dance will you be performing at Asia House on 13 July?

Mine is contemporary movement based on traditional Korean improvisation about the Silence theme.

Why is the project called Silence?

It was my idea to do this project Silence as I wanted to re-create an Asian temple in London in a contemporary way. I want to question what is the meaning of a temple. I would like to communicate that in some way or other with people. Equally I don’t mind if I communicate nothing. It’s also about expressing the beauty of all Korean arts and the depth of beauty of Korean culture and to remind us to be reflective in silence and to hopefully touch the audience. My dance will be performed in silence with no music.

There will be no phones allowed, no music, just silence during my dance. Everyone will have to take their shoes off as if they were going to an Asian temple or home. I will create two separate spaces in Asia House’s Fine Rooms where Jaehyun and I can perform separately. There will be four performances throughout the day and people can book for any of them. There will also be tables built like a pagoda, a traditional wooden bowl from a temple and contemporary Korean ceramics on display, courtesy Gallery LVS in Korea which have recently been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery. The theme is old and new and you will see that with the contrast of my dance and Jaehyun’s, as well as with the ceramics and bowl.

Tell me about the refreshments?

We will serve cold pink tea and tofu in the same way it would be served in a temple. It is temple food. The tea is known as Omijacha (오미자차, 五味子茶) in Korean. It is tea made from dried berries of Schisandra chinensis, a woody vine native to forests of Northern China and the Russian Far East.

Jaehyun An is a Korean traditional dancer and choreographer who lives in Paris. She graduated from Wonkwang University, South Korea in traditional Korean dance and has lived in France since 2007 where she has performed numerous times at the Korean Cultural Centre, Paris.

Jaehyun An will perform Seungmu (Solo Monk Dance) which is a long-standing piece in the Korean dance classical repertoire, considered to require the highest standards of technique and refinement. The dancer wears a white Buddhist robe with very long sleeves and it is based on the story of a woman seducing a monk and eventually disrobing. The long sleeves of the robe contribute greatly to the visual aesthetic and the beauty lies in the monk resisting her advances at first but eventually capitulating and freeing his spirit. It is accompanied by drums.

She will also perform the Mandala Dance which is a unique piece she has choreographed herself accompanied by cymbals.

Where and when did you study Korean traditional dance?

At the age of four I started learning Korean traditional dance and Western Classical Ballet.  I studied it at university in Korea and did several diplomas. I had three masters in Korean traditional dance when I was living in Korea, namely Bae Myeong Gyun, Bae Jeong Hye and Lee Gil Ju.

What made you move to France in 2007?

I was given the opportunity to take part in a collaborative dance project in Paris in 2007 and then I stayed.

Your mother is a Buddhist nun, is that correct? Could you tell me a little more about that? Did she/does she live in a temple? Have you yourself ever lived in a temple?

In 2000 my mother became a Buddhist nun when she was 61-years-old. However she did not live in a temple. Instead she lived in a city and taught Buddhism to local people acting more like a missionary. I have never lived in a temple. However the dances I am going to perform are traditionally performed by Buddhist nuns in temples in Korea for the public. It’s an ancient culture.  The monks traditionally put on different dances. The belief is the dance connects with the spirits.

At Asia House on Monday 13 July you will be performing Seungmu (Solo Monk Dance) dressed in a white hooded Buddhist robe accompanied by drums that you will play. How will you manage to play drums and dance at the same time?

This dance Seungmu is one of the most important and famous Korean dances. The costume and drumming comes from Buddhist ceremonies. Traditionally the dancer is female. She will wear a white flowing robe with long white sleeves and a white hood with a red sash and carry drumsticks hidden under the sleeves which she waves around to create a flowing movement and a sense of freedom.  This is one of the most difficult traditional dances. You have to study it for a long time to do it properly.

Tell me about your second performance, the Mandala dance? Where does this originate from? Did you choreograph it or is it a traditional dance? What can we expect to see?

I choreographed it myself. It is based on the Mandala, a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism which represents the Universe. My dance involves circling. It represents recycling our lives and it tells the story of life, how our lives all switch between good and bad and have lots of complications, how it goes at different speeds and switches between being happy and sad and has ups and downs. Even Buddhist nuns may appear calm but that does not mean they also don’t experience these things. I want to show all of this through movement and at the end I hope I have communicated what life is all about.

Do you see spirituality in dance? What do you hope people in London will get out of coming to watch your performance?

Seungmu (Solo Monk Dance) shows the different colours of Buddhism and through this dance you can feel and understand the different strands and elements of Buddhism. For me through silence I can hear different levels of sound. Maybe the audience can hear sounds during my dance that even I can’t hear.

How important is meditation to you?

I always meditate before I dance to clear my mind. Meditation removes idle thoughts, earthly thoughts and wordly thoughts.

What is your next goal in your career? What would you like to do next?

I’m a director of Korean dance and music troupe Association of Oulime in Paris. In October I am performing in Budapest and Paris and in December at the The Guimet Museum, a museum of Asian art, in Paris. I’m currently teaching non-Koreans Korean dance. My vision is to start a Korean dance company in Paris made up of non-Korean dancers.

Do you also do contemporary or fusion dance or just traditional? What draws you to traditional Korean  dance?

No, I have never studied contemporary dance but I took part in a project in Paris which was a fusion of contemporary dance with traditional Korean. The reason I stay focused on traditional dance I think will become apparent when people see it on 13 July.


The dance project titled Silence takes place on Monday, 13 July from 12.00 to 20.00. The dances take place at four intervals throughout the day and each session will be followed by pink tea and tofu prepared by Korean food artist Hyungsoo Yim and networking. To book tickets click here.

To read a separate interview with Yong Min Cho about the Bridging Colours project click here.