Korean dance drama 'Darkness Poomba' headlines Damansara International Arts Fest

  • Arts
  • Sunday, 08 Jul 2018

'Darkness Poomba' is inspired by the Korean tradition of the outspoken itinerant entertainers known as poomba, reimagined as a contemporary dance. Photo: Layza Vasconcelos

The last weekend of the Damansara International Arts Festival (DIAF) brings Darkness Poomba to Malaysian shores, a dance drama piece by South Korea’s Modern Table Dance Company that fuses traditional Korean sounds and sensibilities with modern music and pop culture.

It will play at DPac, Empire Damansara in Petaling Jaya, the DIAF venue, from July 13-15.

The seven dancers are all men, and this particular work will have musicians on the drum, bass guitar and electric guitar, presenting live music inspired by ancient Korean music.

Here is a chance for you to enjoy something we don’t see very much here: Pansori, a Korean musical storytelling artform, will feature prominently in this production. This folk entertainment that started out being enjoyed by the lower classes was embraced by the Korean elite in the 19th century, and in 2003 was recognised by Unesco as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Darkness Poomba is an intensely energetic piece that has toured over 20 countries since its inception in 2008.

This intensity is reflected in choreographer Jae-Duk Kim’s description of the dance – or at least some aspects. For instance, when attempting to succinctly capture the atmosphere of Darkness Poomba in one line, he likens it to “a hungry human life moving from darkness to freedom”.

The show is a modern dance blending vocals, physical comedy, rock music, and soulful, melancholy song reminiscent of the blues tradition. Photo: Modern Table Dance Company

So don’t expect this piece to portray a serene, smooth transition from dark to light; the experience is more likely a metaphorical journey on a road blazing with fire and passion, an exhilarating roller coaster ride that is energetic, aggressive and almost primal in nature. Its black is movement that finds itself in controlled chaos.

“I have always had a preference for the Dionysian movement, so that really comes through in this dance. It might be a carefully composed piece, but the strong undercurrents of the Dionysus emotion will be very much present,” says Kim.

The Dionysus of Greek mythology is the god of wine, dance and intoxication; the Dionysian concept of which this is based upon is associated with movement and ecstasy, as well as irrationality and chaos. It appeals to instincts and emotions.

Darkness Poomba has evolved into a type of community theatre performance art. Photo: Modern Table Dance Company

Darkness Poomba takes this aura and melds it with what it means to be human, in all its imperfections and struggle in searching for that elusive equilibrium.

“The most interesting thing to come out of such a dance piece that combines different elements is its ability to find a balance. It is a balance between traditional dance and modern dance, between traditional music and modern music. Inserting a musical storytelling component such as Pansori into a modern dance piece creates a synergy that offers enormous meaning to me, as a Korean,” he adds.

Kim is the artistic director of Modern Table Dance Company, which started as a project in 2008 before becoming a non-profit organisation in 2013. Today, it is known for its fearless exploration of unconventional ideas and its love for experimentation.

“I want to dance with the people of Modern Table while growing old,” he says. Enough said.

Back in 2014, a 20-minute version of Darkness Poomba was presented at the Sibu International Dance Festival in Sarawak. Its upcoming staging at DPac will be its first full-length presentation in Malaysia. After its Malaysia stop, the production will travel to Belarus, Brazil, Russia and the United States.

Darkness Poomba is a piece that has been fine-tuned for the past decade or so, with its newest edition boasting more fluid transitions and mastery of movement and control.

“Ever since its staging at the Tokyo Triennale Dance Festival in 2009, Darkness Poomba has been constantly revised. Now its transitions are natural and it demonstrates more control over the body than ever before. We hope the audience will bring away with them a sense of the newness of modern dance and the impact of culture on mankind,” Kim concludes.

Darkness Poomba is on at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPac), H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Petaling Jaya, Selangor at 8pm (July 13-14) and 3pm (July 15). Tickets: RM68/60 (DCard holder). More info: www.dpac.com.my. Call: 03-4065 .

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