Jin-Yeob Cha, an Innovator in Contemporary Dance

The essential character of modernism is a rejection of established tradition and a re-examination of the nature of different art forms. This is, in part, a response to industrialization, the rise of science, and the decline of organized religion. Not surprisingly, the concepts of modernism were a guiding force in the evolution of dance in the 20th century. And many decades later, this form of movement was to transform a humble school ballerina’s life in a meaningful demonstration of the ‘Butterfly Effect’.

Jin-Yeob Cha, a South Korean born innovator in the field of contemporary dance has just finished the opening performance of Madam Butterfly, brilliantly presented by the English National Opera. On seeing Cha’s performance it is hard not to fall in love with her, so attractive is her appearance and so elegant her movement. Her good educational background and extensive stage experience – together with good reviews and coverage by the media – mean that she is on the verge of assuming an iconic status as the pride of contemporary Korean dancers. This was my first impression of Cha, and the fact that tonight she has performed at London Coliseum is a testimony to her considerable ability.

Cha’s own performing career stretches back to 1999 when she won first prize at the Dong-Ah Dance Concour in Korea, and her choreographic career kicked off after winning the Best Choreographer Award at The Korean Choreography Festival in July 2001. It was while attending Seoul Art High School that she first began to wish to disentangle the art form of dance from the aristocratic baggage of ballet. Whilst undergoing adolescence at the school ballet class, Cha was starting to develop ideas about how to create a personalised, voluntary form of expression that would deal with subjects worthy of consideration in her life. After switching her special focus of interest from ballet to contemporary dance, she concentrated on finding the answer to the key concept of movement; applying certain breathing techniques (that are based on traditional Korean dance) to contemporary dance is one example of the way in which she experimented during her master’s class at the London Contemporary Dance School. However, the contraction and release of her own unique breathing skills and extremely well- balanced upper body movement are not only central to the technique that makes her an artist through her dance; they also link movement to emotional expression, thus digging deep into their own conceptions. That is what enables Cha to epitomize the complete modern-day dance artist.In essence Cha disagrees with the ‘Standard of Good Performance’, which is not in itself a very unusual thing. She denies the existence of a universal or absolute criteria for judging good performance, holding instead the view that what we know and what there is to know is relative to our own tastes, experiences, culture and attitudes. She believes that reviews of her work will be highly dependent on individual culture, and will therefore inevitably be guided by perceptions that differ. This is something similar to what is at the heart of the philosophical concept of relativism, ‘Man is the measure of all things’ (Protagoras).

As can be seen from her recent work ‘Tough Wood’, Cha utilises empty space as a medium through which to communicate with the audience. Controversy over whether ‘nothingness’ really exists can be traced back certainly to the pre-Socratic philosophers in ancient Greece or, to be more precise, to Asia Minor, Southern Italy and Sicily. For Plato, ‘not-being’ is a necessary part of creating distinctions in the first place. Leibniz also insists on the nothingness of empty space as a precursor to arranging his Monads in it. Based on Cha’s ontological belief, she appreciates the emptiness by not interfering with it. And within this emptiness the dancer and the audience communicate with their own concepts; in this sense, the dancer is not only the messenger on the visible stage but also an art form in themselves to everyone’s (different) perceptions.

It is therefore true to say that Cha’s Work that has been collectively labelled ‘contemporary dance’ is by no means uniform in either style or content, because it reflects emotions and concepts of contemporary ideas/ideologies formulated by the audience and herself. Although there have been many dance artists making connections between non-Western forms and the theories of modern dance, Cha’s work is genuinely distinguishable from others in the way in which it links movement to emotional expression and conceptions. “Butterfly effect”? You will have no idea unless you see her magical performance.

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