Lim Yi-jo Celebrates 55th Year of Dance
For some, Korean traditional dance may seem slow and too subtle, but according to dancer Lim Yi-jo, that's just the way it's supposed to be.
``It's an old form, we must be patient when dancing and even watching,'' he said, smiling during an interview with The Korea Times at the dance theater Tuesday.
The 61-year-old dancer, artistic director of the Seoul Metropolitan Dance Theater and the Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 97 for the Salpuri-chum, celebrates the 55th year of his career, and has prepared a special performance just for the occasion.
``It's been a long time, 55 years. Even now I can't believe so much time has passed. The upcoming performance will be a reflection of myself and my work, and also something extra special,'' he said, laughing.
Lee started dancing when he was six years old after watching a performance with his mother at the age of four. His mother, who was also a dancer, had a dream when she conceived him, and Lee believed it was a calling from heaven.
``A whole group of swallowtail butterflies flew toward her. When I came back home from the performance, she said I kept on asking for music and costumes, and that was when she realized that this child was destined to dance,'' he said.
But dancing became difficult, especially financially, after his mother passed away when he was 11 years old. But the young Lee didn't give up and he still believes he made the right choice to continue.
``It was a way of remembering and grieving for my mother. I danced when I missed her and that helped me endure. I think I would choose dancing even in my next life,'' he said.
Now a proud father of two, Lee is busy not only taking care of his own work, but also his children's careers: They are both pursuing dancing.
``They say it's a phase for the offspring of dancers to be a bit lazy because they have unconditional support, but that will pass I hope. It's interesting, they know how hard it is to be a dancer, but they still enjoy doing it,'' Lee said, shrugging.
Dancing for over a half century may have made him an expert, but in the case of Korean traditional dance, it requires more than experience and training.
``Korean dance is about control and restraint. It's hard to understand after learning just the basic movements. It needs time and growth. A friend in Poland told me that I looked like a cocoon slowly coming out if its shell. Another Japanese dance critic said it was like the ink slowly staining light paper. The dance is hidden somewhere between the numerous movements, and it takes a keen eye and heart to feel it,'' he explained.
There are various types of traditional dance, including those in groups with colorful costumes, fans and head ornaments, but the most difficult ones are done alone with nothing more than a simple stage, music and the audience.
The two representative repertories, which will also be presented in his upcoming performance, are the salpurichum and the seungmu.
``Salpuri'' literally means to free one from ``sal,'' or all the unlucky events like death and illness, in terms of exorcism, and the dance is done with the dancer on stage alone, dressed in a simple white hanbok, and a long white cloth in hand.
The seungmu, designated as Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 27, dates back to 1908 and represents Buddhism artistry, with the flowing costumes, long sleeves and the emphasis of the curves and lines of the movements.
``Traditional dance is light and strong at the same time. It doesn't seem sad, but it doesn't seem happy either. It's like meditation,'' said Lee.
The director said he felt sad that he was old now, when he finally knows what he is doing and the true meaning behind it.
``It's more physically demanding than before. My knees and arms hurt, but I am now always deeply touched whenever I dance. I finally realized that I will be dancing until I die, and this is an honor and a road I am willing to take,'' he said.
The upcoming performance ``Mu-eui'' is divided into two acts. The first act will present some of Lee's favorite dance forms like the salpurichum, seungmu and the ``hallyangmu.'' In the second act, the members of the troupe will offer a unique fashion show, presenting traditional dance costumes along with the suitable movements.
``Mu-eui'' will be held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, July 7. Tickets cost from 30,000 won to 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 929-7247.