Go Deeper

8 Redux: Meet Eun Jung Choi

Posted September 11th, 2010

All summer, we’ve been profiling the amazing Philadelphia choreographers whose work the 2010 Live Arts Festival is showcasing in 8: eight choreographers/eight new works, and we’re revisiting those profiles this week. Tonight and tomorrow night, 8 is serving up new dances from Eun Jung Choi and Jumatatu Poe. For details and tickets, click here, and read on to meet Eun Jung Choi.

When you move around the globe as much as Eun Jung Choi has–she’s lived in her native Seoul, as well as New York, San Diego, Colorado, North Carolina, Philly, and takes frequent trips to Mexico–you tend to lose stuff. Eun Jung’s new work All My Socks Have Holes, which will be featured in the 2010 Live Arts Festival’s 8 (eight choreographers / eight new works), examines how the stories and memories that we forget are concealed in the objects we have to leave behind.

In Seoul, Eun Jung attended an arts junior high and high school where she spent a lot of time in the studio studying traditional Korean dance, an art she began at the age of six.

“It’s sort of similar to contemporary Western dance in the way that it moves from the center out,” she says, adding that because the traditional dance focuses on the breath, “Many people think I’ve had [José] Limón training, but I haven’t.”

She was going to attend Ewha, a prestigious women’s university in Seoul, but cut her plans short because of the corruption of the university system, with professors going to jail for accepting bribes. “I was prepared for school but then I lost hope,” she says.

Then she saw a performance by contemporary dance group Pilobolus. “I had never seen that before in my life. This was how I was introduced to modern dance—besides Martha Graham,” she adds. “I felt like my spirit was lifted.” Her mother calculated that she could afford to send Eun Jung to study in America for a few years, so in ’91 Eun Jung began at and later transferred to University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

After the jump: American compliments, memory collapse, and stolen art.

Despite the fact that she says her English was horrible, “I liked that people in America actually complimented you. That’s very rare in Korea—in Korea they would just tell you what you were doing wrong,” she says. “It works for some people but not for me.” She must have been receiving a lot of compliments, because in ’97 she choreographed her first dance, a duet for Malashock Dance Company in San Diego where she was living. Following more moves and many more dances, in ’08 she moved to Philly from New York to be the resident artist at the nEW Festival.

“Dancing has changed in New York,” she says of what made her decide to stay in Philly. “Funding is drying out, it’s hard to find support as an emerging artist, there’s a lack of space and time . . . In Philly there are more resources and space and education.”

Eun Jung says a chat with her brother caused her to really begin thinking about how in the midst of all those moves, her memory had sort of collapsed over time. “He told me about this clay art that I used to make that he said was very professional. He said he used to steal it from me and give it to his girlfriends,” she recounts. “I have no memory of this!” She connects Roland Barthes’ notion of punctum, the emotional response involved with looking at a photograph of an object or person, to this sense of loss. The moments in time that she can’t recall are tied to the objects of her childhood that she can’t find, “like a photo or a backpack from second grade.”

“I don’t have any reference to my childhood. I came to this country and I lost many personal items. When you make a memory and you don’t repeat it, it’s lost. Memory is like a wheel,” she says, moving her fingers in a circle, “going around and touching on points with the same wheel, but different points, shifting.” All My Socks Have Holes will recreate this cycle in the way that each time it repeats the same story, the same movements will decompose and shift, losing some pieces of information and reconstructing others.

When she’s not choreographing, Eun Jung often works as a video editor. When I spoke with her she was editing a documentary for the video editing department at Temple. “It’s very similar to choreography—that’s why I like it,” she explains. “I have to figure out what to cut, what to add, what to slow down, what to speed up . . . All the limits in choreography are the same as in video editing.” One thing is, of course, very different: “What I don’t like is that I have to spend so much time sitting at the computer.”

Eun Jung often incorporates video into her dance pieces, but for her piece for 8 it seems like she’ll spend more time in the studio than at the computer. She’s working collaboratively on the video element for the piece with filmmaker Oscar J. Molina, who has done black-and-white videos for her past projects. She hopes that the dance and video will integrate to create a series of “moveable images.” Photography, she says, is so powerful in her dance work because of the way it captures a moment in an object, just as she captures the same moment with a movement. “This is why people like to collect souvenirs. It’s like having a memory collection.”

–Ellen Freeman

Performance photo by Egophoto, press photo by Lindsay Browning, other courtesy of Eun Jung Choi.