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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When in Idaho, eat the kimchi

by Sophie Shackleton

My first encounter with the American West started in ways I expected. The trip to Boise gives you a profound sense of wide, humbling American land—the Rockies stretching beneath you as you fly over Salt Lake City, the barren hills hugging a clean, organized city, the expansive streets lined with golden trees—it's breathtaking. And when the rental car guy grinned at me like a next door neighbor and handed me the keys to a bright white Jeep Patriot, I knew for damn certain I wasn't on the East Coast anymore.

But the land of potatoes is full of surprises. In a bright yellow studio in the Idaho foothills, three Korean women, a Korean-American hospital chaplain, and a group of nationally acclaimed American dancers are collaborating in four different languages: Korean, English, Spanish (well, a little anyway), and dance.

This is the work of DanceMotion USA, a State Department program produced by BAM, which uses dance as a vehicle for cross-cultural exchange. This spring, Trey McIntyre Project toured to China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea. Three weeks ago, dancers from Korea National Contemporary Dance Company (KNCDC) joined TMP in Boise, ID for a collaborative residency in the USA.

Korean visitors aside, Boise is a weird enough place to find American dancers. Trey’s company, which moved here five years ago, gave up the usual assortment of rehearsal studios (they had to build one in the foothills), salads (we walked around downtown for an hour trying to find one), small apartments (we passed an actual castle, complete with a turret, on the road to the studio), and crowded grocery stores (we had to ask someone if we’d mistakenly walked into a warehouse), and instead chose open highways, friendly neighbors, mountain hikes, and Broncos fans. And the community has opened their hearts to them in return—the pride these football lovers take in their new home team can be felt as soon as you walk into the airport arrivals hall. (When the three dancers from Korea arrived, TMP knew exactly where to start—with a Gangnam-style flash mob in the arrivals terminal.)

The dancers of KNCDC—So Jin, Taehee, and Anlee—are greeted with big hugs before Monday’s rehearsal, and as the two groups attempt to describe their weekend with broken gestures and big pantomimes, they erupt into giggles. Christina of TMP starts the warm-up with a Korean greeting, to which they all applaud. The earnest kindness of Idaho has clearly rubbed off.

But the visitors are also rubbing off on Idaho. Last week, the Mayor officially proclaimed October 30th “KNCDC Day” in Boise. Ben Chon, a leader in the city’s small Korean-American community, stepped in as the residency translator in addition to his job at the hospital. He previously knew nothing about American dance—he’s now learning not only the vocabulary, but some moves.

Monday night, we drove the Jeep out of the foothills into the Boise suburbs to eat not potatoes but spicy kimchi and hoddeok under a dental lab, in a basement decorated with pink glitter curtains and traditional Korean knick-knacks where Ben’s wife practices traditional Korean dance when she’s not making crown moldings. That night, in the suburbs of Idaho, Koreans, New Yorkers, and a Korean-American family joked about the mountains around us using nothing but strange hand gestures and ridiculous facial expressions.

Yesterday, I got three huge hugs from An Lee, Taehee, and So Jin on the steps of BAM. They may be thrilled to be back in a city, but as I watched them helping their fellow KNCDC dancers find their way, stepping up to speak English on behalf of the group, and proudly sporting their TMP pants for rehearsal—I knew they’d brought some Idaho with them.

Sophie Shackleton is the Project Coordinator for DanceMotion USA (sm). She traveled to Boise last week with BAM’s videographer to assist in the creation of the show’s trailer (below). Trey McIntyre Project and Korea National Contemporary Dance Company will perform their collaborative work at the BAM Fisher Nov 14—17.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I love the personal story and this program is inspiring.