Theatre Survey

54:1 (January 2013)
© American Society for Theatre Research 2013




by Christine Mok

Everything you do, everything

You don’t do, deceives.
When I love, I make you
My enemy.

But the words you spoke

Keep themselves within me.

—Songi 1

The dance opens with a bespectacled dancer, dressed in a contemporary tracksuit, entering the stage space. She stops at the edge and looks out into the audience, surveying the bodies sitting before her. After taking them in, the dancer heads upstage to a long table. She sets her hands in front of a video camera, and they are projected via a live feed onto an adjacent video screen. She takes a threaded needle and begins to sew into the top layers of her skin (Fig. 1). The dancer does not display any discomfort and she does not pierce all the way through her flesh. Each time the needle emerges from skin, the dancer makes a knot. These knots are small black nodes extruding from the dancer’s porcelain skin. The thread between the points is submerged in thin epidermis, tracing a path, but from here to where?

The opening scene to Dean Moss and Young Jin Kim’s 2008 dance theatre piece Kisaeng becomes you is a provocation. The performer sets the stage through an act of spectatorship, by gazing out at an audience, that, in turn, becomes the spectacle. This shift in perspective foreshadows the migrations—between and across spectator and spectacle, audience and performer, everyday body and trained body—that will happen later in the piece. The dancer breaks the moment when she strides upstage to sew across her palm. She calmly pierces through her skin with

Figure 1.

From left: Ji Sun Kwen (back), Jeong Eun Yang, and So Yeoun Lim look on as Mi Hyun Lee sews into and across the top layer of the skin on her hand. Kisaeng Becomes You, 2008 New Vision Art Festival, Hong Kong, choreographed by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim. Photo by Mr. Ng. Courtesy of Dean Moss.

the sharp steel needle, but the needle does not draw blood. In puncturing only a few layers of her skin, the dancer demonstrates how very deep skin2 is, revealing the myriad layers that contain bone, blood, flesh, and sinew. The repetition of perforations seems to reveal something through the interplay of black nodes exposed outside the skin and the submerged black lines below the skin. This particular performance is doubled; it is presented onstage and blown up on the screen. The close-up, though, seems to not be close enough; while the knots above the skin and the lines between the skin are visible, the screen and the camera do not offer up a clearer picture. In this instance, objects are farther away than they appear. The intermedial and interstitial are rendered unknowable, as the audience has yet to learn how to read these lines, to read the points of the map drawn across the knotted nodes of thread.

The performance of Kisaeng becomes you actually begins as audience members arrive. At Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, ticket-holders are corralled into a long line. A group of young women rushes into the queuing crowd. In a few minutes, these women will be the ensemble of dancers, but for the moment they are looking for fellow performers among volunteers from the audience. The dancers approach each prospective performer and ask if he or she would be interested in participating. They find a man and interview him for three minutes. The interview is videotaped and will play later in the piece. The dancers also find three women to collaborate with. Each time the dancers find a willing participant, they clasp their hands in joy. The dancers are excited by the prospect of a new cohort and cannot suppress their giggles or their compliments to the new subjects, or maybe objects, of their performance. Movement across and between boundaries begins even in the liminal space of the lobby.

By manipulating theatrical ontologies such as the role of the audience and the role of the ensemble, or delineations between rehearsal and performance, or even the use of theatrical paraphernalia such as props and costumes, Kisaeng becomes you punctuates submerged acts of transnational and transhistorical transformation to revise narratives of identity, affinity, belonging, and becoming. In the dance, Joseon dynasty–era (1392–1897) poetry becomes the inspiration and text for contemporary performance. Multimedia and video projection produce an intermedial layer to spectatorship. With the inclusion of audience members who are invited onstage, spectator and spectacle shift as spectators become performers onstage/onscreen. Through their enactments and reenactments, both the performers and the audience members who perform stand in for kisaeng, the historical Korean courtesans and professional entertainers whose lives and writings are the source material for the piece. In order to answer the provocation of Kisaeng becomes you, I move from a triangulation of history, memory, and embodiment to examine three moments in the dance piece. I contend that through these becomings, the kisaeng are transformed as the choreographers rewrite and remember these controversial figures as new subjects who are, perhaps, Asian American,3 subjects shaped by modes of identification forged in globalization through what May Joseph calls the “transversal, nonlinear arenas of postnational identification.”4

By highlighting modes of interpretation built on the multiplicity of identities, nations, origins, and even historical time, the dance illuminates in practice and performance what David Palumbo-Liu calls “Asian/American,” an appellation that holds “both the distinction installed between ‘Asian’ and ‘American’ and a dynamic, unsettled, and inclusive movement.”5 The unsettled and inclusive movement in the choreography mirrors the interplay between the audience members and the performers, between the historical kisaeng and the bodies that stand in for kisaeng onstage. Even the name of the performance, Kisaeng becomes you, evokes that kind of dynamism. The title of the dance eschews a notion of identity as being, opting instead for a sense of becoming that focuses on processes of constructing, negotiating, and producing not just a national identity but a particularly gendered, historic, and artistic identity that each audience member is hailed into being: kisaeng becomes you; you become kisaeng.

The kisaeng invoked in the title and text of the performance is an ambivalent figure with a contested identity and history. Scholars argue whether the kisaeng were mainly entertainers or mainly prostitutes. Some maintain that the kisaeng’s sex work became mandatory during Korea’s colonial rule by imperial Japan (1910–45).6 Mythologically and ideologically, the kisaeng have been marked as symbols of national culture, as protofeminists, or as voiceless victims of oppression. The dance enacts these historiographic oscillations (Figs. 2, 3)—it includes both narratives with kisaeng in the spotlight and narratives in which they are obscene (from the Greek phrase ob skene, offstage)—in a choreography that relies on the labor of audience members, who are dramaturgically integral to half of the performance. Absences have been structured into the dance that must be filled each night with new bodies.

Such interplay is inherent in the materiality of the dance. Kisaeng Becomes You is a cocreation by African American choreographer Dean Moss and Korean choreographer Yoon Jin Kim. Moss, a director and media artist, produces multi- disciplinary work through his company Gametophyte Inc.7 He served as the curator of dance and performance for NYC’s The Kitchen from 1999 to 2004. Kim is a Seoul-based Korean dancer and choreographer whose company is known for exploring new forms of contemporary Korean dance by fusing genres of

Figure 2.

From left: Ji Sun Kwen and Jeong Eun Yang stand by as Mi Hyun Lee is taken forcibly into the arms of Yu Ri Bae (on table). Bae is wearing the gache (wig) that the first volunteer has worn. Kisaeng Becomes You, 2008 New Vision Art Festival, Hong Kong, choreographed by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim. Photo by Mr. Ng. Courtesy of Dean Moss.

Figure 3.

From left: Mi Hyun Lee, Yu Ri Bae,  So Yeoun Lim, Ji Sun Kwen, and Jeong Eun Yang, perform for the audience. (This sequence closely follows, and grows out of the dancers’ reactions to, the one shown in Fig. 2.) Kisaeng Becomes You, 2008 New Vision Art Festival, Hong Kong, choreographed by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim. Photo by Mr. Ng. Courtesy of Dean Moss.

traditional Korean dance with multimedia. Kisaeng becomes you was commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, produced in partnership with the Seoul International Dance Festival. Moss and Kim developed the piece both in Seoul and at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee, Florida. The performance created pathways between the United States and Asia, a chart drawn across the sites of rehearsals, residencies, and performances. The multiple premieres in Seoul, Hong Kong, and New York City mark the particular migration pattern of the performance. These travels spread the performance, so that Kisaeng Becomes You repeats not just over time (during a run of a performance) but also over space, in each particular location. The particular sites or places of performance mark the piece as indelibly as the nightly addition of new audience members from each new city. While economic forces may have forged certain pathways via grants, fellowships, residencies, and multiple premieres, the social and political consequences of these transnational travels underscore the link between choreography and migration. Both movements in the dance and the creation of the dance highlight the process and labor of cultural production.

Because of the large component of audience participation in the dance, each iteration of Kisaeng Becomes You relies on chance, as difference and various combinations of performers coalesce onstage night after night. Video footage of other performances documents various combinations of participants in performances in Hong Kong and Seoul. The Seoul performances hinged on generational and regional difference, as women of different ages who were both older and younger than the ensemble participated in the action. The Hong Kong performances built on national difference as well as generational and regional difference. At the performance at Dance Theater Workshop in New York on 27 February 2009,8 a bookish young white man gave his onscreen testimony; a dignified older white woman took up the hanbok; and two young women, one white and the other African American, were cajoled into boozing it up with the dancers onstage. Referring to audience members who accepted the invitation to join the dancers onstage as “volunteers”9 highlights the question of what exactly their labor is and what part they take in cultural production. These volunteers may offer their services freely onstage, but they seem to have been chosen to highlight their difference from the ensemble of Korean women. The volunteers differ in age, race, and gender, and their inclusion in the dance refutes notions of bounded national identities among the performers (including the volunteers) and the audience (from which volunteer performers step out). From Florida to Seoul to Hong Kong to New York City, the dance traces a route across nations and nationalities.

Everything you do, everything

You don’t do, deceives.

The dance not only travels across the globe, it also moves across histories. The performance creates its text by combining Joseon-era kisaeng poetry—artifacts of traditional Korean “culture”—with contemporary anecdotes elicited from volunteers. Like the semisubmerged route of black thread connecting points in the palm of a hand, the dance forges links between and across. Whereas Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (1997), a first-person narrative about a Japanese geisha, was so recognizable in its stereotypical descriptions that it remained on the New York Times Best Sellers list for two years, the kisaeng’s movement into cultural production is more syncretic. Embodiment is partial and elliptical as contemporary women, audience members and members, of the ensemble comingle onstage with historical women ghosting across their poems. Even the lines of poetry have endured historiographic shifts by way of oral memory, the archive, and contemporary translation. As modern and ancient temporalities collide, so do supposedly disparate cultures: Asian and American.

Beginning in the tenth century, young Korean women were trained in the arts—song, dance, poetry, and even medicine—in order to entertain royalty and yangban (gentry). As professional entertainers and courtesans, kisaeng occupied a liminal space in a highly codified and rigid society. The women were often part of the cheonmin social class, the lowest hereditary caste. Kisaeng were either born into the class and profession or sold into it, and they were trained for years so they could interact with noblemen. Kisaeng occupied a particularly complicated role in the gender politics of Korea. In order to be appealing companions for men, they were highly educated in music, dance, poetry, calligraphy, and textile crafts.10 Extraordinarily, the kisaeng’s education was an imitation of the training given to young male officials. During the long Joseon era, kisaeng were the only women to receive formal education.11

As historical subjects, kisaeng are hypervisible because of their sexuality and artistry, but even with their training, kisaeng held a delicate position within their society. Their favor waxed and waned depending on who was on the throne, and there were repeated attempts to eradicate them from official society through the ages. The very existence of the kisaeng was problematic, even subversive. Confucian customs dictated that men and women were forbidden from sharing public space after the age of seven12 Indeed, Confucian customs were so strict that the kisaeng received medical training, presumably so they could provide care for each other and other women in the palace.13 Even so, the kisaeng existed in contradiction to Confucian dictates, particularly in their ability to enter into public (often royal, judicial, and civic) spaces and occupy such spaces with men. The particular public spaces in which kisaeng mingled with the nobility were spaces of performance where the women would dance and sing. Their dances and songs have been passed down as traditional art forms. Kisaeng poetry has come to epitomize sijo14 poetry in studies of Korean literature.

Current scholarship on twentieth-century sex tourism in Korea often locates contemporary histories in a narrative that reaches back to the kisaeng of yore.15 While these historiographies chart a transformation over time, they highlight developments that suggest a sense of inevitability. C. Sarah Soh calls to account “Korea’s very long history of the state-supported institution of kisaeng, which helped legitimate the male right to public recreational sex for over a millennium.”16 Both the entrenched kisaeng system and the “idea of the gisaeng”17 became part of the system of licensed prostitution under Japanese colonial rule18 Kisaeng houses continued into the late 1940s and 1950s. Though an education in the arts was no longer mandatory for kisaeng, a main feature of an evening’s entertainment at a kisaeng house was the “kisaeng party,” which included dancing and vocal performance. By the 1960s, “kisaeng tourism” had begun to flourish as the Korean government sought to profit from normalized diplomatic relations with Japan and Japan’s burgeoning economy. The economic boom during the 1960s and 1970s in South Korea was nicknamed the “miracle on the Han.” Indeed, it was this miracle that transformed the a war-ravaged country to a highly developed one and established Seoul, its capital, as a global city.19

In addition to economic development policies that underpinned kisaeng tourism, the government began a process of canonizing Korean national culture. Former kisaeng taught and performed, but with the understanding that “the women were now subjected to the new pressures of national culturalism. For one, this meant unspoken injunctions to be discreet about the gisaeng and the colonial past, the sexual frankness of folk music, and so on.”20 The institutions that pushed for the recognition of an intangible cultural heritage were attempting to remove the “taint of Japanese colonialism, modernity, or the aura of change.”21 Though the move to archive the kisaeng is described as an act of preservation, it was an act of revision, even an erasure, of the intimate labor of women. The particular imbrications of national politics and sexual politics, which manifest in a thriving kisaeng tourist market and the establishment of a traditional national culture, conveniently erase unpleasant pasts, both the past of Japanese colonialism and a past in which the kisaeng system was a state-sanctioned system of sexual slavery.

Instituting tradition and the traditional also was an attempt to ensure South Korea’s place as a fully developed nation, propelled from the early modern period of the Joseon era into modernity. The process of establishing certain forms of dance and poetry as traditional delineated the past from the present. Identifying only certain cultural products as part of a traditional heritage is both a historiographic and a postcolonial move: postwar Korea emerges with distinct premodern and modern timelines, defying orientalist notions of a timeless Asia cut off from the development and historical progress of the Western world.22 Such heritage making is a form of archiving, and as such, it is both inventive, an act of creation, and conservative, an act of preservation.23 While the national art forms assume an unchanging quality, the nation narrates a tale of (aesthetic) growth. Through the enactment of an official literary and performance history, South Korea can fast-forward through the growing pains of modernity to become a contemporary state, a process made possible by economic advances that were financed in part by kisaeng tourism.

Were the kisaeng state sex slaves? Did kisaeng carve a path for the contemporary dilemmas of entrenched military sexual slavery and sex tourism across Asia? How and when did the “traditional” kisaeng transform into sex slaves? Or were they always already slaves? These questions underpin any sustained inquiry into the kisaeng. However, the transformation of the kisaeng, especially her canonization, requires examination. The kisaeng’s double legacy (or her legacy as a double) is at the heart of the heritage historiography of the kisaeng, who is both the professional performer and prostitute, sex worker and art worker. Without necessarily elaborating upon sex work, I would like to examine how the art works. Even if the vocation of the professional female entertainer was just a euphemism, the art remains.  In the attempt to archive the kisaeng’s art forms into a national cultural narrative of Korean heritage, the body of the kisaeng—and her particular body of history—has been swept under a proverbial rug, or perhaps rolled up in an oriental one:

The effort to preserve the cultural forms of the gisaeng has not been an effort to canonize the gisaeng legacy as a chapter in the history of Korean traditional arts, despite its centrality to traditional art practice. Several developments were byproducts of the social juncture and conceptual conflation of the gisaeng with sex workers: the gisaeng label disappeared from the public discourse on traditional arts, performers spoke of their former status as gisaeng reluctantly and with much ambivalence, and the historical gisaeng, while absorbed by the canons of national culture, disappeared from their discourses.24

Once the kisaeng are evacuated from history and embodied practice, codified cultural productions are what remain. Kisaeng dance and kisaeng poetry become “traditional” dance and “traditional” poetry. Perhaps the process of divesting the art from the art maker is a disembodiment and a dispossession. Loss, privation, sacrifice, and death are recurrent themes in sijo and in the stories of the lives of kisaeng who have been absorbed as cultural heroes. Ju-Nongae, a kisaeng who lived in Jinji during the Imjin War in the late sixteenth century, famously plunged from a cliff, carrying with her a Japanese general. Every May, the Nongae Festival is held to commemorate her sacrifice. The 2008 Nongae Festival included a reenactment of the battle and Ju-Nongae’s leap into the Nam River. In the reenactment, Ju-Nongae seduces not just the infamous general but also several Japanese soldiers as she dances on the cliff top. She easily dispatches these soldiers, who fall into the river. When the general is finally within her grasp, she embraces him and launches them both off the rock into the dark waters below. In performance, Ju-Nongae emerges from the river to sacrifice herself again the following year. Kisaeng are memorialized, but they are locked in a miasma of sacrifice and tragedy and stuck in a past historical mood, a fantasy era like the one depicted in Hwang Jin-i, a hugely popular sa-geuk (period television melodrama) based on the life, labor, and loves of the sixteenth-century kisaeng Hwang Jin-i. There has been a separation of the practice of art from the art maker, the kisaeng whose sex work is obscene. The art produced by the kisaeng has been separated not just from history but also from the lives that have produced traditional Korean dance and poetry.

In tracking the various bodies of the kisaeng across geography and history, I am tracing lines of affiliation and networks of inheritance. The embodied practices of the kisaeng are complicated by national politics and narratives of heritage, and the circulation of archived work is no less knotty. Moss discovered a book of translated kisaeng poetry in a bookshop in the East Village in 2006. At the time that he found the book, he was dating a Korean woman and was traveling frequently to Korea. Despite the relationship he had with Korea, Moss recalls being surprised by the empathetic connections between himself and the kisaeng that he discovered when he read the poems. Through them, he perceived a “Koreanness” that was modern, not just a body of traditions. The poetry’s modernity attracted Moss. In describing an anonymous poem, “So, What Is This Love?,” he remarks that “they’re not sweet love poems. . . . One starts out with: ‘So, what is this love? Is it round or is it flat?’ And it ends with, ‘Mine breaks to a sharp edge within me.’ That feels like my life and the kinds of things I’ve gone through. It feels modern.”25 He felt a connected to the poetry—that the poem was “like my life.”

While Moss’s encounter in the bookstore is the origin story of Kisaeng becomes you, the volume of sijo that Moss discovered, Hwang Jini & Other Courtesan Poets from the Last Korean Dynasty,26 traces two contradictory originary narratives in its introduction. The translators, Constantine Contogenis and Wolhee Choe, attribute the compiled poems to sixteenth and seventeenth-century kisaeng, writing that the poems have survived and exist “against the odds.”27 They elaborate on the poems’ journey: “Those that did survive were passed on orally or through private collections before they were compiled into anthologies by scholars, often it seems, a century or more after the death of the poet.”28 Perhaps it might be argued instead that the existence of this particular edition of compiled poems, as well as the countless other anthologies that include sijo written by kisaeng, testify to the ability of performance to store and transmit knowledge.29 The translators give no hint to the performance genealogy of the sijo. And “against the odds” is the closest the translators come to describing the role that suppressing the sexuality of kisaeng may have had in the survival of the poems or their move from memory into literacy.

Contogenis and Choe’s approach to the question of how the poems have persisted includes some speculation about why and how these poems have endured. They argue that the poems available to us have “survived initially because of the personal (as contrasted with scholarly) concerns of individuals.”30 Contogenis and Choe imagine links among women across almost three hundred years: from the inception of the sijo they have translated to their transformation into an archived format using hangul, the Korean alphabet, to their translation into English for U.S. readers. They write, “Can a contemporary American woman compare herself to a kisaeng? Despite their emergence from widely different cultures and histories, one cannot help noting a certain ambiguity that is creatively endured by both groups of women.”31 Whatever it is that links the imagined reader to the kisaeng is something ambiguous that is not named, instead serving as a placeholder for whatever it is that she “creatively endure[s].”32

I suggest that the translators imagine that their modern American reader is linked to the kisaeng by what Donna Haraway calls “affinity,” which she defines as being “related not by blood but by choice,” as opposed to a more traditional formation of identity that is predicated on the false promise of coherence that essentialized identity (“blood”) offers.33 Haraway’s best example of affinity politics is women of color, a group that “marks out a self-consciously constructed space [and] that cannot affirm the capacity to act on the basis of natural identification, but only on the basis of conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship.”34 In circulation, the translated sijo poems of kisaeng forge an imagined community, a readership that is placed in a lineage that includes those who kept the sijo in circulation across time and space.

Moss was drawn to Yoon Jin Kim, his collaborator, through his inability to navigate his initial encounter with her choreography. According to Moss, the seeds of his collaboration with Kim began not with movement but with breath. In 2005, Moss watched a piece Kim had choreographed and was confounded by it: “I saw her work, and it was the only piece that seemed to show an absorption of Korean culture, in that I did not understand it. . . . I couldn’t predict the rhythms, the actions, the relationships and the juxtapositions. I thought: Ah, this is Korean— this use of the breath and the traditional with a mix into modern.”35 Moss located Korea or Koreanness in his inability to anticipate Kim’s compositions. His inability to be absorbed into something he perceived as foreign is, following Michael Fried, evidence of the theatricality of Kim’s choreography. The Koreanness is the crux of Moss’s epiphany, the quality that complicates interpellation and temporality.36 Moss was unable to sink into the narrative of the performance when he was confronted by a syncopated temporality.

Kim prefaces her remembrance of Moss’s invitation to collaborate with a linguistic confrontation: “I cannot understand English very well but back then, it was worse.” Even with the language barrier, she experienced a different kind of absorption: “I couldn’t figure out exactly what he was saying, but I could understand the depth of his idea, and I knew that I could add onto his ideas with my own. It was like we were connecting and melting through each other.” If Moss found his connection to kisaeng through the lines of poetry, Kim found a connection with Moss in the depth of his ideas. Although Kim framed their collaboration with the words “connecting and melting through each other,” their connection and fusion did not mean self-obliteration: “In this project I realized a lot about my own identity. Dean talks about isolation and loneliness, but for me, as a Korean woman, I found inner strength.”37

Choreography, following Moss and Kim, is a score—a narrative of movement, whereby rhythms, actions, relationships, and juxtapositions have first been plotted out, from one idea to another, and then follow those patterns. Choreography becomes a formula that can be predicted, perhaps because the viewer becomes interpellated into the narrative and can anticipate movement or the breath that gives life to movement.38 The ability to locate one’s self spectatorially, to be inscribed within the choreography, is the very condition of the experience of a dance, the world of the dance, or the worlds depicted by dance. Such an understanding of choreography aligns with Susan Leigh Foster’s proposal “that ‘choreography’ can productively be conceptualized as a theorization of identity —corporeal, individual, and social.”39 Moss’s reaction to being confronted by how far outside he was of the particular ideology of Kim’s dances was to collaborate with her,40 whether that was a means to bring her choreographies in line with his or to help him enter into hers. Building from the framework of Moss’s encounters, in Kisaeng becomes you, text and choreography are opposed and yet are tested by the same guidelines of interpellation and interpretation—or again, as the translators not so rhetorically ask: “Can a contemporary American woman compare herself to a kisaeng?” Collaboration by way of movement across choreographies is a predominant trope in Kisaeng Becomes You, which asks volunteers to enter physically into the choreography.


When I love, I make you My enemy.

The scenes that include audience volunteers in Kisaeng becomes you seem to present perverse theatrical experiments in belonging and becoming. Through the repeated use of the bodies of audience members in the choreography of the dance, Moss and Kim seem to be recreating the responses, motivations, and inclinations that forged the inception of the piece. Moss’s response when he encountered sijo was an affective one; his “personal concern” is what Raymond Williams terms a “structure of feeling.”41 These feelings and concerns have helped configure sijo and keep it in circulation across time and space. Both Moss and Kim take this personal concern a step further through choreography that keeps the kisaeng in circulation through memory and embodiment.

Moss and Kim structure the feelings and footwork of the volunteers from the audience. The women of the ensemble may have sought out allies in the audience by giggling, clasping their hands, and complimenting them, suggesting a kind of equality between performers and volunteers. But only the appearance of equality radiates across the proscenium and into the house. The ensemble makes the audience subject, and particular audience members are made subjects of the dance. The women of the ensemble are always in control of the situations onstage. The girlish affect inoculates the difference of power between performer and spectator. The call for volunteers might seem serendipitous as the scene in the lobby plays out with a Stanislavskian air of the “illusion of the first time,” but Moss and Kim have scripted room for the volunteer’s bodies, voices, and any improvisation necessary to entice a volunteer to the stage. The dance is choreographed with an absent subjectivity that requires the presence of a different volunteer each night. However, that space is regulated by the infrastructure of the dance, which manipulates how bodies and identities are made recognizable through visual and narrative structures of knowing.

The volunteers appear in three scenes. (In the archived video of the version I saw, when the girls call for their first volunteer, the audience realizes that she is an older white woman. Giggles of embarrassment and anticipation ripple through the air.) One of the dancers takes a camera, and another directs the volunteer. The dancers envelop her in a chima (floor-length empire skirt), an article of traditional Korean clothing. They tie the diaphanous fabric around her and put a gache (elaborate black wig) on her head. They give her an earpiece, through which she is given directions about movement, gesture, and text (Fig. 4). Once the volunteer has “rehearsed” the dance (onstage, before the audience), she continues her sequence as a blindfolded dancer joins her in a stage space circumscribed by what is captured on video (see cover image). The live feed is projected, and the dance becomes a duet. Volunteer and dancer perform parallel movements. A third dancer is added, and the three women softly twirl, bend, and bow. The trio moves simultaneously across the stage and the screen, each woman in sync with the other two. The dance becomes the interplay between the rudimentary parts that were taught and dictated to the volunteer and the volunteer’s transformation into a performer flanked by her fellow performers. The aestheticism and synchronicity of the trio’s performance threaten to erase the memory of the previous labor as the audience delights in the finished product projected onscreen. In a similar fashion, the gestural pathos evoked by the twirling bodies is held in check by the poem the volunteer recites, which is the epigraph of this essay. Wearing the elaborate gache and chima, the woman recites the text written centuries before by a kisaeng. The text, both poignant and vague, resonates with the that marks the dance as an unrehearsed performance, or perhaps a performed rehearsal.

Figure 4

From left: Jeong Eun Yang (with camera), So Yeoun Lim, and Mi Hyun Lee prepare a first volunteer (not the one from the video version) onstage. Having draped the volunteer in the silk chima (skirt), Lim and Lee adjust the earpiece underneath the elaborate gache (wig). Lee will give the volunteer instructions to the dance through the earpiece while Yang films her. Kisaeng Becomes You, 2008 New Vision Art Festival, Hong Kong, choreographed by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim. Photo by Mr. Ng. Courtesy of Dean Moss.

The audience member moves from an amateur volunteer to a trained performer through the historical kisaeng, both in the recitation of words and the use of metonymic props and costumes. Yet the crossing of roles is not a simple one, for migration never is. The volunteer hears commands in her earpiece and performs them. The bodies, the learned bodies of the trained dancers and the untrained body of the audience member, are both disrupted and facilitated by technology. The volunteer is connected to her director by an earpiece, and the director is tethered to her pupil via a microphone. There is an aural mediation between the performer and the director who stage-manages the volunteer’s actions. The costume pieces are another layer of mediation, the theatrical properties of Korean culture and tradition. The live feed provides competing views of the dance, a performance onscreen and a performance (or “rehearsal”) onstage. The juxtaposition of performances raises a question: Which is the dance? Is it the seamless trio onscreen? Or is it the process the trio presents across the entire stage that also includes players such as the director and the camerawoman? Both processes take place in tandem with the sets of practices and engagements that formulated the piece. Since audience participation is such a large part of the dance, it is useful to think about the dance as choreographed with evacuated subject positions across which the volunteers must travel. Perhaps, like the often-anonymous early modern Korean courtesans whose poems have managed to pass from oral tradition to hangul to English, the dance is subjectless.

When Kandice Chuh advocates for a subjectless discourse in her book Imagine Otherwise, she questions the stability of encapsulated identity and instead seeks to constitute subjectivity “situationally.”42 The subjectivity that Chuh is concerned with is Asian American. She writes that by thinking in terms of subjectlessness, “we are positioned to critique the effects of the various configurations of power and knowledge through which the term [Asian American] comes to have meaning.”43 A subjectless discourse highlights the “configurations of power and knowledge” through which Asian American identity, or the Asian American as a subject, coalesces. Subjectlessness as a framework also reveals theatricality at work by being a methodology engaged in “critiqu[ing] the effects of.” Subjectlessness participates in a kind of repetition; it reveals a mimetic quality by examining subject formation through the creation and circulation of its effects. Rather than working from an assumed subject, Kisaeng becomes you uses structural absences in its choreography to illuminate the networks of power, knowledge, and affiliation that resurrect the kisaeng, and then goes through the emotions and motions to enact her.

The scenes that use volunteers in Kisaeng becomes you engage in a poetics of subjectlessness. First by evacuating the subject(s) of the dance, they make room for difference as a way of articulating an Asian/American becoming within a larger temporal and global matrix. Kisaeng becomes you requires a reading that includes multiple bodies and sites, not to mention the flexibility to include new volunteers every night. Considering how subjectless discourse may operate as practice offers a methodology for viewing the volunteers of Kisaeng becomes you, or more specifically, the space that is constructed for the volunteer to enter. Subjectlessness is a possible way to account for both the differences and the particularities in the multiple modes of subjectification the performance demonstrates. As Christopher Lee writes of Chuh’s subjectless discourse, Asian American becomes a category “that foregrounds the limits of identity politics and gestures to histories of racism and injustice. In so doing, she invests it with a dimension of futurity that calls forth a justice unknowable in the present”44 Kisaeng becomes you remembers histories of sexism, racism, and injustice through the performing bodies of dancers and audience members, restoring the bodies of kisaeng to the poetry, ghosting present bodies enlisted in acts of dance in the production of culture. Such engagement excavates the past, but it is also speculative, pitched toward a future, a process whereby the kisaeng becomes you and you become the kisaeng.

In the second collaboration, a video of a mild-mannered young man plays on a screen upstage. Asked to tell a personal story about a time when he has hurt a woman, the volunteer offers a vague narrative of transatlantic crossing and transnational longing. When he traveled abroad, he met someone special, but they did not speak the same language and she was married, with two children. When his narrative ends, two dancers enter the stage space and perform identical movements in a circuit as speakers blare Janis Joplin singing “I Need a Man to Love.” They do not perform them at exactly the same time: one dancer is at times intentionally a few seconds off, and this syncopation adds to the jarring quality of the dance. Like a sequence of players’ passions from old acting books, the women accompany their footwork with facial expressions that display a variety of emotions.

The dancers’ precisely off-kilter movements and their spectrum of emotions are set in counterpoint to the volunteer’s story. The dance offers the man’s confession as a narrative to anchor the dancers’ choreography with its bewildering affective exhibition. The dancers seem to stand in for the foreign woman in the volunteer’s story. Though there are moments of joy and pleasure, the resounding impression is one of pain, boredom, and anger. In this segment of the dance, the two dancers, immediately after and connected to the man’s projected narration, perform a choreography of dissonance that contrasts with the seamless trio formed by the female volunteer and dancers moments before. The dancers’ affective labor surpasses that of the man’s narrative. Their continued athletics underscore how unrepresentational the performance is. Because it takes place right after the man’s story, the dance might have been a mimetic rendering of the emotions and actions of the failed love story. However, the intensity of the performance makes any individual rejection a collective one. Any confession by any man will do. Any recounting of a man somehow causing a woman pain can accompany the dance. The dancers, who at first seem to be responding to the man’s tale, literally go through their motions and emotions. They continue their preordained pattern of gesture, grin, and grimace.

These two scenes offer up opposing collaborations. In the first sequence, both the performance onstage and the performance onscreen “work”: the volunteer becomes a member of the ensemble as the women move gracefully in synchronized motion and the recitation of the poetry underscores the dance. The scene also works toward something, the goal or rather promise of the dance that the kisaeng becomes you. The volunteer fills in for an absent performer, and all of the women stand in for the absent kisaeng. However, in the second collaboration, the volunteer’s screen presence seems to be a betrayal of the previous ensemble’s becoming in an alchemy of technological consonance and affinity. Instead, there is something unbecoming, even ugly, about the collaboration between the volunteer and the dancers, though it is a relationship conditioned by the pointedly precarious setup that asks a man to recount an instance in which he has hurt a woman.

In the final scene of collaboration, the dancers throw an impromptu party for themselves and the two final volunteers (one white and the other African American, in the performance video viewed), attractive hipsterish young women. They all drink beer and shots of whiskey and laugh and dance (Fig. 5). The partygoers disperse, leaving the volunteers in command of the stage—one wearing an earpiece through which to receive instructions, the other bearing a video camera. The two women perform a scene until the one woman is directed

Figure 5.

From left: From left: So Yeoun Lim, Mi Hyun Lee, Ji Sun Kwen, Jeong Eun Yang, and Yu Ri Bae raise their partially drained beer glasses to the two volunteers as all of them enjoy a “kisaeng party.” Kisaeng Becomes You, 2008 New Vision Art Festival, Hong Kong, choreographed by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim. Photo by Mr. Ng. Courtesy of Dean Moss.

to leave the playing space and join the dancers in the wings. The other (African American) woman is left standing alone and is directed to face the audience. Several minutes pass by as she takes in the audience. The volunteer panics and tries to leave the center of the stage but is prompted by the dancers, who are just off stage though visible to the audience, to remain where she is. She blinks in discomfort as her stance becomes rigid and awkward. She is alone. She has been left alone. Mercifully, the lights go to blackout on the lone volunteer, and she is reintegrated with the others by the applause of the audience during the final bow.


But the words you spoke Keep themselves within me

Through a choreography of shifting subjects that demands the insertion of volunteers, Moss and Lee make legible a process of active participation45 in art making, the production of cultural products. The choreographers script for audience members a process like the hypothetical one that may account for the sijo’s passage from oral into written form. Though the translators of sijo seem to be dismissive when they pinpoint “personal concern” as the factor that explains the genre’s survival, Moss and Lee take such concerns as a model for performance practice. The dance forges networks between the audience and the ensemble that finds pathways beyond the walls of the theatre and the pages of poetry.

Kisaeng becomes you has a Facebook group page.46 Moss posted comments and answered questions, creating virtual material that extends the process of becoming in Kisaeng becomes you. On the Facebook page, Moss publicized a response to questions posed to him by Wolhee Choe, one of the translators of Hwang Jini & Other Courtesan Poets from the Last Korean Dynasty. Choe sought an explanation for the final collaboration between volunteers and ensemble, to which Moss replied:

The work is focused not only on a presentation or exploration of visual or narrative forms but also on an evocation of certain feelings within the viewer. As such part of its logic is not visual or narrative and counts on an emotional investment gained from the interaction and accumulation of various elements of performance and memory including those carried by individual viewers and their presence in space.47

Moss outlines the speculative ethics of the dance; it is intended not just to present or explore but to evoke. The evocations of the performance supersede visual or narrative logic. For Moss, the performance unfolds through a process of accretion, affecting the audience through an accumulation of affective affiliations rather than through visual or narrative logic.

In a similar manner, viewers carry the play’s emotional investment from the auditorium into cyberspace on the social networking page. The sociality of the page is modeled in part on the dance—or perhaps the dance is modeled on this particularly networked form of sociality and affinity. The Facebook page is an immediate and constant way for the viewer to keep in contact with the dance. You and 116 other people like it; you and 116 other people find Kisaeng becomes you becoming.48

From the first dancer gazing out across the audience to the final moments, when the volunteer audience member is abandoned onstage, Kisaeng becomes you stages encounters of bodies, choreographies, and affects. The affinities forged across history in the transcribed and translated poems, the social network woven before and after performance events, and the connections between Moss and the kisaeng are put to the test through the theatrical experiments of audience participation. As the audience members, especially the volunteers, are hailed into being onstage, being and becoming kisaeng, they are dragged through theatrical encounters that integrate them into the narrative of the dance but also reject their bodies. By alternately embracing and rejecting the volunteer’s identities, the dance stages processes of identification, highlighting both resounding, even alienating, difference and the possibilities afforded by affinity. Indeed, each audience member, in his or her transition from house to stage, undergoes a process of identification, racialization, and even minoritization, like the kisaeng.

The canonization of the kisaeng’s cultural productions has made her a consummate national subject. Kisaeng songs and poetry have become Korean poetry. Dances created by the kisaeng have become traditional Korean dance. Even the sex tourism industry of the late twentieth century defined the “kisaeng” as a national subject. Tourists, primarily Japanese, went to Korea to be entertained by Korean “courtesans.” The monetary value of the modern kisaeng was given a nationalistic flourish, as illustrated by a 1973 article in Time magazine, “South Korea: The Seoul of Hospitality.” The article presents a benign picture of kisaeng tourism and ends with a quotation by an anonymous, “lovely” kisaeng whose ambivalence toward her profession and her clientele was outweighed by her concern for her nation’s economy: “It’s hard for us to accept some [Japanese]—but we must work hard not only for ourselves and our families but for our country’s future. Our country needs more money for its economic development.”49

The article describes the clientele as the “newest Japanese invasion,”50 exposing the “protracted afterlife,”51 to use Jodi Kim’s terminology, of empire, by exposing the process of making kisaeng national subjects also makes them racialized (post)colonial subjects. However, it is unclear which imperial power Korea is or was a colony under: U.S. Army Garrison Youngsan is situated on the same site where the military headquarters for the Imperial Japanese Army were. A quote in the article illuminates the colonial network among the Korean kisaeng, Japanese tourists, and U.S. soldiers: an American tourist, jostled by Japanese vacationers, asks, “Does the U.S. have to post 40,000 G.I.s in Korea to defend these guys’ right to have a good time?”52 While the disgruntled tourist asks a rhetorical question aimed at ridiculing U.S. military expenditure ostensibly meant to guard South Korea from the threat of communism, the question points out a hierarchy of power and pleasure.

The kisaeng are national subjects who undergo a gendered minoritization. What the kisaeng of the more recent past and their kisaeng parties offer is a representation of culture that is at once hypersexualized, commodified, and garish but also the culture of a minority subject. There is the stereotypical representation of consumerist multiculturalism: the food and girls who are presented for the enjoyment of men in social settings that feature drinking and dancing.53 Such minoritization and cultural tourism is given a new twist in the final volunteer sequence of Kisaeng becomes you, which offers multiple stagings that complicate the consumption and production of culture. Historically, the kisaeng was a producer of culture who wrote poems, composed songs, and choreographed and performed dances, and these cultural products survived through and in performance. If cultural production is how identity is forged, what products were the kisaeng making? Indeed, what products are the kisaeng of the performance making? What exactly are audience members paying for in Kisaeng becomes you? Are they paying for a “good time”? What constitutes that “good” time? And who is any of this good for?

The dance highlights these questions by reframing spectatorial and theatrical labor, refusing to smooth over the transnational encounters that constituted the piece. There is a sinister symmetry between the solo performances that bookend the dance, the first dancer who transforms the spectating audience into the spectacle and then sews through her own skin and the final audience member who is abandoned onstage. Both solos are moments of ambivalent, uncomfortable affect. By placing audience members in subject positions that are both national and marginalized to varying degrees of success, the choreography counters the feelings of “like” and “likeness” with resistance. The sets of relations and attachments that the dance poses across the proscenium as questions and possibilities may take on another valence when we consider the scene between volunteers that precedes the final pose and gaze of the performance.

After the drinking party, the ensemble members disperse, leaving the two volunteers alone onstage. The directors of the volunteers, the ensemble dancers, recede to the wings, and for the first time the audience is no longer privy to the directions or lines being fed to the women onstage. One woman points the camera at the other. In a soap opera–style close-up visible on the upstage screen, the latter says: “Were there two lives for us, you would become me, and I you.” The speaker gently pushes the camera away until the women face each other. Though the one still wears her earpiece, the women seem to be in a scene all their own. One woman places her hand on her partner’s cheek and strokes it gently, as she turns out to speak to the audience: “Becoming me, you would still desire me and so tear yourself as I for you.” Though the line is embellished by an everyday gesture (the gentle touch on the cheek), the volunteer is reciting a sijo, “Were There Two.” The poem depicts the yearning for identification and intimacy but also cautions against such processes. She warns her interlocutor of the violence to the self, that the “you” in becoming “me” would still desire “me” and “tear yourself as I for you.”54 The speaker offers the final couplet while embracing her scene partner: “Only turn yourself around to see all/my life, to know all my pain.”55

The scene is the only one in which two non-Korean bodies hold center stage, a performance between two volunteers. Though they are directed by an offstage presence, those strings (which were previously manifest as cables and cords) have become further concealed, and disbelief is suspended as the directions are transmitted wirelessly from somewhere offstage. The changing positions in the previous collaborations that moved from dancer to volunteer seemed more stable than the scene between the two audience members. In the final duet, the linguistic shifts of “you” to “me” and “I” to “you” tangle together in a call for empathy and a caution against the violence that comes from integrating one’s self with another.

The distinctions between “you” and “me” in a line like “you would become me, and I you” and in the embrace between strangers are movements between and across lines of history, affinity, identity, and nationality. The poem articulates a desire twinned with the potential for violence to both the self and other. If each of the theatrical experiments in spectating and performing have made visible concealed lines of affiliation, processes of identification, and the production of culture, then perhaps the dance practices a choreography akin to dance scholar Andrew Hewitt’s suggestion that “we might think of choreography in terms of ‘rehearsal’; that is, as the working out and working through of utopian, nevertheless ‘real’, social relations.”56 The dance works out and works through. It works by, for, and, most important, against its viewers. In Kisaeng becomes you, the utopian social relations are the tentative, speculative, and critical lines of affinity drawn between and across history, the page, and the proscenium. The “real” social relations are the precarious labors and intimacies in the alterity of performers and audience members, the touch between strangers viewed and applauded by strangers. The “utopian, nevertheless ‘real’, social relations” intimated by the dance are the slippages between you and me, I and you, Asian and American.


1. Songi,“Everything You Do” in Songs of the Kisaeng: Courtesan Poetry of the Last Korean Dynasty, trans. and intro. Constantine Contogenis and Wolhee Choe (Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1997), 60.

2. In his analysis of slave dances in New Orleans ‘Congo Square ,Joseph Roach expands on the resonances of deep skin. First, he notes that “skin is the principal medium that has carried the past into the present. . . . Skin has been and continues to be not only a document but a performance, persisting as such notwithstanding the courageous resistance of many unwilling participants in the bogus and cruel expansion of its meanings.” He continues: “These meanings metastasize differences that are only skin deep into what I am calling deep skin, a melanoma of the imagination: skin deepens into the cancer of race when supposed inner essences and stereotypical behaviors are infected by it in the collective fantasies of one people about another. The malignancy of deep skin usually begins with a blank space or a kind of erasure, which empties out the possibility of empathetic response, but this cavity quickly fills with bizarre growths. First deep skin becomes invisible; then, after the passage of time—the twinkling of an eye is all that is required—it alone remains visible.” Joseph Roach, “Deep Skin: Reconstructing Congo Square,” in African American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader, ed. Harry J. Elam Jr. and David Krasner (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 102. The sewing through and across skin in Kisaeng Becomes You enacts the shift from visible to invisible, the depth of meaning, history, memory, and fantasy that is only skin deep and in “deep skin.”

3. YutianWongexplorestheintersectionbetweenAsianAmericanstudiesanddancestudiesin Choreographing Asian America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2010). Wong begins her study of the aesthetics and politics of identification with an only somewhat rhetorical question, “Can you name an Asian American choreographer?” She asks this question at the same time as she herself is dancing and choreographing. Wong writes against a repeated answer to her query to fill a silence with her examination of bodies in motion.

4. May Joseph, Nomadic Identities: The Performance of Citizenship (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 17.

5. David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 1; Palumbo-Liu’s italics.

6. See E.Taylor Atkins,Primitive Selves:Koreans in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); and Josh ua D. Pilzer, “The Twentieth-Century ‘Disappearance‘ of the Gisaeng during the Rise of Korea’s Modern Sex-and-Entertainment Industry,” in The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, ed. Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 295–311.

7. In addition to his transnational collaborations, Moss has ties to Asian American theatre; he has been a principal shaper of the form of movement in performances written and directed by Asian American playwright Young Jean Lee.

8. All specific visual references to the dance herein are to this 27 February 2009, performance. Moss archived his performances, and when I requested a copy of the dance, he sent me a copy of the evening’s performance I saw on that date. This video is available for screening online at http://vimeo. com/26199127 (accessed 23 September 2012). Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim, choreographers, Kisaeng Becomes You (2009), Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image, Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

9. The volunteers are nominally recompensed at the end of their participation with a few dol- lars. Audience members are not solicited as performers and are in no way hired at the start of the eve- ning. When the volunteers are handed the money, they seem bewildered or chagrined to be receiving the currency (as is the first volunteer in the cited video), and often the performers shove the cash into the audience participant’s hands.

10. Pilzer, 296.

11. For more see Christine Loken-Kim, “Release from Bitterness: Korean Dancer as Korean Woman” (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina,1989); and Byong Won Lee, “Evolution of the Role and Status of Korean Professional Female Entertainers (Kisaeng),” World of Music 21.2 (1979): 75–81.

12. Contogenis and Choe, 18.

13. Michael J. Seth writes about medical kisaeng “who besides their duty entertaining men also served to treat upper-class women, since women of good families were unable to see male doctors who were not related to them.” Michael J. Seth, A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 164.

14. See David R. McCann, “Korean Literature and Performance?: Sijo!,” Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture 2 (2008): 359–76. Sijo is a three-line vernacular Korean lyric form. Like haiku, the sijo has a particular structure that is organized around syllable count. Unlike haiku, sijo are also structured thematically in terms of content development. The first line of a sijo introduces a theme or idea. The second line develops the material introduced in the first. The final line completes the poem with a twist: “a sense of reflection, commentary, conclusion or ironic relation” (ibid., 362). Sijo is performative as well as literary in that it is not just a poem but also a song. According to McCann: “The sijo is presented in sung performance of two kinds, the ch’ang or song style, with its emphasis on the breath, deflection and variation in pitch, and the timbre of the performer’s voice; and the kagok style, with its focus on more elaborate instrument accompaniment and vocal ornamenta- tion” (ibid.). The origins of sijo are complicated in two ways. Because sijo is written in vernacular, as opposed to more formal Chinese, sijo that existed before the dissemination of the hangul alphabet in 1446 are difficult to attribute. Because sijo was a song form, even those written after the ascension of the hangul alphabet were not archived until the eighteenth century. Before that time, it existed only as repertoire that was passed along through memory and voice.

15. See John Lie, “The Transformation of Sexual Work in 20th-Century Korea,” Gender and Society 9.3 (1995): 310–27; Na Young Lee, “The Construction of U.S. Camptown Prostitution in South Korea: Trans/Formation and Resistance” (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 2006); and Matsui Yayori and Lora Sharnoff, “Sexual Slavery in Korea,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 2.1 (1977): 22–30.

16. C. Sarah Soh, The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 218.

17. Pilzer,296. Because of the vicissitudes of Romanization, kisaeng and gisaeng are the same.

18. See Soh for more specific information about historical relationship between kisaeng and comfort women.

19. IrefertoSeoulasaglobalcityratherthanamegacity.IrelyonGabriellaGiannachi’sexpla- nation: “The difference between mega-cities and global cities has to do with the global city’s capacity to generate, control and propagate globalisation. . . . Global cities are the ‘factory’ of globalization. They are the economic, political, scientific, informational and artistic hub of the contemporary ‘global’ world economy.” Gabriella Giannachi, The Politics of New Media Theatre: Life®TM (New York: Routledge, 2007), 36. Giannachi argues that global cities exist fundamentally in their “interconnectedness” (ibid.; her italics); thus, there is no such thing as a single global city. A particular sequence of global cities— Seoul, Tokyo, New York—is made visible by Kisaeng Becomes You, both in terms of the residencies performers took to create the work and the touring itinerary of the production. The itinerary of touring also resurrects the itinerary of tourism, specifically kisaeng tourism. If we follow Lie, Lee, and Yayori and Sharnoff, then the factors necessary for kisaeng tourism to manifest and flourish were first the Japanese and American militaries and then Japanese and American businessmen. This particular group- ing of global cities constitutes a circum-Pacific configuration of pleasure, intoxication, and power with resonances of the colonial circum-Atlantic triangle trade.

20. Pilzer, 306.
21. Ibid.
22. As Edward Said notes, “Orientalism assumed an unchanging Orient, absolutely different

(the reasons change epoch by epoch) from the West.” Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 96.

23. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

24. Pilzer, 306–7.

25. Gia Kourlas, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distant Courtesan,” New York Times, 20 February 2009, (accessed 25 September 2012).

26. The first edition of this collection of poems had a different title: Songs of the Kisaeng: Courtesan Poetry of the Last Dynasty (see note 1). All references are from this first edition, which is more readily available.

27. Ibid., 11.
28. Ibid.
29. For more on repertoire as a mode of transmission, see Diana Taylor, Archive and

Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003). 30. Contogenis and Choe, 11. Note that Contogenis and Choe separate personal concerns from

scholarly ones.
31. Ibid., 13.

32. Ibid. Through their oblique references to creativity, Contogenis and Choe may be targeting a contemporary American woman who is also an artist as the ideal reader for their collection of translated poems. 33. DonnaJ.Haraway,“ACyborgManifesto:Science,Technology,andSocialist-Feminismin the Late Twentieth Century,” in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

(New York: Routledge, 1991), 149–82, at 155. 34. Ibid. 156.

35. Kourlas.

36. Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). For Fried, such subject formation is a necessary part of theatricality. In his essay “Art and Objecthood,” about a large cube by Robert Morris and about literalist, or minimalist, art in general, Fried locates theatricality in “the largeness of the piece, in conjunction with its nonrelational, unitary character, [which] distances the beholder—not just physically but psychically. It is, one might say, pre- cisely this distance that makes the beholder a subject and the piece in question . . . an object.” Fried revises or rather riffs on what he might mean by object on the next page when he circles back to this relationality (after finding “nonrelational” character in the piece of art), writing that “the experience of being distanced by the work in question seems crucial: the beholder knows himself to stand in an indeterminate, open ended—and unexacting—relation as subject to the impassive object on the wall or floor. In fact being distanced by such objects is not, I suggest, entirely unlike being distanced, or crowded, by the silent presence of another person” (154–5; italics and ellipsis are Fried’s).

37. Kourlas.

38. For more on dance as/and ideology, see Mark Franko, Dance as Text: Ideologies of the Baroque Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Franko, The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, Identity in the 1930s (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002); and Andrew Hewitt, Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday Movement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

39. Susan Leigh Foster, Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance (New York: Routledge, 2011), 4. In her examination of agency, the archive, aesthetics, and politics, Foster traces a genealogy of choreography but also tracks her own intellectual evolution: “I initially envisioned choreography as the hypothetical setting forth of what the body is and what it can be based on the decisions made in rehearsal and in performance about its identity. Each moment of watching a dance can be read as the product of choices, inherited, invented, or selected, about what kinds of bodies and subjects are being constructed and what kinds of arguments about these bodies are being put forth. These decisions, made collectively or individually, spontaneously or in advance of dancing, constitute a kind of record of action that is durable and makes possible both the repetition of a dance and the analysis of it” (4). Though she goes on to outline more recent theorization, her notions of dance analysis and spectatorship are foundational for my own in approaching this critique of Kisaeng Becomes You.

40. Foster charts shifts in the 1960s and 1970s toward collaboration and the current status of choreography on the global stage. She outlines several developments that prefigure the process and pro- duction of Kisaeng Becomes You: the tourism of folk dance companies, new systems of funding, global training programs, and the inclusion of world dance forms into the academy as monolithic timeless tra- ditions. Foster marks the influence of Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s avant-garde provocations and the collision of the universal subject of modernist dance with the postmodern avant-garde vision of choreography as processes that “functioned as an unmarked and white set of claims” (ibid., 64). Devised work and multidisciplinary explorations became trends, and bricolage and pastiche became favored methodologies. These factors converged to create an imperial flattening that mirrored the incep- tion of choreography, a method of annotating steps that “uprooted dances by relocating them onto a horizontal geometric plane” (ibid., 72). If in the supposed (colonial) past, “choreography gestured towards the world’s dances only by assimilating their differences into its economy of meaning,” Foster argues that “choreography is convening the world’s dances in order to substitute for each dance’s locale commoditized markers of alterity” (ibid.). The choreography of modernism and the U.S. avant- garde, as manifested in the global arena, replaces difference with signs of difference. Kisaeng Becomes You can be taken as a case study of the final phase of choreography Foster discusses because it engages in both global travel and transnational collaboration.

41. Raymond Williams defines “structures of feeling” as “elements of impulse, restraint, and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships.” Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 132.

42. Kandice Chuh, Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 10.

43. Ibid, 10–11. According to Chuh, “subjectlessness as a discursive ground for Asian American studies can, I think, help to identify and trace the shifting positionalities and complicated ter- rains of U.S. American culture and politics articulated to a globalized frame, by opening up the field to account for practices of subjectivity that might not be immediately visible within, for example, a nation- based representational grid, or one that emphasizes racialization to the occlusion of other processes of subjectification” (11).

44. ChristopherLee,“Asian American Literature and the Resistances of Theory,”MFSModern Fiction Studies 56, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 19–39, at 27.

45. Active participation in Kisaeng Becomes You, an embodied performance, could perhaps be analogous to Williams’s notion of “active ‘readings,’” that is, the idea that “to complete their inherent process, we have to make [works of art] present, in specifically active ‘readings’”; Williams, 129.

46. Though the page still exists, with the same URL, certain structural changes have occurred. In February 2012, Facebook switched group pages to their Timeline structure. All of my citations and analysis refer to the page I viewed on 23 May 2011. The newer version of the page does not have the previous page’s “like” feature and does not document the number of Facebook members who “like” the group.

47. Facebook Wall Post by Dean Moss on January 10, 2009 at 9:36am, titled, “Question from Wolhee Choe (kisaeng poem translator)”. /10150650967196796/ (accessed 23 May 2011).

48. As of 23 May 2011, 116 Facebook members had “liked” Kisaeng Becomes You’s group page. The “like” button is what Facebook calls a “Social Plugin,” which “drive[s] user engagement.” See “Facebook for Websites,” (accessed 30 August 2012). Under the older model of Facebook pages (before Timeline), when a member “liked” a product or group, that particular entity would show up on the member’s Facebook home page. Simultaneous to the user “liking” the item, Facebook would announce this partnership on a member’s status update that was broadcast to the member’s Facebook friends.

49. “South Korea: The Seoul of Hospitality,” Time 101.23 (4 June 1973): 47, www.time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,907345,00.html (accessed 25 September 2012).

50. Ibid.

51. IborrowKim’smetaphorofrecursivenessandextenditbothbackwardandforwardintime. My move is similar methodologically to one she makes in the book, whereby the cold war period and the era of decoloniation are revealed to be overlapping formations. While Kim examines intertwined modernities, I am invested in the entanglements between the premodern and postmodern. Jodi Kim, Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 4.

52. Ibid.

53. Such consumption is built on the stereotype of the oriental dancing girl, a spectacle of decadence, desire, and exoticism. As Yutian Wong writes, “The idea of the dancing Asian female body is doubly sexualized through Orientalist fantasies of Asian female sexual availability, as well as the sus- pect nature of dancing within American society in general” (19).

54. In Contogenis and Choe’s translation, the line reads:“Becoming me,you would still desire/ me and so tear yourself as I tore you.” Moss and Kim end the line differently: “Becoming me, you would still desire / me and so tear yourself as I for you,” as documented in the recorded performance and on Moss’ website, which posts the poems that undergird the dance. The slippage in words does not disrupt the rhyme or structure of the translated poem, but it does alter the meaning slightly. The line used in Kisaeng Becomes You, offers a sense of simultaneity that both the speaker and addressed, pro- tagonist and antagonist tear themselves. Contogenis and Choe’s translation gives a sense of process, that the protagonist had torn “you”, and now it is the antagonist (“you”) who tears me (“I”). http://www. (accessed 17 October 2012).

55. Contogenis and Choe, 76. 56. Hewitt, 17; my italics.