By Claudia La Rocco | Tue, Mar 3, 2009


Last week was quite an eventful one for our little old Performance Club. First we trekked over to the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City to see “(re)DEVELOP (death valley)”. Then we got embroiled in a discussion on how the heck to market such a delicate work as “(re)DEVELOP.” And, last but not least, we saw “Kisaeng becomes you,” a collaboration by Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim that had its U.S. premiere at Dance Theater Workshop.

A few of us headed over to Le Singe Vert after the show for a little alcohol, some French fries and a lot of dissection. And we continued to talk about the necessity and impossibility of marketing such sophisticated, nuanced performance works as those we had seen. How, in other words, do we use words to draw people in without giving them overly concrete expectations about non-narrative works. As the creator of “(re)Develop,” Brian Rogers, asked in responding to some people’s feelings that the stated linkage of gentrification to his work was distracting, “is it important for the connection to be clear, and if so - why?”

I certainly don’t have an answer - and thank goodness that I don’t have to market performance for a living! But I thought it was interesting that both of the works we saw last week had very concrete terms associated with them as subject matter, (gentrification in Brian’s work; Facebook and other forms of social networking in “Kisaeng”) and yet both works were , for me, marvelously resistant to any sort of frameworks one might want to put around them.

But, of course, before the fact and after are entirely different ball games. What did people think of “Kisaeng becomes you” (in relation to “(re)DEVELOP” or on its own)?? I’m all ears…and I’ll hope to see many of you on Friday at NTUSA!

7 Comments For This Post

        Maura Says:
March 3rd, 2009 at 2:21 pm

        kisaeng - made me weep. The entry point for the audience into the work through the vessels of the audience participant members was so wrought with “real” energy and vulnerability - both for the work (will this work?) and for the participants (will they survive this? are they okay?) - that I was buzzing in my chair. They made the experience of the “Other” so alive for me. This could be the experience of the courtesan, the contemporary artist, the traveller, the immigrant. “I’m new here” - “What are the rules” The care and detail taken with those moments was so effective as a work that allowed the audience member to experience a work from the inside - which is something I know I’ve been interested in as an artist.

        Also, as someone who for years worked on developing cultural exchange residencies and projects (both as an artist and a facilitator) between American and, mostly, SE Asian artists - I’m very attuned to the way that these deeply profound experiences and desires to share become trite, sentimental or nostalgic. ‘kisaeng’ - did none of that but made me totally aware of it as a work created by a collaboration between artists who have come from very different places. It made me ache for korea where I spent a month many years ago and for those eureka moments of connection between two human beings who were a moment ago strangers.

        It also made me feel very lonely.

        I wish I could write in comparison to ‘(re)develop’ - i had planned to see this since last september but as a mom of two can’t commit to going to much til several schedules and energies align - and by the time i went to get tickets - it was already sold out.

        Claudia La Rocco Says:
March 3rd, 2009 at 2:39 pm

        How beautiful, Maura - thank you.

        I think you’ve said it all better than I could, so I will only add, on the loneliness front: I’m not sure what night you went (though I am told that the performers always picked an older woman from the audience to be their first kisaeng) but on Friday, the woman they picked was so elegant and serene - truly beautiful, and it was an unexpected gift to be presented with this beauty, which is so different from what we think of as being attractive in 2009 America. But the loneliness for me came in when one of the performers said to her, while instructing her, “You’re so beautiful,” and the woman gave her this “yeah, right” incredulous look, not knowing if she was being made fun of or not (it seemed clear to me that she wasn’t, but I was safely tucked into my seat). That moment, how fragile and isolated this woman was just then, and unaware of her own powers - wow. It knocked my breath out of me.

        marie-christine Says:
March 3rd, 2009 at 3:33 pm

        Well, i enjoyed more the getting together of our little group on Friday then I did the performance. But I am not saying in anyway that the event wasn’t good. It was. I haven’t reflected much about it but wish to share a few impressions. It was clever and well put together. Did I feel emotional? No. However, the artificiality and “I am in control” message of the performers (as the piece wanted it) in opposition with the vulnerability of the 3 chosen audience members was very powerful. But the message I really was left with is: performances and performers are masters of delusion. (I’ll ask my shrink about that… actually, no longer have one). It is kind of sad for me because even with the most control in a performance or an art piece of any sort, the authenticity, the desire to give something, to give shape to some “beauty” (very non-contemporary word; sorry) and some humor is paramount to me.
I guess that is the main thing that I was left with.
Cannot come on Friday as I have a board meeting.

        Looking forward to more with P.C.

        Martha Says:
March 3rd, 2009 at 4:21 pm

        Again, sorry I missed this with PC… but I went on Saturday night, and also thought it was really powerful. Interesting, that the first to be brought onto the stage is always an older woman (yes, so was “ours”). Although this woman was not particularly attractive as she stepped on stage, she seemed completely transformed by the Korean costume, by the lines of poetry, by her own willingness to move as choreographed. She, too, was told that she was “so beautiful” — and at that point, in fact, she WAS beautiful. (But still, how glad I was not to be up there — the exposed one).

        I would have described the feeling as vulnerable — but I think Maura’s description of feeling lonely is closer — especially in those last, long, uncertain lovely moments for the third woman on stage, with everyone else (including performers) as her audience, watching and silent.

        tonya Says:
March 4th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

        I wrote my fuller review here: but I really liked it. I have to go to experimental dance performances more often. I really liked hanging out with the performance club afterward too! It’s interesting reading other people’s thoughts. I’d forgotten about how they kept telling the older woman she was beautiful. She did kind of become more beautiful at that point. But she was also embarrassed, like she knew it was fake (at least the woman in the production I saw did), which is how anyone would probably react, so it’s human - -but it still went to the inauthenticity of the connections and all. The feelings of loneliness that people mention are also interesting — especially at the end. With the young woman we had in the end, I didn’t feel so much loneliness for her but exposure, being up there onstage all alone and having the lights shining down on her and not knowing what to do. I felt it was more like voyeur and looked-at had exchanged roles, and I would have loved for that person to have been a man.

        mv sprenger Says:
March 5th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

        I really enjoyed both works. You could see that each artist had the time to conceptualize the work, build the work, and then edit the final product. That kind of detail is so rare.

        For me, Brian’s piece was about the idea of right to space and how spaces change when more people are allowed to inhabit them. I thought it was striking, appropriately aggravating, and poignant.

        Dean and Yoon Jin’s work took me for a ride. I was nervous that the audience participants might fail the work, curious if that was the whole point, empathetic that they had to chug beer, and completely exhilarated when they all went for it and performed wonderfully.

        As for marketing the works and the terms used to help attract viewers…
I think dance marketers try to find ways to give concrete information about abstract performances in hopes that someone (hopefully a new audience member) will latch onto a particular idea and then take a chance on the work by buying a ticket. The glitch is that in most cases the clearest information is the artist’s source material, what they are working from versus what they are creating (this is in large part do to the differences between marketing and creative time lines). Because of this, the audience ends up expecting to see the source and not the artist’s opinion, interpretation, or translation of the source.

        In re(DEVELOP) gentrification became the tension between the audience space and the performing space and need/want to see or experience more of the other. In Kisaeng, Facebook was nonexistent in the final product but the parallel of contemporary artists’ blogs to the Kisaeng’s writing of poems is still fascinating. As a viewer that information enabled me to layer what I was seeing with the notion that current day artists are experiencing the same loneliness.

        Maybe performance works are more than what we see during that hour in the theater, maybe they are everything written, talked about, and discussed plus the act of watching…

        Maybe I just want to let myself off the hook as an artist and an arts marketer…

        Maura donohue Says:
March 7th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

        I was still thinking through the marketing discussion and appreciate Megan’s comments. Wasn’t that issue of trying to market work that’s in development and not easily explained from the inside to those who witness from the outside part of what propelled “The Nothing Festival?”

        And something else about the potential for cross-cultural misreadings and inauthentic or insincere acts… what Kisaeng captured - as well - was the way in which one, as a newcomer, can be quickly embraced by a group - my experience (from a month in Seoul over 10 years ago) was one filled with constant compliments and communal snacking, drinking, and singing. To consider their repeated assurances of the older woman of her ‘beauty’ as insincere is to look at a work through an exclusively American (western?) perspective - where notions of forthrightness and the individual are placed in high value as opposed to cultures that have capital “F” - Face, and seemingly compulsive or masochistic or endless graciousness, and the benefit of the larger group, and respect for elders as primary social forces. That is why I loved the work - it brought all of that to the fore for me. Culture is more than language and more than food and more than geography and more than topography and more than how we hold our bodies, or whether it’s polite to blow your nose in public or chew gum or care for your parents when they get older or listen to your parents and consider their wishes over your own… and on and on. It’s all and more.


Performance Club: Of Kisaeng, Gentrification and Arts Marketing