Festival preview: Madame Freedom
WITH its extramarital flirtations, western-style dancing, and depiction of modern women with their own agendas, Madame Freedom caused quite a stir at Korean cinemas in 1957, writes Kelly Apter
The film started life as a novel, initially serialised in a Seoul newspaper, before its adaptation to the big screen. Other versions followed, with the latest offshoot appearing at this year’s International Festival courtesy of Korean company YMAP (Your Media Arts Project).
Created by husband and wife duo Hyung Su Kim and Hyo Jin Kim, Madame Freedom, the dance work, fuses video images with live performance to explore and contemporise some of the issues raised in the original film.
“The movie Madame Freedom was a sensation at the time,” says director, choreographer and performer, Hyo Jin Kim. “The central character showed her deviation from the traditional role of women of that era by going dancing and having an affair. It portrayed the new-age woman, who gains social status with her economic freedom.”
But she goes on to point out: “My piece is irrelevant to the movie’s themes – I’m more interested in dismantling and re-assembling time, space and memory. So I turned my Madame Freedom into a woman travelling through different times.”
Along with Hyung Su Kim, who worked as art director on the project (and whose work Media Skins can be seen outside the Usher Hall and Festival Theatre this summer), Hyo Jin Kim created new video imagery, which is intertwined with clips from the film, archived footage from a 1960s TV show of the same name, and her own choreography. The dancers move back and forth through time, connecting with the performers on screen (in particular a nightclub singer from the film – one of the most popular performers in 1950s Korea) then back to present day. “Through this piece, I was hoping to show how different media and dance can interact on stage to create a new form of art called media performance,” explains Hyung Su Kim, “And I created the video work using my own movements.”
It is this interface between dance and technology that interested International Festival director, Jonathan Mills, who programmed it alongside Jose Montalvo’s Don Quichotte du Trocadéro and Scottish Ballet’s Dance Odysseys – both of which also explore how film and live movement can work hand in hand. “In Korea there is an enormously vibrant and growing cinema and visual arts scene,” explains Mills. “And what really excited me about YMAP when I came across their work, is their quite funky but very precise and sophisticated use of video. Too often in video work, you appreciate the technical proficiency, but it doesn’t go beyond the boffins saying ‘wow’ to each other. Whereas with Madame Freedom, there is a strong sense of the human body and its dignity.”
Dance and film can have a complicated relationship, however. Do you use the visual images to complement the on-stage action, to interact with it, or to juxtapose it? Crucially, do you direct the audience’s gaze in one direction at a time, or ask them to take in several things at once? With Madame Freedom, it’s clearly the latter. Hyo Jin Kim and her fellow dancer perform alongside a glut of visual images, projected onto three walls and the floor. Some images have been created digitally, some drawn from the aforementioned film and TV show – all of them ask the audience to look at, and concentrate on, more than one stimulus. “That’s exactly the point Hyo Jin Kim is asking you to think about,” says Mills. “She’s suggesting that your gaze needs to do both, and that’s quite deliberate. In our multi-dimensional media world, you can be on your phone, looking at a computer screen, and looking at and thinking about something else at the same time – we fragment our attention. And I think Hyo Jin Kim is playing with that idea. It’s not about showing you one particular image and saying you must concentrate on that, it’s about pulling focus.”
Once a traditional, conservative society, Korea has undergone many changes since the 1950s, when American troops took up residency in the South. From dance crazes and films to clothes and make-up, US culture began to seep into everyday life, and show people – women in particular – a potentially different way of living.
The gender politics brought about by those changes are also touched upon in Madame Freedom. “The show references, in quite a subtle way, the journey South Korea has been on, and the various film genres of Korean cinema,” says Mills.
“And what Hyo Jin Kim is also saying here is something profound about the role of women in a traditional society – not just in Korea but across Asia – and how radically that has been re-cast since the 1950s. Plausibly, because of technological advances like cinema.”
MORE INFO: Madame Freedom is at King’s Theatre