Trying to understand each other

The Choe Dance Company from Korea gets audiences involved in an ‘Argument.’

The Choe Dance Company 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Choe Dance Company 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It happens every day all over the world and for millions of reasons. People, with or without intending to, enter into conflicts with their loved ones, their bosses or co-workers or strangers on the street. Arguing, whether we like it or not, is part of life, regardless of our location, class or disposition.
The ways in which these disputes are ignited and handled are subject to an interconnecting web of social and cultural norms and taboos, depending on the geographic region in which the spat takes place.
For choreographer Sang-cheul Choe, these moments in life are a source of wonderment. In his many travels as a programmer for Seoul’s top dance festival, Choe noticed the subtle shades of altercations and became keenly aware of the ways that they were different from the Korean rules of engagement. In early March Choe, along with the nine dancers of the Choe Contemporary Dance Company, will present the results of their research on this matter in Argument at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
“Argument was made in 2010 in Korea,” said Choe in a recent interview between rehearsals. “The first idea was to look at why we are arguing. That was the question of this piece. The reason is that you are different from me. In the world, arguing is our way of trying to understand each other.”
During the six-month process for this internationally acclaimed work, Choe asked his dancers to delve into the sensations they undergo during fights. For some, this task brought out resistance or vulnerability.
“Westerners express themselves very easily, but Koreans are very shy to say what they want to say. They put it behind themselves,” he explained.
To elicit the most authentic movements and behavior, Choe used an array of creative tactics in the studio.
“My goal when I make a piece is not to give the dancers ideas and try to protect what they have. I always try to help them find a new way to express themselves. I do a lot of improvisation. Each individual is very unique in my argument.
That’s the way I create,” he said.
The visual impact of Argument is no less important than its content.
Stark lighting design creates a tense environment in which the dancers, clad at times in shimmery suits, go about their business.
“Originally I worked with five different artists including the costume designer, the scriptwriter and the lighting designer,” said Choe. “The lighting designer and I started trying out ideas. I knew that I wanted black and white lighting, with no colors. We tried to put everything together and started arguing about Argument,” he laughed.
It was essential for Choe to keep the aesthetic lines of this piece clean, thus he refrained from using multimedia elements. “It’s a onehour show about arguing,” he said.
“I built the piece with energy and the dancers’ bodies. Sometimes using multimedia can make things easier. This piece is one hour of moving, with no fancy colors and no fancy elements. It’s very simple.”
Although Argument premiered more than a year ago, Choe continues to tinker with the nuances of the piece.
“I most enjoyed the hours of making this piece,” he said of the ongoing creative energy that Argument stimulates in him. “It kept changing and developing.
Every moment, I got something new or tried something new. Even today, I changed something. I understood what arguing today is.
I try to make contact every day with something new.”
For Choe, who has visited Israel several times, presenting work in Tel Aviv is a dream come true.
Similar to Israel, Korea’s contemporary dance community was largely influenced by Martha Graham. Seeing a kinship between the two dance communities, Choe has been interested in Israeli work for several years. In 2008 Emmanuel Gat was invited to perform in Korea, and that performance had a strong impact on local audiences.
“I’ve been to Israel many times, and I’ve seen great choreographers there,” said Choe. “It’s an honor for me to perform at Suzanne Dellal.”
Argument will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center on March 1 at 9 p.m. and March 2 at 2 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit or call (03) 510-5656.