LDP/Laboratory Dance Project Makes a Winning Pillow Debut
Dance review by Bess J.M. Hochstein
Without a doubt, LDP/Laboratory Dance Project, an all-male, contemporary troupe based in Soeul, is the most winning company to perform at Jacob’s Pillow thus far this summer, a season that has already seen more than its share of superb performances. Forget any impression you may have of Korean dance. LDP presents work that is universal in style, a little bit street, very smart, totally unpredictable, extremely likeable, and fun.
By the end of Are You Happy to See Me?, the first piece in a three-work program (photos left and below by Christopher Duggan), the audience was thrilled, producing a thunderous round of applause, and could hardly wait for the intermission to end to see more. This high-energy dance began and ended with Dongkyu Kim alone on the floor in a square of light, illuminated from above at the front, right corner of the stage, trying to get up, which lent the piece the feeling of a dream. Most of the action took place center stage, in a rectangle of light under a suspended metallic structure, where six stone-faced dancers wearing long blue sarongs shifted from controlled, unison movements initiated by hand and arm gestures into aggressive, full body interactions.
The dancers mostly moved in a grid within the rectangle of light, though at times they stepped out of the box, at one point falling flat on the floor to form a larger rectangle. As the piece progressed and the dancers became more interactive, the grid devolved into a freer flowing spatial plan. There was sudden, unwarranted violence, most of it directed at one hapless victim, who, over a long sequence was shaken, spun, and tossed around by the other ensemble members. Wild-haired sprite Kihun Kim initiated the violence with one unexpected kick, and became a malevolent whirling dervish during the piece, which benefited from dramatic lighting and an evocative, electronic soundscape punctuated with snippets of Je Ne Regrette Rien.
The duet Modern Feeling injected a dose of humor into the evening. The light comes up to find Jinyook Ryu sprawled in an armchair, in street clothes, soon to be joined by Insoo Lee (also the choreographer), taking the adjacent chair and placing his hand on Ryu’s leg, which shudders under his touch. Lee repeats the gesture with different touches, until Ryu’s shudder transfers into Lee’s arm, and the piece is off and running.
In the ensuing romp, by turn playful and combative, the two engage in clever partnering, embracing and spinning apart with inventive lifts and holds; a mock martial arts showdown that slips from hi-speed to slo-mo sparring and grappling; entrancing segments of weight transference; and a powerful moment of stillness stage front, facing the audience, that culminates in a literal slap in the face.
The evening ends with No Comment, LDP’s signature work, created by Chang Ho Shin, who also performs. Like the other pieces, this dance immediately draws the viewer in with striking imagery and lighting design. In darkness, we hear the unmistakable noise of flesh rhythmically slapping flesh; the light gradually rises to reveal one dancer, hand under his shirt, slapping his chest, as another repeatedly struggles to his feet, rising as if pulled by a marionette’s string only to collapse down to the floor. In the background, one man strides onto the stage and another dashes out of the wings in pursuit, tackles him, and drags him back.
This is an intensely physical, rhythm driven-dance with smart structure that makes the most of the dancers’ uniform ability to remain loose-limbed and controlled at the same time. The choreography is engaging and never predictable, and the dancers attack every move with total commitment, especially during two acrobatic segments – one involving a long sequence of dancers taking a few steps on their hands as they cartwheel then collapse to the floor, and another of showboating, break-dance style flips, spins, and handsprings in rapid sequence. No Comment has a few false endings, repeated reprises that allow the audience to appreciate a full-throttle unison sequence that eventually finds its way off the stage and into the aisles before the eruption of a well deserved standing ovation.
LDP is the first Korean contemporary company in the Pillow’s 79-year history to enjoy a weeklong engagement on the Ted Shawn stage. At a glance it may have seemed to be risky programming, but by the end of the evening it was easy to see why Ella Baff took the chance and booked LDP in the larger theater for its Pillow debut. The audience left exhilarated. “That was awesome!,” one young viewer exclaimed, and just about everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing. LDP proves that dance can be both smart and fun, humorous without being dopey, crowd-pleasing without pandering, and enjoyable on the surface without lacking depth.
LDP/Laboratory Dance Project in the Ted Shawn Theatre
Now through July 31
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA