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Putting the ‘hip’ in contemporary hip-hop : Street culture meets visual theater when U.K.-based Far From The Norm takes the stage at this year’s SiDance

‘Hip-hop is a global art form and no longer a subculture. It exists both on the street and in venues.’
Sept 26,2017
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The programming at this year’s Seoul International Dance Festival has been grouped into three strands: Dance Premium, Dance Mosaic and Dance Platform. From left: Russell Maliphant Company’s “Conceal/Reveal” from the United Kingdom; Yasmine Hugonnet’s “Recital of Postures” from Switzerland; and Jungmarie Company’s “Marie Jung’s ‘Salome’” from Korea. [HUGO GLENDINNING, ANNE-LAURE LECHAT, YEO EO YEO]
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Choreographer Botis Seva of the U.K. dance company Far From The Norm. [ALICE UNDERWOOD FILMS]
For the past 20 years, the Seoul International Dance Festival, SiDance for short, has been working to raise the profile of contemporary dance among Korean audiences. It’s been a “lonesome and difficult job,” artistic director Lee Jong-ho says, “to bring public attention to the beauty of contemporary dance,” but he feels like the efforts have paid off.

One of Lee’s strategies has been to invite contemporary dance groups from abroad who produce quality work that crosses into other genres like hip-hop, circus theater and even martial arts.

“In Europe, I notice that hip-hop dancers are actively involved in the contemporary dance world, turning it into a work of art and creating new performances,” Lee said. “We have so many talented hip-hop dancers in Korea with great techniques who win top prizes at international competitions, but currently in Korea, there’s a clear distinction between hip-hop and contemporary dance.”

Hoping to once again demonstrate the diversity of contemporary dance and its compatibility with other genres, Lee has invited a U.K. hip-hop dance group, Far From The Norm, to this year’s SiDance. The group will collaborate with four Korean dancers on a piece titled “GEN 20:20” exclusively for the upcoming festival, which kicks off its 20-day run on Oct. 9. “GEN 20:20” will be staged at Sogang University’s Mary Hall on Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.

To learn more about Far From The Norm, the Korea JoongAng Daily recently spoke with the group’s founder and choreographer Botis Seva. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.



Q. You’ll be presenting a new collaborative work between Far From The Norm and several Korean dancers. Can you tell our readers about the upcoming performance?

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Because Far From The Norm is an experimental dance company that tries to also tackle sociopolitical issues through our works, I challenged the dancers in rehearsals to look to the future having cast a critical eye on society across past generations. Audiences who will be coming to our performance can expect experimentation, hip-hop artistry and something distinctly new.



What are some examples of your group’s past work, and what kind of sociopolitical issues will Far From The Norm and the Korean dancers tackle in the upcoming performance in Seoul?

We’re committed to taking audiences on a journey and presenting them with compelling truths and thought-provoking content. For example, I wanted to start a conversation about hooliganism with one of the company’s recent pieces titled “House of Hooligan,” particularly following the trouble in Euro 2016. The performance is about football and its relationship with hooliganism, corruption and politics. There are some controversial elements and it is quite fierce in part, but it encourages audiences to think and have a conversation.

For “GEN 20:20,” we will encourage people to think about how society is evolving. The artists will be looking at this from their combined cultural perspectives, which brings a new dimension to the work.



With the rising popularity of hip-hop culture, especially here in Seoul, your team can actually act as a platform for introducing contemporary dance to a wider audience. Since Far From The Norm’s establishment, have you witnessed any changes in people’s attitudes toward modern dance?

The sector has grown considerably in the last 25 years through the support of Arts Council England and venues like Sadler’s Wells in London. Far From The Norm was established in 2009 as a collective of dance artists who have built a reputation for experimenting with hip-hop.

Hip-hop is a global art form and no longer a subculture. It exists both on the street and in venues. In London, Sadler’s Wells holds a highly innovative and respected annual festival, Breakin’ Convention, which aims to position hip-hop alongside more historically established art forms. We’ve been part of the festival, which has been going since 2004. Jonzi D, its artistic director, is the foremost advocate for hip-hop and has changed the profile of and influenced the development of the U.K. British hip-hop dance and theater scene for 20 years.



It seems like it’s not easy to appeal to audiences with contemporary dance, especially in Korea. SiDance has been making ceaseless efforts to broaden the audience for the past 20 years, and it’s only starting to attract the general public without dance backgrounds. Why do you think it’s so difficult?

In the U.K. as well, audiences for contemporary dance are now stronger than they were 20 years ago because there’s been an investment in artists and venues. So there needs to be continued investment and support for it to grow. Hip-hop is a different and separate scene. It’s evolved in a unique way and is still doing so. It’s not established like contemporary dance, but it’s a worldwide phenomenon and recognized as a vibrant and creative art.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]