(Yonhap Interview) Ambiguous Dance Company: The dance group behind weirdly wonderful tourist promo videos that have gone viral

SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) — If you’ve ever seen their dance, chances are you’ve seen it on repeat.

Ambiguous Dance Company, a group of sunglasses-wearing dancers showing off addictive dance moves in funky outfits inspired by Korean tradition, is the latest viral wonder to come from South Korea.

The “Feel the Rhythm of Korea” series, tourist promotional videos featuring the dancers in six Korean cities, racked up more than 126 million views on YouTube in about three months.

People who watched the videos commented on how the dancers are like “Joseon hipsters” – referring to the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), an important era in the country’s history – or “dokkaebi”, known legendary creatures from Korean folklore. for their extraordinary power and playful stunts.

“I think these comments come from people who like us. I guess we are easier and simpler to understand as a modern dance group,” said Kim Bo-ram, the artistic director who led Ambiguous Dance Company. for 13 years.

Although the group may seem like a sudden sensation to some, it actually dates back to 2007, when Kim, who also acted as a backup dancer for first-generation K-pop artists like Um Jung-hwa and Koyote, created a dance group with his friends.

“We were having a drink and there was an English dictionary there. In the first few pages that had all the A-words, I saw the word ‘ambiguous’ and thought that would be good,” Kim said. . “I didn’t know it would last this long.”

Like the name of the group, Ambiguous Dance Company is known for its innovative and experimental choreography and visuals that are not limited by convention.

In the six videos featuring the dance company, the dancers frolic at each city’s lesser-known tourist attractions while music from alternative pop group Leenalchi flows in the background.

Rather than dancing in a plaza or stage, dancers appear in the most unlikely of places, such as an early morning harbor where fishermen prepare for the day or the curling arena where the Olympic Games were held. PyeongChang winter 2018.

“We filmed from about 5 a.m. to about 7 p.m. for each video. Shooting at Mokpo Port was the hardest – the stench was so strong we felt like we couldn’t remember the next one. movement,” Kim said. . “But at the same time, we could feel what the fishermen are going through.

“The most fun part was dancing at the curling rink,” Kim continued. “It was our first time visiting a curling stadium and it was also our last filming segment. Everyone was really exhausted but turned that into positive energy and fun on the ice.”

Since the dance group already had a solid portfolio of performances, such as “Fever” and “Body Concert”, they didn’t have to create any new moves for the series. The outfits in the six videos were mostly recycled from their previous works.

In the video filmed in the traditional town of Andong, the team imagined a new costume – a sparkly suit with a “saekdong”, or rainbow striped shirts – to share the message of returning to the roots while giving off the feeling of people from the future revisiting an ancient city, according to Kim.

The emphasis on visual detail is central to the identity of the dance group. One of the most prominent characteristics of his avant-garde performance style is the wearing of sunglasses or goggles in most of his works.

It started as a makeshift device to help dancers overcome shyness or stage fright, and then developed into a concept that aims for the audience to focus solely on the body and the dance moves. In recent videos that have gone viral, sunglasses and eyewear played a big role in imbuing a quirky yet hip vibe.

“Dancing in sunglasses, especially goggles, is really difficult. As the moisture fills inside the goggles, it feels like dancing underwater,” Kim said. “Sometimes it’s even difficult to walk on stage. Most of us have gotten used to it, but we always make sure new dancers practice a lot before we dance with them.

“It has become our trademark, but there must be concrete reasons why we wear them. We try to find new reasons to wear them when we sometimes do stage work without wearing sunglasses” , said Kim sheepishly, adding that he still puts them on for interview shoots.

In fact, beneath the group’s playful, nonchalant façade lie years of self-contemplation on dance and what it means to be a dancer in South Korea.

“What matters is not the type of movement we perform, but how far we can go with expression. Movement itself becomes meaningless beyond a certain point. that’s why we try to avoid picking conclusions,” Kim said. “What’s important is how dance can elicit various reactions from the audience. It doesn’t have to be funny or tragic. The potential of the language of dance is that it can be a variety of interpretations.”

In that sense, Kim said he hopes the dance company can help bring audiences closer to the dance genre, which is often seen as too fancy or hard to understand.

“If the day comes when people here go to see a dance performance more often, like they go to see a movie, I hope the Ambiguous Dance Company will be remembered for making that contribution,” Kim said.

The veteran dancer said he had one thing he would like to clarify before the interview is over.

“Someone once said, ‘To be Korean is to be global.’ I disagree,” he said. “It should rather be ‘To be yourself is to be global.'”

“Getting to know each other is one of the most painful processes but it should be what underpins the culture, everything. … It may seem that we are popular because we have done a good interpretation of the tradition but it’s more because the dancers have invested a lot of time. It’s time to understand our body better. It’s a never-ending job.”