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'Grimento' explores shadows of school bullying through contemporary dance

Sept. 6, 2023 - 21:30 By Hwang Dong-hee
Dancers rehearse a scene from "Grimento." (Sejong Center for the Performing Arts)

A heavy sense of suspense hangs in the air. While everyone remains seated upright in their chairs, their gazes fixed straight ahead, one figure alone brazenly perches on a desk, scanning the room like a predator. He then reclines in the chair. With a casual flick of his arm, the other chairs collapse. He continues to contort his body with an impending threat.

Titled “Grimento,” a contemporary dance performance is set to wrap up this year’s 12-part Sejong Center’s summer contemporary season, Sync Next. The theatrical piece is scheduled to run at Sejong Center’s S Theater from Thursday to Sunday.

“Grimento” unfolds a narrative of high school students grappling with bullying, focusing on the perpetrators, the victim and bystanders.

Choreographer Kim Sung-hoon (left) and visual director Jung Ku-ho pose for a photo after a rehearsal. (Sejong Center for the Performing Arts)

Choreographer Kim Sung-hoon from London’s Akram Khan Company has teamed up with visual artistic director Jung Ku-ho, celebrated for his innovative fusion of traditional dance with contemporary mise-en-scene.

The title is a coined word, combining the French word “gris (gray)" with the Latin word “memento (memory or moment)." Together it means “gray moments.”

“The spectrum of the color gray encompasses a range from the palest gray to the darkest, almost blackish gray. We divided the shades into six levels and crafted each shade into six episodes,” said Jung after a rehearsal open to the press on Aug. 25.

Dancers rehearse a scene from "Grimento." (Sejong Center for the Performing Arts)

During the rehearsal, the stage was filled with rows of gray desks and chairs, reminiscent of a typical Korean high school classroom. Sixteen dancers in gray uniforms entered the stage one by one, taking their seats.

Choreographer Kim said he drew inspiration from some common habits of students: resting one’s chin on a desk, leaning on a chair, or putting one’s head down on the desk.

“And from the moment they step onto the stage, all 16 dancers assume their roles as different characters. And we have built some characteristics. Their facial expressions, walking patterns and subtle nuances while seated or standing are pre-choreographed,” said Kim.

Though tasked with the challenge of choreographing large movements within the confines of 16 desks and chairs in a small theater, Kim found untapped spaces.

“We came across more spaces such as under the desks or on and under the chairs, which were not expected initially. We will also reposition the desks and chairs to reflect different time periods within the school day like lunchtime and recess.”

Dancers rehearse a scene from "Grimento." (Sejong Center for the Performing Arts)

In the microcosm of the school, where invisible hierarchies and tensions simmer, Jung and Kim highlighted the role of the bystander -- an elusive figure in the ambiguous gray zone between the bully and the victim.

“In discussions about school violence, the spotlight often centers on the bully and the victim. However, it's the bystanders who outnumber them significantly. I think their indifference often exacerbates some school violence. We wanted to shed light on this aspect and raise awareness of the neglect,” said Jung.

The latter part of the performance was not revealed during the open rehearsal, but Jung promised that the ending will touch audience members' hearts.

“We have also put a lot of thought into portraying how the victim could heal, and wanted to suggest some solutions,” said Jung.

“We hope this performance can spark conversations about school violence and discussions for different solutions."