July seventh, the day of Jungwoong Kim’s 20-minute pop-up dance-music prelude to October’s world premiere SaltSoul performance, was also the day Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of police flooded the airwaves. Armed with grief, rage, despair, frustration, and dread, demonstrators took to the streets. These sentiments re-energized communities and also reminded us that the aftermath of tragedy is often riddled with anger and sadness.
Although their circumstances are different, emotional reactions to the news of the June 5, 2013 collapse of a Salvation Army store on 22nd and Market Streets makes a pertinent parallel. Witnessed by Kim, this catastrophe, in turn, transported him 30 years to his father’s sudden death in a car accident. Grappling with his own questions, Kim embarked on a journey to explore the varied emotions that surface when dealing with sudden loss, and how these emotions manifest themselves.
Collaboration and inclusion
What evolved was the reliving of a memory using vocalization, movement, music, and prop manipulations, all at the tragedy’s site. Kim, along with collaborators Merian Soto, Marion Ramirez, Germaine Ingram, Bhob Rainey and Gamin Hyosun Kang, humbly acknowledged the event and left room in the narrative for the voices of those lost and those left to heal.
With a 7-Eleven adjacent to the performance space, a SEPTA station just a fan kick away, a Trader Joe’s, and 30th Street Station across the Market Street Bridge, I expected to see and hear bustling traffic. But it was quiet; rush hour was long past.
I’m drawn to performances in public spaces because they often lend themselves to the gaze of both the invited audience and curious onlookers. I welcomed the opportunity to observe pedestrians decelerate their momentum before lingering on the lot’s periphery just to catch a glimpse of the evening’s activity.
As spectators clung to the fence enclosing the site, the six artists holding hands in a pre-performance ritual made their way to the place where the show would begin. Kim stood motionless behind them, cradling fabric that danced with the wind. On the other side of the lot, Soto glided softly while using her hands to palpate the space around her.
From cloth to cocoon
From the SEPTA station, Hyosun emerged playing the Taepyungso (a Korean wind instrument in the oboe family), while Ramirez and Ingram tentatively trailed behind executing quick, short movement phrases. The instrument’s tranquil sound led the procession, and combined with the earlier news of Sterling’s death, the stroll felt more like a demonstration, a communal act of activism.
Upon entering the lot, Kim and Soto engaged in a spirited duet, using the fabric from Kim’s opening tableau. Creating tension with the fabric, the duo traveled the expanse of the space while the other dancers took turns interacting with the stretched fabric. As the dancing chorus dwindled, Kim was left wrapped in a fabric cocoon, struggling to free himself from its encasement. Clinging to the cloth, he spun, jumped, and flailed before striking the floor with the material, and like rising spirits, clouds of dust rose with the floating fabric.
Against the backdrop of a city’s tragedy, Kim’s use of a public space was both effective and impactful. An artistic offering and a spiritual acknowledging, this SaltSoul prelude built an altar where angst and suffering could be left in exchange for collective gratitude, acceptance, and joy.