An Evening at Korea House

My trip to Seoul was a quick weekend getaway packed with fun and adventure. Over the course of three days I learned a lot about Korean history, went to the top of Seoul Tower, tried Korean Barbecue, went to the DMZ, and met some amazing people along the way; but, by far the highlight of my trip was seeing a traditional folk dance performance at Korea House. To say it was just a dance performance doesn’t nearly encompass all that this show had to offer. Within the hour performers were drumming, singing, painting, danced while using traditional props and costumes and on top of it all were able to tell a compelling story.

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The show presented an adaptation of a famous Korean folk tale “Sim Cheong”. It is the story of a daughter who chooses to sacrifice her life to the sea in order to give her blind father the gift of sight. However, the fairies of the sea reward Sim Cheong for her bravery by saving her life and sending her back to shore in a lotus flower. A King finds Sim Cheong in the lotus flower and is so captivated by her beauty that he asks for her hand in marriage and in turn helps her to reunite with her father. It was wonderful to witness a story that holds such a special place in Korean history and so well demonstrates their culture’s morals.

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The opening number of the show depicted a stormy night at sea. There was a scrim at the front of the stage projecting the storm while four female performers were in formation behind and playing drums that were stacked on either side of them with intricate choreography. Projection was used repeatedly throughout the show to depict different backdrops, and was implemented appropriately into every scene making a very traditional folk tale come to life in a modern way.

There was one particular scene where a performer entered the stage with a white-canvased background behind her. She began by dancing gracefully throughout the space then made her way upstage. With a piece of black pastel she began to draw in large exaggerated strokes on the canvass in front of her, all the while continuing to dance. Only a few moments later a male performer entered the scene to join her. They were both drawing different images while also taking moments to dance together, moving from upstage to downstage in sync with the music and then rushing back to the canvass to work on one another’s pictures. At the end of the piece both performers stepped away from the canvass to showcase a scene of beautiful mountains in the distance in black and white, and then slowly a projection was shone over top to bring colour and life to the canvass. The scene was absolutely breathtaking.

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The audience was comprised of both Koreans and foreigners, which gave the performers the difficult task of overcoming any language barriers. Music, body language and choreography played a big part in telling the story, and narration was also used and projected on the scrim in both Korean and English to share the drama that took place off stage. The actors would also exaggerate their emotions to convey tragedy or bring even more humour into a comedic situation.

The blind father was particularly funny when he entered the stage from the audience looking for Sim Cheong. He stumbled in with his cane sniffing the audience members one by one until he smelled my friend sitting next to me and shouted in triumph thinking she was his daughter. When my friend corrected him and told him her name was Angie the father cried out and slowly began making his way back up to the stage, but not without dropping his cane several times and calling out for Angie to retrieve it for him.

The blind characters continuously got themselves into trouble, and made use of musical cues in their comedic timing, so even without the use of dialogue the audience was able to have a good laugh. The actors also continued to break the fourth wall throughout the show to involve the audience into some of their antics.

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Sim Cheong and the female ensemble were all absolutely stunning. They moved so elegantly with big gaping traditional garments and used fans and flowers that they manipulated to create shapes within their choreography. The lead actress playing Sim Cheong experienced a lot of heartache throughout the story, which was reflected in her slow movements and mournful expressions, while her ensemble dancers always seemed to be her guiding light. The female ensemble played roles like the fairies of the sea saving Sim Cheong from drowning, or palace officials celebrating the wedding of Sim Cheong and the King. Regardless of how hopeless Sim Cheong’s fate would seem the ensemble kept hope for the story with their beautiful soft movements and smiling faces.

At one point in the show three male performers all came onto the stage holding drums and wearing slightly different costumes. Two costumes had ribbons attached to a headpiece and the other had a large feather headpiece. All of the male performers were playing in synchronization and taking turns stepping forward to show of their skills circling and flicking their headpieces. It was incredible to see how they were able to manipulate the ribbons and feathers like rhythmic gymnasts all the while playing their drums, and leaping around the stage.

For the final scene a singer took to the stage as Sim Cheong and her father were finally reunited. She sang a powerful ballad narrating the scene before her, while Sim Cheong and her father were mouthing the singer’s lyrics. It was an interesting choice that emphasized the characters’ shared pain in their loss of time apart, but also highlighted their joy in finding one another again. To celebrate their happy ending all performers entered the stage for a final musical number.

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If you ever find yourself with a free evening in Seoul, go and see a show at Korea House! Their performance combined Korean tradition with modern technology and contemporary humour. The performers exhibited unbelievable talent in a variety of art forms that will continue to blow you away from scene to scene. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed! There is a link down below for Korea House’s website so be sure to check them out before your next trip to South Korea!

https://www.koreahouse.or.kr/en/main

 

Is Dance an Art or a Sport?

Ultimately dance can mean many things to many people, but there is a reason that it isn’t in the Olympics (and no, it is not due to lack of athleticism). Dance is first and foremost an art form, and here’s why:

 

Competition does not make it a Sport

Even though there are many prestigious competitions for every style from ballet, to hip-hop, competition does not make it a sport. You can compete as a singer, musician, or as a visual artist, but none of those fields are considered sports.

You can pretty much make a competition out of anything if you try hard enough, but that doesn’t mean that after taking part in a hotdog-eating contest you should start calling yourself a jock.

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There is room for creative liberty

When athletes are entered into the Olympics or other tournaments there is always strict set of standards they have to follow in order to be considered for judgment.

For Example:

In competitive figure skating there are restrictions on the style of music, choreography, and costume choice for both men and women.

There are also specific skills and tricks that must be demonstrated in a routine depending on the program. For instance in pair skating a duo must execute lifts, twist lifts, throw jumps, and spirals, while also incorporating single skating elements into their routine.

Dance competitions grant performers with a lot of free will.

There are never specific tricks that need to be demonstrated; it’s usually just a matter of bringing your best to the table whatever that may be.

Costumes can typically be anything. In the same category one dancer could be wearing a sequined leotard while another could be wearing a large old T-shirt. Typically as long as the costume is suited to the performer and their routine anything goes.

In most cases music doesn’t even have to be used.

The point being that if dance were a sport, there would need to be very specific restrictions to make judging easy and straight forward, which it isn’t.

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Dancers may be Athletes but they are not Sportsmen/women

Dancers do not get enough credit for the sheer athleticism that a performance can require. I mean, not only do we have to execute skills that test our balance, flexibility, sense of rhythm, and strength, but we also have to perform them with a smile on our face as if nothing is happening. Seriously, if fouette turns, head spins, and crazy fast bachacatas don’t demonstrate athleticism I don’t know what does.

But athleticism does not make it a sport, and in fact sports don’t always require athleticism.

Croquet and Hot air ballooning were once considered Olympic sports, though neither are known to get your heart rate up (…unless maybe your anxious about the results of the competition).

If sports are defined as showing athleticism then hiking, yoga, and palates should also be considered sports.

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Dance is a Form of Expression

Unlike sports, dance allows people to express themselves. It can allow someone to be vulnerable as their true selves or give them the opportunity to take on another persona. Certain styles can reflect an era, and represent a historical movement. Dance can be used to tell stories, and push boundaries. Dance is a language that can communicate what might not be able to be said with words. A great dance performance can make you question the world around you, and present the human experience through movement. Dance can be used in ritual, celebration, and even competition but it is always an art form.

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If you enjoyed this post check out my previous posts on Auditioning as a Dancer for Disney, 5 Things to Learn from the Great Leslie Caron, and Dancing in the Middle East.

 

 

 

DANCING IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In September of 2015 I had the privilege of performing in Doha, Qatar during the Eid al-Adha Festival. It was my first real professional job out of school, and I was so excited to finally be paid to do what I love to do most. It was also my first time travelling to the Middle East and I had no idea what to expect, and had never even heard of the Eid al-Adha Festival.

It was overwhelming to think of performing in a place and for a culture I knew so little about. I mean, everything I knew about travelling in the Middle East I had learned from watching Sex and the City 2… so it was safe to say I had a lot of research to do before hopping on a plane.

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Here are a few of the obvious questions that came to mind…

Where is Qatar?

Qatar is a small country on the northern border of Saudi Arabia, and it is about an hour flight from Dubai.

What is the Eid al-Adha Festival?

The Eid al-Adha Festival is an Islamic event celebrating Ibrahim’s commitment to Allah, and his willingness to sacrifice his own son. It is a celebrated holiday in many Muslim countries, and observed slightly differently around the world.

What are some of the Cultural Expectations?

In Qatar, modesty is more so a necessity than a virtue. It is common for local men to wear thobes and many women wear abayas (both are lose fit garments that conceal the body’s shape). However, tourists are expected to cover themselves more or less from shoulders to knees.

Physical contact between men and women in public is strictly prohibited. This includes kissing, hugging, holding hands and everything in between.

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My Cast mate Josh and I doing our best not to get too close for a photo

As a travel enthusiast I always hope to respect each new country’s history, culture, and traditions regardless of how different they may be to my own. I believe that is the joy of travelling, to witness a new way of living and learn from it. But I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about performing as a dancer in a country with such a strict moral code.

Growing up as a dancer in Canada, I was always encouraged to show off my body. In fact, teachers in most of my classes didn’t allow students to wear baggy clothing. Almost all of the styles of dance I studied included some type of partner work, and teachers often used physical contact to correct my posture or to offer their support. And now I was going to be dancing on stage with both men and women, performing tricks that show off my flexibility, and wearing what might be considered revealing costumes, all at a religious festival in one of the most conservative countries in the world…

 

The Show

The show was Alice in Wonderland, and I was cast as a member of the ensemble playing roles like a flower, the Dormouse, and one of the Queen’s Cards. It was a forty-minute children’s show with dialogue, dance, and pop music songs meant to string the story together.

The Venue was a built up outdoor stage in the Souq Wakif in Doha. We performed the show twice a day, which was not an easy task considering the desert heat in early September averaged around 40°C. After each performance we were asked to parade around the souq, and interact and take photos with the audience.

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The Costumes

The costumes were designed to be conservative. All of the performers were covered from elbows to ankles, which felt a little overbearing considering the desert heat. But the costumes were still form fitting enough to grant us all full range of motion to kick, leap and turn (think leggings and a long sleeve top).

The Shared Dressing Room

Believe it or not we shared a dressing room…yes, in a country that doesn’t allow unmarried men and women to share a hotel room, our whole cast shared a dressing room. It was a small, enclosed, air-conditioned room with no room dividers or bathrooms to change in.

Growing up as a dancer in Canada I lost all sense of propriety when it came to my body (at least in a performer friendly environment), so the thought of changing in front of my cast mates wasn’t a problem. But it seemed a little ironic that in a place where I was suppose to cover up everything between my knees and shoulders, I was also expected to change in front of my coworkers.

 

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Audience Reaction

Considering the official language of Qatar is Arabic, and our show was performed in English, I wasn’t sure how much of the story the audience would be able to understand, but the they seemed to really enjoy it nonetheless. Throughout the show the children were clapping and dancing along to the music. When the performance came to an end there was a loud round of applause and before we were even finished with our bows there was a line of guests waiting to greet us by the side of the stage.

I was so excited and ready to meet all of the young fans in the audience. The whole cast went out together and we had a few of the local entertainment staff accompany us as security, to ensure nobody got lost in the crowds.

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I quickly realized that even though I was technically covered from wrist to ankle our costumes were still considered scandalous for Qatari culture. I wasn’t sure how the local women would react to seeing us so exposed and performing for their children. I was afraid we might be judged for our revealing costumes.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All of the women were so lovely. We were greeted with smiles, and words of encouragement as we walked through the souq. Many women were asking for photos and fighting for a spot in line, and I was even handed a few babies to take pictures with. I felt like a celebrity.

The local men were also eager to take photos with the all of us foreign performers. Unfortunately, a few of my female cast mates said they were felt up while taking pictures with some of the male audience members in the crowd. In that moment it was clear that some of the men felt a sense of entitlement to the female dancers  “showing off” their figures; but of course, this is an issue that many dancers (and women in general) face regardless of what they are wearing or what country they are in. However, I personally was approached by a lot of respectful male guests, many of which were taking photos with their children.

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What I Learned

On one of our days off, the cast took a group trip into the desert. We were able to ride camels, drive over sand dunes and take a swim in the Persian Golf. Across the water we were able to see the border of Saudi Arabia, where women are granted very limited rights in comparison to the rest of the world. A woman in Saudi Arabia is not allowed to accept any job without the consent of a male guardian, and female Saudi Arabian performers are hard to come by. In that moment while looking over to the Saudi Arabian Shore, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly blessed for the freedom I have been given to pursue my dreams.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Doha. It was such an honour to perform at such a significant festival in Qatari culture. Even though I was halfway across the world, dancing for people that didn’t necessarily speak my language, or share my same principles I was still able to create a connection through storytelling, and I am so thankful for that!

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5 Things to Learn From the Great Leslie Caron

Leslie Caron is one of the true Hollywood starlets from the golden era of Hollywood. At just 18 she was plucked out of a ballet company and thrust onto the big screen, beginning a career in show businesses that would last over sixty years (and counting).

She first captivated audiences with her performance as Lise Bouvier in An American in Paris alongside Gene Kelly. She became the American French fantasy. Since then she has been cast in over 40 films, 27 television series, and been awarded with a primetime Emmy, a Golden Globe, and nominated for two academy awards. She has danced alongside Fred Astaire, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikail Baryshnikov. But most importantly, with time and gumption she has proven herself as a true fighter in the industry.

Here are five things every performer can learn from the great, Leslie Caron.

 

1. Be Versatile

Leslie didn’t put limitations on herself. She started her career as a classical ballet dancer with Ballet des Champs Elysées, and favoured the long tutus, romantic low swept hair, and the elegance she could bring to each role.

Years later, while working on An American in Paris, the choreographer put together a sultry jazz number with a chair that was meant to demonstrate her character’s ‘exciting side’. Caron claims she hardly knew what jazz was before starting the film, but she performed the piece with such conviction that the censorship team at MGM considered the number to be too erotic. She was asked to tone down the sex appeal before the film was allowed to appear on screen.

Though it might have been safer to rest on her laurels as a classical ballerina, Caron challenged herself to take on roles outside her comfort zone. Through the course of her career she performed in both comedies and dramas, became a jazz and a modern dancer, and even started singing. She gave herself room to evolve and ultimately became a triple threat.

2. Have a Creative Vision

Caron was only 18 when she signed her first contract with MGM in 1951. It was a time where most women in the industry were expected to not have an opinion. When beginning the production of An American in Paris the creative team wanted to thin out her eyebrows for a more refined look, but Caron refused. She was afraid of looking like every other girl in Hollywood at the time.

She was passionate about presenting her own authentic look for the role, so much so that on her first day of shooting she arrived on set with a new haircut. She chopped off her long locks into a short bouffant style. She took a risk for the sake of her own creative vision, and it ultimately payed off. Although the production team wasn’t thrilled with her decision and delayed shooting her scenes for a few weeks, Caron still got to sport her new do in the film.

3. Listen to Your Own Voice

Leslie was pushed by her mother (a former dancer) to be a great ballerina and a film star. Though it wasn’t what she ever envisioned, she strived for stardom to win the praises of her mother. But, after making it big in Hollywood, Caron’s mother was only reminded of her own failures and resented Leslie for her success.

Her second husband, Peter Hall, also grew to resent Leslie for her work after they started a family. Peter expected Leslie to stop performing and stay home to raise their children, but Leslie loved performing too much to consider ever giving it up. Though she wanted to make it work, the couple ended up divorcing nine years later.

In the end Caron lost two important relationships to her love of performing, but she eventually found happiness by chasing her dreams for no one but herself.

4. Carve Your Own Path

After the production of Lili was predicted to be a flop, Arthur Freed (a Hollywood producer) approached Caron about doing another film together to ‘save her career’. When asked if she had any ideas Caron suggested “Gigi”. It was a show Audrey Hepburn had performed on Broadway about a young courtesan in training. Gigi would later be considered one of Caron’s best roles, and MGM’s last great hit musical.

Though she enjoyed performing and was thankful for her success with MGM, Caron eventually grew unhappy with life in the United States, and missed the freedom that her life in Europe granted her. She decided to take action, and somehow managed to negotiate out of her contract with MGM early. She ended up moving to London, and became a freelance actress.

Leslie knew how to make her own opportunities, and took advantage of the ones that knocked on her door. She wasn’t afraid to take risks in her career and listened carefully to her instincts, which ultimately furthered her success.

5. Stay Humble

Through it all, Leslie still credits her success to ‘good use of good luck’. Though it might have been fate that brought Gene Kelly to her Roland Petit company performance, it was her talent and stage presence that caught his attention. Leslie didn’t take her success for granted and kept fighting to prove herself for every opportunity that came her way.

 

At the Age of 86 Leslie Caron has not announced a plan for retirement. Her love of performing continues to shine through in every role, both on stage and screen. If you liked this post give it a like and comment below!

AUDITIONING AS A DANCER FOR DISNEY

If you have ever considered being a professional dancer, working for the Walt Disney Company has probably crossed your mind…and how could it not? Disney now has seven resorts worldwide, and four ships in the fleet, so they are ALWAYS in search of people willing and ready to bring the magic to life!

I made the decision to attend my first Disney audition after a last minute trip to Paris… and what’s a trip to Paris without a visit to Disneyland? It was my first trip to a Disney resort as an adult and by the end of the day, I believed in magic. That night I went back to our cheap hotel and straight to the Disney audition website. Now four years and FIVE auditions later I am working a dream job at Tokyo Disney Resort. I hope with all of my experience I can give you a little bit of insight into what a typical dance audition might consist of, as well as a few tips to help you be successful!

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The Standard Disney Audition

A typical Disney audition will usually start with a short ballet combination that is meant give dancers an opportunity to demonstrate their technique. The choreography is not meant to be difficult, but the casting directors will be looking for dancers who not only nail that double pirouette, but do so with grace and of course a smile!

The second round is often a jazz combination… but more specifically A SUPER SASSY DISNEY JAZZ combination. If you made it this far the casting directors have already seen that you can be elegant and have beautiful port de bras. Now they will be looking for something else. Here is your chance to show how diverse you can be as a performer, so don’t be afraid to give it some spirit.

The final part of the audition will always vary depending on which park and which show you’re auditioning for. It is best to go in expecting anything… and I do mean anything! You may be asked to sing, lip sing, tap dance, tumble, demonstrate partner work, read lines in an unfamiliar language, or participate in a strength test.

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Park to Park and Ship to Ship

            Every park and ship has very specific needs and roles to fill, and it is better to have an understanding of certain requirements before heading into your audition so you can be more prepared.

Tokyo Disney Resort

A TDR dance audition is slightly unique to those of other parks, because in two out of three of the current stage shows, dancers portray Disney characters; meaning, you may not only be judged on your performance but also on your ability to look the part of a particular hero or heroine.

Since it is a Japanese park you may also be expected to lip sing or learn dialogue in Japanese, but don’t be too intimidated! The casting directors understand that this is probably new to everyone and will not be expecting perfection.

Disney Cruise Line

In recent years Disney Cruise Line has created new musical main stage shows, so being able to sing is definitely an advantage; though, not necessarily a requirement. Versatility is also an asset when auditioning for DCL because dancers have to perform in a variety of different shows every cruise.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort

These two parks both have plenty of opportunity for both equity and non-equity dancers! However, you must already be eligible to work in the United States in order to be considered for employment.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris is usually looking for Parade performers that can exhibit basic dance and movement skill. They do hire classically trained dancers for seasonal positions, though most of these auditions take place throughout Europe.

Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland

Both of theses parks are currently only casting local classically trained dancers, but they are hiring character performers, and singers from overseas.

Aulani Resort and Spa

This Disney resort hires performers specifically with a Hawaiian dance background.

THREE DON’TS AT A DISNEY DANCE CALL

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1. Don’t Just Smile

Like any audition you go to it’s a good idea to smile and make a good first impression, but Disney is not your average company! From the moment you walk into the room resonate happiness. Try not to be too in the zone beforehand that you come across as unapproachable, and instead try to make friends with the people around you.

When performing the combinations remember that with every performance Disney is making dreams a reality, so plastering a fake smile on your face just won’t cut it. Use your imagination as a performer and feel like Cinderella as you balancé from side to side, or like a child on Christmas morning as you strut down the room in the jazz combo!

2. Don’t forget to do your Research

By looking on the audition website you can usually get a bit of a heads up as to what show they are currently casting for, so do your research and come prepared. If you know they are looking to cast a particular role, watch that character’s movie and take notes so you can feel more confident!

If the call is for multiple shows/roles, it can be difficult to predict where you might fit in the eyes of casting, so bring lots of shoes and be ready for anything.

3. Don’t Sweat It

As I mentioned earlier I auditioned for the company five times before landing my current job, and that’s because with every Disney audition the casting directors will be looking for something different. Some positions will be strict on height requirements, some need immediate availability, and some may even be looking for specific facial structure, so if you didn’t fit the role this time, don’t sweat it!

Even if you completely blew it at your first audition, different resorts often have different casting directors so you can usually have a second chance to make a good first impression.

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Below is a link to the Disney Auditions website, which lists its upcoming audition calendar. Be sure to read each post carefully, and double check if any pre-registration is required! Comment about your own Disney audition experience, or feel free to ask any questions in the section below. MERDE!

https://disneyauditions.com