国際交流基金 The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan

Presenter Interview プレゼンターインタビュー

Dec 26, 2022
Sin Ae Park



Supporting the Spread of Korean Contemporary Dance Overseas
Independent Producer Sin Ae Park

Sin Ae Park is active as an international dance producer in the dynamically evolving Korean dance scene. In 2012, she switched from dancer to producer, and in 2014, she founded Korea Dance Abroad, a non-profit organization supporting dance artists overseas. An irreplaceable presence for the Korean dance world in the field of international exchange, she serves as artistic director of MONOTANZ SEOUL, as a curator for the S.O.U.M. Festival in Paris, France, and as the international manager for the Seoul International Choreographic Festival (SCF). In this interview we invite her to speak about recent activities and the changes and challenges observed since Covid.
Interviewer: Han Yeoreum

(Oct. 2021 at Seongsu Art Hall)
(C) 2021 Monotanz Seoul Kim Ju-bin


Pyo Sangman Taking care of me

As an independent producer who has introduced Korean artists to numerous dance festivals in North America and Europe, please describe the activities in which you have been involved?
After graduating from the Department of Dance at Ewha Womans University in 2005, I worked as a dancer and choreographer in Korea and the United States. From 2012-2014, I established a dance-specific programming and production company, SINAE Arts Management. After working as a programmer at the Changmu International Performing Arts Festival, I launched my company, Korea Dance Abroad (KDA) in 2014.

From 2014 to 2020, I served as guest curator of Korean specifically and Asian broadly dance and music programs at the 92Y Harkness Dance Center, New York City. Artists I managed, introduced to Americans for the first time, ranged from traditional Korean dance to contemporary dance, with programs such as Yoenhee!, S (e)oul Down, and Dancing Korea. Artists from Japan, Taiwan, and China were also programmed. From 2017, I have been the international manager of the Modern Dance Promotion of Korea Association, that oversees the Seoul International Choreographic Festival (SCF), well known to people in Japan.

Beginnings as a producer

You started out as a dancer, didn’t you? How did you first encounter dance?
I loved dancing from a young age, so I joined my school’s dance club and imitated my idols on TV. I also participated in dance competitions. When I was in the second year of junior high school, I watched a senior girl dance on stage at our school festival wearing a beautiful costume, and for the first time in my life I thought dance was truly transportive. That was also when I heard the term “contemporary dance.”

Subsequently, I followed the senior student to her dance school, and attended classes. Soon thereafter, I entered DEOKWON Arts High School where I received a formal education in dance. After graduating from Ewha Womans University, majoring in contemporary dance, I moved to the United States. There, I was active as a dancer with a variety of companies. I launched my own dance company, and for 10 years I danced and choreographed.

Friends began to come to me for advice because they knew I had participated in overseas festivals. Eventually, I started working on production for friends because of those encounters. My career as an arts manager began when Young Soon Kim, artistic director of WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company, who lived and worked in NYC, selected me to dance in her 30th anniversary performance “SSOOT” at DTW (Dance Theater Workshop, now New York Live Arts) in NYC.

She was curious about the performing situation in Korea, as she wanted to set up a tour. I was hired and secured ARKO Arts Theater in Seoul City, Seongnam Art Center in Seongnam City, and Festival O! Gwangju in Gwangju City). This was my first job as a full-fledged producer.

Yook Wansoon, who is often called the mother of Korean modern dance, saw a performance of that tour, and approached me to work with her. This led to the creation of the Yook Wansoon Contemporary Dance 50th Anniversary Festival (2012) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of American-style modern dance to Korea. At first, we started out not knowing what the scale should be, but it ended up a large-scale festival with 440 dancers from 80 groups performing for one month at the large and small theaters of the ARKO Arts Theater. Since there was also a forum, the entire production lasted half a year. At first, I didn’t plan to continue working as a producer because I thought the festival was only a one-off job, but I became more widely known as a producer than as a dancer.
You have now stopped creative activities as a dancer, haven’t you?
While preparing for the Yook Wansoon Contemporary Dance 50th Anniversary Festival, I planned to perform and choreograph my own dances. But I realized that creation and production cannot go hand in hand. I wasn’t satisfied with my performances, and after much self-questioning, I finally decided to devote myself fully to working on events for others. Initially, I intended to return to my own dances, but in the end, production became my main occupation.

Looking at the world from a different perspective

At university, you majored in women’s studies in addition to contemporary dance. Why was that?
Ewha Womans University is one with a strong Women’s Studies Department, and Introduction to Women’s Studies was a required course for all students. The development of dance in Korea is based on the dance education taught at universities, rather than dance studied at studios and with independent teachers. Our university’s Faculty of Dance were those who studied dance in the 1980s and ‘90s only at university. What they learned in the universities was what they taught. Until the early 2000s, students were not allowed to perform or study outside the universities. This regressive system was intact when I entered university in 2001. When I was in high school there were a variety of dance instructors, and I was able to experience various styles of dance. But after entering university, I had fewer opportunities. I felt stifled by this conservative environment.

However, I traveled to Australia to study abroad and upon my return, I felt liberated. That next semester in school, I happened to take a women’s studies class. Thanks to taking a woman’s studies class the stifled restriction, I had long been feeling was now gone. As a woman and an aspiring artist, I was encouraged to look at the world from a different perspective, specifically by looking at the world from the perspective of women and other minorities.

The teaching method in the dance classes emphasized memorization, as in most classes, but the women’s studies course focused on discussion and writing where I could express my opinions. I wondered if I could connect dance and women’s studies, so I made that the subject of my graduation thesis. The perspective of women's studies, which is the ability to adopt a different perspective concerning the socially disadvantaged and to communicate in a democratic way, was something that I thought was necessary for artists to master.
Do the perspectives you gained from women’s studies influence your current work?
Concern for the excluded and marginalized in society, including the socially vulnerable - gender minorities, people with disabilities, and the poverty inflicted – has made me especially aware. Stage production reflects societal awareness and are talked about more and more, so women’s studies have been very useful for me in this area.
Do you think your experience as a dancer has helped you in your production work?
The biggest advantage dancing affords me is the ability to quickly grasp the needs of the dancers and choreographers. This includes consideration for the condition of the artist, the progress of the creative process and for the kind of work the choreographer wants to present. These factors determine the conversation and the solutions proposed. As s dancer since childhood, I watched many performances and have developed a sensitivity to the needs of choreographers and dancers. Contemporary dance requires the ability to read the trends of the times and the needs they dictate, and I have accumulated experience in this. So, I think I have acquired a high level of understanding, and this affects the way I look at contemporary works.

About the Korean dance scene

What trends do you see emerging in the Korean dance scene? Are there notable artists?
When stating my opinions on the characteristics of the Korean dance scene, the first thing I always talk about is diversity. When American-style modern dance was introduced in Korea, everyone was inspired. There was a shift when Korean dancers studied in Europe and the trend turned toward European-style dance. European companies were introduced. Now, there are dancers influenced by both America and Europe, as well as those who are developing their own unique styles. Some focus on movement, and conversely, others who create works that do not involve dance.

These days, the most common works integrate various technologies such as such as media, AI, AR, VR, and metaverse platforms. The government, as policy, grants creative activities that focus on integrated technology due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Korea National Contemporary Dance Company focuses on such projects. The “Dance × Technology Project,” was conducted with choreographers Chung Jihye, Kang Seongryong, Shin Seungback, and technical expert Kim Yonghun. Works resulting from their one-year creation period were presented in 2022.

Another trend resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is the shift away from theater performances, instead integrating with other technologies. In the past, we thought that dance was something to be performed in theaters, but now there are dance films, and more performances in galleries instead of on stage. The overall trend of getting out of the theater space and going online or integrating with other technologies has accelerated recently, partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An example of such new experiments, Youn Puluem presented a work at SIDance 2022 titled There Is Nothing at Standstill that virtually dismantled the theater itself. This work examines the transformation of mere objects or fixtures, such as the lighting, the stage itself, and the audience seating area, by elevating them to the position of main characters, rather than centralizing the human body.

In January 2022, the Choi x Kang Project (Kang Jinan and Choi Minsun) presented a work that brought together dance and video technology to represent Korea at the Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + Asia hosted by the Japan Society in New York. It was well received in New York and was also chosen for the showcase at this year’s Performing Arts Market in Seoul (PAMS). I think it is safe to say that conceptual dance is flourishing in Korea.
Can we ask about any thoughts you may have about recent trends in the Korean dance scene?
The age range and the dance styles of the artists are more diverse than before. In the past, many people were educated in dance from an early age, but with the establishment of a choreography focused program at the Korea National University of Arts, many people without that early dance education came to dance after working in other majors or other jobs and with no formal dance experience.

Hip-hop and street dance became popular in Korea some time ago. The abilities of Korean hip-hop dancers are recognized at international competitions. Street dancers turn to contemporary dance such as Pyo Sangman, Kim Jubin, Kim Boram, Kim Seoljin, Lee Insoo and Ahn Sooyoung, while Ji Kyungmin of Goblin Party and Lee Jae-young of company SIGA are from street dance and B-BOY.
What kinds of contemporary dance festivals are there now in Korea? Also, are there any theaters dedicated specifically to dance?
In Seoul in spring, the International Modern Dance Festival (MODAFE) is presented annually. From September to November the most dance festivals are held in Seoul, including the Seoul International Performing Arts Festival (SPAF), PAMS, the Seoul Dance Festival and SIDance. In December, the Seoul International Choreographic Festival (SCF) promotes choreographers by inviting international programmers. Outside of Seoul the Goyang International Dance Festival, the Daegu International Dance Festival, the Busan International Dance Market, the Jeju Haevichi Art Festival, and more are part of the festival scene in Korea. Small theatres specializing in dance include The Post Theater and M Theatre. Dancers also feel at home at ARKO Arts Theater and the Daehakro Arts Theater, which are performance-specialized theaters of the Arts Council Korea. In particular, the ARKO Arts Theater and the Daehakro Arts Theater are the biggest gathering place for dancers, and I would add that these two theaters are I love the most.
Recently, the number of dancers who have been featured in the media such as TV programs has increased. Is interest in dance increasing?
Dancers such as Kim Seoljin and Choi Soojin, who appeared on M-net’s dance audition program “Dancing 9,” and Jung Suksoon, who appeared in KBS’s “Immortal Masterpiece,” are becoming more notable. Cha Jinyeob, who is famous for choreographing part of the opening and closing ceremonies of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, appeared in an advertisement for the SHISEIDO cosmetics company.

The recent airing of the drama Navillera -Still Butterflies Dance- based on ballerinas has had a big impact. Until recently, there has not been a connection between the film and broadcasting industries and the dance world. “Dancing 9” marked an epochal turning point. Pop idols such as BTS’s Jimin and EXO’s Kai both have a background of studying modern dance. They have performed modern dance on their programs which has increased interest in contemporary dance in general. As a result, more people have started to study it.

Furthermore, students who apply to study acting in the university entrance examination system minor in dance. In the past, dance classes at the universities were attended only by those who intended to major in dance. With the expansion of Korea’s entertainment industry, many students aspiring to perform as actors and in musicals have studied dance from an early age.
Dance is featured in the Korean Tourism Organization YouTube videos created to promote Korea. A global sensation, the Leenalchi Band interprets traditional pansori with bass guitar and drum in collaboration with Kim Boram’s Ambiguous Dance Company.
Recently Leenalchi performed at the LG Art Center opening celebration fusing Korean traditional music with modern dance. The recognition of Korean dance is increasing due to the synergy of the growing popularity of Korean pop culture.

The Netflix Korean drama “Squid Game” event held at the New York branch of the Korea Tourism Organization received more than 3,000 applications for openings of just 80. When I toured Bulgaria three years ago, I saw young people in front of the theater practicing their dancing on the street to K-pop music. Things like this give me a clear feeling that Korean culture is spreading to all parts of the world.

To take advantage of this trend, Korean embassies and Korean Cultural Centers in various countries have joined in planning such events. This year, I traveled to Nantes, France. The French Association and the Korean Cultural Center collaborated to hold a festival called “Printemps Coréen” (Spring in Korea) that introduced Korean foods, taekwondo, Korean movies, dance, and Fusion Music (traditional Korean music). We are seeing an increasing number of events like these.

While I was studying in Australia, I answered questions about where Korea was located. 20 years later cultural diplomacy has greatly increased awareness about Korea. Everything from TV K-Dramas to K-Pop music to Korean movies have played a vital role in this new awareness.

Activities centered around Korea Dance Abroad (KDA)

Could you tell us about Korea Dance Abroad, which is the center of your activities?
Korea Dance Abroad is a non-profit organization that supports Korean dance artists by introducing them to international audiences. KDA presents unique and outstanding dance across the world that is enhanced through collaboration programs and cultural exchange activities. KDA functions as an agent, but it does not pursue profit. For example, when I am involved in the production of a certain event as a freelancer, I receive compensation from the production or artist, but when KDA hosts an event, we receive a grant or sponsorship and pay the artist(s) an appearance fee.

This may not be the form that existed in Korea, but I took American Dance Abroad as a model. American Dance Abroad is a public institution that supports U.S. dance artists and dance companies so that they can participate on the international stage. Promotion is conducted at international gatherings such as international arts markets and festivals, providing support and resources to assist arts professionals build and strengthen relationships with their foreign counterparts. Concurrently, foreign professionals increase their exposure to American dance.

In 2012, I actually started a dance production company called SINAE Arts Management, but it wasn’t really well suited to the situations in Korea at the time. The production company I was thinking of was like an agent company that could discover, manage, mentor, and even promote artists, as in entertainment productions. But in Korea, there was little understanding of this kind of production, and after a lot of trial and error, I ended up terminating that company.

Consequently, I worked as a guest curator on many different programs and venues in New York including the 92Y Harkness Dance Center. We performed every year at a place where there were more than 100 performances a year, and it was there that I developed my identity as a producer. KDA reflects my experiences abroad and things I felt while performing as a dancer in Korea.
You are also the artistic director of Monotanz Seoul. Would you describe the festival?
Monotanz Seoul festival, since 2019, reflects KDA’s mission. In Budapest, Hungary, an old cinema was renovated to create the non-profit Bethlen Square Theatre, that hosts the biennial Monotanz Festival. This festival presents solo works one year in Hungary and the other by KDA in Korea. It has been held twice and has served as a platform to introduce Hungarian artists to Koreans and Korean artists to Hungarians.

I happened to visit this festival when I brought SCF choreographers to perform in Hungary. I felt an affinity with the concept of seeing a variety of high-quality works by emerging choreographers. There were few opportunities for us to see Eastern European dance, so it was a fresh experience. I came up with the idea of holding such a festival in Korea, and I proposed it to the Bethlen Square Theatre.

Since the aim is to discover choreographers and new works, the works performed are limited to premieres. Korean works must be world premieres, and foreign works must be Korean premieres. The festival provides an opportunity to see works unseen elsewhere. Plus, there is the opportunity to distribute works to other theaters and festivals.
Did you receive a positive response when you held the Monotanz Festival?
Surprisingly, all the tickets for our initial three-day Monotanz Festival were sold out. This was a great achievement. And I think it was finally fully recognized as a festival after the second year.

Works like Kim Sujeong’s Querencia and Kim Jubin’s Sedarim are still included on tour. These two works were invited to the festival in Hungary, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic they had to be screened in video form rather than being performed live. Querencia won the Grand Prix in Hungary and was also invited to SIDance. Sedarim has been invited to Hungary and to France, as well as to many festivals in Korea. A dance film was also produced for this work, which was recently screened at the “ARKO Dance Film A to Z” program. Youn Puluem’s Invisible Form has been invited to Seattle and to New York, while Pyo Sang-man’s Taking care of me and Kim Sung-young’s Bottari - The Trajectory of Mind have been invited to France and Hungary. We introduced performances by László Mádi and Rita Góbi, Millan Ujvari and Dávid Dabóczi from Hungary. We planned to invite Reisa Shimojima from Japan, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her work was screened in a video performance.

Artists, performing on Monotanz Seoul, have been invited to overseas festivals which has injected new vitality and activity into the Korean dance world.
KDA also collaborates with the French festival S.O.U.M. (Spectacle Of Unlimited Movements)
KDA not only partners with private organizations but also with public institutions both in Korea and abroad. That is true of the Hungarian Monotanz; similarly, the French S.O.U.M. festival. Rather than unilaterally importing and exporting works, we are building partnerships that enable sustainable exchange in a positive, friendly environment.

In France S.O.U.M. is a festival jointly organized by KDA and Association S.O.U.M. Nowadays, Korean movies like Parasite and Squid Game, K-Pop music and TV K-Dramas are gaining popularity in Europe. In line with such a boom in popularity, there was a proposal to launch a festival to introduce dance as another aspect of Korean culture. Since I have been involved in many programs in New York related to Korea, I was asked to serve as a curator to actively promote networking with Korea.

Expectations were high for the first festival in France to focus on Korean dance, but soon after Association S.O.U.M. was launched, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This meant that the first and second festivals were held online. I managed to travel to France for the third festival, but it was difficult to produce in the designated venue. It wasn’t until the fourth festival, held in Paris, scheduled for November 2022, that I was able to produce the performances in partnership as planned.

Five groups from Korea will participate in this year’s festival, and I will accompany the artists as the KDA representative for a grant project called Center Stage Korea sponsored by the Korea Arts Management Service Center (KAMS). Filling out grant applications is difficult for artists, so KDA applies for overseas performances, among other duties, on their behalf.

In addition to showcasing the works of Korean dance artists, I organized an in-residence collaboration with a local artist in France for the fourth year of the festival. Lee Seiseung with local musicians, and local choreographers Marco Chenevier and Yoo SunHoo will work in residence to produce the work. Supported by The Asia Culture Center (ACC) and the Asia Culture Institute (ACI), Lee Seiseung will work in residence to revise the work.

Also participating are the Hoo Dance Company, the Mousai Dance Company and Kim Kyoung Shin of Unplugged Bodies and Ku Eunhye of Dance Traveler.

Spectacle Of Unlimited Movements (S.O.U.M.)
(C) 2022 Festival International de Danse SOUM Shin Joong-hwan

Unplugged Bodies
Unplugged Bodies
Unplugged Bodies
Unplugged Bodies

Unplugged Bodies

Dance Traveler
Dance Traveler
Dance Traveler
Dance Traveler

Dance Traveler

You are the overseas committee of the Seoul International Choreographic Festival (SCF). Would you tell us about your role?
I am responsible for the reception and communication duties involving the delegates coming to the festival from all over the world. There are about 10 such delegates attending every year, and I carry out various required procedures and make arrangements to ensure that the festival proceeds smoothly.

I mentioned earlier that KDA supports the expansion of overseas activities by private dance organizations, and SCF is in line with these aims. The same is true with the Modern Dance Promotion of Korea, established by the late Yook Wansoon to promote Korean modern dance. Although these organizations each pursue different methods, they were both established to promote Korean modern dance. SCF plays an important role as a platform for Korean choreographers to expand their activities overseas.

The same goes for SIDance’s Who’s Next program. It’s very important for each organization to create a platform to promote Korean artists. Arranging showcases such as APAP, Tanz messe, and Cinars are not so easy because there are no performance fees. The burden of travel expenses, etc., can be very burdensome on the groups. But If there is a platform in your own country that enables you to invite delegates from overseas, you can create opportunities for groups to expand their activities overseas only the immediate costs of performing. The purpose of SCF is in line with this aim of mine.

Domestic activities during the COVID-19 pandemic

For the past three years, it has been difficult to hold overseas performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Are there any projects currently conducted in Korea?
During the two years after I returned to Korea on March 1, 2020, it was very difficult to promote international exchange projects. Normally, I would only be in Korea for a short time, but things were closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I learned about the grant program called “Exciting Arts Tours” conducted by the Arts Council Korea. that supports domestic tours.

With grants from this program, performances were held in culturally marginalized areas, correctional facilities in mountainous areas, schools, hospitals, socially deprived areas and the like, where people did not have much contact with the arts. Last year, we planned performances in places like correctional facilities and the Hanaone facility, a support facility for resettlement of North Korean immigrants, but an outbreak of COVID-19 canceled the performances. This year, we are performing at 12 venues which will afford opportunities for artists to meet with diverse audiences. As well, participants in this program experience healing through art. The artists felt that these were meaningful performances.

Problems and Issues

In the 10 years since you evolved from dancer to producer and curator, you have produced many performances. What are the main issues now?
The current grant and subsidy system in the field of performing arts in Korea is well established and there is a lot of support. As a result, the degree of economic independence of dance organization remains low. This dependence often influences creative activities. If the artist is awarded a grant, the artist will work on creation, but if the artist is not awarded a grant, they will hesitate to create. Support is important, but we must lay the groundwork for artists and companies to build economic independence.

Overseas dance companies organize various events to increase their financial independence, such as holding bazaars. Compared to when free tickets were distributed for dance performances in Korea, the number of paying audience members has increased, but there is still a long way to go. Young people now understand that paid admission to dance performances is expected, but it is still necessary to increase the number of paying audiences.

In New York, once the lineup for a festival was decided, the theater signed a contract with the artists that stipulated that they would not perform at other theaters within a certain radius of that theater from about three months, beginning from one month before the start of the performances to the end of the month following the performances. Ticket revenue is an important element of the economic foundation for these theaters. In Korea, 80-90% of the income is derived from government subsidies.

The biggest problem is that most independent artists have little desire to become financially independent. It is possible that someday the country’s finances will become tight, causing a policy change, and grants and subsidies may be discontinued. In fact, this happened in France, which formerly had such generous cultural support. The same thing has happened in Germany and in New York, too. Because dance is a fine art it needs support, so I am always concerned about how to help the field survive.

The levels of interest, support and acceptance of contemporary dance differs from Korea to Europe and North America. However, measures must be pursued to become more self-reliant, such as obtaining sponsorship from companies, support from the private sector and individuals, as well as increasing ticket revenue. There are large Korean corporations that sponsor ballet, but no companies sponsor modern and contemporary dance. I would like to make these issues of greater concern.

In Closing

There have been changes in international cultural exchange since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are there issues that have emerged from this?
That is probably the most difficult question. It’s not just dance but the entire performing arts world that is affected by COVID-19, and it’s not a problem that involves Korea alone. It is true that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the distribution of dance, and the relationships in international exchange that we had been building for many years have been affected. We must apply ourselves to the task of rebuilding again. Since we can’t expect things to return to the way they were before, it is important to come up with alternative measures.

This interview is also being conducted via Zoom, and due to the pandemic, we have realized that there are many alternatives available platforms beside performing live. Rehearsals can also be held at home, and performances can be held online. So, the biggest concern for the future is how to develop sales channels for distribution of dance. The formats for performance are changing with the times, and there is a possibility that production possibilities will grow through new methods of fusion with technology. There are many issues to be solved in terms of what kind of projects to launch and what directions to go.

There are challenges with audience development. Compared to other Asian countries, in Korea we are distributing more information, but it does not lead directly to an increase in the paying audience. The size of the paying audience is gradually increasing, the diversification of genres and the way of thinking about dance has changed. Overall, possibilities are expanding. Artists, too, need to work hard to create diversity and depth in their works, and in their audience awareness.

It is crucial to build a new environment where independent artists and private organizations work independently, rather than centered on universities, so that artists can work creatively in the true sense of the word.