by Katie Moore for The Dance Journal
Photo by Bill Hebert
In Jae Hoon Lim’s upcoming thesis performance, Life Between, he is breaking the boundaries of traditional performance spaces through transforming a lecture class in the Mütter Museum into an arena-style stage. Through the help of members and alumni of Temple’s Theater department, Cat Johnson (set), Jeff Sturdivant (costume design) and John Curall (lighting), Jae Hoon creates an atmosphere of abstraction in a stately style building constructed in 1908. The interesting location choice relates directly to the essence of his piece, exploring the movement relationships of skeletal deformities/disease to evince the struggle and life of the disabled. As well as how traditional and modern viewpoints interpret the importance of the human body.
For his MFA thesis concert, Jae Hoon Lim decided to focus on Scoliosis and FOP (Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive), an extremely rare disease of the connective tissue where the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are turned into bone which results in the creation of a second skeleton. One inspiration for the performance’s title, (Life Between), comes from Jae Hoon’s investigation of the life energy between these two skeletons which gradually ossify and imprison the entire body. Although FOP cases are around 1 in every 2 million people, the Mütter Museum possesses the skeleton of Harry Eastlack, who unfortunately contracted the rare disease. When Jae Hoon went to the Mutter Museum years ago he was moved by the chronology of his life. As a child his photographs and descriptions seem lively and spirited which starkly contrasts his adulthood when his body began to fuse together. Not only does the physical anatomy of the body change, but the life force as well. Jae Hoon related to this experience when he underwent three surgeries and several injuries within a short period of time. Although his situation was curable, he was temporarily disabled. He had to learn to navigate his body in a foreign way which he continues to explore in his work. As well, one of his dancers in the performance suffers from extreme scoliosis which evinces how the piece is based on the dancer’s personal experience, not imitation.
Life Between also has more interpretations which connect to the overall theme of the show, celebrating the human spirit. Jae Hoon Lim moved from Korea to Philadelphia when he decided to come to the U.S. for education and his dance career. An outsider, Jae Hoon had to learn to acclimate to a new environment filled with a variety of different cultural norms. Then, when he traveled back home he also felt estranged from his past home life. He is an artist who is in constant limbo between two diverse and evolving countries. But the title does not only relate disability and Jae Hoon’s personal experience, it also produces a third level which anyone can relate to, the journey of life. Jae Hoon believes we live in a society where the end destinations of our goals are emphasized over the experience, development, and enlightenment that occurs in between those accomplishments. It is the Life Between point A and B, the struggle, the decision-making, the hard work, the lessons learned, the relationship forming time that are most significant in how we value and determine success in life. Through the range of movement qualities in the body, Jae Hoon examines all of these ideas.
Another aspect of Jae Hoon’s work which is relatable to any audience member is that disability is not just physical. Everyone has flaws and suffer from mental and emotional issues throughout their life. In Jae Hoon’s performance he is putting everyone on an equal the level, creating an intimate space where the audience is all around the dancers so there is a sense of inclusivity and interaction. The purpose of illustrating the struggle of physical disability through dance is to bring awareness to how we treat others, ourselves, and the environment we live in. As individuals and as members of a community we must learn to interact in a supportive, compassionate, and holistic manner where the entire body, not just the brain is acknowledged and appreciated. We must come together and use the physical and mental vigor and strength we possess to push through our obstacles which is an important message for the past present and future.
Come engage yourself in this conversation and be a part of Jae Hoon Lim’s re-framing of traditional dance performance by attending his MFA Thesis Concert, Life Between, on Thursday February 20th and Friday February 21st. The performances start at 7:30, however; all guests are invited and encouraged to come to the museum at 6:30 to have exclusive access to the amazing galleries and exhibitions on display which creates the motivation behind the performance.