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Dance students get unique international experience in Korea
Imagine waking up each morning to a sunrise in an Eastern country knowing that the rest of your day will be exploring your passion with international collaborators. For Department of Dance students Monica Tirado, Sebrena Williamson, Caroline Beard and Zoe Couloumbis, this was a reality during the summer of 2019. From the end of June through early July, the students traveled to South Korea with Professor of Dance Ji-Eun Lee where they participated in a number of dance and cultural events.
The experience was made possible by Professor Lee, who runs the Professional Dance Career Development Program through the Department of Dance. She developed the itinerary and traveled with students during their adventure. It was the third time that dance students have traveled to the country to collaborate with international organizations and perform at public events. Lee started the program in 2016 in order give students opportunities to collaborate internationally, and has been pleased with the outcomes. Students have successfully collaborated with a number of Korean organizations, and two former students even placed as finalists in one of Asia’s largest dance competitions while traveling with the Professional Dance Center Development Program.
This summer’s opportunity also proved to be extremely impactful for this group of dance students. “There were so many amazing moments,” said senior dance major Monica Tirado. “We collaborated with a South African digital media artist and did a live performance using different materials that he manipulated. We also did a separate performance at an art gallery.”
Their first stop was in Gwangju in the southwestern part of South Korea. There they attended the International Symposium on Electronic Art, which is the largest conference of its kind in the world. Students were able to collaborate with internationally-renowned media artist and artistic director Marcus Neustetter. The dancers performed in Neustetter’s multimedia installation which explored themes of contrast between darkness and light.
For senior dance major Sebrena Williamson, this was her third excursion to the country through the Professional Dance Career Development Program. She says that this most recent trip was her favorite. During past experiences, Williamson performed in an improvisation festival with other dancers, an art gallery, and at a dance festival. However, participating in the International Symposium on Electronic Art made this most recent visit stand out for her. “The conference was huge,” said Williamson. “We got to work with digital artists and artists of different media. This was my favorite time that I’ve gone because of that conference.” She was especially drawn to collaborating in multimedia installations, saying that it helped her think more broadly about how dance can be incorporated into larger artistic endeavors, as opposed to thinking about it strictly in terms of onstage performances where dancers are the focal point.
Tirado was also inspired by their work with Neustetter and other artists at the conference. “Being in that conference was eye-opening to see how crazy-talented some people are. During the opening and closing ceremonies for the event we were sitting there asking each other ‘how did they come up with this?’ We were in awe the entire time. We’ve never seen media art presented in such a complex way with lights and loud music and, for instance, in one installation there was thunder and lightning being projected onto trees and it was amazing to see,” said Tirado.
Following their symposium performance, students traveled to the country’s capital, Seoul, where they choreographed a performance for the Ttueoksum Gallery. The students were commissioned by the gallery for a five-day residency where they prepared a performance to support the gallery’s theme, ‘Have a Nice Dream.’ After working out their routine, the show was presented for two consecutive days to the public. Radford University dance students have presented at this gallery before and, as with previous presentations, the students were well received by the audience.
In addition to funding provided by organizations in South Korea to support travel and accommodations, students also received financial support from the Provost’s office. Sebrena Williamson also received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) to study dance as a medium for international collaboration.
During their time in Korea, the students learned the value of gaining experience collaborating with international artists. Tirado recalls how Professor Lee would coach them on how to interact with members of the international community, highlighting differences in professional decorum when working with American artists compared to expectations from Korean collaborators. The coaching sessions paid off as each of the students made new international connections and friendships. Williamson met a German artist and has plans to collaborate on another international art project in the future.
Professor Lee was especially proud of the students’ work while in South Korea. “These events provide our students with interdisciplinary and cross-cultural experiences. Their performances are the culmination of feedback from people with different cultural and social backgrounds,” said Lee. She was pleased with their work and plans to offer similar opportunities for international collaboration and travel for dance students in the future.