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DANCE REVIEW

Spelling out immigrants' tales

February 15, 2003|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

Characters in the Korean alphabet are prized for their clear, logical shapes and consistent pronunciation rules, but only the first of these qualities translates somewhat literally into dance.

So it made sense that a piece called "Hangul Millennium," by the Seoul-based Milmul Modern Dance Company at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on Thursday night, began with sleek bodies sliding into angles and curves with the concentration of calligraphers. Moving in slow motion, they looked like alphabetic acrobats, while projections of less mobile written language were made to glide by in fragments behind them.

Created by company director Lee Sook Jae, the piece moved from fairly static poses to a swirling exploration of shapes, then returned to slow-motion posing in a duet of sculptural beauty. The taped score rumbled like an electronic jungle of chirps, roars, waterfalls and twitters.

A trio of solos that began the program, performed with fierce intensity by Song Joo Won, Choi Won Chul and Lee Kyung Eun, had already stated many hallmarks of the Milmul style (milmul is Korean for "rising tide") -- sudden impulses that disturb classical control only briefly and a swept-up quality, as if limbs were lifted on gusts of wind, only to halt and sink as contemplative moments set in. There were dips, jabs, headstands and eloquent articulations of the toes. Faces tended to be grave, gazes severe.

Milmul's hourlong concert was part of a celebration of 100 years of Korean immigration to the U.S. If the company's transition into a pop-dancing finale was a bit awkward, the refined brand of disco-hip-hop-boogie was an appropriately jubilant way of acknowledging new languages, even as the old one is still valued highly.

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