At her delicate display of dancing steps, the audiences break out in applause with wild cheering. The master of this hurricane of applause is Kim Bock-hee (’71, Dance), the director of the Korean Society of Dance. This is the scene from her commemorative concert for retirement where she performed her work Flower of Life, Flower of Wind V - Snowy Road inspired from the novel The Snowy Road by the author Lee Chung- jun.
After 39 years as a professor at Hanyang University in the major of dance, Kim retired from the professorship early this year. As if proving her creed “there is no retirement age for artists,” her stage was full of energy and passion.
As a pioneer of the Koreanized modern dance, she has spread the charm of Koreanized modern dance in every corner of the world starting from her life. Having started learning ballet when she was five, she naturally fell into the charm of dancing. Having relatives who were famous dancers, a professional dancer and choreographer Cho Yong-ja was also influential in her life.
“Even nowadays, it is not easy to go to the auditorium to watch dance performances. However, there were several opportunities for me to visit relatives’ performances and I was the little girl in Hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, who delivered the flowers at the end of a performance,” Kim said.
The background of her passion toward Koreanized modern dance also came from her childhood. Born from a Buddhist family, she spent many vacations staying in temples situated in deep forest. This way, she was able to appreciate the beauty of tradition and nature.
“Thanks to the ethic environment I grew up in, I thought, even though I was very young, the best way for globalization is to Koreanize,” Kim said. “Furthermore, I always tried to think ahead of other people.”
Her proactive attitude led her to establish her own dance company in 1971. She was the first in Korea to found an individual modern dance company. In result of endless concern over the future of dance in Korea, she anticipated that, the period for three genres of dance – modern dance, Korean dance and ballet – to collaborate will come. With the prediction, she founded “Contemporary Dance Association of Korea” in 1986 followed by the establishment of “12 Choreographers of Korea” consisting of three people each from three genres.
Not only creating her original work based on Korean culture, she also interpreted foreign novels and poems in her own view to be put on stage. Reconstructing these materials by putting indigenous Korean sentiment and soul, the foreign story turns into a dance work with Korean color. Whether it is an original play or adaptation, every work ends with the concept of reincarnation.
“It would be so sad if there is nothing after the end such as death,” Kim added. “Thus, I always try to end with a suggestion that there is hope in our life. No matter what happens, we are going to bounce back and walk forward.”
However, as the first generation of Korean dance, long and winding road awaited. Showing brilliant performance or developing brilliant artistry was not the urgent problem. Instead, developing the status of the dancers in Korea was much more significant for her. As a dancer, physical hardships were another unavoidable challenge she had to face.
“You need to lose your mind if you want to master something,” Kim said. “In my case, I was crazy about dancing. I could feel the value of existence.”
Neither retirement nor injuries stopped her from pursuing her enthusiasm toward dancing. Even in recent days, despite her finger injury, she performed in Gwang-Ju wearing a cast. With her relentless passion, she will continue her endeavor for developing and globalizing the Koreanized modern dance. Her life as pioneer and a true artist will continue.