I first encountered Wooguru Kw´s ferocious dance and craft at the „salon revolutionär ‘at Platoon Berlin, in 2010. It was a program that merged art and tech and he was collaborating for this with a composer and media artist, another dancer and an opera singer. The elegant force of the Performance stuck with me. The Korean dancer who just had moved to Berlin back then told me how he thought it the best place for experimental artists and how much he liked its urban texture of Beton, cement, metal, plastic as it made him focus to move into the right direction with his work.
The next time I saw him dancing was with his then-new girlfriend and fellow dancer and choreographer Nelly Hakkarainen. They did an impromptu dance together and I never forget the beauty of those two completely different and individual performers dancing next and with each other, like to separate planets each with their own qualities and look but both bound in the same solar system.
10 years later, one can still easily say Berlin is one of the best places for experimental artists and dancers like Nelly and Wooguru and yet they both left the German capital last year for Helsinki, Finland. Reason enough and about time to check in with both of them how Finland is treating them and what is new in their Universe.
So, curtain on for our „Double Trouble – Dance Edition Feature “
Which of these elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) would you choose regarding your practice and your self, and why?
Wooguru: Water constantly moves in interacting with natural environments; this continuity of movement is what I like. I move continually and freely for retaining my nature. The spontaneous moves that my body does for maintaining the physiological balance within itself provide the foundational elements of my dance, which are unique, thus optimal to represent what I am.
Therefore, the essence of my practice is in promoting the natural movements within the individual body, including myself.
Furthermore, it has developed into a project to establish a new physical education/ training method for the actualization of the total freedom of the individual body and its integrity.
Nelly: One of my Korean friends checked the element that is determined at the moment of my birth through an exciting app while staying an artist residency in Korea. According to that, my element is water;
I’m a big water something like an ocean.
That type of people is very considerable and open and ready to explore the unknown. I can really relate to that because I’ve always liked swimming and sailing. My body is very supple, so movement quality is best described soft and flowy.
Is there a particular person or situation that inspired and motivated you to become a dancer?
Wooguru: I was injured my head at my age 20 in a violent event. When I was awake from the coma, I found my body broken. I felt the fear that I might be unable to do anything physical that I like. However, what happened to me made me think about what is most precious for me: freedom of movement.
It was the moment my new life began.
Nelly: I cannot name one particular moment or person what made me pursue a career in dance. I think it is a sum of many things. I began to dance relatively late, at 11, and in my early years dancing,
I was a sort of underdog and definitely not the best dancer in the group.
But I kept up trying, and in my teens, I started to take more and more classes in different styles. Somehow my thirst for dancing just grew, in addition, to a massive amount of dance training, I started to read about dance; biographies, books about dance history, anything related to the art form really and went to see all the performances I could see in my home town. Then at some point, I was hooked and just saw no other option but to become a dancer, no matter what.
What fascinates me in dance is the constant learning experience, the exploring of different layers of physicality that all come back to the question of how to exist in this world. The never-ending search (and sometimes a sudden discovery) is in the very core of the pleasure that dance gives me.
Do you consider yourself spiritual? And how does this feed into your work into your choreography?
Wooguru: I don’t think I am a spiritual person. Fundamentally, I disagree with a dualistic or hierarchical sense between body and mind, in which the term Spirit connotes or denotes.
The human body is a biological entity that autonomically regulates and sustains itself for survival and the realization of its potentialities.
Cognition is to process what is to be perceived; however, the realm in which the parasympathetic nervous system regulates is not to be recognized and controlled, and moreover takes much more chunk of human movement and activity. In that sense, I am physical; I do focus on breathing, which initiates all types of movements for addressing the physiological and psychological requirements that my body (the individual body) generates.Furthermore, freedom is the physical state which can be obtained by the voluntary choices and actions for satisfying the needs of one’s own.
I move to be free and to be myself.
My dance is to materialize that desire toward total freedom of movement in a way that maximizes the physiological rhythmicality of one’s body.
Nelly: No, I don’t consider myself at the first place spiritual.
If spirituality refers to immaterial reality, I think it is a bit misleading choice of word, since dance is not only spiritual but an utmost physical practice.
Dance has made me feel that fundamentally, there is no sense in dividing the material world from the spiritual whatsoever.
What dance has taught to me is to live in the moment, and to be able to feel my body. Of course, I am not all the time in that kind of state, but at least I have experienced some fleeting moments of being fully present. If thinking about spirituality as a life path or living according to one’s values, yes, dance is my spiritual practice.
I feel that I don’t need to fill my life with too many material things since I find endless interest in diving into a movement.
You both met in Berlin but moved last year to Finland, Nelly’s homeland. Why?
Wooguru: Nelly and I lived together in Berlin for almost five years; it was a wonderful time for us.
Berlin was like an open school full of energy, novelty, and excitement to us.
However, as each one’s career grew, we both needed the change to refresh ourselves, taking us to the next stage. And Nelly found something right on time.
Nelly: When I decided to apply to study art research at Helsinki University, Wooguru totally supported me. So, last summer we packed our belongings and moved our base in Helsinki. For me, Helsinki has specific genius loci, and it just feels the place where I’m supposed to be at the moment. I’m enjoying to deepen my knowledge about art from a more objective point of view than being myself a part of the chaotic (Berlin) art-scene.
For Wooguru the change of scenery has been far more challenging of course, not to mention the Finnish language and generally thick ice to break through to feel at home here.
But I’m forever grateful for him that he decided to follow me up to the north.
Please tell us what you are currently working on. What are you looking forward to this year in terms of upcoming shows, workshops?
Wooguru: As mentioned above, I’ve been establishing a new physical education/ training method and writing a book about that in the hope of publishing it at the beginning of next year.
Also I will teach some classes in Helsinki and lead the educational project in S.Korea in October and November.
Nelly: At the moment we are in Tampere participating in a week-long contemporary dance festival called Nytke. In the closing night of the festival, we will show a short version of a FreeFlow work we created for Gwangju Fringe Festival during our stay at BAU Institute in South Korea last month.
This summer I am planning to make a dance video to Wooguru’s music, dancing somewhere in the middle of nature. What comes to our duet work, I hope to make it back to South Korea this autumn, if Wooguru’s plan to organize an artist residency in an old Buddhist monastery in Younggwang sees daylight.
Follow the projects of Wooguru Kw here and check out the Faculty of Arts at Helsinki University here
Header Photo: Wooguru Kw und Nelly Hakkarainen, 2019, South Korea
Author: Esther Harrison