Photos from HellBond: Dancing With the Spirits at Asia North Festival

Photos from HellBond: Dancing With the Spirits at Asia North Festival

You traveled from Baltimore to Seoul to learn Korean Musicology. What was it like to return to Baltimore and play Korean drums and cello for this performance?

Dami: It all started with a class I took during my undergrad years called “Musics of the World.” I’ve always had a fascination with the relationship between music and culture and just the vast array of different genres out there. I fell in love with each new sound introduced and even played in my school’s Gamelan ensemble. UMBC allowed me to work towards an emphasis in Musicology with my Performance degree. To obtain this, I was required to present a research project in addition to my senior recital. I jumped at the opportunity and figured, where better to start than the country of my own heritage? I soon connected with my mentors at KPAAA (Korean Performing Arts Academy of America), Pastor Hyung Joo Cho, and the late Ms. Soon He So. There I started to learn how to play Korean drums and began my training in Traditional Korean music which became the topic of my senior presentation. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to keep exploring and, after saving up a bit, I applied to Seoul National University and blindly flew to Korea before even getting my acceptance letter.

Upon my return, my mentors at KPAAA welcomed me back with open arms and we put on several major performances together. Unfortunately, Ms. So passed away unexpectedly last November after an intense battle with hepatic cancer, and her husband, Pastor Cho, has been in mourning, so opportunities to perform the drums had come to a sudden halt. Being able to play in this performance was a bit of a tribute to my mentors for everything they’ve taught me. As for the cello, I’ve been playing around with electric cellos and effects pedals for years but I felt like I finally got a chance to create and showcase something outside the norm and show everyone what a versatile instrument the cello is. 

This performance was part of a larger celebration of Asian arts. What did it mean to you to perform this piece in Baltimore?

Hsiao-Chu Hsia: I am always proud of where I am from, Taiwan, a small island place that has young but complex histories and cultures. As a result, it is my honor to become a part of this celebration this year, speaking for and supporting our community with other professional artists who are connected to Asian cultures. Also, the experience coming back to Baltimore as an artist is special for me since this is the first city that I settled down in the states, when I came as an art student. Baltimore is always diverse, inspiring, and welcome.

Since Hellbond deals with processing death while interacting with a live audience, how did this performance relate to your background in psychology and community art?

Hsiao-Chu Hsia: Most of the traditional performances we see are one-way presentations. We send messages and information to the people but we seldom hear back from them. Same, as an audience, you go to the event, and to see and take what artists are telling through their works. Most of the time there is a boundary in between, and after all, we leave the feelings behind without debriefing or talking about them which helps us be aware of our mental condition and health. Therefore, I started to question myself if a performance can be a bi-directional conversation for both performers and the audiences so that it forms a specific space and time that allows and motivates all the participants to think and talk right at the moment. 

For me, this is a way that I engage with people and the community as a performance artist. Same from a psychological perspective, people think differently when they are only bystanders but not participants. By creating interactive performances, I aim to provide opportunities for people to not only “see” the topic in my works but to “experience” by joining the process. Connecting this idea to our collaborative performance Hellbond, although this is not a typical interactive piece compared to my personal works, actions like staring at audiences’ eyes, climbing between people, and asking for a way to pass non-verbally are alternative methods that I interacted with them. I want people to feel they were together being at the place that brought rebirth through these moments. They were not only witnesses from a distance but participants along with us, the performers.