At the Painted Bride Art Center last January, in front of a screen playing a video of birds flapping their wings and flying along a river’s edge, Jung-eun Kim glided slowly across the stage, picking up a row of white paper airplanes to the pensive strains of a score composed by her husband, jazz organist Lucas Brown. It was the opening moments of “Staying and Going”—her meditative, dreamlike modern dance piece that contemplates the joy of flight and the uncertainty of change through movements forward and backward and, at times, hardly any motion at all.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, the 31-year-old Kim is going through the same fluid, tranquil movements in an empty dance studio on the second floor of a University of the Arts building, her body bathed in light from the tall windows that overlook Broad Street. Her balance is perfect.
Balance is everything in her career: She’s a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher and a multimedia designer who crafts video projections, promotional posters and websites for dancers, dance companies and dance schools. Any given day might mean a different project or responsibility—and some avenues are more lucrative than others when it comes to making a living—but everything revolves around the same sun.
“It’s all about dance, it’s all connected, nothing is separate,” she says. “If I’m working with students I might learn something that I might bring back to a piece I’m working on, or if I’m figuring out how to interpret a certain choreographer’s work, that could inspire one of my designs. Everything is in a circle.”
Kim made a splash in 2008, her first year in Philadelphia, when on Dec. 31 she did a grueling, continuous 24-hour improvisational performance while blindfolded and earplugged at Studio 34 as part of “Freedom of Information 2008”—an anti-war protest piece that featured dozens of dancers around the nation similarly, simultaneously performing to express solidarity with civilians displaced and disoriented by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since then, she’s regularly performed either her own works or works by others at the Merriam Theater, the Painted Bride and elsewhere around town. She’s been featured in the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe and has collaborated with some prominent choreographers in the modern- and experimental-dance world. And this fall, Kim’s overseeing an Extended Practice Lab dance course at UArts, where she’s previously taught digital-media courses.
“It’s so good to be around students, to share with them what I know and have experienced,” says Kim. “I don’t teach ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ The most important thing I teach is honesty and trusting yourself, following your instinct, whether it’s movement or design,” she says. “Sometimes people are afraid to articulate the feelings that are really inside of them, so they fake it and everyone can tell from their movements, so my job is to open them up more and build their confidence so they can get closer and closer to their essence.”
Surprisingly, given her artistry and accomplishments, Kim didn’t begin dancing until she was 18. “When I was young I wanted to go to ballet class but my parents couldn’t afford it—my mom still feels a little bad about it,” she laughs. In high school, she took hip-hop dance classes, which she paid for by working at a Burger King, and eventually enrolled at a college in Seoul where she took modern, jazz and ballet classes. “I was so behind because most of the students started [dancing] when they were 6 or 7, but I felt like I had dancing in my mind and my body and I kept digging and teaching myself and discovering myself more.”
“It’s a little tricky balancing everything, and every day is different, but I like it that way.”