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La MaMa Presents

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Hyun Ju Baek in Han. Phot. Leonardo Linares

March 2-5

La MaMa presents

Theatre No Theatre in Han

There is a poem-in-action on the friendly stage of La MaMa in downtown Manhattan. In a vast open space, with minimal props ( a wooden bench, a fan) a young woman in a flowing dress invites us to share in her search for meaning and reconciliation. Hyun Ju Baek, an actress-singer born in South Korea, working with Thomas Richards, an American actor-director and long time collaborator of Jerzy Grotowski, created a lyrical piece of hypnotic beauty.

The performance of Han starts with an urgent recognition of the inner unrest and a story recalled from “a long, long time ago…”:

There is a fire in my mind. I have lost something along the way,

as it seems that the present does not meet the past. There is a fire

in my mind.

In my land, we tell the story of a crazy old man, with disheveled grey

hair who, one day, at dawn, was seen jumping into the river trying

to swim across it. His wife ran after him, yelling: “Do not cross

the river my dear! My dear, do not cross the river!” But he got swept

away by the waters and drowned. “Ah! you dare to cross the river, love.

Swept away, drowned love. What am I to do now? I need to follow

the laws of the universe,” thought the wife, “Han!”

And she started to sing.

The story unfolds between these two poles: introspection and confrontation with the world; the past and the present; lyrical search for deeper understanding and restless struggle with painful memories. It is built on rhythmic recitation of multiple stories: ordinary and mythical, placing the lives of three Korean women – the narrator, her mother and her grandmother – in a larger cultural context.

It’s not an easy context, Hyun Ju Baek suggests, strict in its traditional definition of the woman’s role as caregiver and procreator and, more generally, marked by the enigmatic Korean concept of han as a national characteristic. “Han,” the notes in the program suggest, refers to the burden and grace of suffering in human life. To the Polish ear it sounds akin to “krzyż” in the expression of “carrying one’s cross” in life, bearing the sorrow and uncertainty with dignity. Perhaps “han” is indicative of our endurance in the face of adversity. Perhaps it points to the power of hope. It’s reassuring to hear, at the end of the ardors performance,

the narrator’s calm voice reciting the final words:

It is a sunny day and I am walking down the hill on my way

somewhere. The fresh breeze gently rubs my cheek, I have a spring

in my step and a sense of unknown anticipation…. as if something

is awaiting.

Watching Hyun Ju Baek’s gracious movements, listening to the waves of powerful emotions in her voice and gestures, we forget about the strangeness of the language. In the struggle with her culture and her displacement, we recognize our own sense of loss and disorientation, and the longing for peace. Han is a protest against the oppressive silence and the “mark of inferiority.” An invocation of the beloved grandmother’s spirit. Incantation against despair. A prayer, and a song of love. It's a triumphant dance of resilience.

Where: La MaMa E.T.C. Downstairs, 66 E. 4th St., near First Ave.

Many oldtimers-New Yorkers will immediately recognize the place that welcomed the Polish and multiple other international artists, becoming haven of support for experimentation and irreverence under the unique guidance of Ellen Stewart (1919-2011).

What: The Theatre No Theatre, a successor to the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Pontedera, Italy, presents Han, a solo work devised and performed by Hyun Ju Baek, directed by Thomas Richards.

When: March 2 - 5, Thursday – Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 4 pm.

On Saturday March 4, at 3 pm there is also a panel devoted to Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards work: Thomas Richards, Kris Salata, Jessica Losilla-Hébrail, Dominika Laster, with Richard Schechner as moderator.

This is a joint venture of La MaMa E.T.C., the Polish Cultural Institute and Korean Cultural Institute, with support of Fondazione Teatro della Toscana.

Phot. Jonathan Slaff

Hyun Ju Baek in Han. Phot. Leonardo Linares

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