The resulting vignettes are alternately amusing, unsettling, forceful, and entertaining: A woman in high heels stands atop a tiny mound of dirt in a field of green AstroTurf as a man in black just outside moos like a cow. Behind one dancer, a video shows a forest the way it would look and move if we were seeing it through her eyes -- a liberation of perspective the company refers to as real-time cinema. A pregnant lady clogs and leaps. Hwang, seated, spews hairpins from her mouth into the hand of a woman hovering around her. A man delivers an absurdist comedy routine. In its own unsentimental way, each scene revels in the gray area beyond our gray matter: the messy stuff of memory.
Memoryscan is the midsection of a choreographic trilogy, which began with 1997's Masao, a piece based on the political upheaval during Japan's annexation of Korea, and which will continue with Anatomy of Happiness. Born in Japan to Korean parents, Koosil-ja Hwang moved to New York at age eighteen to pursue dance. Until two years ago, she was known as Kumiko Kimoto. Hwang explains: "In [Masao] I was struggling with my identity. I wanted to have that black and white of who I was, where I belong. After making the piece, I went to Japan to visit my parents. Calling myself Kumiko Kimoto didn't feel right, so I changed my name."
But the name change didn't alter much else. Hwang soon entered the studio with dancers Mary Helene Spring (who grew up in Miami), Michael Portnoy, Margaret Hallisey, and Kathryn Sanders, and turned the lingering question of history to them. Hwang recalls, "I was hoping that I would encounter their relationship to their ancestors. The big emotional bang. But that didn't really happen to anybody." Instead they discovered the human equivalent of an archaeological dig, with broad layers of cultural evolution. "Everybody has a certain connection on the instinct level with their ethnicity," Hwang says, "but those things are personal, kept personal."