World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Il Hyun Kim

GENRE: Shamanic

Il Hyun Kim studied Korean dance at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, as well as modern dance with Jose Limon and ballet with David Howard in New York. She taught at Chung-Ang University, founded her own modern dance group in Korea in 1987, and established a dance studio in San Bruno in 1994. As a soloist, she has performed across Asia, North America, and Europe. She is the director of the San Jose Silicon Valley Korean Traditional Dance Company, and has brought the beauty of Korean dance to the Bay Area for twenty years.


GENRE: Shamanic
Il Hyun Kim performs a site-specific piece presented in partnership with the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and the Asian Art Museum. The powerful dance ceremony was inspired by the large scale artwork by Sun K. Kwak,
Kwak’s artwork meditates on the spiritual and cosmological themes of the Asian Art Museum’s Phantoms of Asia exhibit. Kwak’s work strives to “make the invisible visible” using black masking tape on the gallery’s white walls. Kim’s response to Sun Kwak’s work is a dance performance originating in traditional Korean shamanism—a religion in which death is part of a revolving cycle of death and rebirth, and the shaman is able to communicate with a soul through dance.

Shamanism is Korea’s indigenous religion and it remains much alive in contemporary Korean society. Shamans, called mudang, are usually women, and act as an intercessor between the spirits, which could be ancestors, an unknown force from history, or a deity. Through ritual and ceremony, the shaman helps with all aspects of life, from illness and marriage, to school exams and the lottery. The shaman also assures the dead and their families a final peace as she helps guide souls to the next world. Rituals may run a few hours to a few days at a rural shamanic facility. Some mudang, especially in the northern regions, follow a spirit possessed, ecstatic tradition.

Kim’s costume reflects the elegance of the shaman as she channels spirits. Often, the shaman holds a fan to represent dignity, and a bell to call the gods. She dances to traditional Korean music, played on gongs, drums, and the piri flute required in shamanic ceremonies. Today’s performance reflects the Bay Area Korean dance community’s longstanding interest in site-specific work.

This performance made possible, in part, thanks to the generosity of The Honorable Jeong Gwan Lee, Consul General of Korea

Photo: Kaz

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