MediaScape Musings # 7 : Missing Piece

Hello everyone!! As we approach the end of the semester, I wanted to take a moment to extend warm regards and share a unique collaborative endeavor that has been brewing in one of our classes, involving students from the PAT, Stamps, and Dance departments.

Titled “Missing Piece,” this project is more than just a performance; it combines live performance art, dance movements, and live piano interludes. What makes it truly special is the active involvement of our audience. We’ve extended an invitation for them to bring objects of personal significance, items that hold meaning and significance to them, and seamlessly incorporate these objects into the fabric of the performance itself.

As we eagerly await the culmination of this project, I can’t help but anticipate the final recorded performance. It promises to be a testament to the power of collective creativity and the magic that ensues when diverse talents intertwine to create something truly special.

Stay tuned for the final performance video, as it’s sure to encapsulate the essence of our collaborative efforts and the meaning behind “Missing Piece.”

TOLAROIDS: Favorite shoot

I’ve been sorting my photos recently and I stumbled across so many pictures from the past that I wanted to share, but this still probably remains my favorite creative shoot. It was for my own exhibition that I curated in 2019 and it featured dance in different transformations. The problem with capturing dance is that a photograph only captures a short snippet, freezes the dancer in one moment, while the entire idea of dance is that it’s continuous. That’s why I used long exposure to capture the continuum and to really show the act of dancing.

If you hover over the images you can see what settings I used, just if you’re curious 🙂 I am working on editing some new photos so there should be some new exciting content soon.






With any questions/comments/concerns you can find me at:


Instagram: akilian,jpg

A Reminder


On Friday evening I had the pleasure of seeing Teac Damsa’s Production of  Loch Na Heala (Swan Lake). If you haven’t heard of it, it is and Irish take on the tale of swan lake, with an Irish myth and a true story also mixed into the plot. It was presented by UMS in the Power Center for two nights only, this past Friday and Saturday.

I was encouraged to go see it for one of my classes and I am so glad I did. I managed to get one of only 2 student tickets left for Friday night, which was exciting. Going into the theatre I only knew that it was a take on swan lake and that it had good reviews. But what I actually saw was much different than expected.

For probably the first half of the 75 minute show, I thought I was going to leave the theatre with a sense of disappointment in not liking it. It started in such a strange way, that I’m still not sure what it was supposed to mean. But perhaps that was point.

But as the show continued, things began to click. It turns out that the show deals greatly with themes of abuse and mental illness, and is very raw in its portrayal of each. The sparse set and small cast, many playing multiple personas, was to the shows advantage. It allowed you to hone in on those themes, and to truly see the beautiful dances performed by the cast.

Though the themes were quite dark, it managed to end with an incredible scene of catharsis. At the end of the show, the audience immediately stood up without a pause for a standing ovation, and clapped for so long that the cast had to come back out on stage three times to bow before it died down and people started to leave.

As I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about the show. It was beautiful, haunting, at times disturbing, but mainly it was something different and unique. It wasn’t some American tour of a famous broadway show. It was a work of passion for these dancers and choreographers and they were able to create something that people of all ages and backgrounds seemed to love, despite the themes that are still hardly talked about in today’s society.

That is what this is a reminder of. If you have a story, you can tell it your own way. People will listen. People will care.

Theatre can do this for some people.

And this is the kind of theatre I want to create as a theatre artist.

The Buried Beauty of Butoh Dance

You are standing still. Close your eyes. Imagine an ant crawling over the bones of your left foot. It finds a nest in the space between your toes. Then, more of them appear. They surround your feet, tracing their shape…and then, they start the ascent. Trailing up your legs, between them, up your belly. One tickles the thin skin on your wrist. You swat it away only to find two more have replaced. You are swarmed with them. This has become a full-on infestation. The ants with their furry feet and beady abdomens journey across the map of your face, your hilly nose, into the depths of your ears, until they disappear into your hair.

Feeling a bit disturbed? This, says the dance instructor, is how you should always feel when you perform Butoh.

This semester, I’m taking Asian 200 – Introduction to Japanese Civilization. It is just that – an overview of each major period of Japanese history from the Heian Era to the Meiji to World War 2 and today. As we near the end of the semester, we have just begun our discussion on the 20th century. Because an entire course could be dedicated to World War 2 and Japan’s role in it, we have focused more on the effects of the war on the people, the economy, and the arts.

One of the most innovative arts to come out of the post-war era in Japan was the avant-garde dance called Butoh (which literally translates to “dance which steps on a political party” or any dance that is not sanctioned by the Japanese government). 

Hijikata Tatsumi performing Butoh; Image via

Created by Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo in 1959, butoh strove to become the new Japanese dance, which broke away from both Western modern dance and traditional Japanese dances. Especially after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there wasn’t a time when nationalism was more necessary to unite the country after tragedy. Butoh was the catalyst for young Japanese artists and intellectuals of the early 60’s to reject the status that Japan had been reduced to by Western superpowers. They wanted to subvert the sense of “alienation,  dehumanization, and loss of self-identity” ( Klein, Susan Blakeley. Ankoku Butoh. Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Papers, 1988: p. 9) that had been assigned to them.

Through the performance of Butoh, the dancers embrace a grotesque beauty – where they often make their expressions as revolting as possible, yet move across the stage with a paradoxical grace of controlled spasms. In a way, the more alienated and dehumanized the dancers become on stage, the richer the social critique.

The emaciated (and often naked) bodies of the dancers are covered in a thick white powder, highlighting ribs muscles, and especially the facial features. The dancers are enrobed in a mist macabre and their movements further unsettle the audience. We watched a few videos in class and had to define our emotional response to them.

Classmates answered “confused,” “creeped out,” “disturbed.” I think this comes from how weak the dancers appear (which of course is all an act). We feel awkward watching extreme suffering (even if it is fake) before us. The dancers become hyper-human in their ability to decompose and waste away. They become an alternative form of the humanity we thought we knew.

But how do they do it? Understanding that such a foreign dance would be difficult to talk about without experiencing it firsthand, my professor brought in a Butoh artist/scholar named Dr. Katherine Mezur to teach my class real exercises that are used in professional Butoh troupe lessons. We were instructed to wear loose, moveable clothing and white, cotton socks (though it was ambiguous which was more important: the whiteness or the cotton-ness). We were given the option to sit out if we ever grew uncomfortable. While I promised myself that I wouldn’t let myself sit out, I was pretty sure that at least one person in our class of strangers would feel shy or embarrassed, and gratefully accept the role of observer.

But no! Everyone participated. One of the first exercises after getting loosened up was the immersive imagination scene I referred to earlier: the one with the bugs. Because we had our eyes closed, we were all embarking on our own experience, yet we shared the energy of everyone in the room. We then learned a shuffling step, which provides the base for all Butoh movement. Moving around in the same space, we had to be aware of each other’s persons. We became each other’s obstacles. To complicate things even more Dr. Mezur would yell out an animal or a kind of material (glass, steel, wood) and we’d have to internalize these properties and incorporate them into our basic movement. This exercise was to teach us to realize the materiality of the body.

The most bizarre, and most striking, element of the Butoh dance is the facial expression. Dr. Mezur taught us to roll our eyes back (Exorcism-style),  cover our teeth with our lips, open our mouth, and draw in your neck like a gobbling turkey.

Image via

Luckily, everyone else’s eyes are turned up to the ceiling too, so no one could make fun of how ridiculous we looked.

Not only did I feel extremely ugly, I felt an internal pain from imitating the appearance of suffering. And that’s just the cherry on top of the revolting body image of Butoh. It’s about experiencing all aspects of being human: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The dancers of Butoh seem to say: ‘Not only are we humans who die and kill and begrudge and heartbreak and destroy. We are also humans who can turn the scariest, saddest, unexplainable parts of our stories and create something hauntingly stunning and beautiful and emotional. We connect with you through a shared fear that we might not make it through this performance. But we always do.’

An Ode to Dance

Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw dances in her closet.

This semester, my last semester, I decided to take all of the classes I always wanted to take before graduating. Therefore, every Monday and Wednesday I wake up, put my hair in a bun, and head to dance class. At first, I thought dance would just be a fun way to exercise and move around twice a week, but after my first class I knew it would be much more than that.

My instructor starts off every class with all of us sitting in a circle. Then, he has us introduce ourselves to someone new. We don’t go around and say our names with a fruit that starts with the same letter or anything like that, but we smile and wave and awkwardly shake hands. It might sound strange, but it feels kind of nice to be explicitly told to interact with the people you’ll be seeing the rest of the semester. I’ve had far too many classes where that just doesn’t happen and it’s kind of sad to go through life interacting with people whose names you don’t even know.

Then, my instructor has us stand up and feel the weight in our feet, center ourselves, and wake up our bodies. He doesn’t stop there, though. While we stand, eyes shut tight so no one feels like they’re being judged; he helps us discover different things about ourselves. Yesterday, he asked us to think about something that is stressing us out, and then he walked us through a scenario where we let go of that stress and fill ourselves up with a positive green light. It’s a great way to start the morning and it really did make me feel a little better about what was stressing me out.

After that, we warm up. That means there’s a lot of movement and a lot of finding your way through a mess of sweaty students. My instructor always makes sure to add some improv to the routine because it makes people feel strange and uncomfortable and free and expressive. And here’s the best part: you can’t really be bad at improv! As long as you try and you go through the steps confidently, you’re doing it right. Sure, you might not know what you’re doing as you move one foot in front of the next and you might be nervous you’ll bump into someone or look silly, but guess what? That’s what life is like—one big improvisational dance move!

This class has helped me realize that there’s something so intrinsic about dance. We’re born with the need to move. When you put on music, even little babies start to tap their feet and sway their hips. It’s what we do when we win a game or get a good grade. It’s how we celebrate marriages and birthdays. Dance is what we do when we think no one is watching, or sometimes, when we think someone is. It’s beautiful and fun and exciting and expressive. So, while I took dance as a fun way to get moving, I’m starting to think it’ll be one of the most important classes I take before graduating. It will teach me to be confident, even when I don’t know what I’m doing. And, it’ll teach me to have fun. Because who wants to kick-ball-change with a frown on their face? “Not I,” said the duck!

Confessions: 1MillionDance Studio

I have a confession to make. Really, I owe it to you. There’s something I’ve never told you.

I love dance.

That’s right. I love dance. It’s something I’ve never said before, and yet it’s true.

Now, to be quite honest, I’m not a dancer. I took ballet and tap when I was little, but I never continued. I danced when I was in theatre, but beyond being able to do a jazz square, I was never anything special.

No, I don’t love dancing, though I will admit it is quite fun. That’s not what I mean.

I love watching people dance. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. My mom used to take me to the Nutcracker every year, and I think I saw the Jon M. Chu and Adam Sevani dance battle at least fifty times. Of course, I’m pretty picky about what I watch – I prefer hip-hop and modern forms to other classic types of dance, and I love a good jazz square (everyone loves a good jazz square). Which is why, when I found 1MillionDance, I knew immediately I’d love it.

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that I like listening to music in other languages, and though most of their videos feature American music, I found 1MillionDance through their videos featuring Korean hip-hop songs. However, as I scrolled down the list of videos, I was surprised (and excited) by the variety of genres they danced to, with, yes, lots of hip-hop.

I marathoned the videos (and still do…whoops, sorry homework, you’re going to have to wait) and slowly realized I hadn’t watched this kind of dance, pure dance, no singing *cough* kpop *cough* in a really long time.

Which is why I want to share some of my personal favorites with you, to show that no, I haven’t forgotten about dance about an art form. Dance is beautiful, amazing, and expressive. Although I have no talent for it, I still empathize with dancers, even if I don’t know how to move and control my body as they do.

So, in no particular order, my favorite dances from 1MillionDance Studio in Seoul, and also why I love the dance so much.

Note: the dances feature multiple dancers doing the same choreography, learned that day (so there’s bound to be mistakes – nobody is perfect). The first dancer in the center is always the choreographer, with other highly proficient dancers or other choreographers sometimes joining.

Junsun Yoo is hands down my favorite choreographer for 1Million. His dances are always on point, and this one in particular blew me away. For starters, this is one of my all time favorite songs, and it’s not your typical dance song either. Sure, it has a really strong beat, but it’s not a hip-hop song, and yet the moves are so on point – the hand move for the bell is my favorite. Overall, this video is in my top 5 favorites from this channel.

If Junsun is my favorite choreographer, Bongyoung Park comes in a very very very close second. It was a hard to choose which one of his videos to post (His Maroon 5 dance is freaking amazing – warning, strong language in the song), but this one is hands down the most lively and fun. Bongyoung’s expressions throughout the dance also completely add to the dance, though the other dancers who don’t do expressions are also fantastic. Also in my top five favorite dances (which, by the way, these aren’t – just five I think you should watch).

To slow things down a bit, this is also one of my favorite dances. I love this video too, not just because Eunho is a very compelling dancer, and has freaking amazing body control, but because his dance can be transformed in so many different ways by the students. He performs alone, but two groups do it as a couple dance – and it works fantastically. But it also works in a larger group as well, towards the middle of the video. I especially love too how this dance tells more of a story. Warning – strong language in the song.

Lest you think this channel features only male choreographers, here’s Sori Na with a legit amazing dance. I love her too not just because she’s a fantastic choreographer, but because she doesn’t shy away from songs like these. Yes, girl power is super awesome, and dancing to female-oriented or created songs is super empowering. But dancing to something you love that might be considered traditionally male is also empowering, especially for me. Not to mention she just oozes swag. How can you not love her?

And last, but certainly not least, May J Lee creates an addictive dance to an already addictive song. Everyone knows it, yes, and it plays everywhere – I’m personally not a huge fan of this song. But honestly, her choreography is so on point that I’ve actually started to somewhat like the song due to how many times I’ve watched this video. Not to mention that I want to do the choreography every time I hear this song now. Watch for cameos from Bongyoung, from earlier, and also Koosung Jung, a fellow choreographer who’s also in The Hills video.

Go watch some of 1Million’s other videos, because they’re all fantastic, and who knows, if you’re a dancer and you’re in Seoul and you drop by, maybe you’ll be in one of their videos someday.