By Ed Kliszus
The first scene of Body Through Which the Dream Flows opens with the glorious chords of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture with the 14-year-old Nadia Comăneci setting up for her gymnastics routine in the 1976 Olympics. Comăneci’s performance is flawless, and she earns the first perfect 10 score in Olympic history. This introduction to the biographical drama aptly conveys human aspirations and the glory of achievement in the highest order.
Multi-Dimensional Story Telling
A multi-dimensional scene develops as the story unfolds. Soomi Kim appears at a lighted table and at the narrator’s prompt, describes her early days in gymnastics. Multiple gymnasts illustrate her words by practicing.
Video appeared showing Olympic gold medal winner 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton competing in 1984 at Los Angeles.
Kim spoke of dashed Olympic dreams due to an injury. At the time it seemed inappropriate for her coach to encourage her to get up and repeat a drill despite her fall. A video drove the point, depicting loud abusive behavior by a coach who is angry because his child protege overslept.
Now in NCAA gymnastics at Oregon State U, Kim felt ignored by her trainer. The troupe returned and shared their own physical challenges of height, and weight, self-loathing, and fears. Kim finds work as an assistant coach and handles discouraged proteges.
The Best Coach
Kim spoke of Márta Károlyi, the perfectionist coach of Nadia Comăneci who insisted that the tiniest details be controlled. The troupe continued exercises led by Kim, who admits to a recurring nightmare as the gymnasts begin to whirl around her. The troupe launches into a chaotic gymnastic dream sequence to the song “Live Fast Die Young Bad Girls Do It Well” by M.I.A., ending with one gymnast fainting.
Larry Nassar Debacle
We see a video about convicted child molester Larry Nassar who for 18 years was team doctor of the US women’s national gymnastics team. Under the guise of medical treatment, Nassar sexually assaulted more than 200 young women and girls. In reaction, the troupe in near darkness performed disjointed gesticulations set to expressionist avant-garde strings accompaniment, akin to the ghastly visual connotations of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Innocents all, some still have baby teeth and watch children’s shows. More victims speak, and the troupe reacts. The horror continues. PTSD. Flashbacks. Paralysis. Darkness. The charges repeat, “sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony,” then silence.
A Healthy Debate
Must coaches be stern to sufficiently train children to perform at their highest levels? How can coaches best protect and provide emotional care for their child gymnasts yet convey the drive, focus, and self-discipline required for Olympic-level success?
The narrator asks Kim if the culture of gymnastics needed to be changed and if there is real reform. Kim notes there’s been change but believes the trauma is reinventing itself, mutating like a virus.
The Body Through Which the Dream Flows uses a multi-dimensional visual and aural landscape to provide insights into the complex relations of coaches and their proteges while opening a window into the inside world of children training for Olympic stardom. From the antipodal extremes of Olympic achievement to the dark cloud of the Larry Nassar catastrophe, Soomi Kim shares her journey. Her message is profound and personal, and we join the debate on what measures are acceptable in training children as competitive gymnasts. The troupe of dancer gymnasts was marvelous and shifted seamlessly from the strictures of gymnastics to improvisatory dance.
Prodigies and Aspirations
But isn’t it part of the human condition to strive toward aspirations? Don’t our paths inexorably shift as circumstances change? Must everyone achieve their ambitions and after all, how many children who immerse themselves in sports like baseball or basketball are drafted by the Yankees or Knicks? How many child violinists eventually tour the world performing concertos with the New York or Vienna Philharmonic? Perhaps Nadia Comăneci and Mary Lou Retton were simply unstoppable prodigies. Check the New Ohio Theatre calendar and ticket links below for more thought-provoking and entertaining upcoming events.
Co-directed by Meghan Finn and Soomi Kim
Movement generated by the company
Choreography Consultant Alexandra Beller
Dramaturge Sarah Gancher
Stage Manager Mars Neri
Sound Designer Zeke Stewart
Lighting Designer Amanda Ringger