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Korean Dance: Tradition and Creation
Korean Dance: Tradition and Creation

November 8 - 16, 2005

A 16-member troupe from the Seoul Performing Arts Company presented an exquisite program of folk dances as well as contemporary interpretations of ancient court and shamanic dances in five cities from coast-to-coast in the U.S. This tour was organized and funded by The Korea Society in association with the Seoul Performing Arts Company. Several members of the company also presented a workshop for high school students at the Wilshire School in Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 15.

The Seoul Performing Arts Company was established on August 1, 1986 with the founding objective of presenting the indigenous Korean performing arts in new attire and promoting them around the world. The Company has created many productions of musical and traditional Korean song and dance. It has gone on the road in over 45 countries, staging about 850 performances. Its performances at the closing and opening ceremonies of the '88 Seoul Olympics, the promotional event for the 2001 World Cup, '99 Winter Asian Games, the 2000 Korea Millennium Grand Gala, and other major international cultural events held in the United States, Japan, and several African and European countries have brought the company to a high standard of polish.

Program DescriptionDrum Dance of Ch'oyong (Ch'oyong Pukch'um)
8 minutes/ 5 dancers
Choreography: Son In-Young
The Drum Dance of Ch'oyong derives from the second dance of a two-dance suite that is said to have originated during the reign of King Hon'gang (r. 875-886), the forty-ninth ruler of the Silla kingdom. The first dance, no longer performed, was an elegant and slow dance in the court-dance tradition-movements in court dances are usually soft and subdued. However, the second dance, while classified as a court dance, stands out from other court dances for several reasons: it is the only dance in which the performers wear masks; it is performed by men rather than women; and its movements are comparatively strong and vigorous. In some historical documents, it is referred to as "the dance of the five directions." Each direction is represented by a color: north is black, south is red, east is blue, west is white, and the center is yellow. The predominant color of the costume of each of the five dancers is one of the colors associated with the five directions. In 1971, the government of the Republic of Korea designated this dance as Intangible Cultural Asset No. 39. In this version, the drums of the dancers are substitutes for the usual musical accompaniment.

Sword Dance (Tonggyong Kommu)
7 minutes/ 8 dancers
Reconstruction: Eum Ok-Ja
During the Silla dynasty (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) an institution known as hwarang was established. The hwarang were young boys trained in Korea's cultural and military arts. The oldest reference to a sword dance relates to a hwarang. Beyond legendary origin, the current form of the dance is sometimes attributed to performances in the court and sometimes to village performances. The tempo is slow, the dancers walk around the circle - still manipulating their swords-form a single straight line parallel to the audience, bow, and quietly exit by backing away from the performing area. Although a suggestion of military action has been offered, the strongest impression is that of a kaleidoscopic ensemble that groups and regroups amidst a flurry and swish of sword blades-all with the calm dignity of a regal group of dancers.

Dongnae Crane Dance (Dongnae Hak ch'um)
7 minutes/ 5 dancers
Reconstruction: Lee Sung-Hoon
Designated as Intangible Cultural Property No. 3 by the city of Pusan, the Dongnae Crane Dance reflects the distinctive geographical features of Dongnae. The landscape of this area suggests the shape of a crane, and many place names in the district are related to the crane. As a popular hot springs resort area, Dongnae traditionally has attracted many people of highly refined tastes. This fostered the development of a strong tradition of recreational activities that include singing, dancing and poetry. Yangban enthusiasts are believed to have been responsible for the development of the distinct genre of the crane dance performed in Dongnae, which is viewed as an expression of their appreciation for refined forms of recreation. Above all, however, the distinctive feature of the Dongnae Crane Dance is that it does not mimic the actual movements of a crane but rather attempts to represent these movements in a more abstract and symbolic way.

Improvised Dance (Ipch'um) & Taegum Solo (Taegum Sanjo)
5 minutes/ 1 dancer/ 1 musician
Choreography: Chae Sang-Mook & Kim Hyeon-Ah
This Improvised Dance retains the basic form of a traditional dance in which there is no instrumental accompaniment and most of the movements are improvised. Being a kind of festive dance, it takes mirth and artistic taste for its theme. Its appeal is that the audience feels drawn to participate in the performance by dancing and humming, which further adds to its popularity.

The taegum is a bamboo instrument with a clear and cool sound, which has been played in both court music and folk music since the era of Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.-935 A.D.). With its wondrous resonance, clear and sometimes thrilling sounds, the taegum has been regarded as a holy instrument that brings peace to the world.

Fan Dance (Puch'aech'um)
6 minutes/ 9 dancers
Choreography: Chae Sang-Mook
Widely regarded as the most unique Korean traditional dance, the Fan Dance originated from a shamanic ritual. This splendid dance with luxurious dresses and brilliant fans of painted blossoms illustrates the beauty of vivid colors and the harmony of group movements within in a confined space. The dance reaches a climax with the dancers forming a large fluttering flower that appears to rotate.

Military Drill Dance (Hullyongmu)
8 minutes/ 8 dancers
Reconstruction: Chong Jin-Wook
This work was created in the 1930's by Han Sung-Joon, who is considered to be the father of modern Korean dance. It is modeled on the forms of the traditional military drill. It is a striking dance that captures the disposition of the troops, a confrontation scene and the training of the soldiers.

Farmers' Band (Nongak)
30 minutes/ 13 dancers/ 6 musicians
Choreography: Seo Han-Woo
The Farmers' Band combines dance and music. It is representative of the joyful comradeship farmers traditionally enjoyed while working in co-operation with each other. In agricultural communities, up until the recent past, it was customary for Korean farmers to pray for peace and abundance by singing and dancing communally after each harvest. The instruments they played on these occasions included a small gong (kkwaenggari), a large gong (), an hourglass-shaped drum (changgo), a barrel drum (puk), and a small handheld frame drum (sogo). There were many variations of this kind of performance, and it also was linked with religious and social customs.

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