Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gyeongbok Palace and a Performance at the Gugakwon

September 23rd, 2010

Georgy came to Seoul and after some tea and snacks we headed out for a full day, all three of us in Korean modernized-peasant clothes, or 개량한복 Gaeryang Hanbok. I planned for us to hit the palace we’d chosen (경복궁 Gyeongbok Palace) and then go to the 한옥마울 Hanok Village on 남산 Namsan before the performances at the 국악원 Gukakwon (National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts), but we never made it to the second location. We first walked slowly through the new public space on 세종로 Sejong Road leading to 광화문 Gwanghwamun, the gate for Gyeongbok Palace. None of us had been there before and we looked closely at the timeline and Karjam took a lot of video footage of everything. The timeline of the 조선왕조 Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and current era is carved in stone blocks, with water running over them.

At last we got to the palace, the line to buy tickets was a million miles long, but since we were all in hanbok, of course we got in for free without waiting in line. Things continued to take forever as Karjam found lots of video-graphic interest. Georgy and I chatted and waited until we were all three very hungry, but when we got out of the palace I realized we were right by Aniko’s house and Georgy hadn’t seen her since the wedding, so we stopped in for a few minutes and some juice before meeting Scott, a former co-worker and his lovely wife, 은미Eunmi.

For me the entire holiday had been building up to the performance that evening at the Gugakwon, so I was pretty happy all day. Unfortunately we arrived only twenty minutes before the show and had less than perfect seats, but they were still free (so many traditional performances are free) and we were even given a survey (an example for me as I make mine!) and a hot slab of 떡 ddeok with our program! The show began with 양주별산대 Yangju Byeolsandae performing the same piece I’d seen at 서울놀이마당 Seoul Nolimadang. Next was 발탈Baltal, or foot-mask, a mixed comedy and puppet show. The two women who performed were very good, but the show relied on comprehension of their banter and singing, and Georgy’s brow was furrowed with the effort to keep up. I suspect much of the audience didn’t get all the jokes, but the Korean was not too colloquial/dialectical, so it was easier to understand than the mask dance drama had been. The rest of the evening included 사물놀이 samulnoli, 풍물 판 굿 pungmul, various acrobatic and trick shows, 줄타기 tight-rope, and so on. Overall the show was great, we were a tiny bit cold but snuggled together, the other audience members were having a great time, and we were in good company, still I found the set-up at the Gukakwon very divisive, the audience can’t interact with the performers (readily) and the barrier there is quite artificial (and modern), and I felt kept the energy level down from where it could have been. The stage is down in front of the audience (in tiered permanent step/bench seating) is above, but there is a wall between the audience and the first seats so that the eyes of the closest audience member are about 8 feet above the stage and at least 8 feet back (because of the walkway between stage and wall, and the walkway in front of the seats of the first row). There was some light on the audience, so the performers might have been able to see us, except that there were bright lights shining in their eyes to the degree that when they stopped to address the audience (it happened a couple times) they shaded their eyes with their hand.

There was no announcer and most of the show happened with out any introduction, although one dominant older performer did address the audience several times. The program had some information, but purely factual and standard, nothing engaging, deep or unusual.

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