September 9th, 2010
It was raining but Sarah and I had made plans for me to finally do a photo shoot of Grace (조 영). I left a little late, as I kept hesitating about the weather. Then the subway was totally annoying, but the photo shoot went pretty well, it only rained right at the end. The weather was what my dad calls “the giant softbox in the sky.”
I had 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class, and Karjam came along though he left halfway through to go watch a concert on the first floor. During our longer break I had a nice conversation with 김은주 Kim Eunju (the teacher). First I asked her what she thought of things like the sort of dance-ified performance I’d seen the previous Sunday, then we moved on to discuss people like the other foreigner who started on Monday who will study for a month and then perform part of the mask dance in Paris. Although I practiced Bongsan Talchum without a break from 2004 to 2006 and can perform certain excerpts well enough that (in costume and mask) I would not look out of place in any performing troupe (using the official style, not a dance-ified adaptation of course), I have never considered performing this in America. I feel it’s not appropriate for me, that my role is to support the arts through my written papers and my verbal introductions of Korean performance, perhaps through writing grant applications for future visiting performances from Korea—that sort of thing. How could I dare to assume I could represent the mask dance drama as a performed art (unless part of a troupe in a sort of supporting role, because they needed another body)? I am not an expert performer. My motions are good but nothing like Kim Eunju’s motions and she is still an 이수자 Isuja (again, the 3rd rank from the top in the schema of Korean traditional arts). If I were to say I was going to present Bongsan Talchum, I would be doing a disservice to the art because I would not be able to capture the flavor as a solo performer should. This guy, he doesn’t know much about Korean culture, or have any sort of rough overview of Korean arts in general, if he claims to perform Bongsan Talchum, then he’s spitting in the face of people who have studied for twenty years and still don’t even receive a stipend for their long commitment.
Eunju saw it a little less starkly, she feels that it’s nice that since Bongsan Talchum is not invited everywhere, and they don’t have the resources to go everywhere, that there are still performances, even dance-y ones happening out there in the world. At the same time she felt conflicted that people don’t clarify that they are not properly trained in Bongsan Talchum, not members of the official troupe, not ranked and so on. She also felt that some humility and awareness that their performance was not accurate was missing on the part of some of the others who perform their dance, such as the dance company I saw on Sunday. She thought it was disrespectful that this new foreign student intends to learn and perform Bongsan Talchum so quickly, but she wasn’t going to say that to him. She also didn’t seem to be bending over backwards to teach him extra quickly or anything like that.