Friday, October 15, 2010

Gangnyeong Talchum Performance

October 15th, 2010
I will spare you my general range of frustrations with Korean medical practice (don’t worry, nothing is really wrong except my knees being so aggravated by all the mask dance and sangmo practices) but I will at least point out one really annoying thing: Why does Fulbright require me to get insurance that is only accepted at THREE hospitals in Korea? (Or other places I could apply to be reimbursed I suppose). My 1,000 USD insurance for the year is ultimately much less useful than the less than 100,000 (less than 100 USD) insurance I got Karjam (which is honored EVERYWHERE).

I picked up Georgy’s business/name cards, went to the 아현시장 Ahyeon Shijang for 반찬 banchan (side dishes) and some vegetables after my frustrations with the hospital.
Cell phone photo of my favorite banchan making ajumma:

At 4:00 I headed to the 국악원 gukakwon to watch a performance “추셔요” (Chushyeoyo) by one member from 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum and two other mask dancers. Normally I don’t enjoy the neo-traditional performances very much, but I’m curious about them from a research standpoint and due to the Bongsan connection I thought it’d be nice to attend. Fortunately since the performance started so early the traditional music shop attached to the Korean Musical Instrument Museum was open and I slipped in for two CDs, one of 가곡 gagok since I suddenly find it so fascinating, and one a group 산조 sanjo production with solo and ensemble pieces on it. I admit I partially liked the packaging on the sanjo CD (which is a double box set and features one sanjo piece for each of the standard sanjo instruments, plus 시나위합주 shi-na-ui ensemble and 산조합주 sanjo ensemble) but the gagok CD was the shopkeeper’s favorite female gagok recording (but didn't have such nice packaging, it's from the mid-90s).

The performance featured four musicians who each played multiple instruments (sometimes as sound effects, sometimes as musical instruments and they also sang). In some cases I found what the musicians were doing more interesting than the three mask dancers. All their instruments were traditional, but to make sound effects to accompany the drama they used them in some interesting/unconventional ways at times. The musicians did a great job moving the story along, too. For example at one point the characters are traveling and one man sang 아리랑 arirang (a folk song) from different regions of Korea to illustrate their journey from one place to another. The three mask dancers were all young (late 20s approximately) and they entered in traditional masks and 민복 (white peasant style traditional cotton clothes) with large containers (chests and a rice cooking pot) which contained clothes and masks which they changed (humorously) into at a certain point in the story. Much of the story was slapstick and the dialogue, though delivered in a mask dance style (aurally similar) was in modern Korean and easy to understand. The jokes were things like peeing on the audience (a particularly suave college kid held out a paper cup, caught the pee and drank it to even more comic effect than if the "peeing" had included only audience avoidance), or when the blind man tries to identify the animal and finds a tail in the back and then finds another “tail” in the front. The movements were consistently from the mask dance dramas the three represented throughout the drama, even after they’d changed into the non-traditional masks. It was interesting, but also outdoors with the wind blowing and I hadn’t worn enough clothing.

I met Georgy at the train station and we hurried as fast as public transportation would allow to the 무형문화전수회관 Intangible Cultural Properties Training Center and the 풍류극장 Pungryu Theatre for the performance of 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum. We were a tad late, but like last week the tiny theatre was practically empty because people are so unused to having to (gasp!) pay for traditional performances (again, it was the paltry sum of 5,000 which for the quality of performers is a HUGE bargain). I was sorry to miss the initial introduction, throughout one of the members of the troupe introduced each act (and wrapped up the previous act) in a very engaging fashion including pointing out the special facets “this next act contains all of our basic dance movements” another time “Gangnyeong Talchum is particularly known for having more singing than other mask dance dramas” etc. The performance was quite good, I like how most of the masks are worn on top of the heads for Gangnyeong Talchum so you can see the performer’s faces.

--a short Youtube video of highlights from the performance shot on Karjam's camera, not the video camera--

Georgy and I met Karjam for a snack near our house after the show. She has a conference this weekend in Seoul.

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