October 23rd, 2010
I had a hard time deciding which performance to go to on Saturday, at last I settled on the performance honoring 양소은 Yang Soeun, one of the modern masters of traditional arts. The performance was in 인천 Incheon, at their Arts and Culture Center small hall and began at 7. Despite leaving at 5, I barely arrived in time to use the facilities before the show began. The hall, seating around 300, was about 70% occupied. I made extremely detailed written notes of the entire show (because I was prohibited from other forms of documentation) but for research purposes I will just confine my observations to the points below:
1) The announcers (a man and woman, both in their 20s) did not wear traditional clothes (odd, since everything else going on was in traditional clothes). They announced a lot, but the info they gave was designed for an audience that was already well acquainted with the traditional arts, but the announcers themselves seemed to not really know how to engage with what they were talking about so the delivery was very dull.
2) The performances included three scenes from mask dance dramas, one each from 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum, 은율탈춤 Eunyul Talchum and 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum. All three are from the same part of North Korea (which is why Yang Soeun was involved with all three, she was from that area and a key part of the effort to resurrect and strengthen what were (or some would say nearly) lost arts from that region. The performances included four performers from Eunyul, two from Gangnyeong and one from Bongsan Talchum, the music was provided by the same group of musicians throughout (all three use the basic arrangement of 장구 janggu, 피리 piri, 대금 daegeum, 해금 haegeum with or without other instruments such as 북 buk, 징jing and 꽹과리 ggwaenggwari). This actually seems (to me) to be a very effective way to create a new performance line up or tour a show. The musicians could perform musical numbers, the small number of dancers could perform some of the flashiest scenes and an audience could feel quite pleased.
3) The show was much too long. The first piece, the singing style native to that part of North Korea, was excellent. After the mask dance dramas a type of shamanic ceremony dragged on far too long, then a performance of 해주검무Haeju Geommu (Haeju Sword/Knife Dance) turned out to be the longest and most protractedly boring Geommu I’ve ever seen. The most excitement during this piece was the constant stream of people leaving the theatre having trouble to get past me (I was on the aisle, but the seating was so tight my knees almost touched the seats in front of me making it hard for people to get by). The last piece was just odd. I needed more contextualization and information than we were given. The piece, apparently developed by Yang Soeun, used the many performing arts of Buddhist monks in a new way, but the two dancers were shaky, particularly one of them, and the way he kept trying to look at the other dancer to know what to do was driving me crazy. This was the first time the performance had been staged, and again, it dragged on until the remaining audience heaved a sigh of relief when it finally ended.
4) Perhaps to take advantage of the facilities the presentation was designed to use PPT with video and photos of Yang Soeun performing and practicing showed during the announcements in particular, but the projector took too long to warm up each time, and then if we could hear the audio on the video we couldn’t hear the announcers, so it sort of fought for attention with the rest of the show.