December 26th, 2010
Our main activity of the day was to attend 이매방 Yi Maebang (the most famous traditional dancer in Korea)'s final performance. He has so very many fans and former students (despite the high rates to study with him) that the large hall at the 국악원 gugakwon was sold out in the 50,000 and 40,000 won seating areas, with only a few seats left in the 3rd floor balcony 30,000 won seats that I bought for Karjam and myself. The 3rd floor was also swelteringly hot (especially considering the multiple layers we were wearing). There were high points to the show, but I felt that mostly we were there to support the traditional arts and pay tribute to one of the most influential figures in traditional arts. 양종승 Yang Jongseung, my mentor who is a senior curator at the National Folk Museum and was Yi's student during his own doctoral fieldwork (he is an 이수자 (isuja, third ranked) in one of Yi's arts, 승무 seungmu or the monk's dance, was the MC. Yi is one of the very few people in Korea to attain National Human Treasure status in two arts.
Yi himself danced part of three numbers, seungmu, 입춤 Ipchum and 살풀이 (salpuri is the other art he's listed for). In each case he seemed about to totter over. His steps were small and careful, his arms were shaking and each time as he went to leave the stage a young woman in Uggs ran out to at least 1/3 across the stage to support him as he walked off. When he bent down to pick up the scarf in salpuri I was concerned he'd get stuck down there. Honestly, I think he should have had his final performance a few years ago, he simply could not do justice to the dances or his own reputation. The best performances of the night were 보렴무 Boryeommu and 삼고무/오고무 Samgomu/Ogomu with women on the 3 drum sets and 7 men and 1 woman playing the 5 drum sets.