Tuesday, April 12, 2011

At Korean National University of the Arts with Professor Choi Changju

April 10th, 2011
Wasted day. More or less.

April 11th, 2011
I had an amazingly thick research day.

I woke up and got going early, so worried I'd be late to meet 최창주 Choi Changju that I got off the subway by K-Arts almost an entire hour early. Choi is a 전수교육조교 jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo for 봉산탈춤Bongsan Talchum and is also a professor (in the 연희학과 Traditional Theatre Department of the School of the Traditional Arts) who teaches Bongsan Talchum and Korean dance and I gather also some arts marketing type courses, at least from time to time.

This is my second time to interview Choi formally. He'd offered for me to come and watch his class, and told me to meet him in the classroom at 11. It turned out the class started at 10, I guess he just didn't want me to sit through the whole thing, and he knew the first hour would be practicing 서도소리 Seodo Sori (songs in the style of the west coast, which generally means west coast –north- of Seoul in present day North Korea). There is a whole section of Bongsan Talchum with a long (and in my mind very awesome) group singing scene. For the performance in May the students will sing it, of course, as part of the Bongsan Talchum performance. The class included my Wonjung, Gaeun, Heesu and it would have included Inseon except she was sick. 김미애 Kim Miae, an 이수자 isuja was teaching the seodo sori. After Kim finished her section of the class and Choi introduced me to the students they took a break (this was just a few minutes after I arrived). I was able to talk to Gaeun and Heesu a little and learned, for example, that all the students will participate in the Bongsan Talchum singing section as well as several other parts, but that during class the 9 students who are featured in the performance's parts are practiced repeatedly.
Wonjung in the slate gray shirt (Heesu in the tie-dyed pants)

Choi and Kim leading class


This room was huge. I couldn't bounce the flash off the ceiling,  obviously.

Nojang is brought on stage by the 8 monks
They began with the basic motions, which they ran through twice. Choi ordered Wonjung to the center front and frequently throughout performance referred the other students to him. Then I got to watch the rehearsal, which was of Act 2: Dark Face Monks and Act 4: Nojang (Old Monk)'s Dance (except not his part just the part of the 8 other monks) and I was surprised how differently things were done. First of all the daesa monologues were different, including daesa inserted into the middle of the solo dance. Actually most of the same daesa were present, but sometimes longer and often moved around to another monk. Also the solo dances were usually longer. And the Old Monk's act included 4 of the monks grabbing the 4 pungmul instruments and playing, something Choi told the class that the Preservation Association can't do because they just don't have that level of pungmul skills. However all of these differences are present in the version of the script that Choi was using for the performance, a version he says hasn't been performed in a long time. During all of this (most parts were taken multiple times with Choi correcting in various ways) the students like Heesu and Gaeun were just sitting around pretty bored. That's when smart phones are handy. Kim drummed for all of this. I took a few photos.

After class I went to lunch with Choi, Kim and Wonjung at the cafeteria, it was only serving one main dish, thankfully it was a vegetarian option. We said good-bye to Kim then I interviewed Choi in his office (Wonjung went to class). At 3 I followed Choi to his next class, teaching 4th year dance majors (all women). He was teaching them 사상좌 sasangjwa and the part of the 1st of the eight monks to them. Which was interesting, as I've never seen that part taught. At any rate, they definitely danced like dance majors (as in, they made it all pretty, which it's not). I had to leave after an hour.

In the evening I went to KOUS for the third of 진옥섭 Jin Okseop's classes. I was in a bad mood from the time it started because someone asked the nice woman who checks attendance to come over and ask me to type my notes quieter. I am sitting on the far right of the theatre. Anyone could sit in the center section or even the left section (Jin even hangs out on the left side of the stage) and not hear a thing. Besides I have been very considerate and closed it every time the theatre is darkened or whatever, the previous week that was all but perhaps 25 minutes, so seriously, you want to complain that someone is taking notes? This despite the people who send text messages with the button noise on (beep beep beep) or even have their phones ring (not on vibrate) during class. This apparently is just fine. Students taking notes in a class, though, is highly disturbing.

In addition the class was lame. Jin showed a lot of really awesome incredibly old video clips I've never seen before (though I had heard of some of them). I would love to have a copy of all of them, and I will ask him later, maybe he'll share. Much of the content was on the mask dance dramas. But he spent the whole class on a series of tangents, where he never had to go into depth about any one subject instead he just made assertions, brought up a random supporting fact (that may not have been supporting if he went into depth). It showed his breadth of knowledge but no depth at all, and frustrated me to no end. I mean, with a scattering of misinterpreted facts –anyone- can appear to be making sense with data and research behind their statements. If that wasn't true, FOX would sound as stupid as it actually is to all the listeners. As it is, only people with more depth of knowledge are able to see exactly how stupid they are. So there I was sitting in the audience wanting to raise my hand and say "wait a second, in my conversations with Professor Choi Changju about Bongsan Talchum history earlier today he said… " or "but if you look at that another way…" or whatever but the format is this total one-way format where Jin is on the stage and we are in the audience, quiet as mice, except for evil things like typing computer keys of course. When class ended I was almost fuming. 

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