Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Visit to Bukcheong Saja Noleum and Bongsan Talchum Class

May 19th, 2011
In the morning I finished the edits for the article in KOREA magazine and sent them to Editor Ines. I'd post at least one of the three stand-alone parts of the article here, except that would be before their version came out and I don't think they're paying me to use the articles in my blog. I can say, though, that in finding a way to add more content because Ines had nixed one section of the main article, I was able to add a nice fat section on Goseong Ogwangdae and even quote one of my past interviews with 이윤석 Yi Yunseok.

After finishing those articles and doing a couple other things that were overdue (including finally scheduling an interview with someone who has been beastly hard to reach). Then I left much earlier than usual for the Intangible Cultural Assets Training Center. I went directly to the 북청사자놀음 Bukcheong Saja Noleum office. It turned out it was the National Human Treasure there (이근화선 Yi Geunhwaseon and yes that's a very unusual name for a Korean)'s birthday. I was invited to go to dinner with them, but I really just wanted to have a conversation and practice 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. So I had a bit of a conversation with 이건홍 Yi Geonhong (이수자 isuja and Yi Geunhwaseon's son-- he has two daughters- one is an isuja, one is a jeonsuja), who is now the director of the new (just instituted in March) 중요무형문화재 총연 합회. I recorded a little of his description of the group and its plans/goals but although I think they're good, the goals seem too focused on communicating Korean traditional culture to foreigners, when honestly the more immediate goal should be to reverse the knowledge drain which is occurring as the older generation slowly but surely dies off. They plan to make a really great center where they can have the people protecting craft arts sit down and work on their arts as an ongoing demonstration, have a gift shop and gallery and have performances. This all really sounds like this building (Intangible Cultural Assets Training Center), why do we need another? How will the new facility be different? The only large difference I could see was that they would be able to offer ongoing performances so that any night (or any night except Monday for example) there would be a traditional performance for the audience (foreigners being the target) to see. It seems to me that there is a lot of desire for an ongoing/permanent/dedicated theatre for a traditional arts show hoping to mirror the success of 미소 Miso (at 청동극장 Chongdong Theatre) or Jump, Nanta and other such shows.

Honestly Miso is crap but it exists, it's already out there in the world, and although I'm not saying it's sold out every night, I am saying I'm not sure that a new show needs to compete with Miso, or more significantly with the Saturday traditional music and dance show (in many ways also focused at foreigners and compared to 40-50 dollar Jump it's quite affordable at less than 10 bucks) at the National Gugak Center It's true that the Gugak Center's show is also not sold out every time, but it's also on a Saturday and competing with everything else that's going on, even at 5 pm, since with transpo time 5 pm would still preclude many other Saturday evening activities. The show at the National Gugak Center, which usually has around 8 parts does include a couple duds sometimes but in general it's pretty good (a million miles away from Miso and its contrived story and orientalism).

Anyway, after a bit of light interviewing I agreed to come back and interview at Bukcheong Saja Noleum's office on another day and I went to Bongsan Talchum's office where 장용일 Jang Yongil was teaching from 중앙대 Jungang University percussion department students 사자춤 Sajachum or lion dance. I secured the right to be a staff member at the full length performance the weekend after next!!!!

In class we had seven people (not that many…), 허세준, 이병우, 현석, 화연, 하연 and 수미. We practiced fairly typically, with 화연 who is new  (4th class?) learning the basics between when the rest of us practice everything. In fact both 병우 and 현석 still make mistakes, but they know it all. After going through the 7 monks (missing monk 1 of course), the four women (including me in spot # 1) went through 사상좌춤 sasangjwachum. Then everyone practiced 소무 Somu. I keep bringing my fan because 김은주 Kim Eunju promised we'd be learning 할미 Halmi (grandmother) but I've been bringing my fan for a month and we haven't started yet. 

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