Korean Music Shines At Performing Arts Market in Seoul, October 11-15, 2010
The second performance, "A Seventh Man"based on John Berger's book of the same nameby choreographer Young Doo Jung, portrayed the upheaval of those forced to leave their homeland and migrate to a foreign country. The most visually striking scene of any of the four performances involved the seven dancers shaking their heads wildly, around and around and from side to side, to the crushing strains of Mahler's epic Symphony No.1.
Next up was the visually dramatic "Pattern & Variable"by choreographer Park Soonhowhich was inspired by Judo and the catharsis that the violence of sport can bring. Space was an equal protagonist in this piece and contrasted strikingly with the driving rhythms and ritual-like movements.
Finally, "Modern Feeling" by Insoo Lee's EDx2 Dance Company, used hip-hop, break dance, martial arts and acrobatics to explore the emotional bonds and conflicts between two friends. Perfectly and minutely choreographed, this was a compelling work with a simmering intensity and explosive, almost balletic movement.
After another sensational Korean dinner with our gracious hosts the music delegates were brought to the bustling Hongdea nightlife district of downtown Seoul to see three indie bands perform in a cellar bar. Goonamguayeoridingstella, a three-piece pop band opened the evening's entertainment with some uncluttered, riff-driven, catchy tunes, most of which were shorter than the time needed to decipher the band's name. Next up was 3rd Line Butterfly, (right) the most interesting of the three bands. With a passing resemblance to Sonic Youth and a nod to German band Can, the trio played with gutsy energy and was a big hit with the locals in the venue. To close the event, Kingston Rudieska, a seven-piece ska band got everybody up and dancing, though once the adrenalin had abated the question remained whether or not straight forwarded ska truly represented the cutting edge of modern indie music in Seoul, a city of ten million.
Day three contained what turned out to be one of the highlights of the week, an unforgettable performance by Ahn Sook Sun, a living legend of the pansori singing tradition, and a national Intangible Asset. A good pansori singer (sorikkun) is a master story tellerable to hold an audience in the palm of his or her handsand a master singer, capable of reducing the audience to tearsAhn Sook Sun, who is approaching seventy years of age, is considered to be the very best. Normally, Sun performs to packed theatres or audiences of thousands in outdoor settings, so to witness her in the unusually intimate setting of an old Korean wooden houseone of very few left in Seoul --- where there was barely room for ten people to sit cross-legged, was a rare privilege.
Donned in traditional pansori dressa pleasing spectacle in itselfand accompanied by a drummer, (gosu) Sun gave a powerful, moving performance which affected the small but attentive audience greatly. The power of her voice was something to behold, and the similarities with flamenco or Qwaali singers seen in singer Bae il Dongthe waterfall manwere evidenced once again.
The drummer in pansori music plays a double-headed drum with bare hand and short stick, and his playing is purely improvisational. He responds to the singer by punctuating the song with guttural cries of encouragement or acknowledgment. These vocal pulses are called choo im say, and would correspond to the ole of flamenco or the exclamations of the congregation in a black church gospel meeting.
Sun has a kindly yet strong face, and watching its transformation and her body language as she spoke and sang of romance, joked, sang of dashed love or remonstrated with a lover was theater at its most compelling. Had this only been a spoken performance it would have been remarkable enough, but the power and range of emotion conveyed in her singing is what sets her apart from other pansori singers and makes her performances experiences to cherish.
Ahn Sook Sun, Sfinks Festival, Belgium,'10
After an utterly hypnotic performance Sun spoke of her art. In answer to the question of the relationship with her drummer she said unequivocally that the drummer is the most essential part of the music, his improvised rhythmsthe changdanproviding the tension and release that inspires the singer and invests the music with its undeniable drama. The emotional charge that Sun's singing contains is remarkable, and she acknowledged that she often cries herself when performing. She also described her role as a storyteller who manipulates the audience's emotions.
Even with the handicap of understanding not a single word of her story/singing, all those present were caught up in her web of passion and emotion, and were undoubtedly enriched by the experience.