Drum-Dances are rendered complex with synchronized spinning. Courtesy
Tradition Finds Its Best Niche in Music and Dance
Photo Essay by Nayla Huq
Saturday, November 1st's National Korean Folk Dance Festival served as the folk dance component commemorating 100 years of Koreans in America. Various centennial celebrations have been, and are taking place throughout the country. In the spring, the Hollywood Bowl featured a night of traditional Korean performing arts. The Power Concert 2003 that took place August 22nd, formulated the K-pop constituent for the hundred-year festivities. Saturday, November 8th, San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium will host another night of popular music performed by musicians of Korean heritage.
For the November 1st event, folk dancers of Korean descent traveled to Los Angeles from all over the US and Canada, making Korean-American history on the stage of the historic Wilshire Ebell Theater.
There is much to celebrate in Korean folk tradition, as dancers move in delicate, measured steps brimming with courtly gentility. According to asiainfo.org, the dance technique is one with "no technique", improvisation at its best. This kind of improvisation supports the natural "streamlined curvilinear movements" featured in most Korean dances.
The formal look of these dances arouse curiosity about the degree of formality found in court dances. I find that the dancers' subtle, yet distinct executions trick the eye of the casual viewer, or maybe all viewers, into accepting the improvisation as planned, formal gestures, turns and steps.
In ancient times, these physical executions of art were performed in religious ceremonies; therefore, ritualistic characteristics were inherent within the sequences. Shamanism, Confucianism and Buddhism all played a hand in developing these dances into a complete artistic form. In addition to the influence by these three systems of belief, details of everyday life were seamlessly sewn into the dance tapestry. Over time, these dances shed their religious meaning and significance, and became a form of entertainment. (Information courtesy of asiainfo.org). This may be due to the predominance of Christianity in Korean culture over the last century.
In general, crowd pleasers tend to be the fan and drum dances, but for this night's performance those with more tense, subtle movements awed the audience. The fan and drum dances may appear on stage more frequently than say, the Crane Dance, so the latter shine more like rare jewels.
I, however, find myself more enchanted by the drum dances, especially the Three-Drum Dance, in which identically dressed adolescent females share the stage with identically dressed elementary school-aged girls. The elder dancers stand in a scaffolding that surrounds them with three drums, which they beat in unison, while twisting, jumping and spinning, all perfectly in concert.
I was fortunate enough to have witnessed the Los Angeles-based Korean Dance Academy's execution of the Three-Drum Dance during Grand Performances' Far East Festival back in August. You can read this article in Asia Pacific Arts' August 29 issue. I can testify that my infatuation with music has taken a new form of music into its assemblage.
I believe all kinds of people can enjoy Korean Dance. Experiencing a night of it will culturally enlighten people, even those who need a lot of help in this field. You forget the beauty people have in their cultures when negativity is all that is imposed upon you. Go see some Korean dance. It will remind you, and teach some of you, that there is beauty in all cultures. Hopefully it will inspire you to seek out more beauty.
November 7, 2003