Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gwanno Mask Drama


Gwanno Mask Drama is different from other region's mask drama in that the performers were the government servants, and is known alternately as the "Gangneung Mask Play". Unlike other countries, a mask dance in Korea is only a pantomime and speechless dance enactment. The origin of this particular mask drama is derived from Hahoe Byeolsin Gut and Donghea-an Byeolsin Gut (a gut is a type of exorcism for spirits, luck, wealth or health). The mask dance is ritualistic in nature, and in Gangneung's local history book, Imyeongji, the play was recorded to be continuously performed by shaman, ritual and mask performers.

The Gwanno Mask Dance is known for its long history. In 1909 it was abolished but through historical, research on January 16, 1967 it was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Asset. At that time, Kim Dong-ha and Cha Hyeong-won were designated as traditional artists. In 1985, the original figure was performed by civilians in Yucheon-dong, Gangneung City. On August 2, 1993, Kwon Yeong-ha was designated as traditional performing artist, followed by Kim Jong-hoon on July 22, 2000. The performance was chosen as a Masterpiece of Human Oral Tradition and Intangible Heritage in UNESCO on November 25, 2005.


..... The local god offering play is the tradition of the mask drama.
..... It is the only pantomime and speechless mask dance in the country that is composed of dance and motion only.
..... Through performing gwanno, civilian and govenment employees are united.
..... Yangban's comical satire shows he harmony and prosperity of the community.
..... Somae Gaksi's expression of strong chastity implies her morality in the Confucian social order.
..... Jangjamari's big belly shape symbolizes the prayer for abundance and prosperity.
..... It is believed that the red swords and grim looks will chase bad spritis away, invoke blessings, dispel illness and pray for the good health of the society.
..... The region's traditional dance and melody make civilian's tradition good.


Yangban Gwangdae (Yangban Clown)
The unusual length of beard that stands for vain authority and the sharp peaked hat that is used by low class level government officials during the Joseon Dynasty are quite different from a gentle shape hat (cheongja-gwan) used by yangban or aristocrats. This enactment typifies an old man without any strength but one who is trying to show his power. He is scared whenever he meets Ssi Ttakttagi but when he looks at Somae Gakssi he is faint-hearted and doesn't know what to do. His dance and action reveal his hypocritical image.

Somae Gaksi (Young Lady)
Somae Gaksi is a young and beautiful woman but her character has a tempting disposition. She seduces Yangban Gwangdae while they play together and finally Yangban Gwangdae falls into the subject of satire. Somae mans a little plum, which is the name of the young lady, and Gakssi is a word representing the female.

Sisi (hush hush) Ttakttagi
Sisi means hush hush, the sound for chasing away evil spirits. Ttakttagi is the term representing dancers of the mask dance, and they are the characters for chasing away evils. Their faces have knife scars and the wooden mask painted with 5 colors that will frighten women. Moreover, dancing with a sword in their hands of course invokes terror. According to the historical research, Sisi Ttakttagi performed wearing a scary mask so that there would be no measles or small pox in summer of Dano.

Jangja Mari
Jagja Mari is not only a unique name, but also unique in appearance. It is the only character in the mask dance that doesn't wear a mask; instead he wears gunny sack-like hemp clothes. With only eyes and ears visible, his whole body is covered with a seaweed and strange cloth outfit over a bamboo hoop to make him look fat. The core of Jangja Mari's dramatic content is humorous action, impersonation, and characature through his uncanny seaweed-strung outfit. His performances are where the audience most frequently guffaws.

Korean masks dances are different from western ones in regard to point of view and the musicians who surround the play's arena and who sometimes function as characters in the play itself. In the episodes, they sometimes lead the excitement, apply exclamations, and provoke humor to purposefully delight the audience. In the present times, however, the farmers are center arena with percussion instruments played by a peasant band on the outer edge. In ancient times, the musical performers were shaman and music players, not the peasants themselves.


Scene 1 : The Entrance of Jangja Mari
Two Jangja maris start the opening performance of the mask dance. They stir up dust noisily, stick out their bulging stomachs, run circularly to widen the arena, sometimes teasing the audience by making people sit in and even dance simulated sex appealing acts.

Scene 2 : Love betwist Yangban Gwangdae and Somae Gaksi
While Yangban Gwangdae appears decent and shows a dignified manner, he comes closer and courts Somae Gaksi. Somae Gaksi is werig a graceful mask, yellow vest and red skirts dancing shyly and demurely. At first she refuses Yangban Gwangdae's courtship but after getting to know each other they start going around the place with both arms around each other's shoulders, expressing their affection.

Scene 3 : Interruption of Sisi Ttakttagi
Two Sisi Ttakttagis, wearing horrible masks, run in from opposite sides, dancing wide-sweeping sword dances. They are jealous of the love between Yangban Gwangdae and Somae Gaksi, they interrupt and imitate them, sometimes they push and pull them until they separate them. Separated, one Sisi Ttakttagi teases Yangban Gwangdae and the other teases Somae Gaksi. The one teasing Somae Gaksi wants to dance with her but she stubbornly refuses until finally forced whereupon Yangban Gwangdae sees and becomes both angry and lovesick.

 Scene 4 : Somae Gaksi Attempts Suicide
At last, furious Yangban Gwangdae pushes back Sisi Ttakttagi and pulls Somae Gaksi away. Although Somae Gaksi asks for forgiveness, Yangban Gwangdae still continues to berate her, and so to prove her innocence, Somae Gaksi attempts suicide. But to kill herself, she does so by hanging herself by Yangban Gwangdae's long beard, a humorous satire of pulling the beard which represents authority. Her virtue vs. the virtue of his authority. The satire of proving one's innocence through a death ritual has its comic effects.

Scene 5 : Reconciliation of Yangban Gwangdae and Somae Gaksi
The intention of Somae Gaksi's suicide is to prove her innocence, provoke Yangban Gwangdae's kindness to be comical and to vanish misunderstandings. The play ends with the reconciliation with themselves and ultimately with the community. The muscians, performers and audience start to dance together and embody the feast's spirit of reconciliation and harmony.
The above pictures and synopsis of the mask drama enactment was taken from a brochure picked up at a museum in Gangneung from a previous visit to seaside city, which is proud for their mask dance festival and which attracts many visitors every year.

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