Tuesday, October 6, 2015

KOUS - Traditional Cultural Dance Performance

Stephen Wunrow, photographer for the Korean Quarterly, is wild about drumming and suggested we meet at KOUS (한국문화의집, which translates as Korea Culture House). There was a particular performance he wanted to see with traditional instruments which of course incorporated many traditional Korean drums. We went, and the performance was incredibly cheap and just as incredibly phenomenal. Surprisingly, the performance theater was rather small, maybe seating 150 people or a few more. Also surprisingly, the majority of people seemed to be performers themselves and, as the incredible shaman dance was being performed with brilliantly fast and intricate drumming, the majority of audience members were drumming simultaneously on their thighs ... unfortunately not keeping up because the drummer was recognizably a true master with a powerful innate sense of rhythm, style and energy.

Four artists performed and a 15-person traditional "orchestra" played. All this with great seats in the full theater for W10,000, W15,000, and I think there were a few other higher grade tickets, but really, we all sat pretty close together and we all pretty much got the same view. Profoundly beautiful! I shall return.
The four dance performers and their two performances each (in Korean):


We were allowed to photograph during the curtain calls and encore! Magnificent poise and costumes!

There were so many pictures I wanted to take during the performance but that would have been distracting with my LED screen in the dark theater as well as an invasion of cultural property rights on pictures. I was able to look my heart out though and really appreciate the control of the dancers in their stylized movements. I was also fascinated by the "orchestra" but wasn't able to identify all of the instruments. Fortunately, the brochure did that and made me aware of two instruments I didn't even know existed!

Some of the amazing traditional instruments used. I was especially intrigued to see the use of the bak (Korean clapper) which is the signal instrument for beginning a piece or performance. I've only seen/heard that used in court ritual music. The 소 (upper right and looks like a comb played on some board with what looks like 15 strings) and 양금 (similar to a pan-pipe) I am totally unfamiliar with.

After the performance, the four dance performers very cheerfully went to prepared tables for giving autographs as well as personalized comments. I really think that many of the people are long-time visitors of KOUS and personal acquaintances, but even people who didn't seem to know the performers were greeted with kind words and brilliant smiles! These people truly enjoy their jobs!

KOUS isn't called the Korean Culture House for nothing. There are other culture treats that can be enjoyed besides awesome traditional dance performances: traditional entertainment programs like pungmul (folk music), mask dance, taekgyeon (traditional martial art), minyo (folk song).
Established in 2003, the culture house also caters to foreigners although I do believe that Stephen and myself were the only foreigners in attendance that night. There are stage performances like what we saw, traditional cultural workshops, a traditional teahouse, and a traditional souvenir store. 
And then there are the experiences programs -- school children, housewives, foreigners and probably a lot more like these:
Experience Programs: 
Make Knot Accessories 15,000 won
Needle Sewing Arts 15,000 won
Make Hanji (Korean paper) Ornaments 15,000 won
Make Ceramic Cups 20,000 won
Patterned Fan Coloring 10,000 won
Rubbed Copy Program 10,000 won
Taekgyeon (traditional military martial arts) 10,000 won
Traditional Korean Bongsan Masked Dance 10,000 won
Learn Pungmul (traditional Korean percussions) 10,000 won

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