Korean Dance: Pure Emotion and Energy (Korea Essentials No.15)

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korea essentials No. 15

Korean Dance Pure Emotion and Energy

Korean Dance Pure Emotion and Energy

korea essentials No. 15

Korean Dance Pure Emotion and Energy Copyright Š 2013 by The Korea Foundation All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher. Published in 2013 by Seoul Selection B1 Korean Publishers Association Bldg., 105-2 Sagan-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-190, Korea Phone: (82-2) 734-9567 Fax: (82-2) 734-9562 Email: publisher@seoulselection.com Website: www.seoulselection.com ISBN: 978-89-97639-40-3 ISBN: 978-89-91913-70-7

04080 (set)

Printed in the Republic of Korea

Contents Introduction 6 Chapter 1

Spirit of the People 10 Respect for Nature / Self-expression / Highly Emotional / Stillness / Verticality / Props Chapter 2

Folk Dance 20 Commoner Dances / Professional Dances / Ritual Dance Chapter 3

Court Dance 40 Dangak Jeongjae / Hyangak Jeongjae Chapter 4

The History of Korean Dance 56 Prehistoric Dances / Gojoseon / The Three Kingdoms / Goryeo Dynasty / Joseon Dynasty / New Traditional Dance Chapter 5

Modern Dance 70 Ballet / B-boying / Meet the Crews / Competing on the Global Scene Chapter 6

Dancers and Choreographers 82 The Dances of Royalty / Touches of Modernity / Preserving Tradition

Appendix National Gugak Center 94 Modern Traditional Performance Halls 97 Education Centers 100

Delving Deeper • The Anatomy of Movement 18 • The Movements of the Court 55 • The Incense Burner of Baekje 62 • Other Performances 81 • Choi Seung-hee 88



Dance has been a medium for understanding the philosophy of and emotions behind a culture. This is especially the case for a country with a vast and complex history like Korea. Unfortunately, few documents and artifacts remain to tell the full story of dance as practiced in ancient Korea. What few artifacts do exist, however, shows a dynamic tradition of bringing together surrounding cultures with unique expressions of Korean creativity. Korean dance is a tradition that includes every form of contemporary dance in the country, from shamanistic to folk, court to modern traditional dance, and even breakdancing. Over the past several centuries, each of these unique dance forms has attempted to convey the Korean psyche. Shamanic dances were early expressions of religiosity and spirituality; folk dances tapped into the collective spirit and emotions of the masses; and court dances displayed the principles and values of a highly structured Confucian society. Throughout Korea’s history, music and dance have grown together hand-in-hand. Though numerous wars and colonization devastated many traditional arts in Korea, a surprising number of ancient song and dance routines have survived and are still performed today. A preservation movement that began in the early 1900s speaks volumes about the importance that music and dance play in Korean society. Korean folk and court dances have recently seen a revival in interest, and the influence of the Western culture has allowed centuries-old dances to be preserved and performed across the globe.


This book aims to examine Korean dance from its primitive roots to the complex court rituals and on to the pop culture styles of today. What sets Korean dance apart from those of other cultures will also be explored. Readers will be able to delve into its broad range of forms and long history and gain a better understanding of its role in society. Then will come profiles of influential people who have preserved Korea’s dance tradition and shaped it into its modern form, and where these performances can be experienced.

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Spirit of the People 11

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.� - Martha Graham


Chapter One

Spirit of the People


ance is not the creation of a single individual but an entire culture developed by many people through the ages, gradually changing and being polished over time. As such, it is a valuable cultural heritage that embodies the character and emotions of a people and reflects the spirit of the times. Each movement and each step in dance, therefore, impart a sense of the history and lives of people of the past. The underlying spirit of Korean dance comes from Eastern religion and philosophy, and its profound spiritual background is derived from the rhythm of nature, which arises from a state of selfrenunciation. If dance is an intensified expression of the exhilaration of life, Korean dance reflects an accord between labor and art that connects work, shamanic rites, amusement, and drama into one comprehensive art.

Spirit of the People 13

Respect for Nature The spiritual base of Korean dance is respect for nature and freedom of expression. Koreans have always believed that people, as a natural phenomenon, must adapt to nature. They came to consider nature as mystical and the most beautiful thing in existence, and learned to abhor any behavior that damaged or went against it. Korean dance is often said to display the art of artlessness, the organization of the unplanned, a simple grace, and the spirit of fun.

Self-expression Korean folk dance is very improvisational; it lacks a set format and consequently has no set movements or big changes in formation. Self-expression is a strong characteristic of Korean folk dance. Hallyangmu, Korean noblemen’s dance


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Chapter Two

Folk Dance


he folk dance of any culture is unique, and the number of folk dance types can be as high as the world population, with numerous varieties existing at the same time in any culture. In feudal Korea, folk dance belonged to the non-ruling class, namely the farmers, fishermen, merchants, and tradesmen; they were not simply observers but participants in the dance. In general, folk dance was communal, a concept comprising both the idea of “the masses” and that of “cooperation.” So while each person might have danced alone inside the group, he or she was still taking part in a form of mass or group dance. Folk dances such as farmers’ music and dance (nongakchum) and dances to vocal accompaniment (sorichum) strengthened internal unity and the ability to resist external forces, thus fostering strong solidarity within the group. Communal dance and music helped to

Folk Dance 23

animate work in the fields and promote friendship among the villagers, and through this, a sense of community was created. When handed down through the village, folk dance cultivated a sense of oneness that manifested itself as social cohesion. Aside from its communal role and function in everyday life, folk dance also helped relieve emotional anguish. Examples of such dances are nongakchum and sorichum, or types of unstructured free dance, and those that imitate animals or people. An expression of fun and artistry as well as a way to relieve tension, folk dance brought vitality to life and promoted an awareness of beauty. The general practice is to divide Korean dance into the two broad categories of court dance and folk dance. Under folk dance, however, no distinction has been made between dances of the Nongakchum, farmers’ music and dance


42 Korean Dance: Pure Emotion and Energy

Chapter Three

Court Dance


magine being in Korea 200 hundred years ago, standing under the curved, tiled roof of a palace banquet hall. The king is seated at the north end of the dining table with the queen next to him. From the south end, a group of musicians adorned in crimson costumes begin to play their instruments. Surrounding the musicians are row after row of soldiers carrying flags and dancers wearing brightly colored costumes. As the king dines with his subjects, the music flows and the dancers follow with quiet, gentle movements. Such scenes were typical of court dances, which were then known as jeongjae, or “dedication to the monarch” or “dedicated talent.” The dances were acts of honor in which dancers displayed their talents in front of a high-ranking official or guest. As such, these dances were treated considerably differently from traditional folk and ritual dances.

Court Dance 43

Korean court dance deals with several themes: i) wishing for the longevity of the king, ii) celebrating the anniversary of the king’s ascension to the throne, iii) praising the virtues of the royal court, iv) extolling the benevolent rule and politics of the king, v) blessings for the prosperity of the royal family, and vi) wishing for the peace and prosperity of the nation. As an art form dealing with the mentioned themes and performed in events hosted by royal palaces, court dance was not an expression of individual emotion or sentiment but rather of national character and inclinations. In general, the art is dignified, slow and elegant and follows strict rules and procedures. During the Three Kingdoms period to the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, when Buddhism was the ruling ideology, court dance featured many Buddhist-influenced movements. During the Joseon Dynasty, however, Buddhism was suppressed in favor of neoReenactment of a Joseon-period palace banquet

44 Korean Dance: Pure Emotion and Energy

Seonyurak, boat dance from a folding screen depicting a royal banquet in 1848 (part)

Confucianism. This had a direct impact on dance movements and formations, resulting in more restrained orderly movements whereby emotional expression was suppressed. Court dance is performed according to fixed movements developed in the royal court of the Silla period through the Joseon Dynasty. Historical documents describe 58 basic court dance movements based on Eastern philosophies, particularly the theory of yin and yang and the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth, and metal). The dances were used to express the concepts of harmony and conflict arising from the flow of energy from one element to the next. Court dances are divided into two categories: dangak jeongjae, or dances brought in from China during the Goryeo Dynasty, and hyangak jeongjae, or native Korean dances.

Court Dance 45

Dangak Jeongjae Dangak jeongjae fall into one of two types: dances imported from China or those created in Korea in the Chinese style. To earn the Chinese designation, the dance had to include three things: pole bearers (jukganja), an opening refrain (guho), and a song praising the king (chisa or chieo). The pole bearers led the dancers on and off the stage and the songs were sung in the original versions based on Chinese characters.

Monggeumcheok (Dream of the Golden Ruler Dance) Geumcheok, literally meaning “golden ruler,” is a dance based on the dream of Yi Seong-gye, who later founded the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897) as King Taejo. In the dream, a celestial being descended from heaven and handed Yi a golden ruler, telling him to use it to set the nation right. The story of this oracle was put to

Reenactment of monggeumcheok (dream of the golden ruler dance)


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Chapter Four

The History of Korean Dance


istory has not been kind to the preservation of Korean dance. Many relics and artwork that would have offered indications of how dance fit into ancient Korean society were destroyed in wars or lost to time. What existing relics do show is that the country has had a dance for thousands of years, evolving from primitive hunting dances to highly refined expressions of royal exaltation and emotional displays. Regardless of how primitive the movement, Korean dance has always tapped into emotions and expressed the fears and struggles of daily living. This chapter will explore the roles dance has played throughout Korean history and the change and evolution of its forms along with the people performing it. The effects of ideology and politics on the styles and venues of performing arts will also be explored, as well as a deeper understanding of dance’s role in modern Korean society.

The History of Korean Dance 59

Prehistoric Dances Relics dating back as far as 600,000 years provide a window into life on the ancient Korean Peninsula, but few provide hints about prehistoric dance. A picture of prehistoric dance traditions has been taken from the few relics that have remained intact over the ages. The Bangudae rock carvings in the southern port city of Ulsan are among the most important existing clues for understanding the ancient arts of Korea. The carvings depict hunters, shaman-like men, and animals characterized by a kind of prehistoric hunting dance. The importance of the relationship between people and animals and nature for survival is underscored in these dances. As they danced, the hunters held the tools of their trade: spears, bows and arrows, and other daily instruments. The shaman-like men wore animal skins and costumes of the animals they intended to hunt. Cliff paintings discovered at Bangudae in Gyeongsangnam-do province, believed to have been painted in the Neolithic or Bronze Age.


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Chapter Five

Modern Dance

Ballet Though Western dance was introduced to Korea in the early 1900s, not until 1962 was ballet seriously explored with the founding of the Korean National Ballet Company. Based in the Myeong-dong district of Seoul, the company spent its first decade building a diverse repertoire and introducing ballet to audiences for the first time in Korea. By 1973, it had moved from Myeong-dong to Jangchung-dong and began performing more actively, doing fulllength works for the first time and hiring its first choreographer. The company performed classical pieces and original works that fused traditional Korean stories with ballet. In 1974, under the direction of Lim Sung-nam, the company performed its first original work, The Dream of Jigwi. The setting is the era of the unified Silla Kingdom and the plot is centered around the love story of General

Modern Dance 73

Jigwi and Queen Seondok. In addition to its classical repertoire, the company also performs contemporary works choreographed by ballet giants such as Yuri Grigorovich and Jean-Christophe Maillot. After 35 years of hard work, the company finally step onto the global scene in 1997 with a major world tour. Starting in Egypt and Israel, it performed in major countries throughout Europe and Asia including Poland, Russia, China, and Japan. The company’s productions of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Carmina Burana, and other major works received great media praise in the United States and Russia. The critical acclaim led to an invitation to perform Spartacus with Russia’s Novosibirsk Ballet Company in 2007 as well another from the International Ballet Festival in Lodz, Poland, to do Swan Lake. With a host of awards under its belt, the company has popularized ballet in Korea and set a precedent for Korean ballet on Members of the Korean National Ballet rehearse for Giselle


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Chapter Six

Dancers and Choreographers


strong history and appreciation for dance have given rise to a number of important historical figures that have influenced Korean dance culture. Court dances required a large amount of thought and planning due to their importance in royal ceremonies, and their choreography was often left in the hands of important people. Though folk and ritual dances were, more often than not, collective creations with blurry origins, a number of important dancers remain today to preserve and perform the original forms of the dances. This chapter will explore the important historical figures that created court dances, the people preserving folk and ritual dances, and the modern choreographers that have created new traditional dances.

Dancers and Choreographers 85

The Dances of Royalty Most would think that a king would hardly put much of his precious time into dance, but King Sejong (r. 1418–1450) wielded major influence over the shaping of Korean court dance as it is known today. During the Joseon period, he set a new direction for royal dance. Rather than simply adopting the performances of the previous Goryeo Dynasty, King Sejong saw merit in forming new dances reflecting the new philosophies and spirit of his kingdom. The repertoire of dances grew more diverse, and with them came a host of new musical scores. Each piece was infused with neo-Confucian ethics, and the theory of yin and yang and the five elements became much more central to the choreography. Under his reign, court dances were elevated as visual representations of propriety and art. The pieces he influenced were solemn and structured, which became the defining characteristic of dances from the Joseon era. Dances that exalted the nation’s foundation and the merits of King This reproduction of a feast from the 15th year of the reign of King Sejong (1433) is held at Gyeongbokgung Palace to commemorate his birthday.


ance has been a medium for understanding the philosophy of and emotions behind a culture. This is especially true for a country with a vast and complex history like Korea. Korean dance is a tradition that includes every form of contemporary dance in the country, from shamanistic to folk, court to modern traditional dance, and even breakdancing. Over the past several centuries, each of these unique dance forms has attempted to convey the Korean psyche. This book aims to examine Korean dance from its primitive roots to the complex court rituals and on to the pop culture styles of today. What sets Korean dance apart from that of other cultures will also be explored. Finally, readers will be able to delve into its broad range of forms and long history and gain a better understanding of its role in society.

9,800 won / US$ 18.00

ISBN 978-89-97639-40-3 ISBN 978-89-91913-70-7 (set)

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