Hot Potatoes: Research on Pansori in English, French, and German #europansori

It’s rare to get paid for academic publications but the Korean-language article I’d like to briefly introduce here actually earned me some money! I received it with my author’s contract after dinner, pre-Covid. The book arrived in early 2000 and the first to notice were the librarians of Ewha Womans University (my workplace) who kindly requested a copy.

More important than all this was the honor to be part of this project and the opportunity to publish in Korean. The book is basically a collected papers volume by Prof. Chun In Pyong (전인평), eminent scholar of Korean, Asian, and other musics, editor of Asian Musicology, formerly of Chung-Ang University (중앙대학교) and now in retirement but more productive than ever! Besides fifteen chapters by him – on topics spanning centuries and the continent –, there is one more by Seo Jeongmae (서정매) on Buddhist music as well as mine on pansori research outside of Korea. The book can be ordered in book stores (in Korea, obviously) and online (e.g. at Aladin) and is available in the library of Ewha Womans University (as well as elsewhere).

“Hot Potatoes of the Korean Music Scene”

“Hot Potatoes of the Korean Music Scene” (2020)

The title of the book, 한국 음악계의 뜨거운 감자, is absolutely great, literally “Hot Potatoes of the Korean Music Scene”. While many of Prof. Chun’s chapters have a controversial edge, I’m not sure if mine qualifies as hot. Hopefully it’s nourishing, though, with a comparative overview of current (in 2019) scholarship on pansori published in English, French, and German. 

Below, I provide the English abstract and my slightly edited bibliography (leaving out encyclopedia entries and other general references) that might be helpful for anyone approaching pansori from abroad. A few translations of pansori songs in French and German are also included, although a more complete list would be a topic for another post.

— 16 October 2019 (水)

Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)

A History of Overseas Research on Pansori, including English, French, and German Language Publications

Pansori is arguably one of the Korean traditional performing arts best-known abroad. Besides guest performances and translations, academic scholars also conduct research on pansori. This paper explores the different contexts, trajectories, and approaches that inform research on pansori conducted overseas, as well as the results and their significance. Publications considered include theses on the MA- and PhD-level, research monographs, and papers published in journals or edited volumes. Further criteria for inclusion are 1) publication outside of Korea, 2) publication in English, French, or German, and 3) a clear focus on pansori.
The terminology and descriptions for pansori that are used in encyclopedic entries on Korean culture, music and theatre, as well as pre-modern testimonies about pansori performances by early Western visitors to Korea show that interest developed early and includes various perspectives on the genre. It was not until the 1970s, though, that overseas research on pansori began to emerge fully.
Following Marshall Pihl, who wrote the first PhD-dissertation on pansori in English after spending time as an exchange student in Korea, graduate students from Korea went abroad, to the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and France, and introduced pansori to academia. Since the 1990s, doctoral theses on pansori rooted in fieldwork in Korea emerged in the field of ethnomusicology and were later published as books. In recent years, overseas pansori research began to employ more diverse methodologies, particularly from the field of theatre and performance studies, also including non-traditional ways of performing pansori, such as newly-written works (changjak pansori) and changgeuk (staged pansori).
The “exchange” researchers since the 1970s include Marshall Pihl, Woo Ok Kim, Sohn Yong-Chan, Wha-Byong Lee, Kyo-chul Chung, Daihyun Kim, Sung-Sook Y. Chung, and Ra Jin-Hwan. The “fieldwork” researchers since the 1990s include Haekyung Um, Chan E. Park, Yeonok Jang, Heather Willoughby, and Andrew Killick. The “interdisciplinary” researchers since the 2000s include Han Yumi, Anna Yates-Lu, Dorothea Suh, and Jan Creutzenberg. Recent publications by scholars such as Patrice Pavis, Jozefina Komporaly, Tara McAllister-Viel, Konstantinos Thomaidis, Ruth Mueller and others contribute to the growing body of overseas pansori research, while focusing on wider questions.
Nowadays, those who see, study, and sing pansori are not restricted to Korea, as could be seen at a symposium on “Pansori in Europe” held in Berlin in 2017. The “internationalization” of pansori research will further evolve and diversify, promising new perspectives on the possibilities of this artistic practice and cultural heritage.

  • 이안 코이츤베악. 2020. 「해외의 판소리 연구사 – 영어, 독일어, 프랑스어 문헌을 중심으로」,전인평 외,『한국 음악계의 뜨거운 감자』, 396–416. 서울: 아시아음악학회.
  • Jan Creutzenberg. 2020. “Haoe ui pansori yeongu sa: yeong-eo, dogil-eo, peurangseu-eo munheoneul jungsimeuro” (A History of Overseas Research on Pansori, including English, French, and German Language Publications). In: Chun In Pyong (Jeon In-pyeong), Seo Jeongmae, and Jan Creutzenberg, Hanguk eumakgye ui tteugeoun gamja (The Hot Issues of the Korean Music Society), 396–416. Seoul: Council for Asian Musicology.

Bibliography of pansori-related research (until 2019):

  • Choe Key-sook [최기숙], Han Yumi [한유미]. 2017. Bonjour Pansori ! Pansori et Changgeuk à l’âge de la globalisation. Paris: Editions Imago.
  • Chung, Kyo-chul [정교철]. 1997. Studien zu P’ansori: Ein Beitrag zu Geschichte, Wesensstruktur und Gestaltungsprinzipien des koreanischen Epengesangs. Seoul: Hice (= Phd-dissertation, Universität Köln, 1993).
  • Chung, Sung-Sook Y. [정성숙]. 1998. The Impact of Yin and Yang Ideology in the Art of Korean P’ansori Tradition: An Analytical Study Based on the Late Mme. Pak Nok-Ju Version of P’ansori Hungbo-ga. Phd-dissertation, University of California – Santa Barbara.
  • Creutzenberg, Jan. 2011. “The Good Person of Korea: Lee Jaram’s Sacheon-ga as a Dialogue between Brecht and Pansori.” Brecht Yearbook 36: 225–238. Storrs, CT: International Brecht Society.
  • —. 2013. “From Traditional Opera to Modern Music Theatre? Recent Experiments in Ch’anggŭk.” Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch 88: 87–102.
  • —. 2017. Creating Community: Moments of “We” in Contemporary Pansori Performances. Phd-dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Theaterwissenschaft.
  • Han, You Mee [한유미 = Han Yumi]. 2012. Le pansori, patrimoine coréen sous sa triple dimension littéraire, musicale et scénique: histoire, analyse et perspectives. Phd-dissertation, Université Paris 7 – Diderot.
  • Han Yumi [한유미]. 2015a. Le pansori: un art de la scène, patrimoine coréen vivant. Besançon: Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté.
  • —. 2015b. “La réception du pansori en France.” Théâtre/Public 218 (octobre).
  • —. 2015c. “Le pansori, une identité complexe.” Théâtre/Public 218 (octobre).
  • Jang, Yeonok [장연옥]. 2000. Development and Change in Korean Narrative Song, P’ansori. Phd-dissertation, University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • —. 2001. “P’ansori Performance Style: Audience Responses and Singers’ Perspectives.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 10.2: 99-121.
  • —. 2014. Korean P’ansori Singing Tradition: Development, Authenticity, and Performance History. Plymouth: Scarecrow Press.
  • Killick, Andrew. 1997. “Putting P’ansori on the Stage: A Re-study in Honor of Marshall R. Pihl.” Korea Journal 37.1: 108-130.
  • —. 1998a. The Invention of Traditional Korean Opera and the Problem of the Traditionesque: Ch’anggŭk and its Relation to P’ansori Narratives. Phd-dissertation, University of Washington.
  • —. 1998b. “Ch’anggŭk: Re-making P’ansori as ‘Korean Traditional Opera’.” Korean Culture 19.2-3:4-13.
  • —. 2001a. “Ch’anggŭk Opera and the Category of the ‘Traditionesque’.” Korean Studies 25.1: 51–71.
  • —. 2001b. “The Traditional Opera of the Future? Ch’anggŭk’s First Century.” In: Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond, edited by Nathan Hesselink, 22-53. Berkeley: Center for Korean Studies, University of California.
  • —. 2002. “Korean Ch’angguk Opera: Its Origins and its Origin Myth.” Asian Music 33.2:43-82.
  • —. 2003. “Jockeying for Tradition: The Checkered History of Korean Ch’anggŭk Opera.” Asian Theatre Journal 20.1: 43–70.
  • —. 2010. In Search of Korean Traditional Opera: Discourses of Ch’anggŭk. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
  • Kim, Daihyun [김대현]. 1997. P’ansori als Aufführungskunst. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag (= Phd-dissertation, Universität Bochum, 1995).
  • Kim, Woo Ok [김우옥]. 1980. P’ansori: An Indigenous Theater of Korea. Phd-dissertation, New York University, Department of Drama.
  • Komporaly, Jozefina. 2017. “Adaptation at the Crossroads: Cultural Syncretism and Multimodality in Performance(ZU-UK, Pansori Project ZA).” Chapter 6 in: Radical Revival as Adaptation: Theatre, Politics, Society, 161–196. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Lee, Wha-Byong [이화병]. 1991. Studien zur Pansori-Musik in Korea. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang (= Phd-dissertation, Universität Hamburg, 1990).
  • Lee, Yong-Shik [이용식], editor. 2008. Pansori. Seoul: National Gugak Center.
  • —. 2001. “A Cross-Cultural Examination of Breath and Sound Production in Pansori.” In: The Voice in Violence and other Contemporary Issues in Professional Voice and Speech Training, edited by Rocco Dal Vera, 297-311. Cincinatti: Voice and Speech Trainers Association.
  • —. 2006. Toward an Intercultural/Interdisciplinary Approach to Train Actors’ Voices. Phd-dissertation, University of Exeter.
  • —. 2007. “Speaking with an international voice?” Contemporary Theatre Review 17.1: 97-106.
  • —. 2015. “Training Actors’ Voices: Towards an Intercultural/Interdisciplinary Approach.” In: Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience, edited by Konstantinos Thomaidis, Ben Macpherson, 49–63. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Mueller, Ruth. 2013. Female Participation in South Korean Traditional Music: Late Chosŏn to the Present Day. Phd-dissertation, University of Sheffield, Department of Music, 2013.
  • Park-Miller, Chan Eung [박찬응 = Chan E. Park]. 1995. P’ansori Performed: From Strawmat to Proscenium and Back. Phd-dissertation, University of Hawai‘i.
  • Park, Chan E. [박찬응 = Chan Eung Park-Miller]. 1998a. “Playful Reconstruction of Gender in P’ansori Storytelling.” Korean Studies 22: 62-81.
  • —. 1998b. “Why Recitative, Instead of Just Speaking or Singing, in P’ansori Storytelling?” In: Perspectives on Korea, edited by Sang-Oak, Duk-Soo Park, 499–510. Sydney: Wild Peony.
  • —. 1998c. “P’ansori in Trans-National Context: The Global Transmission of Korean Performance Tradition.” Korean Culture, 19: 14–21.
  • —. 1999. “P’ansori, the Ancient Art of Storytelling.” In: Traditional Storytelling Today: An International Sourcebook, edited by Margaret Read McDonald, 122–29. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn.
  • —. 2000. “‘Authentic Audience’ in P’ansori, a Korean Storytelling Tradition.” Journal of American Folklore 113 (Summer): 270-286
  • —. 2003. Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
  • —. 2003. “Poetics and Politics of Korean Oral Tradition in a Cross-cultural Context.” The World of Music 45.3: 91-103.
  • Pavis, Patrice. 2017. “Is Modernized Pansori Political? On Lee Jaram’s Ukchuk-Ga (Mother Courage and her Children).” Chapter 9 in: Performing Korea, 153-174. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Pihl, Marshall R. 1974. The Tale of Sim Ch’ŏng: A Korean Oral Narrative. Phd-dissertation, Harvard University.
  • —. 1984a. “Dramatic Structure and Narrative Technique in the Korean Oral Narrative, P’ansori.” Korea Journal 24.11 (Nov.): 27-32.
  • —. 1984b. “The Korean Singer of Tales.” Korea Journal 24.10 (Oct.): 21-31.
  • —. 1991. “Putting P’ansori on the Stage.” Korea Journal 31.1 (Spring): 110-119.
  • —. 1994. The Korean Singer of Tales. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Ra, Jin-Hwan [나진환]. 2001. L’acte ethique dans le processus creatif du performer de p’ansori. Phd-dissertation, Université Paris 8: Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Department of Theatre.
  • Sohn Yong-Chan [손영찬]. 1984. Pan-Sori: Das koreanische Singspiel. Phd-dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, Altertumswissenschaften.
  • Suh, Dorothea. 2012. “The Importance of Korean P’ansori for National Identity.” Working Papers in Korean Studies 35: 3–16. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • —. 2016. “Achim Freyers Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King: Eine Interpretation des koreanischen P’ansori Sugungga” In: Musik – Politik – Identität, edited by Matthew Gardner, Hanna Walsdorf엮음, 183–97. Göttingen: Göttingen University Press.
  • Thomaidis, Konstantinos. 2013. The Grain of a Vocal Genre: A Comparative Approach to the Singing Pedagogies of EVDC Integrative Performance Practice, Korean Pansori, and the Centre for Theatre Practices ‘Gardzienice’. Phd-dissertation, University of London – Royal Holloway, Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance.
  • Um, Hae-kyung [엄혜경]. 1992. Making P’ansori: Korean Musical Drama. Phd-dissertation, Queen’s University, Belfast.
  • —. 2000. “Listening Patterns and Identity of the Korean Diaspora in the Former USSR.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 9.2: 121-142.
  • —. 2007. “New P’ansori in Twenty-first-Century Korea: Creative Dialectics of Tradition and Modernity.” Asian Theatre Journal 25.1: 24-57.
  • —. 2013. Korean Musical Drama: P’ansori and the Making of Tradition in Modernity. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Willoughby, Heather. 2000. “The Sound of Han: P’ansori, Timbre and a Korean Ethos of Pain and Suffering.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 32: 17–30.
  • —. 2002. The Sound of Han: P’ansori, Timbre, and a South Korean Discourse of Sorrow and Lament. Phd-dissertation, Columbia University.
  • Yates-Lu, Anna. 2017. P’ansori Today: Reconciling Tradition and Creativity in Modern Society. Phd-dissertation, University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies, Department of Music.
  • —. 2019. “Aligning Tradition and Creativity: Preserving Pansori in South Korea.” International Journal of Intangible Heritage 14: 49–65.

Translations of pansori songs (German and French):

  • Chung Kyochul [정교철], Matthias R. Entreß, translators. 2005. Pansori: Die gesungenen Romane Koreas, Bd. 1: Gesänge von Liebe, Treue und listigen Tieren [German translation of 춘향가, 심청가, 수궁가]. Thunum/Ostfriesland: Edition Peperkorn.
  • Han Yumi [한유미], Hervé Péjaudier, translators. 2001. Le dit de Heungbo [French translation of 흥보가]. Paris: Éditions HYM-Librairie Galerie Racine.
  • —. 2010. Le Dit de Sichuan [French translation of 사천가]. By Lee Jaram [이자람]. Paris: Éditions Imago.
  • —. 2012. Sugungga, Le dit du palais sous les mers [French translation of 수궁가]. Paris: Éditions Imago.

Early Western writings on Korean music, including references to pansori:

  • Boots, J. L. 1940. “Korean Musical Instruments and An Introduction to Korean Music.” Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 30: 1–32. Seoul: Y.M.C.A. Press.
  • Eckardt, Andreas. 1930. Koreanische Musik. Tokyo: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- u. Völkerkunde Ostasiens. [reprint: Musik-Lied-Tanz in Korea. Bonn: H. Bouvier, 1968.]
  • Griffis, William Elliot. 1882. Corea: the Hermit Nation. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Hulbert, Homer B. 1896. “Korean Vocal Music.” The Korean Repository (February): 45–53.
  • —. 1906. The Passing of Korea. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.
Posted in Bibliographics, Pansori, Publication | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Whose Tradition? Acknowledgement, Adaptation, and Ownership in Korean Performing Arts (#AAP2021 Online Conference Paper)

This addendum provides some additional links and videos on the songs, choreographies, and performances I discuss in my paper “Whose Tradition? Acknowledgement, Adaptation, and Ownership in Korean Performing Arts”. I present the paper on August 2, 2021 (22:30 KST), at this year’s conference of the Association for Asian Performance (AAP), like last year held fully online (and “attendance” is free for most).

Different from my other conference papers this summer – one on live remediations of the pansori-movie Seopyeonje (CLAM), a long-held interest, and one that continues my exploration of pansori theatre and its position in (or in-between) South Korean art scenes (IFTR, earlier papers at AAP 2020 and AAS 2021), this one is rather wide in scope and also a bit experimental and exploratory, drawing inspiration from the works of various colleagues, including inspired by research by Choi Haeree (on dance copyright), CedarBough Saeji (heritage performers and K-pop stars as “cultural ambassadors of the nation”, see a recent talk at UBC online), and Jocelyn Clark (customs and law in traditional music).

After the abstract of my paper, you find some links to related resources and videos that I mention in my presentation (in order to stay in time, I decided to not show any clips).


 

Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)

Whose Tradition? Acknowledgement, Adaptation, and Ownership in Korean Performing Arts

Tradition offers a sense of belonging – but to whom does tradition itself belong? This is not a rhetorical question, as the case of Samgomu (“Three Drum Dance”) by Korean “Living Cultural Treasure” Yi Maebang (1925–2015), its use in contemporary choreographies by the National Dance Company and BTS, and the subsequent copyright claim by Yi’s heirs shows. The ensuing debate on the intellectual property of traditional dance may be a symptom of an increasing overlap of different art worlds. For my paper, it serves as a starting point to think about how tradition functions in Korean performing arts today.

As part of the cultural heritage, traditional culture may appear like an inexhaustible common good: Everyone can use whatever is needed. In reality, things are not as clear-cut. Traditionally trained artists face the challenge of stepping out of their teachers’ shadows to make a name for themselves, as well as a living. At the same time, representative “brand” productions incorporate traditions in the name of the nation without necessarily acknowledging their makers. Performances in a traditional framework tend to be staged as collective efforts, cementing communal hierarchies, or as anonymous specimen in a musealized display.

By discussing various performance examples, including a choreographed response to the Samgomu-controversy, I explore how performers navigate between acknowledging the past and creating new, relevant art. Is traditional material flexible enough for recontextualization and adaptation? Does that entail a change of ownership? And what is the effect on its communal binding forces when used for individual expression?

This paper takes a walk through contemporary Korean debates surrounding traditional performing arts, their usage, and the artistic autonomy of their makers.

Can Tradition be Copyrighted? A Symposium on #dancecopyright

I start with the Yi Maebang/Samgomu-case mentioned in the abstract, which caught my attention back in 2019. My blogpost on the case, partly inspired by a symposium, provides the most basic information. Here are further links to the parties involved:

First, the Ubong Lee Mae-bang Art Company (우봉이매방아트컴퍼니) that represents Yi’s family (Lee and Yi are differently romanized spellings of the same family name 이 and Ubong was his stage name): The official homepage offers an overview on Yi’s life and art, with Samgomu (and other drum dances) listed under “traditional dance” (전통춤) > drum dances (고무 鼓舞).

Lee Maebang performing Samgomu in  the early 1950s (via Ubong Lee Mae-bang Art Company 우봉이매방아트컴퍼니)

Lee Maebang performing Samgomu in the early 1950s (via Ubong Lee Mae-bang Art Company)

As the matter has been resolved legally, the homepage links to the preservation society (see below) and lists on its news board various contracts with different institutions for the usage of Yi’s dances.

In addition, the Art Company’s Youtube channel offers quite a number of historical footage showing Yi perform the traditonal dances seungmu (승무, “monk’s dance”) and salpuri-chum (살푸리춤, a kind of exorcism dance), the two genres for which he was selected as “Living Cultural Treasure” (No. 27 in 1987 and No. 97 in 1990, respectively). There’s also a playlist with interview sections in which Yi talks about his creation of Samgomu (and variations with five or seven drums, Ogomu and Chilgomu). The channel is relatively new and all videos seem to have been uploaded within a year or so, therefore I guess that this was in reaction to allegations that Yi was not (the only) creator of these dances… (which for instance Hwang Hui-jeong’s paper, listed below, argues, also based on a video with earlier versions of Samgomu uploaded by Facebook user 이기왕 in 2019 – I remember that scenes from that video were also shown at the symposium mentioned above).

Second, the Society for the Preservation of Ubong Lee Mae-bang’s Dances (우봉이매방춤보존회) that consists of dancers who studied with Yi: Their Facebook page introduces the society as “a group of students whose aim is the direct transmission of the late ‘Ubong’ Yi Maebang’s dances” (故 우봉 이매방의 춤을 올곧게 전승하고자 하는 후학들의 모임).
In a post from January 12, 2020, the amendment of [dance] copyright legislation is announced and the society’s different activities that contributed to this outcome are listed.

In addition to the literature listed in my 2019 blogpost, there is a new article that takes recent developments into account:

  • 황희정, “<이매방삼고무>의 발생과 진화 과정”, 우리춤과 과학기술 17.1 (2021, 통권 52호): 53-78. (open access)
  • Hwang Hui-jeong, “A Study on the Genesis and Evolution of Leemaebang’s ‘Samgomu’”, Urichum-gwa Gwahak Gisul 17.1 (2021): 53–78.

Once again, this is the video of the BTS live show at the Melon Music Awards 2018 that sparked the controversy – the drumming scene is early in the video, followed by other (semi-)traditional dance scenes:

Interestingly, a stage show for Shakira’s 2009 song “Did it Again” (and the video, very briefly) features a LA-based Korean dance troupe with performing Samgomu, as (proudly?) reported by the Chosun Ilbo (Oct. 29, 2009, in English). This is her appearance on “X Factor” (Nov. 15, 2009).

While the Shakira act was rarely mentioned (I learned of it either from Choi Haeree’s talk or Lee Seiseung’s choreographic response to the copyright controversy), the “National Brand” production The Banquet (향연 饗宴 – yes, that’s the same word used for Plato’s Symposium!) by the National Dance Company of Korea (국립무용단) from 2015 also included a scene of Ogomun (five-drum-dance) performed by ten dancers (the promotion video has been deleted, though).

Scene from “The Banquet” (향연) by the National Dance Company of Korea (via National Theater 국립극장)

Scene from “The Banquet” (향연) by the National Dance Company of Korea (via National Theater)

Now, after this short intro, I follow the three concepts my paper is based on – acknowledgement, adaptation, and ownership – to consider some more general mechanisms of traditional performing arts. In a way, the Yi Maebang-Samgomu-case is particular because it’s not really a traditional dance (i.e. an old dance transmitted for generations) but was allegedly invented by Yi in the 1950s and only has the air of being traditional (“traditionesque”, in Killick’s terms)…

1. Acknowledgement

In the first section, I discuss how pansori singers acknowledge their lineage, both formally and performatively, with examples from full-length (wanchang 완창) performances and a lecture concert by Park In-hye (박인혜) in which she re-enacts the actual training process.

Regarding wanchang pansori, the most recent performances I saw, Park Seong-hwan singing Jeokbyeok-ga in the junggo-je style (박성환 중고제 적벽가 완창), was quite extraordinary – and unusual! (See a 20-minute clip from an earlier performance in Gongju on Youtube)

Park In-hye’s lecture concert titled “Methods of Pansori Notation” (판소리 악보의 채보 방법) took place at Doosan Art Center, part of the “Doosan Art Lab” of experimental formats there, in January 2017. Using projections of her notes and singing occasionally with a student of hers, Park talked about how she learned pansori singing from her teacher Seong Chang-sun (성창순, 1934–2017). A well known pansori master and “Living Cultural Treasure”, Seong had just passed away the day before, which gave the whole evening a different note. A short highlight video (Park’s performance is featured one minute in) gives some impressions.

2. Adaptation

In the second section, I briefly touch on the usage of pansori in advertising, like in this ad for the 2020 parliament election that adapts the “Love Song” (사랑가) from Chunhyang-ga (“이리 오너라 정책을 보자…”).

(pansori-pop-band Leenalchi also features in some ads recently – I’ve seen chicken and cellphones).

I mostly focus on performances where pansori acts as a representative of Korean tradition, though, such as the “Extraordinary Encounter on Saturday” (토요명품공연), the weekly potpourri show at the National Gugak Center (see the August 2021 program).

Likewise relevant in the context of “national brand” performances are, I believe, the National Theater’s changgeuk productions. Changgeuk, staged pansori performed by an ensemble cast, is a “traditionesque” genre that relies on the air of traditionality provided by pansori. While earlier changgeuk productions have stressed their pansori-base, for instance by using an on-stage narrator or by sticking closely to the pansori lyrics (that is, one of the many versions or, more often, Sin Jae-hyo’s [신재효, 1812-84] mid-19th-century compilations), more recent works by theatre or musical directors known for their peculiar styles stress seem to treat the pansori works they’re based on more as material for adaptation than a model to aspire to… I’ve written on recent trends in changgeuk in an earlier post, which also includes some video excerpts (full historical recordings can be found at the National Theater’s archives).

3. Ownership

Finally, in the concluding section, I take a slightly more abstract perspective on the concept of ownership with regards to performing arts. One case I mention is Lee Seiseung’s experimental choreography (or lecture performance?) simply titled Samgomu, in which he and two dancers (Kim Hye-ji and Lee Ye-ji) together explore several ways of making “their own” Three Drum Dance. I saw a showcase in March 2019 at the Namsan Arts Center (see their archive for some photos) and hope that this interesting approach will return to the stage in some form or the other in the future. (삼고무(三鼓舞) 쇼케이스, 안무: 이세승, 출연; 김혜지, 이세승, 이예지, 남산예술센터, 2019.3.29, 19:30)

Scene from Lee Seiseung’s “Samgomu” lecture performance (via Namsan Arts Center)

Scene from Lee Seiseung’s “Samgomu” lecture performance (via Namsan Arts Center)

Until then, whose tradition is it? Well, I will try to answer that in my presentation, so stay tuned…

PS: The extensive pansori lyrics provided by the Jeonju Sori Festival with English translations (free download, see my post for links and explanation) take note both of the “versions” (badi 바디) and the (currently active) singers who perform them, but don’t mention any copyrights in the imprint…

— 2 Aug. 2021 (月)

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Expanding Art Worlds: Pansori Theatre in Korea’s Contemporary Performing Arts Ecosystem (#IFTR2021 Online Conference Paper)

This is an addendum with links and videos for my paper “Expanding Art Worlds: Pansori Theatre in Korea’s Contemporary Performing Arts Ecosystem”, presented on July 16, 2021 at the annual conference of the International Federation for Theatre Research (#IFTR2021). The conference was originally to be held in Galway, Ireland, last year but had to be postponed and now proceeds fully online.

My paper expands on themes I discussed at AAP 2020 (“Staged Voices”) and AAS 2020 (“Vitalising Tradition”), as part of a larger project on the locations of contemporary pansori. This time, I focus on pansori-related expansions of and interactions between different art worlds and their influences on the performing arts ecosystem in South Korea.

After the abstract of my paper, you find some links to related resources and videos of some productions that I discuss in my presentation. For more details, check out the posts for earlier conferences linked above, where I provide more information on ensembles and their works.


Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)

Expanding Art Worlds: Pansori Theatre in Korea’s Contemporary Performing Arts Ecosystem

To stay alive and relevant, heritage arts need to adapt to changing environments. In contemporary South Korea, where state support for traditional performing arts dates back to the 1960s, government policies have lead to an ecosystem of distinct art worlds that offer funding for those within but also limit aesthetic autonomy and artistic exchange between genres. In this paper, I explore how traditionally-trained artists navigate art worlds and contribute to their transformation. I focus on the singing/storytelling art pansori and its various contemporary incarnations on theatre stages and in online streams.

In pre-modern Korea, pansori enjoyed popularity across class-divisions and was performed in different contexts, from rural village communities to the royal court. Today, after half a century of systematic support as “National Intangible Asset No. 5”, pansori is acknowledged as a refined icon of identity but has lost much of its audience base. Official preservation of pansori, now categorized as “traditional music”, has turned a once vibrant art world into a hermetic, highly stratified scene dependent on subsidies. Opposing this “fossilization”, a young generation of performers began to reclaim pansori in the early 2000s, with new works based on everyday life, popular culture, and openly political topics. Since then, newly founded ensembles have expanded their activities to other art worlds, making use of structures, resources, and conventions offered there. While pansori reframed as pop music may be commercially more viable, pansori theatre offers the cultural capital traditional music rarely affords.

To show the new opportunities this expansion towards theatre offers, I compare several recent examples of pansori theatre with regard to aesthetic vocabulary and institutional support. Furthermore, an examination of changes in the ecosystem shows that the traditional music scene responds, if slowly, for instance by creating new funding opportunities and performance formats. I argue that increased mobility of artists and resulting mutual influences between art worlds boost the critical potential and international outreach of pansori, as well as show new ways for the traditional music scene beyond becoming a museum. Far from an empty signifier of Koreanness that merely inspires nationalist pride, pansori as an adaptive practice can blur boundaries between genres and audiences, contributing to the inclusiveness and diversity of the artistic ecosystem at large.

My presentation consists of three sections, first on the traditional pansori art world, second on the emergence of pansori theatre since the 2000s, and third on responses to this phenomenon in the traditional pansori art world.

Here are some related texts I posted earlier on this blog:

1. The Traditional Pansori Art World

This is a video of Park Seong-hwan (박성환), whom I mention, performing the piece Jeokbyeok-ga (적벽가 赤壁歌 “Song of the Red Cliff”), a pansori version of parts from the Chinese Sānguó Yǎnyì (삼국지연의 三國志演義 “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”). Notably, Park performs the piece in the relatively rare Junggo-che (“middle region”) style. This is only a small part of the full-length story (a section referred to as 삼고초려 三顧草廬 “third time’s a charm”), which takes several hours in total.

I also mention the weekly “Saturday Luxury” (토요명품) series, also known as “Extraordinary Encounter on Saturday”, with short excerpts of various traditional music and dance genres (including pansori), shown at the National Gugak Center for over thirty years. It’s a nice introduction to the diversity of Korean traditional performing arts, performed by great artists, and if you find yourself in Seoul it’s certainly worth a visit (every Saturday at 3pm). There are also videos available online – this is another episode from Jeokbyeok-ga, performed by Jeong Hoe-seok (정회석) with drummer Jo Yong-bok (조용복) in August 2015:

 

2. Towards Pansori Theatre

In this part of my paper, I begin with the Ttorang Gwangdae (또랑광대), a group of young singers who paved the way for what I refer to as “pansori theatre” in the early 2000s. I’ve posted an English translation of the Ttorang Gwangdae’s manifesto in 2014 (coinciding with that year’s IFTR conference in Warwick) and wrote about a short revival of their street performances in 2016.

I then briefly discuss three different works of pansori theatre. I don’t go into detail about plot or specific scenes in the presentation, but rather focus on the production process, performance contexts, and funding schemes. So the following videos can give you an idea about the actual productions:

First, Lee Jaram’s Sacheon-ga (사천가, 2007–13), a pansori-adaptation of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, produced by Pansori Project “Za”, on which I’ve written a paper titled “The Good Person of Korea” almost a decade ago (published in the Brecht Yearbook) – here’s a video with several scenes (inc. English subtitles):

 

Second, the “Pansori Hamlet Project” (2012–) by Gugak Musical Collective “Taroo”, which also interests me for quite a while (see a review in Borrowers and Lenders) and on which I’ve presented in more detail last year, at the Asian Shakespeare Association (see my post with details and bibliography) – this is one song from the production (no longer video seems to be available):

I also wrote several blog posts on the development process and its various showcases…

Third, the Pansori Movement Research (2020–) by BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa, a one-woman ensemble headed by Jo Ah-ra who collaborates with various artists from other genres – this is a highlights video from the first public (solo) presentation of this ongoing project in February 2020:

For up-to-date news on BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa’s activities, their website and Facebook page are good places to start.

3. Conclusion: The Traditional Art World Responds

One reaction to the increasing number of pansori singers making theatre are new series that invite these (and other traditionally-trained cross-over) artists, including the “Friday Contemporary Gugak Concert”-series (금요공감) where, for instance, Pansori Project “Za” performed. This is a video of a more pop music-inspired act, a “pansori ballad” sung by Kim Dae-il (김대일):

 


I will continue my exploration of the relations between pansori artists and the wider performing arts ecosystem, hoping to be able to publish some results later this year. To be continued…

— 16 July 2021 (金)

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Performative Re-mediations of Tradition: Korean Singing-Storytelling Pansori in the Movie Seopyeonje and its Stage Adaptations (#CLAM2021 Online Conference Paper)

This has been some time in the making: In the following you find some resources – basic infos, videos, literature, and other links – for my presentation on Seopyeonje, a movie about pansori, and related stage adaptations, to be presented soon at the conference “Transcodification: Literatures – Arts – Media”, the First Conference of the ICLA Research Committee on Literatures/Arts/Media (CLAM). Hosted by the University of L’Aquila (Italy), the conference was originally to be held in summer 2020 on site, but after several changes will open online this summer (July 1–3, 2021, see website for details).

My paper also has a history… I don’t remember when I first saw the movie Seopyeonje (originally from 1993), but I think it was a videotape I borrowed from the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek. This is the movie I was told by everyone is a must-see when interested in pansori – and it’s a remarkable, disturbing, and problematic movie that’s hard to ignore.

It was later, in 2012, when I saw the musical Seopyeonje, (imagine how surprised I was when I saw posters of the premiere in 2010 – at that time, I wasn’t willing to pay the pretty hefty ticket prize…) and some months later a changgeuk adaptation, that I got really intrigued. I consider pansori an art that depends on a live audience, so a movie about pansori (like recordings of pansori performances) seems far-fetched at best. But music theatre based on a movie that is, for all it’s worth, a nostalgic period piece bemoaning a practice from the past, yet in a way a substitute for (competing with?) present performances? Count me in!

In my paper, I try to untangle the odd relationship between pansori as a cultural heritage of immense symbolic power, and pansori as a performance practice. A conserved and a living tradition, so to speak. My lens is adaptation as a nostalgic practice that, in this case, also involves remediations of pansori performance from screen to stage – thus “performative re-mediations of tradition”. So, without further ado, the abstract I submitted ten months ago, followed by the aforementioned resources, organized by genre:


 

Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University) – Performative Re-mediations of Tradition: Korean Singing-Storytelling Pansori in the Movie Seopyeonje and its Stage Adaptations

Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)

Performative Re-mediations of Tradition: Korean Singing-Storytelling Pansori in the Movie Seopyeonje and its Stage Adaptations

The modernization of tradition is linked to its medialization. Consider the Korean singing-storytelling art pansori which, although acknowledged as National Cultural Heritage, faces increasing irrelevance in modern society. Like other traditions, formalized techniques and canonized content run the risk of turning a once living practice into a fossilized version of itself. In this context, the movie Seopyeonje (director: Im Kwon-taek, 1993), based on a series of novellas by Yi Chung-jun from the 1970s that tell the story of an itinerant family of pansori singers, sparked interest in traditional culture among mass audiences. As a medial recreation of past practices, shown on the verge of extinction, the movie succeeded in drawing popular attention while failing to recreate the immediacy of pre-modern communal performances.

In the following, theatre and musical makers attempted to capitalize on the success of Seopyeonje. Their stage adaptations reference both the movie and the adapted novellas as source material. While featuring pansori singing to varying degrees, they also employ new narratives and media to match changing tastes. A comparison of different Seopyeonje adaptations, in genres ranging from neo-traditional changgeuk (“singing drama”) to Western-style musical, shows different methods of re-mediation, often in hybrid form, that cater to post-cinema audiences, including various attempts of recreating cinematic scenes on a live stage.

These performative re-mediations of Seopyeonje – and, in extension, of pansori – show that a nostalgic narrative of decay may gain persuasive power when told through other media, but at the same time inevitably frames the tradition itself as anachronistic. On rare occasions, though, for instance when communal union emerges through audience response, the performative potential of pansori momentarily comes to the fore. These gaps when hypermediacy of presentation switches to immediacy of participation, provoked and made possible by re-medialization, are instrumental for the survival of traditional arts today.

Now some resources on the different “versions” of Seopyeonje, which include:

  • the original novellas by Yi Chung-jun (from the late 70s/early 80s),
  • Im Kwon-taek’s movie (1993),
  • the musical (2010–),
  • the changgeuk (2013),
  • and the sorigeuk (2017–),
  • a TV adaptation based on one of the novellas (“소리의 빛”, see below) from 1983 – I don’t discuss this version in my paper but you can see it on Youtube, thanks to the KBS archive.

The Original Novellas by Yi Chung-jun (1976–81)

Seopyeonje (서편제 西便制) is the collective title of five novellas by Yi Chung-jun (이청준 李淸俊 1939–2008), published in serialized form in various magazines between 1976 and 1981, as well as the title of the first one of these novellas. This is the detailed publication history (from the Korean NamuWiki):

1. 서편제 (뿌리깊은나무 4월호, 1976)
2. 소리의 빛 (1978)
3. 선학동 나그네 (문학과지성 여름호, 1979)
4. 새와 나무 (문예중앙 봄호, 1980)
5. 다시 태어나는 말 (한국문학 5월호, 1981)

All five novellas have been published together in book form, first under the title Namdo Saram (남도사람, “people from the Southern regions”), at least since 1988 by Munhak-gwa Bipyeong (문학과비평), today mainly under the title Seopyeonje in various editions, for instance as part of Yi Chung-jun’s Collected Works (이청준, 서편제, 이청준 문학전집, 연작소설2, 열림원 1998), or online. The novellas have been translated into various languages, amongst others the following (I’ve added a link to the publisher in case I could find it):

  • Chinese, by 全华民 as 西便制, 浙江大学出版社 (Zhejiang University Press) 2015,
  • Japanese, by 根本理恵訳 as 風の丘を越えて―西便制(ソピョンジェ), 早川書房 (Hayakawa) 2010,
  • Russian, by Чон Ин Сун,И.Л. Касаткиной as Песни Западного края, Издательство Московского университета (Moscow University Press) 2010,
  • English, by Ok Young Kim Chang as Seopyeonje: The Southerners’ Songs, Peter Owen 2011,
  • French, by Kim Jung-Sook, Arnaud Montigny, Yang Jung-Hee, Ch’oe Yun & Patrick Maurus as Les Gens du sud, Éditions Actes Sud 2007,
  • and German, by Oh Soon-hee & Birgit Mersman as “Seop’yeonjae – Stimme des Westens”, apparently only three of five parts, in Die Gerüchtemauer, Edition Peperkorn 2005.

The Movie by Im Kwon-taek (1993)

A movie adaptation of Yi Chung-jun’s novels broke records in 1993. The main roles were cast with trained pansori singers, with other master singers serving as advisors (and Ahn Suk-seon dubbed the final scene). I provide just the basic information as well as the main cast (father Yu-Bong and his children, sister Song-hwa, and brother Dong-ho):

  • 서편제, 각색: 김명곤, 감독: 임권택, 출연: 김명곤 (유봉), 오정해 (송화), 김규철 (동호) 등, (주)태흥영화 1993년.
  • Seopyeonje, adapted by Kim Myeong-gon, directed by Im Kwon-taek, with Kim Myeong-gon (Yu-bong), Oh Jeong-hae (Song-hwa), Kim Gyu-cheol (Dong-ho) etc., Taehung Pictures 1993.

This is an iconic scene from the movie, in which this odd family of touring pansori performers – father Yu-bong with his (non-biological and mutually unrelated) daughter Song-hwa and son Dong-ho – cross the countryside and sing… not pansori, actually, but the folk song “Jindo Arirang” (below are pictures versions of this scene in the different stage adaptations, all in part inspired by the movie, as the scene doesn’t feature in the novellas (I’ll probably won’t have time to analyze these scenes in the presentation, but I provide videos of the scenes here so you can compare them for yourself).

Most importantly, a restored version of the full movie with English subtitles is available on Youtube (via Korean Film Archives, as are other pansori related movies). This is the trailer:

A book on the movie, with photos, the script, interviews, audience reactions etc. was published the same year:

  • 임권택 엮음, 서편제: 영화이야기, 서울: 하늘 1993.
  • Im Kwon-taek (ed.), Seopyeonje Yeonghwa Iyagi (Seopyeonje Movie Story). Seoul: Haneul, 1993.

Some general information on the movie can be found at Wikipedia and the Korean Movie Database (more there in Korean).

This is a video of the aforementioned “Jindo Arirang”-scene:

There are tons of research papers and book chapters on the movie Seopyeonje. The following is just a short selection of English writings (when googling, take note that the film title might be spelled slightly different: Seopyeonje/Sopyonje/Sŏp’ŏnje etc.).

First, an edited volume on Im Kwon-Taek’s cinematic work, which includes three articles that focus on Seopyeonje, with various mentions in other chapters:

  • David E. James & Kyung Hyun Kim (eds.), Im Kwon-Taek: The Making of a Korean National Cinema, Wayne State UP, 2002 (also available in Korean translation: 임권택, 민족영화 만들기, 데이비드 E. 제임스 & 김경현 엮음, 김희진 옮긴이, 한울 2005)

Parts of the volume can be read on Google Books, too. These are the most relevant chapters:

  • Choi, Chungmoo, “The Politics of Gender, Aestheticism, and Cultural Nationalism in Sopyonje and The Genealogy”, 107–133.
  • Cho Hae Joang, “Sopyonje: Its Cultural and Historical Meaning”, 134–56.
  • Stringer, Julian, “Sopyonje and the Inner Domain of National Culture”, 157–81.

Some other papers of interest, in chronological order:

  • Rob Wilson, ”Korean Cinema on the Road to Globalization: Tracking Global/Local Dynamics, or Why Im Kwon-Taek is not Ang Lee”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 2.2 (2001): 307–318. DOI
  • Willoughby, Heather, “Retake: A Decade of Learning from the Movie Sŏp’yŏnje” (서편제, 10년만에 다시보기), Eumak-gwa Munhwa (음악과 문화) 8 (2003): 119–143. [The article is in English, despite the alternative Korean title] KISS
  • Hughes, Alyssa, “Nationalism and Masculinity in South Korean Cinema. Im Kwon-Taek’s Sopyonje and The Taebaek Mountains”, Voices, Academic Journal of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program 1 (Spring 2010): 13–18. PDF
  • Rhee, Jooyeon, “Collective Nostalgia and Anxiety in Korean Film Music: Im Kwont’aek’s Use of P’ansori in Sop’yonje”, in Film Music in ‘Minor’ National Cinemas, edited by Germán Gil-Curiel, 115–132. New York & London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. (Google Books)

Seung-hwan Shin also discusses Seopyeonje in one chapter of his PhD-dissertation  on “New Korean Cinema: Mourning to Regeneration” (University of Pittsburgh, 2014) and many books on Korean cinema dedicate some pages to the movie, which is considered an important milestone in recent Korean film history.

The Musical (2010–2017)

A musical adaptation of Seopyeonje premiered in 2010, received various prizes, and was revived several times, until 2017 so far. The main roles were triple-cast, notably with two of the three casts of the female lead being trained pansori singers (rather than musical singer/actors). I provide, as for the other “stage versions”, basic production information and premiere cast, as well as videos and links to literature, when available:

  • 뮤지컬 서편제, 작곡: 윤일상, 국악 작곡: 이자람, 극본: 조광화, 연출: 이지나, 안무: 남수정, 음악감독: 김문정, 출연: 이자람/차지연/민은경 (송화), 서범석/JK김동욱/홍경수 (유봉), 임태경/김태훈 (동호) 등, 제작: (주)피앤피컴퍼니, 초연: 두산아트센터 연강홀, 2010년 8월 14일 (재공연: 2011년, 2012년, 2014년, 2017년).
  • Musical Seopyeonje, composition: Yun Il-sang, traditional composition: Lee Jaram, script: Jo Gwang-hwa, director: Lee Ji-na, choreography: Nam Su-jeong, music director: Kim Mun-jeong, with Lee Jaram/Cha Ji-yeon/Min Eun-gyeong (Song-hwa), Seo Beom-seok/JK Kim Dong-uk/Hong Gyeong-su (Yu-bong), Im Tae-gyeong/Kim Tae-hun (Dong-ho), production: P&P Company, premiere: Doosan Art Center, Aug. 14, 2010 (revivals 2011, 2012, 2014 & 2017).

Several videos can be found online, some from press calls and some from actual performances (see highlights from the 2012 version and highlights from the 2017 version, as well as rehearsal scenes from 2017, via The Musical [더뮤지컬]), and a blogger has even compiled a script for the first act, side-by-side with the respective videos.

In the musical, the “Jindo Arirang”-scene sounds quite different – the folk song, sung by Song-hwa (the girl) overlaps with Dong-ho (the boy) asking where they are and then Yu-bong (the father) begins to sing the musical song “Memories of Wandering” (유랑의 기억),  “Where living on the road, where sleeping on the road…”, which already played in the background before:

Several (Korean-language) Masters theses have been written on the musical, most of them dealing with the “media change” from novella/film to stage (if available: English title and link to the RISS database for details):

  • 김보라, “뮤지컬 <서편제>의 음악적 특징 연구”, 학위논문(예술전문사), 한국예술종합학교 2017. = A Study on Musical Characteristics of Musical “Seopyeonje” RISS
  • 최민호, “매체의 전환에 따른 소설 원작의 변용에 관한 연구: 소설 「서편제」의 영화 및 뮤지컬 각색을 중심으로”, 학위논문(석사), 국민대학교 2012. = (An) Adaptation of a Novel: How the movie and musical “Seopyonje” were created out of a novel RISS
  • 김미리, “소설, 영화, 뮤지컬 <서편제>의 서사구조 비교 연구”, 학위논문(석사), 한국외국어대학교 2015. = Comparative Study on the Narrative Structures of Novel, Movie and Musical “Sopyeonje” RISS (not available for download)
  • 은종연, “소설 『서편제』의 매체 변용에 따른 장르적 특성연구: 영화 「서편제」와 뮤지컬 <서편제>를 중심으로”, 학위논문(석사), 동국대학교 2015. RISS
  • 정다희, “뮤지컬 <서편제>의 매체전환과 수용 양상 연구”, 학위논문(석사), 성균관대학교 2015. = Study on media conversion and reception aspects of musical <Seopyeonje> RISS

The Changgeuk (2013)

A changgeuk version, once again mostly based on the movie, was shown at the National Theater in spring 2013 and revived in the fall of the same year (for more information and a bibliography on that era of changgeuk, see my earlier blogpost; on more recent changgeuk, see another one). Ahn Suk-seon, head singer of the National Changgeuk Company, was responsible for parts of the music and had a special appearance as the aged Song-hwa here, effectively returning in the final scene which she had already dubbed in the movie. The changgeuk production was apparently quite a success, with most performances sold out, but hasn’t been shown since 2013.

  • 창극 서편제, 극복: 김명화, 연출: 윤호진, 착장: 안숙선, 작곡/연주: 양방언, 편곡/지휘: 계성원, 안무: 정길만, 출연: 왕기철/왕시걸 (유봉), 김금미, 김미진/이소연, 민은경 (송화), 임현빈/이광복, 김준수 (동호), 박애리 (엄마) 등, 제작: 국립창극단, 초연: 국립극장 해오름극장, 2013년 3월 27일 (재공연: 2013년 9월).
  • Changgeuk Seopyeonje, adaptation: Kim Myeong-hwa, director: Yun Ho-jin, pansori composition: Ahn Suk-seon, composition/performance: Yang Bang-eon, arrangement/conductor: Gye Seong-won, choreography: Jeong Gil-man, with Wang Gi-cheol/Wang Gi-seok (Yu-bong), Kim Geum-mi, Kim Mi-jin/Lee So-yeon, Min Eun-gyeong (Song-hwa), Im Hyeon-bin/Lee Gwang-bok, Kim Jun-su (Dong-ho), Park Ae-ri (mother) etc., production: National Changgeuk Company of Korea, premiere: National Theater of Korea, March 27, 2013 (revival: Sept. 2013).

A full performance video, which I consulted for my research, is available at the National Theater’s archive, but some Arirang TV coverage that features some scenes with English subtitles can be seen online, one on the premiere in spring 2013, one on the revival in autumn of the same year.

Some Korean-language writings on the changgeuk Seopyeonje (there are not that many):

A paper on “self-reflexive” scenes, i.e. those that use pansori as part of the plot or stage pansori performances-in-the-performance, a topic that my paper also tackles:

  • 이진주, “창극 <서편제>의 자기반영성 연구”, 공연문화연구 32 (2016): 333–370. = Study on Self-Reflexivity of Changgeuk Seopyenje KCI

A study of changgeuk Seopyeonje as an adaptation, touching on topics such as the appropriation of pansori repertory for changgeuk and the resulting intertextuality:

  • 서재길, “<창극 서편제>와 창극의 새로운 가능성”, 공연문화연구 28 (2014): 449–485. = The Ch’anggŭk Opera Sŏp’yŏnje and Widening Horizons for Korean Traditional Opera KISS

A comparative review of three recent, experimental changgeuk works at the National Theater, including Seopyeonje:

  • 현경채, “국립창극단의 세 가지 시도 <서편제><메디아><내 이름은 오동구>”, 연극평론 통권 70호 (2013 가을): 40–45. KISS

A comparative study (MA thesis) on different methods of voice production in three changgeuk productions, including Seopyeonje:

  • 박종혁, “연행 환경 변화에 따른 창극의 가창 성격에 관한 연구 : 창극<서편제> <장화홍련> <메디아>를 중심으로”, 학위논문(석사), 홍익대학교 2015. RISS

And another MA thesis:

  • 박영미, “소설 「서편제」와 창극 「서편제」의 매체변용 양상 연구”, 학위논문(석사), 국민대학교 2014. = Novel “Sopyonje” and Changgeuk “Sopyonje”: A Comparative Study RISS

The Sorigeuk (2017–)

After musical and changgeuk, an adaptation labeled as sorigeuk (소리극), a combination of pansori and yeongeuk (연극, i.e. “theatre”), premiered in 2017. I haven’t seen this version live but video clips suggest that it is a more minimalistic changgeuk variation, with some attempts at audience interaction – this would conform with other kinds of “sorigeuk” I’ve seen.

  • 소리극 서편제, 대본: 진남수, 연출: 권호성, 출연: 조엘라 (여인), 안이호/이봉근 (유봉), 황애리/김나니 (송화), 안덕용/김준겸 (동호), 황지영 (어미), 특별출연: 윤영걸, 제작: (주)쇼앤라이프, 초연: 서울돈화문국악당, 2017년 4월 25일 (재공연: 2017년 6월, 2018년, 2019년).
  • Sorigeuk Seopyeonje, script: Jin Nam-su, director: Gwon Ho-seong, with Jo Ella (woman/narrator), An I-ho/Lee Bong-geun (Yu-bong), Hwang Ae-ri/Kim Na-ni (Song-hwa), An Deok-yong/Kim Jun-gyeom (Dong-ho), Hwang Ji-yeong (mother), special appearance by Yun Yeong-geol, production: Show ’n Life Company, premiere: Seoul Donhwamun Traditional Theater, April 25, 2017 (revivals: 2018, 2019).

There is quite extensive coverage by Arirang TV, with videos that include subtitled scenes and interviews with cast and producers (see a short version and an almost one hour long version)

This is the “Jindo Arirang”-scene from the long Arirang TV report linked above (around 12:00). You can hear that the audience is singing along – another singer practiced the song with them before:

Not much has been written (academically) on this adaptation so far, but a few (Korean-language) reviews, some of them promotional, often with photos, are available:

  • promotional post on the official blog of Bupyeong-gu (where the production was shown in February 2019) 
  • review in With-in-News, “이 작품이 바로 대한민국 클래식: 소리극 <서편제>” (김영식, 위드인뉴스 2017.06.14)
  • interview in The Move, “소리꾼 황애리 & 김나니: 젊은 소리꾼들이 ‘소리’로 전하는 <서편제>이야기” (임효정, The Move 2017.06.03)

— 3 July 2021 (土)

Posted in At the Movies, Bibliographics, Changgeuk, Conference Call, Pansori, paper | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Playing Pansori Post-Corona: Two Old Stories Told in New, Traditional Ways

During the long last months, I’ve seen some online #Coronastreams of pansori. Interesting new stories, good music, inspired performances and visual experiments. Here are some screenshots:

But what can I say? It’s just not the same… To me, these videos, even when streamed “live” mostly pre-recorded, show that pansori without an audience works as well as it looks on a screen: the plot unfolds and the songs shine – but where’s the play?

I usually use “singing/storytelling tradition” as a shorthand for pansori, in order to stress the entanglements of words and sounds, meaning and music that characterize this art. But despite the vocal highlights, the twists and turns of the tale, it is between the songs, during the dull parts of the story, or when the singer needs some water to wet her throat that pansori is at its most essential. Moments where the precarious yet so precious relation between singer, drummer, and spectators are laid bare.

Introductory texts on pansori often stress that it’s a genre sui generis, one of its own kind. Or several arts in one: song and music, words and gestures, sometimes even full-fledged acting and dancing. Pansori is music, literature, drama, whatever you want it to be, with vocals and drum beats, embodiment and narration. But while these are great means for storytelling, expressing individual skill, artistic creativity, and centuries of heritage at the same time, I believe that there is more to an engaging performance of pansori, something that no one has exclusive control over: How do singer and drummer interact with each other? How do they relate to the audience? And how do we respond, everyone in his or her own way yet somehow together? In other words: How do we play?

The two pansori performances I saw in April, live for the first time in a while, offered the opportunity to think about these questions again. In both works, the story was not taken from the classical canon of pansori (Chunghyang-ga, Simcheong-ga and the like), but they were based on literary works from the Western canon. Seo Eo-jin’s The Old Man and the Sea was funny, casual, and relaxed, with Caribbean-inspired music, while the pansori version of Les Misérables, sung by Kim So-jin of ensemble Ip Koa Son, centered on the character Gavroche and his tragic story, told in a rather dramatic, sometimes melodramatic style yet not without humor.

Non-traditional works are often called changjak (“[newly-]created”) pansori but in these concrete cases I’d opt for the more specific term “pansori theatre” (see my talks at AAP 2020 and AAS 2021). Even though both works were performed by a solo singer (unlike other cases with ensemble casts), they used props and some stage design plus several musicians, thus going beyond the minimalist setting of traditional pansori. One may assume that the more “theatrical” (and distanced) these performances become, the less interactive and playful they can turn out, and that “new” stories may direct attention to the plot rather than to the play. But let’s see…

First a brief look back: The street performances of the Ttorang Gwangdae (또랑광대) in the early 2000s – in my view the genealogical starting point of current pansori theatre – were often rooted in a shared everyday. Because they could assume some familiarity, the singers could playfully tell their short works about a football match, a StarCraft battle, or a kimchi fridge without turning the performance into a reading or a series of songs.

As the length of performances, and the budgets of emerging ensembles increased, adaptations of literary works became more and more common. The Brecht-based works by Pansori Project “Za” (판소리 만들기 “자”), a group collaboration of singer Lee Jaram (이자람), director Nam In-u (남인우), and others founded in 2007, are an early example of literature-based pansori theatre that reached wider, more diverse audiences. Taroo (뮤지컬집단 타루) and Badak Sori (판소리공장 바닥소리), both founded by former Ttorang Gwangdae, followed soon. Newer groups like Heebie Jeebie Juice (창작집단 희비쌍곡선) or Ip Koa Son Studio (입과손스튜디오) produced even more adaptations, from Shakespeare to Melville, Hans Christian Andersen to Gabriel García-Márquez, to name just a few.

Now to the two performances I saw this April:

1. Seo Eo-jin plays with his friends at the beach

Seo Eo-jin, “The Old Man and the Sea” (2021)

“The Old Man and the Sea” (2021)

Seo Eo-jin (서어진), a long-time member of Gugak Musical Collective “Taroo”, made an adaptation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea on the side (still with support by Taroo). It is less like a solo show, though, than a meeting of friends who casually make music together and along the way relate the story of Santiago, the old man who went out fishing but lost his prey to the sharks. The stage is set up as a cozy beach club with palm trees, neon lights, and a microphone center stage. A projection in the background completes the picture, with mostly colorful imagery, later some computer animations of waves or various fish (including jellyfish or agua mala in Spanish), a memorable homage to the “royal meeting of fish” (어전회의) from the pansori piece Sugung-ga, here sung by Oh Jeong-suk, and recently remade in Leenalchi’s song “Fish Map” (이날치, “어류도감”).

The four performers, all dressed in Hawai’i shirts, shorts, and flip flops, are on stage throughout the performance: Seo Eo-jin himself mostly sings, backed-up by a guitarist (김조현) who sometimes switches to a piri, a percussionist (박세일) playing various congas and bongos, and another guy whose main role is to act as a sidekick to Seo Eo-jin, introducing him, joking, and otherwise sitting at the bar browsing through an English copy of Hemingway’s story.

Like traditional pansori, the performance proceeds as a series of episodes, with some song numbers, often with the rough voice of pansori but the rhythms of calypso, some scenes acted out among the four, and much chit-chat in-between. Seo Eo-jin tells the audience how he met the others in a Chinese restaurant, asks us if we like fishing (an elderly man in the first row admits to it), and suggests to clap along. It’s not that the story of the Old Man isn’t of importance – his final fight with the sharks is depicted quite dramatically –, but the atmosphere evoked is more that of a cozy Caribbean harbor town, much preparations for a relatively short fishing trip, so to speak.

Despite the masked audience, this laid-back atmosphere transpires throughout the evening, a meandering story caught in continuous preparation, unfolding in slow-motion, far from Hemingway’s reduced precision. I may have missed some words here or there and some details may have been lost on me, but this trip down to the underwater part of the iceberg was definitely a great antidote to post-Corona blues!

Seo Eo-jin, “The Old Man and the Sea” (2019)

“The Old Man and the Sea” (2019)

On a side note, Seo Eo-jin’s adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea was first shown in December 2019, just a few weeks after the premiere of Lee Jaram’s pansori version of the same story. I haven’t seen either one back then, but I doubt that it’s a coincidence. Maybe the existential plot and formal simplicity of Hemingway’s story, essentially a physical one-man show on an endless stage, lends itself to pansori in particular? Two rehearsal photos of Seo Eo-jin’s first version, as well as the poster, suggest that his first approach might have been a bit more theatrical (someone is pulling a string …). In the performance I saw, he also mentioned that he had made some changes, maybe a bit more flexibility and fun after months of seclusion? Lee Jaram, on the other hand, is dressed traditionally in her version (see a highlights video) and appears to rely more on narration than on stage interaction, so a comparison of both adaptations with regard to their potential for play should be interesting!

2. Kim So-jin plays with a puppet

The second performance was part of an ongoing project, the “Les Misérables Tomak Sori Series” (판소리 레미제라블 토막소리 시리즈) by Ip Koa Son Studio (입과손스튜디오). The term tomak sori (토막소리) means “piecemeal singing” and refers to the common practice of performing short excerpts of pansori, often crucial scenes or favorite songs, rather than telling the full story which, in turn, is referred to as wanchang (완창, “complete song”) and is an “invented tradition”. The Tomak Sori Series is an attempt to build a long work, based on a tome like Les Misérables, by breaking it down into shorter pieces. Part 1: Fantine (팡틴), with a mask dancer acting out what the pansori singer tells about, was planned pre-pandemic and recorded without audience (highlights here). Part 2: Marius (마리우스), a collaboration with the gugak band Sangjaru (상자루), was edited more freely, with various digital effects, and at times resembled a videoclip (highlights here).

Pansori Les Misérables Tomak Sori Series 3: Gavroche (2021)

Pansori Les Misérables Tomak Sori Series 3: Gavroche (2021)

Part 3: Gavroche, finally live now, for an audience of about twenty-five, on an almost empty blackbox stage. Empty, except for a sack on a chair, a life-size puppet, as it turns out later, which was created by Lee Ji-hyeong (이지형), shown next to singer Kim So-jin (김소진) on the poster. On the side are two percussionists, Lee Hyang-ha (이향하) and Kim Hong-sik (김홍식), who provide accompaniment with different drums, including the classical buk, as well as other instruments.

The performance begins in a quite traditional way, with the introductory danga “Baekbal-ga” (“Song of White Hair”), a short voice-warmer on getting older, but then takes a personal turn when the singer mentions her own age, her young child, and her growing sense of aging. She then smoothly starts to talk about nine-year-old Gavroche, protagonist of this section from Les Misérables… but, alas, the story doesn’t take place in post-revolutionary France but in colonial Korea, where young Ga Yeol-chan (가열찬) roams the streets and joins a group of undercover freedom fighters.

It’s pretty clear that the changed setting is not meant to make the plot more familiar. Les Misérables is well-known in Korea, not least thanks to the musical and its 2012 film adaptation (there’s even a Korean movie version from way back in 1961, titled Jean Valjean, as I just found out). Is this recontextualization a way to connect the French literary work with contemporary life in Korea by reference to a colonial past as depicted in movies or TV dramas, thus  a way to legitimize it as a story to tell through traditional pansori?

Because this work is staged much closer to what a traditional performance of pansori looks like, the singe dressed in a hanbok, sometimes sitting down for a song. Drum accompaniment is relatively minimalist for most parts, except for some songs where accordion, yanggeum (a kind of dulcimer), or electronic beats momentarily inspire the singer to dance, too. The two musicians are sometimes integrated into the plot, for instance as father and mother of Gavroche (aka Ga Yeol-chan) and the singer occasionally breaks down the fourth wall with words or gestures, like aiming her hands like a gun at the audience. At the beginning, quite a lot of chuimsae, supporting calls of encouragement (for which the singer had asked) can be heard, but they become less and less.

The play is mostly between singer, musicians, and the puppet, which Kim So-jin picks up at one point and interacts with. She kind of plays the puppet, lets it act by moving the arms from behind, but also uses it as a partner when briefly dancing together. For some points, the puppet becomes a partner. Without a voice, though, it remains, ultimately, a tool to show and tell the story that unfolds. Eventually, Gavroche/Ga Yeol-chan infiltrates a Japanese camp to steal ammunition. After reuniting with his resistance cell, a group photo is taken, which scares him to death.

The “play” in these two performances works quite differently: While Seo Eo-jin’s Old Man is less focused on telling a story than having a good time, both on- and off-stage, in Gavroche the performers of Ip Koa Son use scenes from the plot to interact with each other and, occasionally, with the audience. The generally lose relation between singers and back-up band, with systematic but irregular beats, what may seem like improvisation, creates a “gestus of spontaneity” that opens up the stage towards the auditorium. In this atmosphere, the singer addressing the spectators (and us responding in different ways) does not cause a rupture of the plot, but becomes an organic part of the overall performance. This way, the spectators are turned into active listeners, eager to follow and ready to play along.

While writing this post, I came across a text by music critic Song Hyeon-min (송현민) who writes on the “Meeting of Foreign Literature with Pansori” (Namsan Hanok Village’s online-zine “On”). Song mentions a number of examples, like Lee Jaram’s Brecht-adaptations, Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project”, or Heebie Jeebie Juice’s Bartleby, which I’ve seen, but also others, based on Korean literature, that I’ve heard of but could not see live yet, such as:

  • Badak Sori’s “choral pansori” version of Kim Tak-hwan’s historical novel Gasiri (김탁환, 가시리, 2017);
  • Yeoboseyo (“Hello?”, as when answering the telephone), a solo work by Lee Seung-hui, member of Ip Koa Son (이승희, 여보세요, ), based on Kim Ae-ran’s debut short story  No Knocking in This House (김애란, “노크하지 않는 집”, 2003)
  • Ahn Yiho’s Yard (안이호, 야드), an adaptation of Lim Chaemook’s eponymous short story (임채묵, 야드, 2018)

Based on these and other relatively recent works, Song notices a trend towards the “pansorization of literature [문학의 판소리화]” and concludes by suggesting that these newly-created pansori works may replace “silent reading” of literature with “recitations”, in a way akin to the trending ASMR readings.”

While I actually enjoy old radio plays when sleepy, I find it hard to imagine that any live performance of pansori is able to induce the tingling associated with ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASMR – this probably works much better alone and online, maybe with a whispered Sherlock Holmes story (but then, there was an “neutro ASMR” pansori piece, apparently!) I believe that pansori in most of it forms caters to an audience of active listeners, even if interaction is not mandatory anymore. On the other hand, and that’s why I find the ASMR association noteworthy, I believe that the sense of community, maybe in the form of a participatory “flow”, could be conceptualized as a less active, habitual process. At least when discussing past practices, where pansori was performed in more casual contexts.

The two performances from April I discussed, though, have made clear for me that interactive “play” (interplay?) is as important to pansori theatre as story and voice. And this seems to work best in person, transforming a storytelling event into a celebration of co-presence, despite the distanced seats and the masks – an occasion to play together!

— 16 & 30 April 2021 (金)

  • 서어진의 창작소리극 <노인과 바다>, 원작: 헤밍웨이, 각색: 서어진, 연출: 서정완, 서어진, 작곡: 김조현, 작창: 서어진, 음악: 박세일, 김조현, 움직임: 조용의, 무대감독: 명종환, 조명디자인: 강정희, 영상디자인: 강순현, 무대디자인: 신나래, 음향디자인: 김병수, 그래픽디자인: 이희원, 후원: 국악뮤지컬집단 ‘타루’, 서울문화재단, 장소: 가나의 집 열림홀, 2021년 4월 16일 (금)), 19:30~9:00, 입장료: 10,000원.
  • Seo Eo-jin’s New Pansori Drama The Old Man and the Sea, original work by Ernest Hemingway, adapted by Seo Eo-jin, directed by Seo Jeong-wan and Seo-Eojin, composition: Kim Jo-hyeon, pansori composition: Seo Eo-jin, music: Park Se-il, Kim Jo-hyeon, movement: Jo Yong-ui, stage director: Myeong Jong-hwan, lighting design: Gang Jeong-hui, video design: Gang Sun-hyeon, stage design: Sin Na-rae, sound design: Kim Byeong-su, graphic design: Lee Hui-won, support: Gugak Musical Collective “Taroo”, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, venue: Gana-ui Jip, Yeollim Hall, April 16, 2021 (Friday), 7:30–9:00pm, entrance: 10,000 KRW.
  • 입과손스튜디오, 판소리 레미제라블 토막소리 시리즈3: <가브로슈>, 원작: 빅토르 위고, 공동창작/연출: 입과손스튜디오, 소리꾼: 김소진, 고수: 이향하, 김홍식, 무대감독: 김지명, 인형디자인: 이지형, 음향감독: 장태순, 조명감독: 문동민, 프로듀서: 유현진, 주최: 입과손스튜디오, 신촌문화발전소, 후원: 한국문화예술위원회 (공연예술 중장기 창작지원), 장소: 신촌문화발전소, 2021년 4월 30일 (금), 19:30~20:45, 무료입장. [LINK]
  • Ip Koa Son Studio, Pansori Les Misérables Tomak Sori Series 3: Gavroche, original work by Victor Hugo, adapted and directed by Ip Koa Son Studio, pansori singer: Kim So-jin, percussionists: Lee Hyang-ha, Kim Hong-sik, stage director: Kim Ji-myeong, puppet design: Lee Ji-hyeong, music director: Jang Tae-sun, lighting director: Mun Dong-min, producer: Yu Hyeon-jin, host: Ip Koa Son Studio, Shinchon Arts Space, support: Arts Council Korea (long term performing arts production grant), venue: Shinchon Arts Space, March 30, 2021 (Friday), 7:30–8:45pm, free entrance. [LINK]
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Showing Sounds: Music in the Gallery and Museums on Pansori

This is the empty stage before a music performance – the first one I saw in quite a while, in an unusual place: Artspace Boan 1942” aka Boan Yeogwan (보안여관), a remodeled inn with an illustrious history. Usually, I come here to see exhibitions, most recently one inspired by neo-confucian scholar Kim Sang-heon’s (김상헌 金尙憲, 1570–1652) 17th century trip to Inwang Mountain (“Inwangsan Project” curated by Choi Yoonjung, summer 2019).

But today, Berlin-based daegeum (대금, trad. Korean bamboo flute) performer Hong Yoo (유홍) presented a solo concert here, amidst an exhibition of earlier works on video tape, titled “Reflection” (April 21–28, 2021). I heard works composed by Keiko Harada, Chung Il-Ryun (정일련), Jared Redmond and others, including “Today I Wrote Nothing” by Sebastian Claren, were on display.

The concert in the gallery reminded me of some pansori-related exhibitions I saw throughout the years, all of them in Jeolla Province, in reverse chronological order with galleries of some pictures I took there:

1. Gwangju (2021)

Just a few days ago, in a subway stop in Gwangju (송정역), by all means, I ran into a small show on local pansori master Im Bang-ul (임방울 林芳蔚, 1904–1961). On less than 10 square meters, biographical information, paraphernalia (mostly drums), old records etc. were presented. And there was a listening station with recordings of some of Im’s greatest hits. Much to read for a short stop between trains! As I later found out, this exhibition is run by the Im Bang-ul Gugak Promotion Association (임방울 국악 진흥회) and their homepage features some more images of the space.

2. Namwon (2017)

Namwon is well known as the historical setting of Chunhyang-ga (춘향가), maybe the most famous pansori song. Near the place where Chunhyang first meets her lover, the Gwanghanru pavilion (광한루 廣寒樓), now center of the eponymous park (남원 광한루원), a small exhibition space features information and some objects about the location’s history and the story of Chunhyang. The exhibition opens with a chronology of the Chunhyang Festival (춘향제) that dates back to the 1930s and features an important pansori contest since 1974. Then there are several documents and objects that document the various adaptations of Chunhyang-jeon (refering more generally to the “story” [jeon 전 傳] rather than the [pansori] song” [ga 가 歌] of Chunhyang). When I visited Namwon in 2017, I found the display of various translations that were on display most interesting, including a German one from 1951, part of a book with “Two Love Stories from Old Korea” (Der Oriol: Zwei Liebesgeschichten aus dem alten Korea, translated by Elisabeth Ackner). All in all, the fictional (?) story of Chunhyang is most central here, but records by famous pansori singers, scores of a Chunhyang-opera by Hyun Jae-myung (현제명 玄濟明, 1902–1960, the first Korean original opera!) and a 1964 English-language musical by William Cleary (1926–2012, see an earlier post) could also be seen.

3. Gochang (2011)

The Pansori Museum (판소리박물관) in Gochang is of a different scope, or so I thought: When I visited in 2011, soon after deciding to write a dissertation on pansori, I expected to spent at least a whole weekend. And there was much to see: The museum showcases two local legends, singer Kim So-hui (김소희 金素姬, 1917–1995) and pansori advocat Sin Jae-hyo (신재효 申在孝, 1812–1884), whose reconstructed (?) house could be seen next to the museum (complete with puppets of Sin and his student Jin Chae-seon [진채선], presumably the first female pansori singer). More material on the genre in general was also on display, from busts to drums, of course books, records,  presenting pansori as a highly esteemed cultural asset, acknowledged by UNESCO, with a long line of masters of the past. There was even a corner to “experience” the practice of san gongbu (산공부), “mountain training”, where pansori performers practice against the backdrop of waterfalls and other natural sounds.


Much has been said about the “musealization” of traditional music, a result of half a century of state-funded preservation (see, for instance, the writings of Keith Howard, Hilary Finchum-Sung, Nathan Hesselink, CedarBough Saeji and others). John Lie (2015), in his book on K-Pop, even calls traditional Korean music (gugak) itself “an imaginary museum, and one rarely visited at that” (p. 11). While I strongly believe in the appeal of live gugak, I agree that most genres are probably not as popular as they may have used to be. Indeed, performances that cater to an exoticing “tourist” gaze can turn a living art into a display of difference. And this does not only apply to actual tourists – Chan E. Park (2003) reasonably suggests that many Koreans may consider pansori “a relic or museum piece” (p. 235).

Some performances of pansori tend to commodify the performers, when they are presented as an example of their art, rather than individual artists. The potpourri-style show at Korea House (한국의 집), for instance – at least the one I saw back in 2010, with unnamed singers showcasing their art –, is just one example (here the main target audience actually seems to be “real” tourists). When shown in a museum setting, through documents, records, or photos (while interesting to those interested), pansori can appear even more detached from real life, even more a thing of the past.

This doesn’t have to be the case, of course. The recently reopened exhibition at the Gugak Museum (국악박물관), part of the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) looks promising, and the likewise new Seoul Museum of Korean Folk Music (서울우리소리박물관) on folk songs (minyo 민요) should be worth a visit, too. These venues feature more immersive, audio-visual media installations to grasp the attention and interest of wider audiences.

Reaching audiences beyond the (likewise) relatively small New Music scene was also a goal of Hong Yoo’s exhibition and gallery performances. I, for my part, enjoyed the concert very much – and while I’m sure there’s a paper to be written on how representations of pansori and other kinds of gugak in (more or less) multimedial exhibitions contribute to the changing image of these arts, I take live music in the gallery over any form of music museum, at least for the moment.

— 25 April 2021 (日)

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Vitalising Tradition: New Creative Flows in Pansori Theatre (#AAS2021 Online Conference Paper)

This is an addendum with links and videos for my paper “Vitalising Tradition: New Creative Flows in Pansori Theatre” (March 26, 2021 #AAS2021)

It’s been a while since I’ve attended the annual conference of AAS (Association for Asian Studies). It’s probably the largest one in this field and back in 2017, the hustle-bustle in Toronto, the afterpartys, meetings, and strolls around the book market – all that was invigorating and I learned so much!

This year is different, the AAS 2021 conference is fully online and with pre-recorded videos, live screening and possible non-synchronous discussion continuing via chat. Preparation was much more of a hassle (like in online teaching), but it sounds all wonderful and I’m curious how this will work out!

Our panel (Session L021), hosted by CedarBough Saeji, is titled “Tradition Now: New Roles, Platforms, and Audiences for Korean Performing Arts” and also features papers by Jungmin Song and Min-Hyung Yoo. It’s part of our ongoing discussion that began last year at the AAP conference, about the role of tradition in (and outside of) Korea, featuring the perspectives, both aesthetic and socio-economic, of various artists from all kinds of genres.

The panel opens on Thursday, March 25, 2021, at 3pm EST, which is 5am on the following Friday in Korean time.

This is the panel abstract:

Tradition Now: New Roles, Platforms, and Audiences for Korean Performing Arts

To stay alive and relevant, heritage arts need to adapt to changing circumstances. Amidst the rapid growth of the South Korean cultural industry and media environment in the last twenty years, traditional performing arts have faced various challenges for survival but also opportunities to expand their creative remits. Nowadays, traditionally-trained singers, actors, etc. share roles, platforms, and audiences with popular and contemporary formations in society. This panel deals with these transformations as well as the new strategies of staging and mediatization that they deploy.

Four case studies examine how “old” performances are re-envisioned and presented for contemporary audiences in Korea and abroad. Our first panelist expounds on how Sim U-seong (1934–2018) transformed from a folklorist reviving traditions into a performer creating heritage-based original works to present the painful Korean past for modern theatrical audiences. Next, we turn to young artists trained in the singing/storytelling tradition pansori, who use the theatre stage to present new experimental works that address current social issues while reflecting on their genre’s past. The third paper approaches the revival of trot, arguing that the genre’s seemingly overnight return to the limelight demonstrates not only its continuing hidden popularity but also aesthetic similarities with traditional pansori singing, which became an influential factor in its success. The final paper explores the ways that both performers of K-pop and of heritage performance are conceived of and presented to audiences as representatives of the nation, promoting and elevating contradictory but complementary views of Korea.

There are four papers, in this order and each one about twenty minutes long:

  • “Consoling the Dead: Sim U-seong’s Puppet Rituals for Modern Korea” by Jungmin Song (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry)
  • “Vitalising Tradition: New Creative Flows in Pansori Theatre” by Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)
  • “esurrecting Trot: How Pansori Facilitated the Triumphant Return of an Old-Fashioned Genre to the Popular Music Scene” by Min-Hyung Yoo (Korea University)
  • “Serving the Nation: K-pop Idols and Performers of Heritage Arts as Cultural Ambassadors” by CedarBough T. Saeji (Indiana University Bloomington)

My own presentation is, again, on “pansori theatre” (experimental new stories performed in a “theatrical” way using pansori singing). Last year I discussed groups that have been around for ten, twenty years (find information and links on my blogpost on the AAP 2020 conference) and this time I focus on the methodology and works of more recently founded ensembles.This is my paper abstract:

Vitalising Tradition: New Creative Flows in Pansori Theatre

by Jan Creutzenberg (Ewha Womans University)

The singing/storytelling tradition pansori, acknowledged as an artistically refined icon of Koreanness, appears to be out of touch with South Korean contemporary reality to many. In the early 2000s, a young generation of pansori performers, opposing the “fossilized” traditional music scene, began to reclaim pansori as a means for contemporary discourse and social criticism. Their new works, based on everyday life, popular culture, and openly political topics, took performance practice into new directions. Since then, various new ensembles produce more elaborate feature-length works of pansori theatre, making use of structures, resources, and conventions of the theatre scene, to which they increasingly move their activities.

In this paper I explore how recent pansori theatre works question, challenge, and transform traditional conventions while engaging with current social issues of local and global scope. I am particularly interested in how the expansion of both aesthetic vocabulary and institutional contexts contributes to an increased diversity, efficacy, and (international) outreach of pansori. Comparing the activities of several ensembles, I argue that these innovative artists, through their original works, free adaptations of both Western drama and the pansori canon, or cross-genre collaborations, address both current issues such as gender discrimination or neo-liberal self-reliance, and the outdated values perpetuated by uncritical preservation of cultural heritage. The productions I discuss show that, as an art adaptable to our times, pansori has the potential to grapple with its own past as well as with the present of its makers.

Concretely, I discuss works and projects by Heebie Jeebie Juice (희비쌍곡선), MNHstudio (aka Ip Koa Son, 입과손스튜디오), and BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa (몸소리말조아라). There’s not much time to show videos and I’m not sure about the quality on the other ends, so I decided to refer to this site instead. In the following I provide links to the groups respective websites and social media, as well as video clips (mostly in Korean without subtitles) from the works I talk about: 

1. Heebie Jeebie Juice: Bartleby the Scrivener (2016–)

The Art Creation Group “Heebie Jeebie Juice” (창작집단 희비쌍곡선 喜悲雙曲線, homepage, Facebook), founded 2015 by pansori singer/composer Park Inhye (박인혜) and playwright/theatre director Lim Youngwook (임영욱), is best known for their adaptations of Western literature. I discuss their work Bartleby the Scrivener (필경사 바틀비, after Herman Melville’s short story), which I first saw in 2016.

This is a short video cut from that time:

희비쌍곡선, 필경사 바틀비

There are also a video from an early reading performance and another “highlights” clip from the works most recent revival (online) as part of the 2020 Seoul Performing Arts Festival (서울국제공연예술제).

2. MNHstudio, In a Dream (2018–)

MNHstudio (“Mouth ’N Hand Studio”, 입과손스튜디오, also written as Ip Koa Son, homepage, Facebook) was founded by former members of Pansori Project “Za” (판소리 만들기 “자”) after disbanding in 2017. MNHstudio consists of five members, pansori singers Lee Seunghee (이승희) and Kim Sojin (김소진) as well as percussionists Lee Hyangha (이향하), Kim Hongsik (김홍식), and Shin Seungtae (신승태, who also performs trot). Within four years, they have already created a variety of performances and occasionally also venture into pop music. I discuss their project In a Dream (몽중인), headed by Lee Seunghee at Doosan Art Center. This critical attempt at rewriting the pansori classic Chunhyang-ga began with a showcase in 2018, a workshop in 2019, and a planned production in 2020, which had to be shown online instead. (The links go to the English pages on Doosan Art Center’s website, but a click on “가” on top-right brings up the more detailed Korean pages; the English titles used here are confusing, so I refer to the performances by year.)

입과손스튜디오, 동초제 춘향가 – 몽중인

This is a highlights-clip from the 2018 showcase Dongcho-je Chunhyang-ga – In a Dream (동초제 춘향가-몽중인 夢中人):

There are also a rehearsal video as well as highlights from the 2020 streaming In a Dream – I, a Hitchhiker with a Reason (몽중인-나는 춘향이 아니라,), all provided by Doosan Art Center.

3. BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa, Pansori Movement Research

BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa (몸소리말조아라, homepage, Facebook) is basically a one-woman group, but with many collaborators in various fields. Founded by trained pansori singer Jo Ahra (아라) in 2011, BodySoundSpeakJoAhRa operates on the borders of dance and choreography, with many uplinks to other themes of relevance. Pansori Movement Research (판소리 움직임 탐구), which I discuss in my presentation, is a case in point: From a solo performance in early 2020 to various workshops and showcases, again solo or with different other performers, to the dance piece Wake Me Up (날, 깨워줘, featuring former Pink Factory artist Hur Yunkyung!) about water pollution in February 2021, in which Jo appears only as narrator, this project took many twists and turns.

몸소리말조아라, 판소리 움직임 탐구

These are highlights from the early solo performance I mentioned above:

There are many others clips from the various stages of Pansori Movement Research, including impressions from a “house performance” with interacting visitors, a teaser for the December 2020 solo performance on laughing, and a teaser for Wake Me Up featuring a lot of trash…

— 25 March 2021 (木)

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Concrete Skating and Sky Diving: Yong Hae Sook’s solo exhibition “Non-Landscape”

In this post I discuss two of the works that will be shown in Yong Hae Sook’s upcoming solo exhibition “Non-Landscape” (용해숙 개인전: 불경 不景) at Seoi Gallery, Seoul (서이갤러리, March 1–20, 2021).

This exhibition reunites Yong Hae Sook’s recent panorama works, produced in 2018 and 2019 in Berlin, Seoul, Hongcheon (Gangwon Province), and Jeju Island, in a new context and with its different webs of meaning. It’s a great opportunity to see seven great works in one place!

Disclaimer: I’ve assisted in the production of most of these works (for instance, I was one of those drawing the string that kept Yong Hae Sook in the air), so I cannot be fully objective. The following are some thoughts on two of the works, written after spending some days with them – some associations from the surfboard, so to speak.


What strikes me first about this photography is how full of movement it is. The artist herself, ice-skating on the concrete ground, would most certainly fall over if she were not moving forward. The couple in the background is riding some kind of tandem-style bike. And the guy up in the right is paddling away, maybe to escape from a shark?

Yong Hae Sook, Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again) (“꽃 지고 꽃), inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2019

The impression of movement begins to collapse when looking closer, though. The surfboard is, after all, suspended on the stairs and faces the wrong direction. What we see is frozen motion, so to speak, because the photo fixes everything in time. Everything?

The only thing that actually was moving on that windy day is the slightly blurry peacock-shaped kite. Attached to one of the bamboo rods, it cannot fly away. But it would (have). Imagined movement, confined movement, potential movement. To me, this image is not only full of potential energy, it is also about the idea of potential in and of itself. While obvious in the case of the frozen ice skater, motions yet to be unleashed are also symbolically present in other objects. Consider the tubes that emerge from below, for instance. Empty now, soon electric cables will fill them to run the place. The cabbages may eventually ferment to kimchi and the ostrich eggs will crack to bear little birds. Motionless now, soon to be moving.

Speaking of birds, there are some more: In the background, a large flock of seagulls is resting in the water behind the house. Floating now, soon to fly away. Birds, shown in three different forms or “stages” here (eggs, alive, artificial), may well be “potential” in its most beautiful incarnation: struggling when on the ground but within a moment gliding above elegantly, transformed from a plump body with folded wings into a silhouette far above. The many round (or rounded) objects, ranging from the eggs, the marbles, and the cabbages in front to the larges buoys, bags, and boxes scattered around, likewise act as emblems of energy. As the most compact and centered shape imaginable, the sphere contains the seeds for change, a “nuclear” body only waiting to roll around, to follow the waves, to spread out and transform into something larger.

These symbols of potential, ready to move and change, contrast with the pillars that keep the house in shape, the steel beams and ladders, the slats and bamboo rods. And of course the house itself, once it’s finished, embodies the opposite of movement. Living plants, potentially growing, are mostly motionless, too: the reeds surrounding the house, like the kite slightly out of focus, move back and forth in the wind yet remain in place. The trees on the hills across the lake won’t go soon, either. Even the balloon flower is attached to one of the pipes, unable to fly to the sky. As a backdrop to the petrified persons, nature does not animate them but appears as part of the picture, a non-landscape with things affixed to overarching solid structures, rather than growing or moving “naturally”.

With one exception: up front, some small grass is breaking through the concrete. A bit of green that slowly moves towards the light. Right next to the ice skater, seemingly stuck on the hardened floor, the little leaves suggest a far future when the building currently under construction will be gone, again. For now, the grass keeps growing, surrounded by discarded allegories of mobility: the trolley suitcase, the bicycle wheel, the camping stools. A still life of frozen motion and suspended growth.

Besides unfulfilled potential, the photo is also about attachment. The four adults who move motionless across the image are all “fastened” in some way: to each other (through the tandem), to the surfboard (by a safety string), and to the floor (with tightly-fitting ice skates). They all seem afraid to lose their way or their means of transportation. Afraid to lose their ground. Unlike the becoming birds, the growing grass, and of course the attached adults, only the child is really sitting still (even though just for the moment the picture was taken). He is the ghost of the future in this odd family photo, haunting the house yet to be built.

The title of the work, Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again) (“꽃 지고 꽃”, my inadequate translation) is inspired by a line from poet Choi Seung-ja (최승자) and resonates with another poem by Kim Su-yeong (김수영) on grass that “lies flat more quickly than the wind” (translation: Brother Anthony & Kim Young-Moo), only to rise again. The repetition and relentlessness implied in the title relates to the tension between attachment and movement that is at the centre of this image.

 

Regardless of forwards or upwards, movement from a fixed position needs grounding. Social movement, too, needs roots that sand, cement, and water cannot provide. The ground that is on the edge of being broken here – a new house, a new home, potentially – is slippery like ice and may melt away in an instant. Skating is, then, the most reasonable way of moving across this concrete rink, between the birds, towards a time when potential energy turns into actual change.

Yong Hae Sook, Water Moon Moving Star (수월행성), inkjet print, 270x90cm, 2019

Both works I discuss here were taken in the same place, a building under construction. But compared to the clearly structured Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again), shot on the ground floor and featuring straight lines and all kinds of spheres (or eggs), the second picture, shot one floor above, is much more chaotic and complicated (maybe the most chaotic and complicated in the whole exhibition).

Water Moon Moving Star is full of curves, webs, twisted objects, and bent planes. True, there are some solid spheres, too, most prominently a bowling ball (hard to get through airport security!) and, less visible, a tennis ball hovering in the back. These “balls” (a geometrical term, actually) appear flattened, round shapes hardly discernible from bowls and trays. They are stripped to their bones, turning into wire models of themselves. Indeed, overlapping wires that, pliant and flexible, are attached to other things and connect them, seem to be the defining structure of this image. Strings, like those that hold the diver’s feet up in the air, and the steel grid on the floor, destined to disappear after being hooked up with the electricity lines, are their logical extension. Connected to each other this way, the objects resemble an intricate network rather than an autonomous assemblage, an installation held together by string, wire, and – when necessary – tape.

In this network of things, potential energy caught in the moment is everywhere, beginning with the diver’s bent body to the smoke emerging from the grill in the back. Like in Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again), things are frozen in time but unlike on the ground floor, where things may move away once freed, the interconnected network is vibrating in place. Like a crystal structure, in this environment one thing’s existence and place depend on that of everything else. An ecosystem of dangling objects, floating in an imaginary ocean.

It is notable that, despite being shot several meters above ground, this ocean scene does not appear aloft. What happens in the yet unfinished house does not happen in isolation, but remains in touch with its surroundings. While the house itself, its fragmentary roof cut off, is not visible in its entirety, neighboring buildings, an empty field, a car can be seen on the side and in the background. In other words: traces of real life (even though the image is certainly not “documentary” in any common sense). The diver and the uprooted sea she is diving into are part of this ecosystem, with vegetation around overlapping with (artifical?) plants within. Not by chance, the imagery in this photo subtly references the place where it was taken. Wind, rocks, and female divers (haenyeo) are the three traditional “assets” of Jeju Island, where both works discussed were produced. All three assets are present in one way or another. But they are more than folklore, more than markers of place and local taste. The rocks, for instance, piled up or solitary, keep other things in place, some protection against the wind that blows stronger here in the upper air.

Things are located on the threshold between material world and symbolic system in this environment. Most obviously exemplified by the towel on the left, that combines the image of an eagle with the word “eagle” spelled out, what shapes this image is the breakdown of boundaries between sign and object, world and subject, art and life. Things become letters, characters combine to words, society – the ecosystem we’re living in – is based on written rules and laws. The shaking towel attests to the inherent inconsistency between reality and the empire of signs. The time is out of joint, the supposedly clear object of designation is arbitrarily blurred. The eagle isn’t landing and the diver touches ground.

The title Water Moon Moving Star (my literal translation of the Sino-Korean “Suwol Haengseong”) references traditional Buddhist paintings of the moon (wol) reflected on water (su). The solemn image of Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, meditating over the constant, yet slowly changing lunar reflection, corresponds – or clashes – with the second part, literally “moving star” (haeng-seong) or “planet”. Like the system of suns, planets, and moons, moving silently around each other, the vibrating network depicted in this image exceeds understanding on first view.

What is clear, though, is that Water Moon Moving Star is not about the surface of things but about the underlying structures. The diver takes a deep breath to discover the strings that hold all things together and, at the same time, is attached to these things herself. Under constant tension, high-strung, uncertain where the intersections will lead her, the diver is sinking down into the depth by her own weight, ready to find hidden treasures, and at the same time drawn to the surface, by virtue of buoyancy. The potential trajectory from below aims upwards, towards the reflection of the yet unrisen moon, bound to destroy it when breaking the surface.

The diver in Water Moon Moving Star and the skater in Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again), both occupying the center of their respective image, are turned and twisted in opposite directions and angles. The skater leads the others to an invisible future somewhere on the left, outside of the frame. The diver, however, is caught in an eternal up-and-down, like the Jeju haenyeo who oscillate between their prey on the sea floor and their slowly filling baskets floating amongst the waves.

 

If Flowers Fall and Bloom (Again) is about suspended time, the potential of the moment, and history as a series of freeze frames, Water Moon Moving Star shows the spatialization of time — hundred years condensed in the hovering seascape. The processual proceedings that shape our being, hard to grasp, appear as a movie and a map, respectively. The actors in these images, skater and diver, navigate these different environments, concrete but slippery, floating without safety net but with strings attached. Slices of time, out of phase and overlapping, that’s the stuff that life is made of.

— 1 March 2021 (月)

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A Long, Short Year: 2020 in Review

The year 2020 has been a very long year that, nevertheless, seems to have passed within an instant.

Nam June Paik, “TV Buddha”, at Hakgojae Gallery

I just heard a radio interview with sociologist Hartmut Rosa (in German), the author of Beschleunigung (2005; translated as Social Acceleration, Columbia UP 2013). Rosa notes that so many things outside of one’s routines and expectations happened since last March that it seems like a lot of time has passed since. (On the pandemic as a stimulus for “forced deceleration”, see an interview with Rosa from April 2020.) An explanation that my own experience seems to confirm but at the same time feels insufficient. I think it was also the lack of interruptions, much needed resting points for recuperation and reflection that usually help to recharge one’s inner batteries and that structure the year, that made this one pass by so fast. Delays, overlaps, remote teaching, endless video recording and class preparations, an endless number of mini quizzes and instant feedback kind of made the year compress into a single stream of consciousness, if that makes sense.

It was also a year of constant screening. Like Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha (the photo above is from late January), I felt like looking at myself throughout…

Anyway, now that the year is over (whatever that may mean), here are some memories from the last twelve months:

The year 2020 began with a long-awaited trip to Berlin. With a group of students I spent three weeks in my former adopted hometown. The students had language classes by day and at night we went to the theatre. In retrospective, that was probably the last time of uninhibited laughter and applause for quite a while. We returned to Seoul in late January, with the news about a new Corona virus on our mind and some of the last masks sold at Berlin Airport in our face. Here is the first part of an overview of the shows we saw in January, with more to follow (eventually). The photo shows the statue of Bertolt Brecht, next to (his) Berliner Ensemble where we saw a play and had a workshop.

The spring semester was delayed to mid-March and eventually began completely online. For the first time, I had a graduate seminar this year, on “German Theatre in Korea”. As a note to future me – and maybe helpful for others? – I had planned to discuss my syllabus and the proceedings of the seminar. This is the first part of that course plan, with more hopefully following (eventually).

Usually the sunny, flower-blossoming spring starts with the Tongyeong International Music Festival (TIMF) in April. This year, obviously, the festival was postponed and then cancelled, same goes for the “Asian Composers Showcase” that I coordinate for Goethe-Institut Korea, which takes place as part of TIMF. The Showcase is planned to be shown in April 2021 instead, when TIMF returns, and I hope this will work out! Information on the composers and their works can be found online and I’m looking forward very much to finally see them performed. (The photo of Tongyeong’s concert hall is from 2018, when I last attended the festival.)

In May, this blog turned ten years old. On that occasion, I jotted down some thoughts.

In the world of pansori this was a quite important year, too, because a whole bunch of master singers were officially acknowledged. Between June and December, eight singers were added to the list of “Human Treasures” (인간문화재), the highest rank for pansori performers. A major rejuvenation, with the average age changing from early 80s to early 70s, with three new singers in their late 50s. The gender gap also diminished, from 75% men (three out of four, albeit two of them drummers) to a 50:50 quote (of twelve in total). Here is a list of the current Human Treasures, 2020 additions marked with an asterisk:

  • 1923/27: Jeong Cheol-ho (정철호, male) > drummer
  • 1936: Song Sun-seop (송순섭, male)
  • 1940: *Kim Il-gu (김일구, male)
  • 1942: Sin Yeong-hui (신영희, female)
  • 1942: *Jeong Sun-im (정순임, female)
  • 1942: *Gang Jeong-ja (강정자, female) > honorary holder
  • 1946: Kim Cheong-man (김청만, male) > drummer
  • 1947/48: *Kim Su-yeon (김수연, female)
  • 1951: *Kim Yeong-ja (김영자, female)
  • 1961: *Lee Nan-cho (이난초, female)
  • 1963: *Jeong Hoe-seok (정회석, male)
  • 1965: *Yun Jin-cheol (윤진철, male)

For details, see an earlier, updated blogpost on how masters are made in pansori. The picture below is from a performance of Yun Jin-cheol on KBS’s “Gugak Han Madang” in March. In 2017, I had the pleasure to meet him in Berlin, where he performed Jeokbyeok-ga in full at our “Pansori in Europe” symposium. Now he’s the youngest Human Treasure (in history, I’d guess) – big congratulations!

Meanwhile at Pink Factory… After five years of international artist residency programs, now the focus is on local tales and talents. Two long-term projects began this summer (click the hashtag-links for details from Pink Factory’s homepage): First, a community-centered theatre project in cooperation with Namoodak Movement Lab titled “Halmi Jari Geori” (#할미자리거리, loosely translating to “Granny’s Distant Place”). This project culminated in a street performance in Hongcheon Town in October, with pungmul, stilting, shadow theatre and more (see my review and photo below). Second, a research-based dance/choreography project on female spirits and gods revered in the Hongcheon area as well as environmental change named “Hongsu Seolhwa-mu” (#홍수설화무舞 or “Flood Fairy Tale Dance”). Both projects suffered delays and setbacks due to Corona-related limitations, but are set to continue next year – live in Hongcheon!

Academically, this year was a mixed bag for me. Not much time to do any new research or writing, I still had the opportunity to present on lingering topics at several conferences, some of which I’d never be able to attend in person. These papers (links to related material) are all outgrows of my dissertation on contemporary pansori performance and hopefully will contribute to a book project on the various facets of pansori today (again, eventually):

  • “Staged Voices: Experimental Pansori Singing/Storytelling in the Korean Theatre Scene”, presented at the Association for Asian Performance (AAP) online conference on July 28, 2020 [LINK]
  • “Pansori Cinema: Dubbing the Past, Remaking Tradition”, presented at the online conference “Vicarious Vocalities/Simulated Songs: Lost, Borrowed and Stolen Voices in popular culture” on September 25, 2020 [LINK]
  • “Taroo’s ‘Pansori Hamlet Project’ at the Intersection of Traditional Music and Theatre, East and West”, presented at the Asian Shakespeare Association (ASA) hybrid conference on November 5, 2020 [LINK]

My online presentation at AAP, thanks to my co-panelist CedarBough Saeji for the screenshot!

Final group photo of the ASA online conference

And a short preview for three pansori-related conference appearances next year (hopefully at least partly in person):

An earlier research project about Cold War interactions between Korean theatre-maker Yu Chi-jin (유치진) and the US-based Rockefeller Foundation (#YuRockDrama) comes to its logical conclusion – or enters another phase – now that the Namsan Arts Center (남산예술센터) closes its doors. Briefly: Yu received major sponsorship from the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s and early 60s to open the Seoul Drama Center (서울드라마센터, see photo below), a new kind of theatre meant to booster local creativity. Even though the Drama Center was an important laboratory for tradition-induced theatre until the 70s, it never became a truly public theatre as intended but was privatized. Rented out to the city of Seoul for the last decade (run as the Namsan Arts Center), the contract has been ended and the future of the Drama Center is open… See Namsan Art Center’s homepage for an archive of their productions (to open December 31, 2pm) and the Facebook-page of an initiative to re-instate the Drama Center as a public theatre for their ongoing activities (in Korean). The photo below is from my last visit to the Namsan Art Center in July.

Original-language college drama or woneo-geuk (원어극) is another interest of me (#collegedrama) and the students of Ewha’s German language drama club “Auf die Bretter” (“On the boards”) are a constant source of inspiration. The regular full-length production last spring had to be cancelled, but during the summer break Auf die Bretter managed to stage a Zoom-version of Brecht’s double-feature Der Jasager / Der Neinsager (The Yes Sayer / The No Sayer AKA Yes-Man / No-Man), which premiered in September. These screenshots cannot give justice to the unreal, overwhelming sense of odd relatedness this wonderful show provided!

Despite Korean theatres performing with reduced audiences for most of the year, 2020 was also a year of continuous streaming – performances, lectures, roundtables etc. Of the many streams I saw during the last months, I recommend these two on Korean music, by two friends I hope to meet in person next year:

  • Jocelyn Clark, “’Blistered Fingers and Bleeding Throats: The Aesthetics of Korean Traditional Music”, Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, June 9, 2020 [LINK] >
  • CedarBough Saeji, “Because it is not American: How Cultural Difference Became K-pop’s Key to Success around the World”, Indiana University’s Webinar Series “The Impact of Korean Popular Culture on North America”, October 8, 2020 [LINK] > actual talks starts at 16:40

Among the many live performance streams I enjoyed, Igor Levit’s full-length recital of Erik Satie’s Vexations (May 30–31) was particularly striking, jingling me to sleep and waking me up in the morning (see an 11 minute cut and the full 12 hour version on Youtube):

Looking back at this year, I saw this tweet from January again:

So here’s to 2021 – to better times with some interruptions that, hopefully, allow us to reconnect and share a moment between scenes and screens.

— 31 December 2020 (木)

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Street Theatre in the Park (Pink Factory X Namoodak 2020: Granny’s Distant Place #할미자리거리)

Some years ago, at one of Pink Factory’s international workshops, we discussed these questions: Who owns traditions from the past? Who has access to art now? What makes art and tradition relevant, anyway? Maybe most important for Pink Factory, located in the the rural town of Hongcheon (Gangwon Province) where waiting lines in front of theatres or museums are a rare sight: How can audiences in the province be created, grown, and stimulated?

In a presentation on current pansori practice, I introduced different styles of performing this singing-storytelling tradition I had seen in Seoul and contrasted two spatial metaphors to think about art, tradition, and audiences: On the one hand the “backyard” (Korean: madang 마당), a separate and limited space of concentration and communion, maybe even seclusion. On the other hand the “street” (Kor. gilgeori 길거리), where random spectators momentarily stop, listen, maybe comment – and then pass by to continue with their life. While the backyard offers warmth and possibilities for deep exchange to a close-knit community, the street promises wider audiences, more outreach, and low barriers for anyone not already involved in whatever is happening. A closed, centripetal space of aggregation and unity versus an open space of diffusion but also of diversity.

backyard vs street

Slide from Jan Creutzenberg’s presentation, “Tradition of the Backyard, Tradition of the Street”, Pink Factory, 2016; images: “Taroo-Pan!Sori”-Project, featuring singer Jo Ella (left); “Insa-dong Street Soripan”, featuring singer Bak Tae-o (right)

The activities of Pink Factory, in constant search for interested audiences and possible participants in Hongcheon and elsewhere, have oscillated between these two poles. Exhibitions behind the walls of the local art museum on the one hand, community programs throughout town on the other. At the same time, experiments blur the boundaries, such as an open-air photo show on the market rooftop (“Hongcheon Monochrome” 홍천 모노크롬, curated by Robert Fouser, 2018), performances like Hur Yunkyung’s Implicitly Anywhere (허윤경, 은근어디든, 2017), artistic collaborations like the work Royal Palace by Chinese resident artist Ge Yulu and Park Saerim, owner of a local massage parlor (거위루 & 박세림, 황실 皇室, 2018), or the street art works in Hongcheon by Manfred Aleithe (2019).

The 2020 project “Granny’s Distant Place” (할미자리거리), a collaboration with Namoodak Movement Lab (나무닭움직임연구소) from Songsaeng Village in North Gyeongsang Province and other local artists from Hongcheon, is a new opportunity to reflect on the essential dilemma of making art for a diverse audience in the province without succumbing to aesthetic commonplaces.

Months of preparations, workshops, and rehearsals, restrained by Corona-induced delays, culminated in a two hour event in central Hongcheon (강원도 홍천읍) last Saturday: a parade on stilts, with a large-scale granny puppet and pungmul (풍물, traditional drum and dance), leading to a nearby park for a group dance and a shadow puppet play before the day concluded with snacks and drinks. Namoodak had trained the stilting with a group of elementary school students, the folk club (화촌면 민속동아리) from nearby Hwachon town provided the pungmul beats, and two veteran players of ensemble Saenal (극단 새날) performed with their children in the park.

Thus a collaborative event with participants from various parts of the region and beyond, supported by the Gangwon Arts and Culture Foundation. But how would local, mostly random audiences react to this public performance that would temporarily disrupt the flow of Hongcheon’s everyday on this sunny Saturday afternoon?

First a disclaimer: As a member of Pink Factory, I was involved in the promotion and archival of this project – of which this review is a part – but not the actual proceedings, which I witnessed from behind a cell phone camera for the video stream on Facebook. This was a rather uncommon perspective for me, I tend to prefer a seat in the audience, but here acted rather as a participant observer. But then again, in an event that begins as a street parade through town and concludes with an open-air performance in a park, distinctions between makers and spectators are not clear-cut anyway.

Everything began in the backyard of the newly-built Pongdang-Pongdang Culture Center (홍천 퐁당퐁당 문화센터), where everyone was preparing costumes, rehearsing, posing for group photos when I arrived and set up my equipment. At 5:30pm the pungmul ensemble began to play and set the parade in motion – stilting kids in corn costumes followed, with wielders of acorn lanterns and the titular Granny, a ten-feet moving sculpture handled by puppeteers from the in- and outside, closely behind. While filming the moving line of more than twenty people, I noticed in passing that all around me people were astonished by the unexpected spectacle. Some grabbed their cell phones, others applauded, greeted the performers with bows, clapped their hands or shouted out sounds of surprise. Traffic came to a momentary halt as the group marched around the block, along the busy market, danced in circles on the roundabouts, and then proceeded towards Kkotmoe Park (꽃뫼공원).

The ear-piercing beats of drums and gongs drew attention, the corncobs on their long legs swaggered by, the Granny shook hands with marketeers – all in all, a fantastic tohuwabohu that the streets of Hongcheon certainly hadn’t seen in a while.

After arriving in the park, the paraders formed a large circle around the Granny, kept on dancing, and some people joined in. For a while Kkotmoe Park, usually a place for chattering and board games, was bustling while the sun slowly set. After a short break, a small screen erected on one side of the park was illuminated. A woman appeared from behind, greeted the audience and introduced herself as having moved to Hongcheon years ago, praising her new-found home. With a song, she then initiated the final act of the show.

The shadow play now shown on the screen was set in nearby Myeoneuri Valley and told the story of an unlucky daughter-in-law (Kor. myeoneuri 며느리). The play was partially based on the legend of the “Grandmother Rock” in Hwasangdae-ri, a village in Hongcheon county, which historian Heo Rim (허림) had introduced to the Pink Factory artists last year. This is a quote from his presentation on Hongcheon’s local folklore:

The rock, which remains in the middle of the village, is covered with small puddles that resemble footprints. In the past, it was also known as “Palmae Rock”, referring to the act of throwing (palmae-hada) a stone from afar. When a stone hit one of the holes, it would promise good luck. But according to another legend, the footsteps on the rock were created by an evil witch who […] stepped on the stone because the trip was too long. It is also said that when water is applied to warts here, they will disappear.

(Pink Factory Catalogue 2019: Talking Gender in the Province, p. 22)

Rooted in local folklore, the shadow play on the bright screen in the now dark park, looked a bit like a TV and served as the proverbial fireplace, with onlookers gathering around. The performers would also step from behind the screen occasionally, to dance and sing to the amusement of the audience. While the parade had attracted attention from everyone they had passed, here in Kkotmoe Park a small but attentive group of people had formed, who later continued to chat over odeng soup and fresh rice cake.

From the backyard onto the street, the performance had drawn some spectators into the park while others went their own way. The central location, open-air with good weather, helped to grow and sustain these spontaneous audiences, despite some tension amidst a recent Corona infection in Hongcheon, one of only a handful in this part of South Korea. Everyone was wearing a mask, of course, but it seemed that this did not hinder communication in any essential way.

As an alternative to globally accessible but mediated, therefore often distant online streamings, street theatre – or park theatre? – can serve a communal role for a limited, local audience. The mixture of concrete and abstract imagery, universal gestures of communication (the hand-shaking Granny) and specific, local symbols (corn, for instance, is a typical product of Hongcheon), ambiguous legends alluded to in the parade and a concise story retold in the park performance together evoked a grab bag with something for everyone.

The spectators tended to be older while many participants were teenagers and extended exchanges beyond the moment were probably the exception. But for these moments, throughout town, the shaking, dancing, sounding group of people apparently moved anyone around. In a town like Hongcheon, particularly in times where mandatory social distancing makes any form of communication difficult, this is more than I had expected.

 

With guests from out of town, performers and musicians from Hongcheon county, as well as ad-hoc audiences, the question remains: Whose event was this? Even though the large papier mâché puppets and costumes will return to the workshop of Namoodak, the participants can keep their stilts for future trips around town. And the moments, the memories of this day, forged between backyard and streets of Hongcheon, between market alleyways and the park – they belong to all of us!

— 17 Oct. 2020 (土)

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