Discussing New Pansori, Theatre, and Tradition in Berlin (Korea-Madang)

There was no empty chair at PGBerlin. I hadn’t expected that so many people – more than twenty – were interested in talking about “New Pansori Works from Korea”. Korea Verband (한독협회) had done great promotion and I got more and more excited as the chairs filled. For one hour, I discussed a variety of recent productions, complete with images and videos.

Foto: Korea Verband

Foto: Korea Verband


This is my presentation, just the bare bones, without images and video:


Some of the videos that I showed are not available online, but the following links should help you get an idea of what this talk was about.

These are the performances I talked about:

  • Badak Sori’s wonderful anti-war-piece “Song of the Smart Bomb” (바닥소리, 스마트폭탄가, video at Daum)
  • Lee Jaram’s Sacheon-ga (이자람, 사천가), on which I have talked in detail on several occasions (1 2)
  • Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project” (타루, 판소리 햄릿 프로젝트), which I reviewed recently
  • A pansori-version of Anne Frank’s Diary by ensemble Pansori Hada (판소리 하다, 안네의 일기, an excerpt is available on Youtube
  • “Comic Variety Pansori” But:too by Gugak Nuri (국악누리, 바투), which I reviewed for the Jeonju Sori Festival-blog (in Korean) years ago, a trailer can be seen on Youtube
  • The recently revived “Insa-dong Street Soripan”, on which I have written extensively on this blog (1 2 3 4)

The discussion that followed my talk, hosted by Kai Köhler (specialist on Korean literature in German translation) was great: Many comments, questions, and hypotheses that spawned an in-depth discussion.

Some guests saw more potential for creative storytelling in pansori than my examples had shown. Others stressed the essential minimalism of pansori which, stimulating the spectators’ imagination, makes fancy costumes or spectacular stage design unnecessary.

We also talked about the way pansori is taught at school – until recently not very much –, and how this influences popular perception of the art. Some guests who attended school in Korea of the 50s and 60s remembered that music education exclusively focused on Western songs and classical music. Nowadays, things have changed a bit, with professional performers teaching at schools (Lee Jaram’s Sacheon-ga has even become textbook material), but not entirely.

An interesting comment contrasted the perceived general disinterest in tradition (whether in Korea or elsewhere) with the successful “Plattsounds” band contest in Northern Germany that presents songs in Plattdeutsch (Low German) dialect, not least because my grandparents spoke Plattdeutsch (I can’t, though). I found this recontextualization, which in some ways mirrors attempts to modernize and popularize traditional arts in Korea by means of “fusion”, particularly noteworthy, given that Germany adopted an official system for the recognition and support of “immaterial heritage” just a few years ago – fifty years after Korea (see my two blogpost on that matter 1 2).

Photo: Korea Verband

Photo: Korea Verband

The talk concluded with an ad-hoc duet performance by Soogi Kang of Berlin-based Theater Salpuri (also on Facebook) and a young pansori singer, followed by some wine and snacks. It was a great evening, thanks to Korea Verband, discutant Kai Köhler, and the people who joined our discussion!

– 27 July 2016 (水)

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A Tale of Two Hamlets: Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project” and Tuida’s “Hamlet Cantabile”

Hamlet, once again! My double review of two Korean productions has just been published in the online journal Borrowers and Lenders.

Pansori Hamlet Project © Taroo

Pansori Hamlet Project © Taroo

I have been intrigued by Taroo’s ongoing “Pansori Hamlet Project” (국악뮤지컬집단 타루, 판소리 햄릿 프로젝트) for quite a while, from the first showcase at Doosan Art Center, through a second one at Seoul Theater Center, to the final production that, with each revival, is slightly revised and refined. The pansori singers of Taroo, together with guest actors, attempt to relate to Shakespeare’s classic from a decidedly contemporary perspective, paradoxically?, with the singing-storytelling art of pansori.

In contrast, I have seen Tuida’s “Hamlet Cantabile” (공연창작집단 뛰다, 노래하듯이 햄릿), which likewise boasts an impressive performance history (since its premiere in 2005), only one time, at Tuida’s home in rural Gangwon-do last year. Changing between hilarious and somber, this production employs Korean tradition much less obviously and draws on other performing arts as well, such as commedia dell’arte. Nevertheless, in a more mystique, grotesque, sometimes ecstatic way, “Hamlet Cantabile” likewise presents a new perspective on the seemingly indestructible drama.

See my review, including many images of both productions, online or read it (without the pictures) as a PDF-file. Thank you to Christy Desmet for suggesting “Hamlet Cantabile” to me and for commissioning this review!

Hamlet Cantabile © Tuida

Hamlet Cantabile © Tuida

– 27 June 2016 (月)

  • Jan Creutzenberg, “Hamlet Redux: Two Korean Productions that Re-stage Shakespeare’s Play between Tradition and Today”, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation X.1 (spring/summer 2016), eds. Maurizio Calbi and Stephen O’Neill, available online.
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Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre

routledge handbook of asian theatre, arrivalIt took quite a while, but finally the Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre arrived in its full splendor: a 500-page tome covering the last hundred years (and more) of theatre in Asia, from India to Indonesia, from North to South Korea.

Editor Siyuan Liu, whose tremendous and meticulous work for this volume can hardly be overestimated, had contacted me in March 2014. I agreed to contribute two texts on theatre in Korea, one for a section about “Gender Performance and the Rise of Actresses in Modern Asian Theatre”, which was a rather unexplored realm for me but proved very interesting, particularly given the complex transformations of theatre in the colonial era, influenced by Western and Japanese models alike.

Another commissioned text is about “Modern Asian Theatre and Indigenous Performance” which in the case of Korea slightly touches my dissertation theme but at the same time allowed me to learn more about early traditionalist movements in the 30s, a new wave of theatremakers in search of theatrical roots in the 60s and 70s, and more recent developments in the 90s and 2000s.

Anyway, I submitted my essays in the summer of 2014, checked the glossary of Korean terms the next year, and received the final proofs in late 2015. Now it’s almost five month since the book arrived here and I’ve not come to more than skimming through some of the chapters. As the gigantic table of contents (24 chapters!) below shows, it’s a treasure chest of interesting topics, all discussed from various angels. And it was a great honor to participate in a project together with so many esteemed scholars, some friends, people I’ve met, or whose research I just admire from afar.

preview from my text on

preview from my text on traditional elements in contemporary Korean theatre

preview from my text on traditional elements in contemporary Korean theatre

preview from my text on traditional elements in contemporary Korean theatre

The prize probably limits the audience to research libraries, still Google Books offers a little preview of what is to be expected. Looking forward

– 26 Feb. 2016 (金)

  • Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre, ed. Siyuan Liu, London & New York 2016: Routledge, 578 pages, 99 b/w illus., hardback $240.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Siyuan Liu

Part I. Traditional Theatre in Asia

1. Traditional Indian Theatre: Farley Richmond
2. Traditional Chinese Theatre: Colin Mackerras
3. Traditional Japanese Theatre: Jonah Salz
4. Traditional Indonesian Theatre: I Nyoman Sedana and Kathy Foley

Part II. Dimensions of Traditional Asian Theatre

5. Dance in Traditional Asian Theatre
India: Arya Madhavan
China: Fan Xing
Tibet: Kati Fitzgerald
Uyghur: Ronald Gilliam
Japan: Colleen Lanki
Korea: CedarBough T. Saeji
Southeast Asia: Kathy Foley
Cambodia: Celia Tuchman-Rosta

6. Music in Traditional Asian Theatre
India: Arya Madhavan
China: Ashley Thorpe
Tibet: Kati Fitzgerald
Uyghur: Ronald Gilliam
Japan: Jay Keister
Korea: Andrew Killick
Southeast Asia: Kirstin Pauka

7. Masks in Traditional Asian Theatre
Tibet: Kati Fitzgerald
Korea: CedarBough T. Saeji
Japan: Diego Pellecchia
Southeast Asia: Margaret Coldiron

8. Puppets in Traditional Asian Theatre
Kathy Foley

9. Costume and Makeup in Traditional Asian Theatre
India: David Mason
China: Alexandra Bonds
Japan: Monica Bethe
Southeast Asia: Kirstin Pauka and Lauren Meeker

10. Architecture and Stage of Traditional Asian Theatre
India: David Mason
China: Colin Mackerras
Japan: Julie A. Iezzi
Southeast Asia: Kathy Foley

Part III. Modern Theatre in Asia

11. Modern Indian Theatre: Aparna Dharwadker

12. Modern Theatre in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka
Pakistan: David Mason
Bangladesh: Syed Jamil Achmed
Nepal: Carol C. Davis
Sri Lanka: Kanchuka Dharmasiri

13. Modern Japanese Theatre: John K. Gillespie

14. Modern Chinese Theatre: Siyuan Liu

15. Modern Theatre in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and North Korea
Hong Kong: Gilbert C. F. Fong and Shelby Kar-yan Chan
Taiwai: Katherine Hui-ling Chou
Korea: Kim Yun-Cheol
North Korea: Ji Hyon (Kayla) Yuh

16. Modern Theatre in Mainland Southeast Asia: Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam
Thailand: Pawit Mahasarinand
Burma: Ye Taik
Laos: Jennifer Goodlander
Cambodia: Khoun Chanreaksmey and Siyuan Liu
Vietnam: Trinh Nguyen

17. Modern Theatre in Maritime Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore: Michael Bodden


18. The Beginning of Spoken Theatre: Colonialism and Colonial Modernity
India: Anita Singh
Indonesia: Matthew Isaac Cohen
Japan: Maki Isaka
China: Siyuan Liu

19. Gender Performance and the Rise of Actresses in Traditional Asian Theatre
India: Anita Singh
Japan: Maki Isaka
China: Siyuan Liu
Southeast Asia: Kathy Foley
Case Study: Indonesian Wayang kulit Dalang: Jennifer Goodlander and Ashley Robertson

20. Gender Performance and the Rise of Actresses in Modern Asian Theatre
India: Anita Singh
Japan: Ayako Kano
China: Siyuan Liu
Korea: Jan Creutzenberg
Southeast Asia: Kathy Foley

21. Modern Asian Theatre and Indigenous Performance
India: Anita Singh
Japan: Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei
China: Siyuan Liu
Korea: Jan Creutzenberg
Southeast Asia: Kathy Foley

22. Traditional Asian Performance in Modern and Contemporary Times
India: Arya Madhavan
Japan: Jonah Salz
China: Min Tian
Korea: CedarBough T. Saeji
Southeast Asia: Jennifer Goodlander

23. Intercultural Theatre and Asian Shakespeare Productions in Asia
India: Shormishtha Panja
Japan: Suematsu Michiko
Chinese language theatre: Alexa Huang
Southeast Asia: Yong Li Lan

24. Modern Musicals in Asia
Japan: Makiko Yamanashi
China: Sissi Liu
Hong Kong: Gilbert C. F. Fong and Shelby Kar-yan Chan
Taiwan: Fan-ting Cheng
Korea: Ji Hyon (Kayla) Yuh
Southeast Asia: Caleb Goh

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Daehangno Poster Session 5

After a nice meeting with a professor of theatre – where else, but in Daehangno (대학로), the “Mekka” of stageshows in Seoul – I strolled around a bit, had a look at the journals in the Korea National Archives of the Art, and took some images of posters announcing upcoming performances.

These are the ones I found memorable:

(English titles are, if not obvious adaptations, my translation; links lead to my annex-blog of recommended performances)

Because this play promises “a comedy with strange/shady/dubious traditional humor” (전통해학의 수상한 코미디).

Because of the cute typography and the unusual poster format.

Because this adaptation of Hamlet sounds like it could be a piece of pansori.

Because right after being introduced to this story (first year in college, in a influential seminar on Greek comedy) Bartleby became the theatre makers’ darling (e.g. in Christoph Marthaler’s “Ausdünnung” Lieber Nicht, Volksbühne 2003, a German review)

Because who doesn’t like to hear (or better say) this title? The synopsis sounds like a typical family tearjerker, though…

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any of these plays yet – if you have, please leave your impression!

– 3 June 2016 (金)

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Backyard or Street? From Pansori to Contemporary Art in Hongcheon

For the second pink factory-workshop on “tradition in motion”, I had prepared a presentation on contemporary pansori performances. As the title “Tradition of the Backyard, Tradition of the Street” indicates, I attempted to conceptualize two ways of reviving tradition for general audiences today: first, in the enclosement of the backyard, the center of a living place, for a small and possibly exclusive group; second, in the bustling street, outside and free, with people passing by and occasionally, and temporarily, someone joining. (You can find the bilingual abstract below.)


The following discussion was highly productive. Everyone shared experiences and thoughts, touching on a variety of subjects, from pansori-related themes to more general concepts such as accessibility and shared authorship. Here, I’d like to add some background information on those matters that proved essential to pink factory’s mission and methodology. In a way, this is meant as a continuation of our discussion and the invitation to everyone interested – please join in!


Like the workshop, I tried to provide the following material in bi-lingual (English and Korean) form, which turned out harder than I thought. The result is a mixed list of information, hopefully helpful in continuing our discussion. Please feel free to suggest other relevant information, links, ideas, and, of course criticism and comments.

아래의 자료는 강의처럼 영어 및 한국어로 제공하려고 했지만 실패했습니다… 결과는 다양한 정보의 목록이 되었는데 우리의 대화를 진행하도록 할 과정에 도움이 될지도 모르겠습니다. 다른 관련된 정보, 링크, 생각, 그리고 물론 비판과 코멘트를 뒷굴로 남아주신다면 감사드리겠슴니다.

The two performance series that I presented in my talk are:

(Gugak Musical Collective) Taroo’s “Taroo-Pan!Sori”-Project, a series of several events that took place irregularly on Saturday afternoons in the backyard of a hanok-guesthouse in Bukchon, Seoul. I have written on these events for the blog of the Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival (전수세계소리축제의 불로그에서: English and Korean), and for this blog (English only). See this page for all posts on Taroo. Taroo’s homepage (타루늬 홈피) offers additional “official” information and “following” their Facebook-page (타루의 페이스북-페이지) helps to stay up-to-date on their current activities.


  1. The “Insa-dong Street Soripan”, initiated by singer Bak Tae-o (박태오) and instrumentalist Jo Sang-min (조상민), features short numbers by a variety of performers, mostly pansori singers but also other genres, such as minyo, or mask dance. This bi-weekly (now monthly) event is actually a revival of the “Byeorak Performances” and similar street concerts in Insa-dong by the (now historical) Ttorang Gwangdae, active in the early 2000s. I wrote numerous texts on the recent emergence of a mix of old Ttorang Gwangdae (Bak Tae-o, for example, participated in the Ttorang Gwangdae-contests in the early 2000s), and a younger generation of singers. For an introduction of the Ttorang Gwangdae, see my first installment of a series of (otherwise mostly archival) blogposts on the Insa-dong Street Soripan. This link goes to all my (English) posts that relate to Insa-dong. I also translated the “Declaration of the Ttorang Gwangdae” from 2004 into English (“또랑광대의 선언문” 한국어 원고). And there is a bibliography of Korean papers on newly-created pansori works (창작판소리에 관련된 참고문헌), many of them dealing with the Ttorang Gwangdae and their street activities (Kim Gi-hyeong 김기형 is a particularly meticulous writer on them).


Some more information on topics that came up in discussion, in no particular order:

  • The first (historically recorded and now legendary) female pansori singer was first female pansori singer Jin Chae-seon (최초의 여성 소리꾼 진채선). She features in the historic movie The Sound of a Flower (도리화가, 2015, trailer) and Taroo has produced a musical on her called Romance at Unhyeon Palace (운현궁 로맨스, trailer), a title which gives away the whole plot. See my Korean review for the blog of the Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival.
  • We briefly talked about a new (well, relatively speaking, as it is now already over ten years old) pansori piece on StarCraft, Seuta Daejeon (“Great Star War”, 소리꾼 박태오의 “스타대전”) by Bak Tae-o, one of the original Ttorang Gwangdae and now a protagonist of the re-emerged “Insadong Street Soripan”. Two videos of Bak performing his piece are available on Youtube, one from the 4th Ttorang Gwangdae Concert in Jeonju, 2004 (제4회 또랑광대 콘테스트, 전주 2004년), (part2), another shorter section from the weekly TV show Gugak Hanmadang on KBS (KBS 국악한마당). Two websites also offer (different) excerpts from the lyrics and, in one case, an mp3-file (“스타대전”의 가사, mp3 포함).
  • Hae-kyung Um discusses “Great Star War” (and also translates some of its lyrics on pp. 38–40) and other new works in her paper “New P’ansori in Twenty-first-century Korea: Creative Dialectics of Tradition and Modernity” (Asian Theatre Journal 25.1 (2008), 24–57, via Project Muse). This is a quote from Um’s paper:

    Pak T’ae-o shows both musical and theatrical talent in his award wining new p’ansori Star Wars, which was originally composed as part of his final year requirement for a BA degree in p’ansori. The shifting tempo and pace is borrowed from the battle scene of the traditional p’ansori The Song of Red Cliff, which he studied with various master singers. […] The language used [in the excerpt below […] is predominantly contemporary Chôlla dialect but it also includes some Japanese accent and English words. (p. 38)

  • “Great Star War” is also available on record, as part of the double album Ttorang Kkangdae, Ggum 2003 (tracks 14–17 on CD1).
  • On the practice of Ttechang or Jechang (떼창/제창 齊唱), chanting in unison as a chorus, I found some interesting links: a list of famous ttechang-videos from recent pop concerts; ttechang-scenes edited into a video; an English Korea Herald-article on the phenomenon; a slightly longer text in the magazine Koreana
  • In “A Study on the Method of Pansori Audience Participation in Singing”, Yi Yu Jin elaborates on the historical practice of inserting popular folk songs (삽입민요) in pansori pieces as a crowd pleaser that I mentioned (이유진, “판소리 청관중의 가창참여 방법에 대한 고찰”, 판소리연구 22 (2006), 279–303, link).

Going beyond the theme of pansori, we also discussed the status of pink factory, formally private property, but one with “murky borders” and sediments of various past uses.

The public hiking path “Gosari-bong” (고사리봉 산행, bracken hill walk), for example, passes through the territory of pink factory and there are occasional hikers passing by (see two blogs with photos by hikers), probably wondering about that large silver cube on the side of the road. You can find guideposts for the trail, for example, next to the road leading up to pink factory.

농업기반공사 홍천, 춘천지사, 굴운2지구 공사사무소The artist accommodations and the seminar room are in a building that formerly served as a field office of the Korea Agricultural and Rural Infrastructure Corporation (KARICO, 농업기반공사), with the official designation 농업기반공사 홍천 춘천지사 굴운2지구 공사사무소. KARICO is “a public enterprise that carries out a rural improvement project, manages overall rural infrastructures, increases agricultural productivity by promoting the optimization of farming scale, and contributes to the economical and social development of rural area with the environmentally-friendly point of view.”There are still many traces to be found from the KARICO officers who worked here until some ten years ago. KARICO became the Korean Rural Community Corporation (KRC, 한국농어촌공사) in 2008, dedicated to “building happy rural communities”.

The former fish restaurant Yongsu (용수횟집) still on occasion draws (disappointed) guests. Closed down since last year, it serves as a communal kitchen and meeting place for pink factory now. Nevertheless, the restaurant is still “on the map”, at least online. And although a restaurant is not public property, it still was as a place to go…

[to be continued…]


– 11 June 2016 (土)

  • Jan Creutzenberg, “Tradition of the Backyard, Tradition of the Street: The Location of Rewriting” Like other traditional arts, the singing-storytelling pansori is struggling to find audiences beyond the closely associated scene. While official support through the system of important intangible heritage provides funding for acknowledged singers and their “orthodox” performances, young singers go new ways in popularizing pansori. I will consider two recent attempts of approaching general audiences: in the “Taroo-Pan!Sori”-project, members of the gugak musical ensemble Taroo perform pansori in the calm backyard of a traditional korean house. The “Insa-dong Street Soripan” is a lose series of performances that include instrumental songs and dance in the bustling streets of central Seoul. The street and the backyard are two compelling metaphors for describing related strategies for creating temporal communities that differ in various details. Home and outside, private and public spaces, guests and by-passers – both relating to existing conventions and taking new ways, these approaches show the potential of rewriting tradition in Seoul. Do they also offer inspiration for sustainable art in the province? (pink factory 2016 international workshop series “tradition in motion”, #2: pansori – theatre studies, 2016–06–11, 4–6pm)
  • 이안 코이츤베악, “마당의 전통, 길거리의 전통: 다시쓰기의 현장” 다른 전통 예술과 마찬가지로, 이야기하면서 노래하는 판소리는 가까운 예술계외에 관중을 모집하는 것은 매우 어려운 상황이다. 중요무형문화재라는 제도를 통해 공공적인 후원을 받으며 “정통”의 판소리 공연을 하는 명창과 달리, 젊은 소리꾼은 앞선 이유로 판소리의 대중화를 새로운 방법으로 모색하곤 한다. 나는 최근, 일반 관중을 대상으로 탐구하는 두 가지 접근사례를 살펴 보고자 한다: 먼저, “타루판!소리”-프로젝트로 국악뮤지컬집단 타루의 북촌 한옥의 조용한 마당에서 펼쳐진 판소리 공연을. 그리고, 두 번째로 “인사동 거리소리판”의 판소리와 전통기악, 그리고 전통춤으로 구성된 인사동 길거리공연이다. 이 두 가지의 공연방법에 나타난 강력한 메타포, 즉 “마당”과 “길거리”라는 공간 개념은 일시적인 공동체의 환기 전략을 설명하기에 도움이 된다. “마당”과 “길거리”는 가정집안과 외부, 사적 공간과 공적 공간, 방문객과 행인처럼, 기존 개념과 관련되면서 새로운 방향성을 보여준다고 하겠다. 이는 전통 다시쓰기의 가능성으로 개별 지역의 예술에 대해서도 지속 가능한 방법적 모색에 영감을 줄 수 있을까? (분홍공장 2016 인터내셔널 워크숍 시리즈 “움직이는 전통”, 제2회: 판소리 – 연극학, 2016년 6월 11일 (토), 오후 4–6시)
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The Conversations are (Not) Over

The Conversations are over, at least in Braunschweig, where Creative VaQi’s piece (크리에이티브 바키, 몇 가지 방식의 대화들), directed by Kyung Sung Lee (이경성) was shown last weekend at the Theaterformen-festival.

And The Conversations just begun – in the German papers and blogs (see a list of linked reviews below, nachtkritik.de naturally

provides a nice press summary – all in German, of course) and, hopefully, later in Korea, as the ensemble is planning a revival.

For those who missed the performance in Braunschweig, there is a full recording of an earlier version performed in Korea available on Youtube, albeit without the German supertitles and additional props that were used in Braunschweig. Those were based on my German translation of The Conversations, which is how I got in touch with Creative VaQi to begin with.

I had the chance to meet the performers, the director, and Ae Soon Lee (이애순), an elderly woman who is the main theme and protagonist of the piece, on the occasion of their final rehearsal before leaving for Germany. That day, I conducted a short interview and plan to ask for their experiences with the audience in Braunschweig once they return to Korea. As time allows, I will post these impresions and thoughts here, sooner or later.

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

Let’s have a look at some reactions for now:

The German press was generally positive, about The Conversations and the festival in general. Katrin Bettina Müller, for example, in her review for the tageszeitung (June 15, 2016), notes the intense intimacy the play suggests with regard to Ae Soon Lee:

Some movies tell the story of a life in close range, but for the theatre this “portrait”-style production is unusual. It combines a familiar proximity with critical distance. Filme erzählen manchmal aus so großer Nähe die Geschichte eines Lebens, aber für die Bühne ist ein solches Porträtformat ungewöhnlich. Es verbindet eine vertrauensvolle Nähe mit einer kritischen Distanz.

The blog “Textures”, the (English) online platform for Interweaving Performance Cultures (hosted by the eponimous theatre research center at Free University Berlin, they also have a Facebook-page!), presents some other impressions about the research atelier “Our Common Futures” (see the full program) which was held at Theaterformen:

Thilo Grawe (student at the University of Hildesheim), in a post from June 12, quotes Kyung Sung Lee who spokemin a panel discussion:

“We judge each other so quickly by one’s political opinion and we hate each other so quickly, so I wanted to kind of try to delay this process of judging each other by creating this space for conversations.”

Grawe then comments:

Yes, there are conflicts and there are different opinions and political views and there is a lot of judgment in the first place, but what it really needs is communication and a dialogue instead. Creating a space for those conversations through performing arts is the kind of intervention that makes me wanting to be a part of the arts and of our common future – “being apart, but together”.

That is actually a great description of the play: Ae Soon Lee, in her seventies, and the actors of VaQi, half her age, do not seem to find a common demoninator in their conversations, except for the shared dinner in the final scene. I believe that The Conversations is not so much about a rational debate of the past – although that is attempted, too –, but rather about the possibility of emotional connections beyond ideological gaps.

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

But what happens when things get to “feel good”?

In a post from June 16, after seeing the performance, director-playwright Kaori Nishio asks how we can deal with the charm of a grandmother:

In this production [The Conversations] the life story of an old lady is performed by three young actors and the old lady herself. She is not a professional actor but [director] Kyung Sung Lee’s former nanny, and really charming. The problem is exactly this. She is so charming that her impression has been outshining the whole production.

Complete submission to Ae Soon Lee’s charms and life achievements – I had a similar reaction when I first saw Ae Soon Lee at the rehearsal after having read and written about her for weeks. Not sure how to deal with this tension yet…

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

Kaori Nishio concludes that the first part of the performance, where the actors are alone and “the distance between two generations is shown through South Korean historical incidents in the old lady’s memory performed by the young actors”, should be strengthened.

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

The Conversations © Creative VaQi, via Theaterformen

I’m not sure if I can agree. For me, personally sympathizing mostly with the diverging and critical opinions of the actors, Ae Soon Lee’s presence on stage seemed like a necessary balancing-mechanism. While the first part presents her thoughts and opinions for vast lengths in “verbatim” (albeit through the mouths of actors who remain more or less neutral about the words they utter), without her stage presence the play would be more of a critical assessment of the ideas prevalent in the older generation. The second part, where Ae Soon Lee’s presence and her acts (in particularly the long scrubbing scene) dominate both the stage and the actors, is, in fact, not so much a real dialogue but an attempt to approach each other, however awkward and problematic.

By highlighting the distance but not accepting it, and without offering any hope for reconciliation, the performance ends in harmony but leaves the audience with many questions to discuss – among themselves and, in the case of the festival, probably without the actors and Ae Soon Lee.

So The Conversations are definitely not over! Not yet, maybe never? Let’s keep them alive! (to end this post also on a “happy” note…)

– 12 & 13 June 2016 (日 & 月)

  • Alexander Kohlmann, “Mythen ohne Grenzen”, nachtkritik.de, 2016–06–14 (Link).
  • Peter Laudenbach, “Zehntausend Tiger”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2016–06–14 (Link, paywall).
  • Katrin Bettina Müller, Der Tanz der Geister, tageszeitung, 2016–06–15 (Link).
  • Patrick Wildermann, “Tiger und Verlierer”, Tagesspiegel, 2016–06–16 (Link).
  • Kornelius Friz , “Die Toten kehren auf Samtpfoten zurück”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2016–06–16 (not online yet).
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Pansori Live from Record: Chae Su-jeong’s Dongpyeonje Heungbo-ga Double Album

listening to Chae Su-jeong's live pansori recording

I just sent off my first album review! I’m not the biggest fan of pansori records, as the spontaneous and interactive atmosphere of a live performance cannot be fixed on tape. But the live double album by Chae Su-jeong (채수정, see the ideosyncratic spelling in the album booklet below, see her profile in Korean at Gugak Portal “Arirang”), of a full-length performance of Heungbo-ga in dongpyeon-je-style, following her teacher Bak Song-hui’s (박송희) teacher Bak Rok-ju (박록주, 1905–79, she’s the one with the cool sunglasses, see the poster of her 110th memorial event from one year ago) is maybe as close as it can get.

album coverThe spectators that night (July 14, 2013) at the Namsan Gugak-dang (남산국악당, these days a hot-spot for pansori, it seems) must have been great – their laughter, applause, and chuimsae are an important part of the recording! And of course Chae herself is just wonderful to listen to. I think I never had the chance to see her perform live, although I met her once in Jeonju and remember her as full of humour, which also shines through in many of the scenes on this album.
This is a scene from Heungbo-ga (“Heungbo’s wife moaning”), performed by Chae Su-jeong on TV, probably Gugak Hanmadang, the weekly Saturday-show of traditional music on KBS. Of course, in the TV studio the atmosphere is quite different from a live event – as a listener, I definitely prefer the CD to the TV-stage!

Anyone interested in my review has to wait until fall, when it will be published in Asian Musicology, an English-language journal published in Korea by the Council for Asian Musicology (아시아음악학회), formerly headed by gugak-studies-legend Chun In Pyong (전인평 全仁平). You can find more information on the album at “Jeong Chang-gwan’s World of Gugak Albums” (정창관의 국악CD음반 세계) and if you’d like to buy it, a search for the Korean title (see below) on the usual online shops should work.

The two posters for the performance are also just beautiful. I wish I had been there three years ago!

Chae Su-jeong, Pansori Heungbo-ga Full-Length Presentation (2013)

Chae Su-jeong, Pansori Heungbo-ga Full-Length Presentation (2013)

Chae Su-jeong, Pansori Heungbo-ga Full-Length Presentation (2013)

Chae Su-jeong, Pansori Heungbo-ga Full-Length Presentation (2013)

– 3 June 2016 (金)

  • 채수정 판소리 동편제 흥보가 (CD 2매), 소리: 채수정, 고수: 김정만, 박근영, 악단이반 2015, 25,000원.
  • Chae SooJung, Dongpyeonje Heungboga Pansori live (2 CDs), sori: Chae SooJung, drum: Kim JeongMan, Park GeunYoung, AkdangEban 2015, 25,000 KRW.
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