Through the Dream Forest to the Colonial Sherlock by Badaksori

Once more Sherlock, although this time his name is Hong…

Beware the Dream Forest! On my way to the ongoing Badaksori Festival (제1회 바닥소리극 페스티벌) at the Dream Forest Art Center (꿈의숲 아트센터) in Northern Seoul, I decided to take a walk for the last part and dropped of the bus right in front if the forest, just as night was falling. I should have known better: Within minutes, I was lost in the increasingly dark woods, scared off some innocent joggers, and made it to the performance five minutes late.

I could see the introductory narration of this Sherlock-pansori-theatre-piece (대한제국 명탐정 홍설록 only on the monitor in the lobby, before entering the auditorium and grabbing a seat in the last row. Three soldiers were marching on stage, members of the Independence Army, as the piece was set in the early years of the 20th century, during the Japanese colonial rule.The three soldiers’ ways parted, one became a doctor, another a high-ranking police officer, and the third dreamt of being a detective. The latter one was “Sherlock Hong”, the titular character of this unusual piece of sorigeuk. Together with “Watson”, his old army-friend doctor, he took on his first case, strange ghost sightings on Jeju Island.

대한제국 명탐정  홍셜록 ©  판소리 공장 바닥소리

대한제국 명탐정 홍셜록 © 판소리 공장 바닥소리

The performance switched between political period drama (the course of history projected on the stage backdrop), procedural drama, aery dance scenes by Jeju haenyeo (female sea divers), and a love story within a dream that culminated in a large scale (on-screen) explosion. Stylistically, it was a mixture of pansori-like singing, more-or-less musical songs, backed up by a fusion-band with daegeum, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Many details were unclear to me, still with good acting, particularly by An I-ho (안이호) as the main cast, and interesting set-ups, the performance could certainly entertain.

And there is more to come: This is supposed to be just the beginning of a three part series featuring Sherlock Hong. If course, the Badaksori Festival continues, too, with a pansori-version of The Diary of Anne Frank (안네의 일기, 판소리 하다, Sept. 23). Looking forward to that one, too. This time, I’ll take the bus straight through the forest, without any nightmarish

– 17 Sept. 2015 (목)

  • 판소라공장 바닥소리, 대한제국 명탐정 홍설록: 귀신테러사건, 극작: 최용석, 연출: 유기영, 작곡/음악감독: 김승진, 출연: 안이호, 김성환, 고영열, 신정혜, 정지혜, 지향희, 연주: 홍상진, 한창희, 설동호, 유수진, 윤영철, 꿈의숲 아트센터 퍼포먼스홀, 2015–09–17 (목), 오후 8–9.30시, 입장료: 6,000₩ (페스티벌 페키지).
  • Pansori Factory “Badaksori”, Great Korean Empire Detective Sherlock Hong: The Ghost Terror Incident, written by Choe Yong-seok, directed by Yu Gi-yeong, composition and musical direction: Kim Seung-jin, with An I-ho, Kim Seong-hwan, Go Yeong-yeol, Sin Jeong-hye, Jeong Ji-hye, Ji Hyang-hui, music performance by Hong Sang-jin, Han Chang-hui, Seol Dong-ho, Yu Su-jin, Yun Yeong-cheol, Dream Forest Art Center, Performance Hall, 2015–09–17 (Thu.), 8–9.30 pm, entrance fee: 6,000₩ (with festival pass).
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Pansori and Yodeling: Two Ways of Singing “Over the Top”

Recently, the German newspaper tageszeitung featured an interview with Doreen Kutzke, founder of a yodeling school in Berlin Kreuzberg (there is an information-PDF in English, too). You can hear some of her neo-traditional yodeling songs on Soundcloud. She talks about how she became a professional yodeller and, among other things, discusses the popular imagery of yodeling, what she likes about this peculiar voice art, and how the future of yodeling might look. (To find out more about “urban yodeling” in English, you can read an article in The Guardian that also mentions Kutzke or hear a short feature about her at Public Radio International, see the Urban Dictionary for an alternative definition.)

Besides learning much that I hadn’t known before, Kutzke mentioning the “Korean Yodel Federation” (한국요델협회, since 1978, also on Facebook) caught my eye. On the federation’s website, I found a (very) short history of yodeling in Korea:

해방전후로 만주쪽 등산가로부터 구전되어서 전해져 오기도 하고 또 한편으로는 일본을 통해서 들어 오기도 하였습니다. 공식적인 기록으로는 1934년 발표된 최초의 대중가수 채규엽의 음반에 ‘사랑의 유레이티’란 요델곡이 있었습니다. 1968년 한국 요델음악의 아버지라고 불리우는 김홍철씨가 스위스로 요델유학을 다녀오면서 그 이후 활발한 공연활동을 통해 전파되었습니다. 1969년 서울에델바이스 요델클럽이 창단된 이후로 현재까지 수도권 및 지방에서 8개의 요델클럽이 창단되었으며, 10여개 이상의 관련 동호회와 합창단이 정기적인 모임 가지면서 활발한 활동을 하고 있습니다.

This is my ad-hoc translation:

Around Liberation [from Japanese colonial rule, 15 Aug. 1945], [yodeling] was, on the one hand, passed down from mountain climbers in Manchuria, on the other it came from Japan. According to official records, the song ‘Yoo-rei-ti of Love’, published on popular singer Chae Gyu-yeop’s first album in 1934, was a yodeling song. Kim Hong-cheol, called the ‘father of Korean yodeling music’, went to study yodeling in Switzerland in 1968 and, afterwards, promoted it through lively performance activities. After the foundation of the yodeling club ‘Seoul Edelweiss’ [transl. hangeul: Edelbaiseu] in 1969, up until today eight yodeling clubs were founded in the greater Seoul area and more than ten related societies and choirs are meeting and conducting activities. (source: Korean Yodel Federation)

This first Korean yodel song can be heard at Heidiland, another website dedicated to the art. In its slightly inconvenient message board, Heidiland also offers a more detailed history of yodeling in Korea, as well as pictures, videos, and soundbites of the Korean yodeling-scene.

Doing research on pansori, I find interesting that, although aesthetically and physiologically completely different, yodeling shares a preference for extreme sound qualities with this traditional Korean singing-storytelling. In pansori, the most characteristic feature is the raspy, hoarse timbre/quality of the sound, in yodeling it is, among others, the sheer volume.

As a result, both arts suggest themselves as channels for emotional release. Whether in the form of “setting free ecstasy” (a free translation of the concept of sinmyeong puri 신명풀이) or the expression and subsequent release of han in the case of pansori. Or, while yodeling, as a liberating recklessness, the “total let go” (absolutes Loslassen), that Kutzke mentions in the interview.

Apart from artistic aspects, pansori and yodeling can be found in close proximity on the “musico-sociological grid”: With regard to production, in both cases songs were originally transmitted rather than composed. And with regard to the popular image today, both pansori and yodeling are considered old-fashioned by many, while at the same time evoking a sense of pride, often coloured with nationalist or regionalist implications.

It also seems that both traditional “folk” arts (pansori professionalized at an early stage, however) share a double-sided image: on the one hand well-known and generally acknowledged as an authentic expression of their respective culture (rural farming life in Korea, mountain culture in Switzerland); on the other hand old-fashioned, nostalgic, slightly cheesy, something for the older generation.

But artists like Kutzke or, in the case of pansori, crossover acts like Ninano Nanda (니나노 난다), a DJ and a pansori singer performing together, challenge the rustical atmosphere that surrounds their art of choice. While yodeling enjoys a world-wide success as an Alpine export product that has taken roots in other localities (Bart Plantenga has collected many examples, including some from Korea, in his book Yodel in Hi-Fi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2012, pp. 250ff). In contrast, pansori, as a stately-sponsored tradition with high-art-ambitions, seems more firmly rooted in folklore imagery. Young ensembles usually retain some traditional plotlines, hanbok (traditional clothes) or hanbok-inspired dressing is the usual attire. This might be partly due to the fact that afficionados of orthodox pansori still make up a large part of the potential audiences for more experimental work.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, according to a Korean newspaper article from last year, attempts of registering yodeling as a UNESCO world heritage are underway. But, as the article duely notes, “despite the popular image of the yodeling alpine goatherd, Switzerland does not have a monopoly on the distinctive sound”. In a way, yodeling has attained an international status that promoters of pansori can only dream of. Translated, adapted and appropriated in many ways (from country-style to more pop-ish genres…), yodeling retains its often sentimentally nostalgic associations with Switzerland, the Alps, mountain scenery (hence Heidiland).

New Glarus yodelers in traditional Swiss garb (1922) via WikiMedia Commons

New Glarus yodelers in traditional Swiss garb (1922) via WikiMedia Commons

Is this the future of pansori, too? Actually, although on a smaller scale, it seems that pansori is enjoying more and more success overseas. I doubt that it will ever be an art as wide-spread and globalized as yodeling, but local scenes might emerge from Korean communities and/or groups of like-minded afficionados. An amateur pansori-contest recently held in Paris presents some potential protagonists of such new scenes (see a newsclip by Arirang at Youtube. They might as well be small and more international, although the necessity of live performances and training will probably poses limits to a dispersed online-community and calls for face-to-face encounters. And, different from Kutzke’s approach and more in line with most forms of global appropriation of yodeling, the contest stresses traditionally, at least with regard to the choice of pieces and clothing.

Then, a “future pansori” might sound quite different from what Ninano Nanda proposes:

– 8 Aug. 2015 (土)

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In it for the Body: Benedict Cumberbatch Plays Hamlet at the Barbican

I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes-stories (and radio plays) since my childhood and have enjoyed the BBC’s Sherlock Series, like it’s US counterpart Elementary. I’m not what you’d call a “Cumberbitch”, nor am I particularly fond of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, I didn’t really like him, for example, as Khan in the last Star Trek movie (2013) or as WikiLeak’s Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate (2013), both rather uninspired movies to begin with. I enjoyed his performance as a straight-combed college quizteam leader in Starter for 10 (2006), though. Maybe it was because back then his own post-Sherlock-stardom – he has been varyingly described as “the thinking woman’s crumpet” (Independent, 2011), (one of the) “most eligible bachelor in the UK” (Tatler, 2012), or “gentleman of the year” (Country Life, 2014) – was not as overwhelming as it is now? (all quotes from Wikipedia)

David Garrick as Hamelt, artist unknown, public domain, via WikiMedia Commons

David Garrick in the Character of Hamlet, artist unknown, public domain, via WikiMedia Commons

Still, Cumberbatch’s casting as Hamlet in Lyndsey Turner’s production at the Barbican was hard to ignore. In a review for Deadline, Joe Utichi notes that “Cumberbatch is exceptionally good, merging character and actor without the latter dominating.” On the Barbican’s stage, Cumberbatch seems to have handled well the duality between character and person, inevitable in any performance whether on stage or on screen, and particularly so in the case of famous actors.

But the title of the review suggests that the apparent fascination of seeing this movie and TV star live on stage (see some critics’ and fans’ responses presented by The Daily Mail) is related to something else: “Benedict Cumberbatch, In The Solid Flesh, Opens As Hamlet…”

Philip Auslander, with regard to rock music concerts, uses a tri-fold system to distinguish between different aspects of the body on stage. Besides the “character”, he divides the “actor” into the “real person” and his or her stage “persona”:

“The persona is therefore the signified that mediates between the other two: the audience gains access to both the performer as a real person and the characters the performer portrays through the performer’s elaboration of a persona. ” (Auslander, “Performance Analysis and Popular Music: A Manifesto”, 2004: 12)

Fischer-Lichte, talking about theatre and performance art, stresses “the doubling of ‘being a body’ and ‘having a body,’ the co-existence of the phenomenal and semiotic body.” (Fischer-Lichte, Transformative Power of Performance, 2008: 82) The semiotic body signifies a character by means of embodiment, always based on the (signifying) phenomenal body. But, and this is crucial, either one of the two can never completely eradicate the other. Benedict Cumberbatch, when performing at the Barbican, is both himself and the Prince of Denmark, the difference lies in our eyes.

Statue of Holmes on Picardy Place in Edinburgh, photo by Siddharth Krish via WikiMedia Commons

Statue of Holmes on Picardy Place in Edinburgh, photo by Siddharth Krish via WikiMedia Commons

This is, in my opinion, the major appeal of pansori, too: Enjoying the interplay between the characters embodied by the singer, his or her storytelling about them, and the way that our perception continuously oscillates between semiotic and phenomenal body, in ways that Horatio can only dream of.

Utichi continues in his review of Hamlet: “This production knows Cumberbatch’s star is going to draw people unfamiliar with Shakespeare, so the staging is broad and unsubtle”. I haven’t seen but a few promotion images – Cumberbatch himself urged his fans not to take pictures or videos during performance. But I’m quite sure that many spectators are not there for yet another interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic.

My guess is that most are in it for the body – the phenomenal one. And it’s safe to assume that a worldwide screening of the production later in the run will not be as satisfying as the real “Hamlet”.

But then the tickets are booked out until the end of October… I’ll wait for Sherlock to return in a period piece Christmas Special later this year, and enjoy one or two pansori performances until then.

– 26 Aug. 2015 (水)

PS: I hope I’m not mistaken with the date – it proved tremendously difficult to find out the production’s premiere date, not least because of two weeks of preview shows…

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Beautiful Drummers: Pungmul on Campus

"Hey, freshman, you’re the most beautiful when you beat the drum!"

“Hey, freshman, you’re the most beautiful when you beat the drum!”

The first day of this new semester on the countryside campus of Korea University (officially located in the new “capital” Sejong City, actually rather on the outskirts of the nearby village Jochiwon) was quite stressful. I was running from here to there, looking for my students, my contract, and something to eat.

Then I saw this poster in the elevator. It’s a recruitement ad for the “farmers’ music school” (고대농악대) of Korea University, one of the drumming & dancing clubs you find on every campus. Here are some links to the various social media outlets of the club: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Daum. And there is a nice report on the team with many pictures at Lara (라라).

Drumming & dancing is very popular in college and there are teams on all campuses (haven’t counted but I hope so). I had enjoyed a training session at SungKongHoe University (성공회대학교) a while ago. This time, the poster made me laugh out loud.

pungmul performance, CC by hojusaram via Flickr

pungmul performance, CC by hojusaram via Flickr

It is a spoof of ads for home-delivery that are currently all over the subway, branded as “Baedal-ui Minjok” (배달의 민족), literally “home-delivery-nation”.

a real poster I saw on campus: "Hodu, wanna eat some chicken?"

a real poster I saw on campus: “Hodu, wanna eat some chicken?”

Almost daily, I pass different posters featuring actor Ryu Seung-ryong (류승룡) in various poses with localized taglines. The original ads parodied in the drumming & dancing-poster can be found, according to an article on The PR News (더피알), mostly in Women University-areas and reads “You’re the most beautiful when you eat.” Is this an empowering message to supposedly diet-driven female students? I don’t think so…

There’s a nice play on the “delivery-nation” in the top right: The drumming club “protects and honors the nation’s tradition”. I’m looking to see the team in action some time soon!

— 4 March 2015 (水)

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Blind Spots of Urban Landscapes: Photographies by Hong Cheolki at Hapjung Jigu

The next opening at Hapjung Jigu is coming up already tomorrow (paintings by 이해민선, July 17 through August 9, see Facebook), still I wanted to note some of impressions of the last exhibition which I liked a lot and revisited several times during its three week run.

초록(1)(green plant), pigment print, 100x150cm, 2014

초록(1)(green plant), pigment print, 100x150cm, 2014

Walking down the alley, I could see the large green tree already from afar. It grows bigger and bigger as I approach and then, finally standing right in front of the window, there is a nice, little surprise.

IMG_7355There is a lot of green in Hong Cheolki’s (홍철기) photos. But the one I like best, probably, is dominated by pale tones of blue and red-“mountains of autumn”. On first view, it seemed like piles of multi-colored powder, but of course it’s not…

The best camera is the one you have with you all the time. The images shown here are for the most part taken on a cell phone and blown up to fit usual frame sizes. Rather than aiming for the perfect composition, these grainy photos rather show the spontaneity of the moment (of shooting, that is, not exactly of action, as there isn’t much going on usually), unexpected imagery in concrete contexts, and the curious beauty of the everyday. In this regard, they contrast with the paintings that have been shown here at Hapjung Jigu before, although none of those have been about technical perfection either.

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The title, “No Man’s Land” or 맹지, lit. “Blind Spot” (as in ownerless piece of land, between two adjacent properties), is not to be taken lightly. There are no men present in the pictures (neither are women). Well, that’s what I thought when reconsidering the exhibition. Urban conclaves at night and day, signs of invisible life, work done recently, but no people. Really? No, I was proven wrong on the next visit. In fact, some images feature people, but they are not about those people.

초록(1)(green plant), detail

초록(1)(green plant), detail

The images, some of them taken years ago, some of them of more recent origin, show the silent clash of nature and culture, the cultivation of urban plants and the naturalization of the asphalt jungle. They show places that belong to no one. Real estate brokers would disagree, I’m sure. Nevertheless, the green and grey and the snow that melts on the concrete indicates a politics of place that goes beyond ownership and opens doors for visual appropriations of the city—our city.

– 19 June 2015 (金)

  • 홍철기, 맹지, 합정지구, 2015년 6월 19일 ~ 7월 12일, 화-일: 오후 12시–7시.
  • Hong Cheolki, No Man’s Land, Hapjung Jigu, 2015–06–19~07–12, Tue-Sun: 12–7pm.
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Daehangno Poster Session 3

I went to Daehangno in a long while. Rushing out of the subway, I took the occasion to make some pictures of current theatre posters that caught my eye. Here is my top-5, with official English titles in italics and, in their absence, my translations in quotation marks.

The posters link to a new tumblr-blog, an experimental annex to this blog that I recently started. I try to put up all performances I’d like to see (but probably won’t be able to), together with the necessary information to make reservations. Please fell free to comment on performances you attended, or post pictures or videos you took, as well as links to relevant reviews etc.!

1. Yeonsan the Tyrant (문제적 인간 연산) INFO

Yeonsan the Tyrant (c) National Theatre Company

Yeonsan the Tyrant (c) National Theatre Company

The piece I am currently most eager to see – Lee Jaram (이자람) in a major theatre role after her intermezzo in Danton’s Death (Seoul Arts Center, 2013). Lee Youn-taek (이윤택) directs his own classic piece, the second revival after its 1995 premiere (the first one took place in 2003, over a decade ago). I knew the title from a small German book with three of Lee Youn-taek’s plays in translation and am looking forward to see Lee Jaram’s contribution to the historic play about the “problematic person” Yeonsan. This historical king from the Joseon Dynasty also plays also an important role in the movie King and the Clown (왕의 남자, 2005).

2. “We Are Friends” (우리는 친구다, German original: Max und Milli) INFO

"We Are Friends" (c) Ensemble Hakchŏn

“We Are Friends” (c) Ensemble Hakchŏn

A production of the German children’s musical, directed by legendary Kim Min-gi (김민기) who also made the Korean version of Subway Line 1 (지하철 1호선, German original: Linie 1), a veritable evergreen hit. In 2011, when I had just started working at the Goethe-Institut, I translated Kim Min-gi’s obituary for his friend Birger Heymann, composer of the music featured in this and other pieces (the text seems to have been taken offline, unfortunately). I remember that it was quite difficult to find out the equivalent German titles of the many pieces by Heymann that Kim Min-gi mentioned in his text, of course in their Korean version. Several of them were adapted to fit the Korean context, most notably Spaghetti mit Ketchup, which turned into “Ricecake with Chilli Sauce” (고추장 떡볶이).

3. The Lost Tears in Hamlet (망루의 햄릿) INFO

The Lost Tears in Hamlet (c) 극단 성북동비둘기

The Lost Tears in Hamlet (c) 극단 성북동비둘기

I couldn’t see this political actualization of Shakespeare’s classic, eventually, but the poster struck a chord with me. Finding the right moment to take a picture of the cleaning crew working on the monumental Yi Sun-sin (이순신) statue in central Seoul surely wasn’t easy, but the symbolic power of this image is striking!

4. Seoul Marginal Theatre Festival 2015 (제17회 서울 변방 연극제) INFO

Seoul Marginal Theatre Festival 2015 (c) 서울변방연극제

Seoul Marginal Theatre Festival 2015 (c) 서울변방연극제

Among the many large and small theatre festivals in Seoul and surroundings, this certainly takes the prize for the most eye-catching poster—on a series of handouts, the subject of marginality is developed a bit further. I haven’t attended this festival in the last years, but maybe there will be a chance this summer?

5. “The Hangang Flows” (한강은 흐른다) INFO

The Hangang Flows (c) Dongnang Repertory

The Hangang Flows (c) Dongnang Repertory

Among the fancy posters all over Daehangno, this one sticks out with its unapologetic old-fashioned style. The play announced here has in fact a quite long pedigree—the title sounded vaguely familiar and some googling brought up some more information. Written by early theatre activist Yu Chi-jin (유치진) and originally premiered in 1958, the director of this new production of the piece is Oh Tae-suk (오태석), besides Lee Yun-taek maybe the internationally most acclaimed Korean theatre director today. The venue, the Namsan Drama Center (남산 드라마센터), is also quite well-known, although it has become a bit quiet in recent times. Here, Oh Tae-suk and others experimented with avant-garde theatre involving traditional arts in the 1970s. Their ensemble back then, Dongnang Repertory (동랑 레퍼터리 극단, Dongnang was founder Yu Chi-jin’s pen-name), is noted as the producing company, although I am not sure about the historical continuity here.

Two of the productions have already finished their run (3+4), maybe you have seen one of them? Or you got interested to see one of the others or attend one of the many performances shown at the Marginal Theatre Festival? Feel free to leave a comment!

– 25 June 2015 (木)

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German Intangible Cultural Heritage in Germany: The Best and the Rest

So Germany now has its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. Officially known as the “German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage” (or, as Prof. Wulf, head of the selection committee, insists: “Cultural Heritage in Germany”, it contains twenty-seven arts, crafts, cultural concepts and practices. See a full list with explanations on three pages (one, two, three) at the German Commission for UNESCO. Their promotional video introduces several recognised traditions, mostly focusing on Europe, but also including the  Korean martial art Taekkyeon (택견).

The twenty-seven items registered in winter 2014 were selected from eighty-three applications—and more are to follow soon. In addition, this year one of the more interesting traditions—the idea and practice of cooperatives—will be suggested for the UNESCO list of Masterworks of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. See an article on the homepage of Free University Berlin (Wulf’s alma mater) for details.

Passion Plays at Oberammergau: view of the stage, June 2010, via WikimediaCommons, user: Andreas Praefcke

Passion Plays at Oberammergau: view of the stage, June 2010, via WikimediaCommons, user: Andreas Praefcke

Narrenzunft Wellendingen e. V., "Narrensprung" (jester's jump), 16 Feb. 2014 via WikimediaCommons, user: Andreas Praefcke

Swabian-Allemanic Carnival: Narrenzunft Wellendingen e. V., “Narrensprung” (jester’s jump), 16 Feb. 2014 via WikimediaCommons, user: Andreas Praefcke

Whether “German” or not, the inventory includes rather well-known and touristically exploited practices, most prominently carnival (actually two different regional versions), the passion plays held at Oberammergau, and Saxon boys’ choirs; more general ones like organ construction and playing, amateur choirs, timber rafting, morse telegraphy, bread culture; and local traditions probably unknown to most Germans, for example Finch Manoeuvre, Peter-and-Paul-Festival, Lime Tree Fair.

Some choices seem pretty odd, at least at first sight, most of all: The German Theatre and Orchestra Landscape (which, by the way, has been increasingly worn down by cuts in funding during the last years, even evoking an orchestra strike in 2013). In comparison with the Korean list, many German items seem quite abstract, of rather recent origin, or both. But then again, there us not much place for peculiarities in the Empire.

Rattenfängerauszug Hameln, 21 June 2009, via WikimediaCommons, user: Axel Hindemith

Dealing with the Pied Piper of Hameln: Parade in Hameln, 21 June 2009, via WikimediaCommons, user: Axel Hindemith

In any case, my favorite tradition is Dealing with the Pied Piper of Hameln! I started dealing in the early age of seven or eight, when I first visited the little city with my parents. Anyone who’s in for a deal should have a look at the story in German, as compiled by the Brothers Grimm. (Univ. of Pittsburgh provides several versions in English, translated by D. L. Ashliman.) In case you didn’t know: They are the German Sin Jae-hyo (신재효).

But what I found the most intriguing is Low German theatre. Besides the passion plays, the “landscape” (see above), and, possibly, “styles and ways of imparting rhythm and free dance movement” (yes, that’s modern dance!), it is the only theatrical tradition registered so far.

I knew about amateur groups and professional ensembles in larger cities like Hamburg or Bremen who play theatre in Low German (for example the Ohnsorg Theater whose productions are also shown on regional TV). I was also aware that local stations broadcast radio plays in this dialect on occasion. But I had no idea that there is actually a living community who still practice this art (one condition for registration) in my home region of Ostfriesland (East Frisia, the peninsula east of Holland).

This is from the official description of Low German theatre:

The Low German Theatre is the main pillar of Low German culture. Its peculiar character results from the combination of theatre and the local dialect: Low German exists primarily as a spoken language and is restricted to usage in social units such as families, friends, neighbourhoods and colleagues. In combination with the forms of expression to be found in the theatre, this local language is lent an artistic dimension.

So far, so good: A hybrid oral tradition with aesthetic merits. But like other traditions, Low German theatre is rooted in communal values and practices:

Theatre in the local language is a theatre of nearness. This is what creates its peculiar charm for actors and audiences alike. Currently ca. 4,500 groups of players are upholding the tradition of the Low German Theatre. The overwhelming majority of them are small municipal companies in the rural areas of North Germany. In addition, there are also two professionally run Low German Theatre Companies in Hamburg and Schwerin. On the one hand the repertoires consist of a whole range of classic pieces, but most of the plays performed by the small companies are written by the ensembles themselves. In this way they directly reflect the social reality of their municipalities. The Low German Theatre has a central role to play regarding the stabilisation of the Low German language.

(from the homepage of the German Commission for UNESCO)

The slightly longer German description even mentions Dornum, the town next to the small village where my grandparents spent the most part of their lives!

So I’m looking forward to sketching out, when time comes, a comparative post-doc project about the ways this German traditional theatre culture is practiced today–and how it relates to the (mostly) state-sponsored activities that surround Korean pansori. Tentative title: “From Representing the Village to Enacting the Nation: Theatrical Traditions as National Heritage in Germany and Korea”.

Stay tuned for some more thoughts on German and Korean Intangible Cultural Heritage…

– 5 May 2015 (火)

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