Legends of Chunhyang

Kiss the 춘향, via (사)춤다솜 무용단

Kiss the 춘향, via (사)춤다솜 무용단

When I took the bus to Insa-dong today, an interesting poster caught my eye:

“Kiss the 춘향” !?!

“Time to fall in love, time to dwell in dance”, well that makes sense, given the little ballerina.

As I found out later at PlayDB, Kiss the Chunhyang is a “new concept original dance musical”, produced by the Chum Dasom Dance Ensemble. As the odd title indicates (the “naturalized” Korean rendering being “키스 더 춘향”) the production is based on the classical “Story of the Girl Chunhyang (춘향전 / 春香傳) or “scent of spring”, as the Chinese characters of the protagonist’s name read.

The tale of a courtesan’s daughter who falls in love with Mong-nyong, son of a government official, marries him, gets separated and withstands numerous hardships to finally reunite, happily everafter, has been recounted many times in pansori-epics, novels, films, musicals, operas, and TV drama. Generally, these adaptations keep the setting a more or less unspecified past, although some pansori versions (e.g. the one published by Korea Britannica) note in the very first lines that the story takes place “in the first year of King Sukjong’s reign” (숙종 대왕 즉위 초에…), i.e. 1674 or 75.

In a few cases the plot is modernized, for example the 2005 KBS serial Kwaegeol Chunhyang (쾌걸 춘향, translated as either “Sassy Girl Chunhyang” or “Delightful Girl Chunhyang”) keeps the canonic Namwon as the location but makes the heroine a high school beauty while her love interest is the son of a local police inspector.

Given this long history of reception, I am not startled very much by yet another Chunhyang. Also, the harsh confrontation of traditonal imagery and modernization (inevitably in the sense of Westernisation), evident already in the typography of the title, comes as no surprise—welcome to the world of fusion art!

The youtube-trailer directly tackles the issue of promoting a familiar story to contemporary audiences:

To the sound of a gayageum-arpeggio, a female pansori singer begins:

여봐라, 기생정보를 이리허다가는 몇날이 걸릴질 모르겠구나
Look, I have no idea how long it take to mention the names of all those courtesans

Then a male announcer takes over, with a pop melody in the background:

시공을 초월하여 감동을 주는 / 영원한 사랑이야기
An eternal lovestory that / moves the heart and transcends time and space

사랑이 있어 우리는 살아간다
It is love that we live by

서정적인 사랑의 듀엣 / (그리고) 다양한 군무의 파워(장르의 벽을 험물고) / 현재의 다양한 춤언어를 즐긴다.
A lyrical love duet / (and) the power of various group dances
(lets genre boundaries collapse and) / makes the various languages of contemporary dance enjoyable.

Contrasting with the text, the images that flash by hardly show any kind of modern dance. The only exception is a scene that seems to be part of a pas de deux, a ballet-like move with the male dancer, presumably Mong-nyong, lifting Chunhyang into the air.

The explanations on the production (go to Interpark and scroll down the performance commercial just above the cast) goes more into detail:

우리가 알고있는 춘향과 몽룡의 사랑이야기, 한국춤!
The love story of Chunhyang and Mong-nyong that we all know and Korean dance!

이들의 공통점은 우리가 옛것이라는 편견을 붙여 진부하고 고루한 것이라는 왜곡의 옷을 입고 있다.
Both have in common that they are “wearing the clothes of distortion”, they have biases attached to them of being worn-out and old-fashioned.

그 오해와 편견을 깨트리고 현재에도 그들은 여전히 살아 숨쉬며 진화하고 있다는 것을 보여주는 공연이 바로 <키스 더 춘향>이다.
Kiss the Chunhyang is just the performance that shatters these misunderstandings and prejudices, showing that they (Chunhyang and Mong-nyong) are still breathing and evolving.

우리는 여전히 극적이고 애절한 사랑에 열광하고 현란한 춤을 즐긴다.
We still get excited about dramatic and sad love and enjoy brilliant dance.

이에 현재의 사랑과 과거의 사랑이 교차되고 현대 젊은이들의 최신 유행 춤부터 전통적인 춤사위까지 모든 것이 한 무대에서 호흡하며 살아있는 시공과 장르, 그 모듯것을 초월한 퓨전화 된 대한민국의 현재를 만난다.
Here, love present and past intersect. From today’s latest, trendiest dances of the youth to traditional dance moves, they are all together breathing on one and the same stage—a living fusion that has transcended time, space, and genres—and meet contemporary Korea.

<키스 더 춘향>은 모든 편견을 벗고 순수한 눈으로 즐기는 이들에게 더할 나위 없는 즐거움을 약속한다.
Kiss the Chunhyang strips of all prejudices and promises a most satisfactory joy to those who see and enjoy with pure [unbiased] eyes.

The text proposes “love” as a universal, timeless theme hidden under the “old-fashioned clothes” that the story of Chunhyang uses to wear. Still, it seems as if the makers of the production do not fully believe their own claim, adding a nostalgic tone which invokes collective identification (“we still get excited…”), as well as rooting the all-transcending fusion in a rather concrete locality—”contemporary Korea”, or, more precisely, “the Republic of Korea at this time”.

Still, these are all words. A short report by Edaily TVPD shows more of the concrete production process and gives some ideas about the final show :

How has the plot been changed? What kind of elements have been added (or removed)? What  has been done “to make the piece more popular, more interesting, more understandable and enjoyable for general audiences”, as Jeong Areum (정아름) alias Chunhyang describes the aims of this production?

The video clips suggest a rather heterogenic mixture of classical hanbok-style costumes, ballet moves, as well as pop music-style group choreographies, making “the traditional” a mere ingredient in a fusion show, a material among others that can be used in small doses, too, to spice up a performance with nostalgic impressions or simply colourful eyecatchers. If this is all Kiss the Chunhyang has to offer remains to be seen. From the 27th of March, everyone has the opportunity to do so.

— 25 Feb. 2012 (土)

  • <키스 더 춘향>, 연출: 양선희, 주최: 이데일리, 써니앤, 제작: 춤다솜무용단, 세종대학교,공연기간: 2012년 3월 27일 ~ 2012년 4월 8일, 공연장소: 광진구 나루아트센터, 평일: 오후 8시, 주말(토,일요일): 오후 3시, 6시, 월요일: 휴관, 관람료: R석 8만원/ S석 6만원/ A석 4만원, 문의: 02.3408.3279.
  • Kiss the Chunhyang, director: Yang Seon-hui, host: Ideilli and Sseoniaen, production: Chum Dasom Dance Ensemble and Sejong University, on show from 27-03 until 08-04-2012 at Naru Arts Center, weekdays (except Monday) at 20:00, weekends at 15:00 and 18:00, tickets at 80,000, 60,000 and 40,000 Won, inquiries: 02.3408.3279.


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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2 Responses to Legends of Chunhyang

  1. Bryan Hudson says:

    I would love to get an English translation of Sarangga of Chunhyangga. Can you please tell me where to find it? Bryan newetaipo@icloud.com

    • Dear Bryan,
      the Jeonju International Sori Festival offers lyrics with translations to all the pansori pieces for free. I wrote a blogpost about that a while ago: https://seoulstages.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/pansori-lyrics-in-english-for-free/
      You find a link to the files way down in the last paragraph of that post. The zip-file there contains various versions of Chunhyang-ga, which may contain slightly different versions of Sarang-ga. For example, in the file “춘향가_chunhyang_Jeongeungmin.pdf” (Chunhyang-ga as transmitted byJeong Eungmin) you find the most famous version (here translated as Piggyback Love Song”) on page 68-69 ff. If you have troubles locating the file or the text, let me know.
      May I ask how you got interested in Chunhyang-ga or what you need the translation for?
      Best, Jan

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