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)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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