Experiments by Šilhom on Board the MS Stubnitz


MS Stubnitz, in the Southern part of Hamburg’s HafenCity

Hamburg: Sun in the morning, a walk through the Botanical Garden (including the greenhouses), a short visit at the Asien-Afrika-Institut, then rain, too much to leave the umbrella at home, not enough to keep us from walking to the HafenCity, past the Busan Bridge, to the MS Stubnitz.


This ship, formerly part of the East German high seas fishing fleet, travelled between different cities on the short of the Baltic and the North Sea, serving as a venue for concerts and theatre, and has been in Hamburg harbour for a while now (see Wikipedia for details). Tonight, the band Šilhom from Slovenia played for a selected few in the hull of the Stubnitz.


Inside the ship’s hull, waiting for the band

When I saw the various drums and lutes waiting on stage, I expected some kind of Balkan-beat world music – so much for the “chains of belonging”, unbearable lightness of being and so on… The stage suggested some kind of metal, by its mere materiality.


But to my surprise, the three band members produced a repetitive, sometimes entrancing sound, in the tradition of minimalist composers like Steve Reich, with various looping patterns intermingling with each other, overlapping, transforming, producing new lines of melody and rhythm. A wonderful show on a rainy day. Check out their music, if possible live, if not online:

(More on Facebook and Bandcamp, information on Wikipedia).

— 24 July 2017 (月)

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Symposium on “Pansori in Europe” in Berlin, inc. Performance (July 14–15, 2017) #europansori

Pansori_und Symposium_main_1920_1080

Planned since last summer, the symposium on “Pansori in Europe: Between Mediation and Appropriation” at the Korean Culture Center in Berlin is now merely a week away. (Almost) Everything is set, speakers are preparing, and the pansori singer Yun Jin-chul (윤진철) and drummer Cho Yong-su (조용수), who will perform Jeokbyeok-ga (적벽가, “Song of the Red Cliff”) in full on the 14th (at ufaFabrik, see Facebook-event for details), are almost on their way.

The symposium which I organized together with Matthias Entreß features scholars and practitioners, experts on pansori as well as artists and organizers who have to deal with the realities of presenting this traditional performing art to audiences outside of Korea.

The symposium takes place on Saturday, July 15, at “space GODO” at the Korean Cultural Center (Leipziger Platz 3, 10117 Berlin). From 11am to 6.30pm, lectures, presentations, and many discussions offer a diverse program for everyone interested in theatre, music, and cultural transfers between Asia and Europe.

The first part (on mediation) is about more “traditional” guest performances by masters from Korea and includes – besides Matthias who has organized numerous pansori performances all over Germany – also Hervé Péjaudier and Han Yumi who have done similar work in France and have just organized a performance of the “lost” pansori piece Le Dit de Demoiselle Sugyeong (숙영낭자가) at their K-Vox Festival. Discussants include Heinz-Dieter Reese (who organised the 1985 “Horizonte”-festival in Berlin) and musicologist Shin-Hyang Yun.

In the second part, on experimental appropriation, various ways of adapting pansori to new contexts will be discussed. Barbara Wall (Hamburg) and Dorothea Suh (Halle) will talk about new pansori works by Korean and German artists, respectively. Then, theatre makers Soogi Kang and Dietmar Lenz (Theater Salpuri, Berlin), composers Il-Ryun Chung (Berlin), Jared Redmond (Seoul), and Sebastian Claren (Berlin), and cultural curator Hyo Jin Shin (Berlin) will discuss their experiences with border-crossing pansori-related projects. Singer Sol-i So (Dresden), accompanied by drummer Harim Kim (Berlin), will showcase some songs and rhythms and share their unique perspectives as Korea-trained musicians in Germany.

With a wonderful line-up of scholars and practitioners, the symposium promises interesting presentations and in-depth discussions — I’m looking forward to learn more about various aspects of how pansori is performed, taught, and made fruitful for new art works in Europe!

The event will be mostly in German, but we attempt to provide some help for those who rely on English.

This is the full flyer of the event – please share widely (click for a larger version):

Flyer für Internet

And this is the translated announcement and the program:

Pansori in Europe: Between Mediation and Appropriation

Pansori, a traditional genre of singing/storytelling is well known beyond the borders of Korea, not least since its appointment as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2003. Even before, master singers from Korea have performed in Europe and non-Korean researchers and artists show great interest into this idiosyncratic art, characterized by epic tales and vocal virtuosity. Today, guest performances and cross-border artistic collaborations are nothing unusual. At the same time, a lively pansori culture is emerging in Europe, with workshops, competitions and new artistic works.

image[15]Which forms of performance were crucial in the “European” reception of pansori? How can audiences outside of Korea be familiarized with this foreign tradition and what experiences are possible? With other arts lend themselves for intercultural experiments? Which role does a cultural heritage play for Korean migrants and the following generations? Who organizes artistic exchanges, and how? What concrete “interweavings” result from these encounters? And is it possible, between cultural policies and creative appropriation, to secure that the authenticity of the art does not get lost in translation?

Scholars of music, theatre, and literature from Germany, France, Korea, and the US are invited to discuss these and other questions historical, aesthetic and practical perspectives in Berlin. With lectures, discussion roundtables, and – of course – pansori performances, we attempt not only to review the history and current practice of pansori in Europe, but also to explore methods for future projects.


11 am: Opening

Welcome address

Introductory lecture by Jan Creutzenberg

11.30 am –1.30 pm: Part 1 “Translation and Mediation”

Lecture by Matthias R. Entreß

Panel discussion with pansori artists Yun Jin-chul and Cho Yong-su

Lecture-performance by Hervé Péjaudier and Han Yumi (in English)


1.30–2.30 pm: Lunch break

2.30–3.30 pm: Discussion on *pansori* as music

With musicians, composers, and musicologists

3.30–6 pm Part 2 “Revival, Experiment and Appropriation”

Lecture by Barbara Wall

Lecture by Dorothea Suh

Discussion on experimental appropriation of pansori, with artists, theatremakers, and composers

6 pm: Roundtable discussion on “Perspectives for Pansori in Europe”

— 14–15 July 2017 (金~土)

Posted in Abroad, Pansori, Uncategorized, Upcoming Performance | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Things I learned at #AAS 2017, part3 (Saturday, 18 March + Sunday, 19 March)

Old Toronto

Old Toronto

This year’s conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in Toronto (March 16–19), the first one I ever attended, was enormous. Still overwhelmed by the experience, I publish some of my notes on the various panels I attended and presentations I heard, interspersed with tweets I posted during the conference. Due to the volume, I organise the material in daily instalments – meaning that each post focuses on one conference day, I probably won’t be able to keep up a daily posting rate. In my listings, presentations in bold are those I heard myself, while those in italics refer to situations where I couldn’t hear a presentation as I had to leave early or came late.

This is the third part of my impressions at AAS 2017, from the presentations I attended on Saturday and Sunday (18 and 19 March).

I just found out that Andrew Field (Duke Kunshan University), who runs the wonderful blog “Shanghai Sojourns” on all kinds of music performances in Kunshan and elsewhere in China, just posted his own reflections on AAS 2017 – I have to say that as a grad student, I shared many of the feelings he mentioned about his first attendances over a decade ago… Still, thanks not least to my great panel, but also due to

“Koreanness” on Display: From the Museum to the Musical Stage

Panel 227, Sat, March 18, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Chestnut East

  • Seungyoun Choi (Korea University), “‘Koreanness’ and Nation Building: Yegrin Musical Company’s Representation of the City and the Country in Ggotnimi Ggotnimi Ggotnimi”
  • Jan Creutzenberg (Freie Universität Berlin/Sungshin University), “Towards a More International ‘Koreanness’? The Influence of Brecht on Pansori-Theatre”
  • CedarBough T. Saeji (University of British Columbia), “Dynamic Korea on Display: Commodification of Tradition in Performances for Tourists”
  • Young-Sin Park (Binghamton University, SUNY), “Representing ‘Koreanness’ through the Exhibitions of the National Museum of Korea”
  • Discussant: Haeree Choi, Yonsei University

Finally, our panel on “Koreanness”, a concept that encompasses “all things Korean” and is often used in national branding, policy making, and promotion. We presented a range of case studies where Korea is “put on display” for ideological ends or consumption, mostly drawing from thr performing arts.

Seungyoun Choi, who was ill and could not attend in person, had sent her presentation on an early production of Yegrin Musical Company as a video. While the file was still downloading, I began my presentation on the use of Brecht – both his plays and concepts – in producing “Korean” theatre. The works I discussed included changgeuk productions at the National Theater (Chung Wishing’s Caucasian Chalk Circle (코카서스의 백묵원), currently on a re -run, and Achim Freyer’s Brechtian adaptation of the Korean classic Sugung-ga (수궁가), as well as more experimental (nevertheless even more successful) new pansori works by Lee Jaram (Sacheon-ga and Eokcheok-ga). You can find a bit more on my presentation in this sneak-preview-post.

IMG_1621 by Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon

Thanks to Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon for taking a picture!

CedarBough T. Saeji, who also hosted our panel, followed up with a discussion of mixed-media performance that use traditional Korean arts and are aimed at tourists (but mostly attended by domestic audiences). Although quite different in content, the productions The Queen’s Banquet (왕비의 잔치), Ga-on (가온), and Sim Chong (심청, at the infamous Korea House) all feature various traditional performing arts, adjusted to an undifferentiated audience of tourists, with the historical context removed and structural changes to increase excitement, often supported by stage technology such as motion capturing or animations. The commodification of Korean culture, a regular result of attempts to create “global palatability”, are also of great interest to me, as many of these hybrid shows feature elements of pansori, whether plots, singing techniques, or other performance styles. They also offer an interesting, often ignored perspective on the problems inherent in the “globalization of tradition”.

Finally, changing the field towards fine arts, Young-Sin Park considered how oversea exhbitions of the National Museum of Korea contributed to the construction of national imagery. She focused on two examples, an early touring exhibition of Masterpieces of Korean Art (1957–59, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. et al., see Chewon Kim’s review in Artibus Asiae, via JSTOR), and the recent Silla’s Golden Kingdom (2013–14, Metropolitan Museum of Art, see a New York Times-review). While both heavily state-sponsored exhibitions promoted the myth of national purity, with the former particularly aimed at improving Korea’s image after the recent war and assert cultural independency in relation to China and Japan, they were also influenced by American curators, making them a fascinating, ambivalent object of study.

To our regret, Seungyoun Choi could not attend the conference in person, but fortunately she had recorded her presentation on video. The only problem was that the video was quite large and it was still in the middle of downloading while I presented. As I was very interested in her theme (and still am), early (US-style) musical in Korea, I found it a pity that we couldn’t share some thoughts on her interesting paper. I’ll make sure to catch up later on that matter!

Our discussant, Haeree Choi, who runs the online magazine Dance Post Korea (댄스포스트코리아), had some very relevant comments and questions up her sleeve. Some of them, specifically aimed at my paper were as follows:
* Are the productions of the National Changguk Company successful in “national branding”?
* For which target audience (domestic, tourists, international, diaspora)?
* Are there also underlying economic goals – or are these productions purely “representational”?
* Is the use of technology, but also foreign sources, based on the perception of a lack in traditional Korean arts?

I couldn’t answer all of them, but the following discussion turned out very productive and gave me food for thought for months to come.

Reports from the Local Courts: A New Archival Window onto Local Communities in Eighteenth-Century Korea

Panel 266, Sat, March 18, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 4th Floor, Yorkville West

  • Matt Lauer (University of California, Los Angeles), “The Gang-Beating of the Slave Myŏngaek: A Magistrate’s Strategic Representation of Slave Resistance”
  • Sun Joo Kim (Harvard University), “The Emergence of Commercial Economy and Local Government Finance in Mid-Eighteenth Century P’yŏngyang”
  • Jungwon Kim (Columbia University), “Encountering the Law: Local Courts and Legal Knowledge Production in Eighteenth-Century Korea”
  • Discussant: Masato Hasegawa (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

I heard just the very first talk (by Matt Lauer) on this panel, about an 18th century court case in Namwon that included everything a good drama needs: Love, slavery, and a fight of passion… The discussion of the complicated case brought fore many fascinating details and presented the contradicting rhetoric of those involved, that switched between humanizing and dehumanizing the slave subject, in full clarity. Matt, who recently completed his PhD-project, a microhistorical approach to pre-modern Namwon in Jeolla-do, also mentioned to me that he had found some sources on local pansori performances during his research – very much looking forward to hear more!

After some talks with publishers at the book fair, I went to my final panel today – which turned out one of the best of the whole conference:

Pop Translation: Translating Contemporary Chinese Plays for English-Speaking Audiences

Panel 307, Sat, March 18, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Willow West

Discussants: Claire Conceison (MIT), John B. Weinstein (Bard College), Fang Zhang (University of Toronto)

In this panel, rather than the typical presentations, three experts on translating Chinese plays into English talked freely about their experiences.

We also played a game inspired by Meng Jinghui’s play I Love XXX, conceived and written in collaboration with his friends Shi hang, Wang Xiaoli, and Huang Jingang, and translated by Claire Conceison (in Meng Jinghui, I Love XXX and Other Plays, edited and translated by Claire Conceison, published by Seagull Books 2016, distributed by University of Chicago Press, more on Meng), also available in Siyuan Liu’s and Kevin J. Wetmore’s Methuen Drama Anthology of Modern Asian Plays). It was very simple: Everyone adds something – whatever comes to mind – to the phrase “I love…”. Together, we created a series of affective expressions that tended to relate to each other, the surroundings (snow was a favorite!), and the participating individuals on various levels. But the result was astonishing and at times poetic. I’m sure to play this dramatic game sometime with my students in German, after all “Ich liebe…” is one of the most widely known phrases, not only in Korea. This wery welcoming, casual yet highly informative and interesting panel was a highlight of the whole conference. I was certainly surprised to hear about college performances of Chinese plays in (English) translations. For Korean drama in translation, opportunities for productions abroad are extremely rare. I can only remember reading about one which took place at Columbia in 2010: The adaptation Walkabout Yeolha directed by Kon Yi, based on Walter Byongsok Chon’s translation Inching Towards Yeolha, a Korean drama by Sam-Shik Pai (see a review on The Theatre Times).

We – our “Koreanness”-panel – ended this day with a Thai-dinner around the corner and a beer with the ASCK, the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea. I think we all had a wonderful time and I’m very thankful for this opportunity to present and discuss some of my research on a huge conference, yet in the comfort zone of a dedicated, supportive group. One of the best conference experiences I had so far, although I lost my shawl on the last day of the conference – fortunately, the sun was shining!

Sunday morning passed by quickly and quite unspectacularly, with two presentations that related only marginally to my own research.

Archives in Between: Digital Humanities and Material Culture in East Asian Studies Scholarship and Teaching

Panel 319, Sun, March 19, 8:30am to 10:30am, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Cedar

* Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College
* Nora S. Dimmock, University of Rochester
* Eric Luhrs, Lafayette College
* Tracy Stuber, University of Rochester
* Michaela Kelly, Lafayette College

Nevertheless, I think the database “ReEnvisioning Japan” (hosted by Univ. of Rochester, also on Facebook) on “Japan as destination in 20th century visual and material culture” is worth mentioning and will surely a great resource for those working on the colonial era, as well as anyone interested in souvenirs, travel gifts, and postcards…

The new version (linked above) was launched just before AAS and seems a bit slow (at least in Korea), the (still active) older version seems to be slightly faster (or maybe it’s just my computer?).

Examining Critical Problems in 20th-Century Korean Art: History, Ideology, Identity, and Forgery

Panel 351, Sun, March 19, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Willow East

  • Virginia H. Moon (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), “The Making of a Discipline: Korean Modern Art and its Historiography”
  • Jinyoung A. Jin (Stony Brook University), “Lee Quede: A Forgotten Modernist in the Vortex of Ideological Conflict”
  • Jungsil Jenny Lee (University of Kansas), “Roaring Bull and Stony Silence: Two Faces of Korean Modern Art”
  • Sunglim Kim (Dartmouth College), “Chun Kyung-Ja’s The Beauty and its Forgery Scandal”
indoor winter-wonderland at Sheraton Centre Toronto

indoor winter-wonderland at Sheraton Centre Toronto

– 18–19 March 2017 (土/日)

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Possibly the First Mention of Brecht in Colonial Korea (Dong-a Ilbo, 1933)

While browsing online newspaper archives, I (more or less) coincidentally stumbled upon what might be the very first reference to Bertolt Brecht in Korean media. At least I cannot remember reading anything about this (albeit brief) mention, or any earlier ones in the existing research on Brecht.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 more close-up Brecht marked

An early (possibly the first?) mention of Bertolt Brecht’s name in Korean media

The article in question was published on June 18, 1933, in the newspaper Dong-a Ilbo (동아일보), at that time a daily paper rather critical of imperial Japan. On page five, several journalists reported on some trends in foreign literature, under the title “Overview of Modern World Literature” (현대세계문단총관 現代世界文壇總觀) including Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan, and the US. You can see images of featured authors, including James Joyce and André Gide.

Seo Hang-seok (서항석, other romanizations are Hang-Suck Suh, or Sun Hang-Sok, as I learned later) wrote on “The Instantaneously Real Tendency in Germany” (독일 즉실적 경향 / 獨逸即實的傾向), noting that given recent political developments – Hitler had been elected chancellor earlier that year and non-Nazi parties would be outlawed just a few weeks later (see Wikipedia on Hitler’s rise to power) – artists would have to face realities in a more immediate fashion than before.

동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면

동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면 [click for original at Naver]

In his article that is split in two parts (bottom left and right, marked in blue), he mentions several famous German-language authors, presumably those he considers capable of this task. These include Thomas Mann (토마스 만, pictured in the featured image), [Carl] Zuckmayer (추크마이에르), Joseph Roth (로제프 로오트 [sic]), Alfred Döblin (알프레드 되블린), and “old master” [Gerhard] Hauptmann (하우프트만), whose work had been productively received in Korea at that time. For example, early feminist writer Kim Myeong-sun (김명순, 1896–1951) had adapted Hauptmann’s play Einsame Menschen into several novels (see 신혜수, “김명순의 하우프트만 문화번역 연구”, 국제어문 69 (2016): 175–99 at RISS).

And [Bertolt] Brecht (브레히트) is mentioned, alongside playwrights [Fritz von] Unruh (운루우), [Franz] Werfel (붸르펠), expressionist sculptor [Ernst] Barlach (바를라하), and others.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 part1

The first part of the article (left)

When I entered the search term “브레히트”, I was interested in reviews of the first official performances of Brecht’s plays in the late 1980s – for most of the post-war period, he was censored as a communist author (see other blogposts on Brecht). At the time of writing – mid-1933 – he Brecht was already on the run, having left Germany soon after Hitler’s election as chancellor earlier that year. I did not expect that it was possible under Japanese colonial rule to express quite openly anti-Nazi opinions, like this article, which sounds like an endorsement of progressive and critical authors… But then again the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that signalled closer collaboration, was still some years away.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 part2

The second part of the article (right), Brecht mentioned in the upper section

In some cases, authors are paired with their most famous work (such as “Alfred Döblin, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz [백림 알렉산더 광장]) and several of them were known among intellectuals in Korea. Still, I have no idea who would recognize Brecht at that time. I could not find earlier mentions in the Dong-a Ilbo, but it would be interesting to look for traces of Brecht in other colonial newspapers. Unfortunately, the research site Media GaOn (where I found some news on early Shakespeare readings in 19th-century Seoul) seems to be down. A replacement, the database BigKinds by the Korea Press Foundation (한국언론진흥재단), seems to work fine but does not yield any relevant results for “브레히트” before 1933.

Another surprise was the author of this article (Seo Hang-seok), who turned out a quite prominent figure in the Korean world of theatre. But that’s another story…

– 10 May 2017 (水)

  • 서항석 (徐恒錫), “獨逸 即實的 傾向 (독일 즉실적 경향)”, 동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면. [via Naver]
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Ten Years Hamlet the Musical

Today, on Buddha’s Birthday, I walked past some posters for this year’s revival, the 10th anniversary of the Korean production (see here for details), nonetheless, in a tunnel in Yeonnam-dong, a gentrifying neighborhood known for its increasing density of artistic cafés, fancy restaurants, and guesthouses.

I read about this long-seller musical, an import from Czechia, while doing research on popular productions of Shakespeare in Korea, for a chapter of my dissertation that focuses on Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project” (타루, 판소리 햄릿 프로젝트, see some blogposts on this ongoing project).

Yeeyon Im (임이연, all following quotes are from two of her papers, from 2012 and 2016, see below for bibliographic details), whose criticism of “Koreanized” Shakespeare proved highly fruitful in my discussion of Lee Yun-taek’s Hamlet, highlights the decreasing importance of the “high-brow legitimacy” – as “ready-made cultural prestige” – that the “Shakespeare Brand” used to imply (2016: 83).

She discusses post-milennial adaptations aiming at general audiences, particularly spectators in their 20s and 30s who tend to be more interested in musicals than conventional theatre. She notes that most of them “remain highbrow, even when they attempt to popularize the Bard.” (2012: 65)

75 2017-05-19 ~ 07-23 디큐브아트센터 뮤지컬 햄릿 posterA typical commercial production with potential for a glocalized reception is Musical Hamlet, a Czech mega-musical that presents the plot as a “tragic romance” close to a melodrama (2016: 80). With songs in Korean translation and a largely non-Korean production team, Musical Hamlet (뮤지컬 햄릿) was shown with success in Seoul between 2007 and 2011. At first, it was presented as “a work that preserves the depth of Shakespeare’s classic and at the same time shows a modern man Hamlet completely different from the classic” (Season One programme, 2007; transl. and qtd. in 2016: 86). But as this marketing (supposedly) resulted in unsatisfying ticket turnouts, the name of Shakespeare (the “S-word”) was down-played throughout the following re-runs (2016: 86).

Now, “after six years of waiting” (6년 간의 기다림 끝에) as the 2017 poster proudly announces, Musical Hamlet returns, with the additional label of “rock opera musical” (in the top right corner of the poster).

The production employs famous actors and eroticized imagery, relying only marginally on the “Shakespeare Brand”. The S-word appears only in small typeface, shadowed by the keywords “love” and “desire” (사랑, 욕망), presumably in fear of suggesting boredom rather than high-class entertainment.

This teaser video doesn’t mention Shakespeare either (as does another, visually slightly different one):

The extended information on Youtube note that “Hamlet, as Shakespeare’s major play, is receiving the most love around the world” (셰익스피어의 대표작이자 전세계에서 가장 많은 사랑을 받은 작품 ‘햄릿’). I couldn’t take a closer look at the dedicated website, as of now…

Not sure if I can make it this time, the entrance fee is rather steep, starting at 70,000 KRW (some 50,- Euro). I’d like to find out, however, what the non-canonical character “Helena” (헬레나), a “good woman who always guards Ophelia’s side” is all about – fabricated opportunity for another female supporting actor or dramatic device in this game of passion? In any case, certainly an interesting event for anyone interested in commercial globalized musical, Korean Shakespeare, and popular culture in general – so I guess I should go!

– 3 May 2017 (水)

  • Im, Yeeyon. 2016. “To Love or Not to Be: Janek Ledecký’s Musical Hamlet and Shakespeare Negotiations in Korea.” Popular Entertainment Studies 7.1–2: 75–92. Full text link
  • 임이연. 2012. “셰익스피어 대중문화와 한국의 실제: 2000년대 연극산업을 중심으로 (Shakespeare and Popular Culture in Korea: Theatre Industry in the New Millennium).” 밀턴과근세영문학 22.1: 41–66. DBpia
  • Musical “Hamlet”. Script, composition: Janec Ledecky, adaptation: Robert Johanson, English lyrics: Janec Ledecky, George Harvilla, Vince Parrillo, arrangement: Martin Kumzak, director: Robert Johanson, Korean lyrics: Wang Yong-beom, Bak In-seon, Won Mi-sol, Bak Ji-hye, music director: Won Mi-sol, choreography: Jayme McDaniel, with Lee Ji-hun, Sin U, Seo Eun-gwang (Hamlet), Lee Jeong-hwa, Choe Seo-yeon (Ophelia), Min Yeong-gi, Kim Jun-hyeon (Claudius), Jeon Su-mi, An Yu-jin (Gertrude) etc., Production: DQ Art Center, with Soribada, Misom ENC, May 19 to July 23, 2017, entrance fee from 70,000 to 130,000 KRW, reservation via Interpark.
  • 뮤지컬 〈햄릿〉, 대본/작곡: 야넥 레데츠키, 각색: 로버트 요한슨, 영어가사: 야넥 레데츠키, 조지 하빌야, 빈스 팔리오, 편곡: 마틴 쿰작, 연출: 로버트 요한슨, 한국어가사: 왕용범, 박인선, 원미솔, 박지혜, 합력연출: 박지혜, 음악감독: 원미솔, 안무: 제이미 백다니엘, 출연: 이지훈, 신우, 서은광 (햄릿), 이정화, 최서연 (오필리어), 민영기, 김준현 (클라우디우스), 전수미, 안유진 (거투르트) 등, 주최: (주)더길, 주관: 소리바다, (주)미솜이엔씨, 디큐브아트센터, 2017년 5월 19일 ~ 7월 23일, 입장료: 70–130,000원, 예매: 인터파크.
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Before the Chunhyang Festival in Namwon (남원 춘향제전)

Once again in Namwon (남원), just a few days before this year’s Chunhyang Festival (춘향제) begins.

Gwanghan-ru (광한루)

Gwanghan-ru Park in Namwon (남원, 광한루원)

Six years ago, I had slept for hours in the small pavilion in Gwanghan-ru Park (광한루원) after a track on Jinri-san, today a performance with several acts at different places in the park was going on (the “Sunday Gwanghan-ru Park Gugak Stroll” / 일요광한루원국악산책). We moved along, towards the final songs, with an unexpected encore, then strolled around the grounds.

They were erecting the stage for the 87th Chunhyang Festival (제87회 춘향제), to take off in three days (May 3 – 7). The newly-built exhibition space featured some old records, translations of the Story of Chunhyang (kor. Chunhyang-jeon, 춘향전) from around the world (e.g. from Germany Der Oriol: Zwei Liebesgeschichten aus dem alten Korea, translated by Elisabeth Ackner, Leipzig 1951: Ruppert Verlag), and some interesting historical facts.

Translations of Chunhyang-jeon

Translations of Chunhyang-jeon

The Chunhyang Festival was held for the first time in 1931. The shrine dedicated to the heroine of this “national novel” had just been built and a ceremony (춘향제사) was held, until today the spiritual center of the festival. In 1974, the festival began a pansori contest and Jo Sang-hyeon (조상현) was the first winner (장원). Today, there is a contest for traditional music, a “Miss Chunhyang” beauty pageant (Seopyeonje-star Oh Jeong-hae [오정해] received the title in 1992, to my surprise), and many fringe acts all around the park and the riverside in front.

We didn’t see the famous portrait of Chunhyang by Kim Eun-ho (김은호, 1892–1979), modernist painter, whose portrait of the Chinese actor Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳, 매란방 in Korean, 1894–1961) I had seen a few days ago at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (국립현대미술관 서울관).

But while taking a walk through the mountains north of the river, I saw not only the Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관), where this year’s “Miss Chunhyang”s were rehearsing, but also the local Gugak Center and the Chunhyang Culture & Art Center (춘향문화예술회관). The photo exhibition I saw at the train station also included some pictures from last year’s festival. The way “national” pansori culture and local history, legend, and material culture (food!) merge in the event makes it an interesting object of study, as one example of contemporary pansori practice.

In any case, one sunny day in Namwon, with the hope of returning next year for the festival, finally.

– 30 April 2017 (日)

Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관)

Hampawoo Korean Music Experience Center (함파우소리체험관)

  • 김기형, 춘향제 80년사, 서울 2015: 민속원. (publisher, table of contents
  • Kim Gi-hyeong, The Eighty Year History of the Chunhyang Festival, Seoul 2015: Minsok-won.
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Things I learned at #AAS2017, part2 (Friday, 17 March)

St James in the morningThis year’s conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in Toronto (March 16–19), the first one I ever attended, was enormous. Still overwhelmed by the experience, I publish some of my notes on the various panels I attended and presentations I heard, interspersed with tweets I posted during the conference. Due to the volume, I organise the material in daily instalments – meaning that each post focuses on one conference day, I probably won’t be able to keep up a daily posting rate. In my listings, presentations in bold are those I heard myself, while those in italics refer to situations where I couldn’t hear a presentation as I had to leave early or came late.

This is the second part of my impressions at AAS 2017, from the presentations I attended on Friday, 17 March.

Things Fall Apart: Material Religion and the Problem of Decay with examples from Korea, Vietnam, and Myanmar

President’s Address, Fri, March 17, 9:00 to 10:15am, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Grand Centre

Presenter: Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History


Things fall apart, but they do not do so at the same rate or in the same circumstances. Sacred images decay at different rates depending on their own innate material properties and as they interact with air, water, earth, fire, and with the variables of local practice—incense smoke, libations with ghee, the rubbing of human hands. The disintegration of a sacred image may be precipitated by human agency (iconoclasm) or postponed by it (acts of care and restoration). In recent writing, the instability or “vibrancy” of matter engages the attention of socio-cultural anthropologists (Tim Ingold) archeologists (Ian Hodder) and philosophers (Jane Bennett). In my own research on ensouled images—Korean shaman paintings, temple statues in Vietanm, and nat images in Myanmar—I encountered decay as a spectral presence. It lurked behind questions of how images are fabricated, why particular materials are selected, the relationships and obligations assumed by the human caretakers of sacred images, the different protocols for disposal, and the resuscitation of some discarded things to second lives as art commodities.
I am not offering a controlled comparison much less an argument for a particularly “Asian” approach to the dissolution of religious images. I am suggesting that when we draw the specter of decay out of the shadows it leads us to some local insights on how local actors navigate the inevitable deterioration of material things through their own understandings of the agentive spirit entities that sometimes inhabit them: What are the cautions that inform the refurbishment of statues in spirit medium temples in Vietnam? How is the relatively rapid deterioration of a Burmese nat image linked to Burmese understandings of nat-ness in relation to Buddhahood? How has the Korean shaman’s desire to give her deities a clean and pure seat abetted and frustrated a market in antique shaman paintings?

Laurel Kendall’s talk offered an engaging approach to the emphemeral material culture associated with religious acts in different Asian countries (Vietnam, Korea, Myanmar). With regard to Korea, she mentioned “ambiguous” aspects of shamanic rituals – on a given occasion, the gods may arrive or not, still the mansin (만신 萬神, a female shaman) acts as if divine intervention was imminent. The paper images she discussed also counter the gravitas of the situation. I’d be interested in a discussion of the performative aspects of these rituals and the roles that “props” play.

Hidden Traces of the Repertoire: Reconstructing Chinese Theatre Practice in the Maoist Period

Panel 66, Fri, March 17, 10:30am to 12:30pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Chestnut East

* Siyuan Liu (University of British Columbia), “Eliminating Scenario Plays in China in the 1950s”
* Anne Rebull (University of Chicago), “How to Act: Emboldening Theatricality in 1950s Performance Practice”
* Maggie Greene (Montana State University), “Navigating Bureaucratic ‘Gusts of Wind’: The Shanghai Theatre World, 1949-1966”
* Tarryn Li-Min Chun (University of Michigan), “Sent-Down Plays: Yangbanxi and Rural Performance in the Chinese Cultural Revolution”
* Discussant: Xiaomei Chen (University of California, Davis)

I don’t know much about theatre in China, and (almost) all I know I learned from two books… and these four presentations, that were enlightening in a very tangible way, by using much archival evidence.

All four presentations dealt with differents forms of theatre that were performed around the same time, during the years following Mao’s civil war victory in 1949.

  1. Tigangxi (“scenarios plays”), performances by improvising virtuoso actors based on roughly drafted “scenarios” (both in spoken and sung theatre, wenmingxi and xiqu) that gave way to director-centered productions of didactic drama under state ownership after 1949 (Siyuan Liu)
  2. Kunqu (崑曲), also known as “Kun opera”, a traditional performance genre; the highly successful production Fifteen Strings of Cash (1956) became a starting point for discussions on aesthetic aspects of “traditional” sung (kunqu, a form of xiqu, “Chinese opera”) and “modern” spoken theatre (huaju), popular and political drama (Anne Rebull)
  3. Yangbanxi (樣板戲) “model operas”, tradional music theatre about “revolutionary” themes, made as a replacement of traditional styles in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76); model operas were performed by stately sponsored troupes, following detailed model books, went on tour and performed under less than ideal conditions in the countryside (Tarryn Li-Min Chun, homepage)

Maggie Green (homepage), who studied archival records on theatre in Shanghai from 1949 to 1966 for alternative sources, highlighted the benefits of quantitative methods in comparison to typical genre distinctions. She noted a difference between the theatre discussed by contemporary activists and scholarship on the one hand, and actual performance attendance on the other. Evidence on the latter suggests that “traditional” performance styles dominated stages until well into the 1960s, while official records suggest otherwise.

This tour-de-force through a highly exciting era of Chinese theatre was just great – I learned so much in the short timeframe of a panel (unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the discussion). A similar in-depth, comparative, and evidence-based discussion of theatre in post-war Korea would make a very interesting panel – or book!

The next panel offered a glimpse on this possible project:

Entertainment in the Aftermath of the Korean War

Panel 88, Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 2nd Floor, Elgin

* Benoit Berthelier (Yonsei University), “The North Korean Cultural Revolution: Popular Culture and Class Relations in North Korea (1945-1955)”
* Roald H. Maliangkay (Australian National University), “Occupied Korea Has Talent: Entertaining Americans in the Aftermath of the Korean War”
* Yunji Park (University of Southern California), “Masculine Girl Prince and the Sexual Transgressor in 1950s South Korea”
* Yusuke Wajima (Osaka University), “The Fake Sport by the Fake Japanese? (Trans)Nationalism and Americanization in Professional Wrestling in Japan and Korea”
* Discussant: Suk-Young Kim (University of California, Los Angeles)

A Korea-focused panel on things performative – wonderful! It was a tough decision, but I skipped the panel on food culture and identity (that took place at the same time across the Mezzanine) and went for the whole thing. First, Benoit Berthelier’s analysis of gendered construction of class-consciousness (spoiler: “male” workers, “female” farmers) through collective cultural activities in North Korea. A highlight was the evaluation sheet for literature reading circles, with empty fields for pre-scribed “opinions”.

Then the fascinating story of Rikidōzan or Yeokdosan in Korean (역도산 力道山), a professional wrestler from Korea who made it big time in Japan, as a “national hero” beating up Americans. Yusuke Wajima discussed several aspects of Rikidōzan’s career, including his fame as the “Hero of Plaza Viewing”, promoted in public viewings, his role in the pro-wrestling logic of “local hero vs. travelling villain”, and the respective reactions to his successes in both North Korea (an ethnic hero) and South Korea (a symbol of anti-communist-lead normalization with Japan). The eponymous 2004 movie by Song Hae-sung (성해성) might give another post-IMF-perspective on this border-bending performer – or a “Mystery File” (미스테리 사건파일) episode on his murder

Yusuke Wajima on Rikidōzan

Yusuke Wajima on Rikidōzan

Next, a topic that I’m particularly interested in: Gender transgressions in popular yeoseong gukgeuk (여성국극, “female national drama”) in the 1950s. I’ve read about this all-woman version of pansori-based changgeuk (창극, also formerly known as 국극, i.e. “national drama”) mostly in Killick’s In Search of Korean Traditional Opera](http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/p-6141-9780824832902.aspx) (Univ. of Hawai’i Press 2010) and had seen one performance years ago on a Dano Festival at the Gugak Center. Park Yujin’s talk discussed some interesting predecessors (besides the obvious pansori-changgeuk-trajectory), such as “girls music plays” (sonyeo gageuk 소녀가극, see a paper by 백현미 on DBpia) in colonial Korea and the ongoing Takarazuka Revue founded in 1913 in Japan.

Finally, Roald H. Maliangkay’s talk on hired Korean musicians performing at US camps in post-war Korea – with castings, coversongs, and imported guitars – gave a good idea of the environment where later stars like the Kim Sisters or Shin Jung-hyeon (신중현), “godfather of rock”, took their first steps.

A common point between (at least three of) these topics is their celebration of “fake” acts: staged fights, women impersonating men, and Korean musicians standing in for American pop acts to expensive to be flown in. In any case, with their different implied Utopian dimensions, these popular practices are more than mere means for profit, but highly political. A performative perspective – e.g. on the undeniably enjoyable tension between performer and role (or phenomenal and semiotic body, see my take on the Cumberbitch-phenomenon) – might be another fruitful approach to these entertaining imitations and simulations.

Afterwards, I made a brief visit to the following panel, where I heard only the first presentation:

Cosmopolitan Configuration: “The World” in Korean Visual Culture

Panel 123 Fri, March 17, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Mezzanine, Cedar

  • Christina Klein (Boston College), “Theorizing/Historicizing Cold War Cosmopolitanism”
    * Hyun Seon Park (Yonsei University), “The Return of a Cosmopolitan Subject: Encountering the World of Violence in Ha Kil-chong’s 1970s Films”
    * Yun-Jong Lee (Dong-A University), “A Lonely, Struggling Cosmopolitan: Bae Chang-ho and the Global Cinema in the 1980s”
    * Sohl Lee (Stony Brook University), “The Global Circulation of Korea’s Democratic Avant-Garde Art in the 1980s: The Triad of Seoul, Tokyo, and New York”
    * Discussant: Steven Lee (UC Berkeley)

Christina Klein discussed the role of the Asia Foundation, a “CIA front” that was involved in cold war cultural politics, for example by attempting to integrate Korea into (non-Communist) “free Asia”. The Asian Film Festival, for example, sponsored artist travels and cultural exchange and promoted the resulting movies. A result of this meeting of US cold warriors and Korean cultural producers is the movie Because I love you (사랑하는 까닭에, directed by Han Hyeong-mo 한형모, 1958) that Klein discussed in detail. Interestingly, this “Korea-Malaysia friendship tourist film” features extensive scenes of traditional Korean dance, staging a spectacle of intercultural friendship among allies.

I know that in the world of Korean theatre in the 1950s and 60s, the Rockefeller Foundation played a similarly foundational role, for example by sponsoring artistic exchanges, academic publications, or infrastructure in Korea, maybe most prominently the Drama Center in Seoul. Different from the first and foremost commercially driven sphere of entertainment directly after the Korean War (see last panel), here cold war policies seem to have had the upper hand.

After I slipped out of the panel, I made at round at the book stands and met Barbara Wall from Hamburg, who had just arrived and was to host a cross-country panel soon:

The Construction of East Asian History on Screen

Panel 148 Fri, March 17, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 2nd Floor, Dominion Ballroom North

* Jose Montaño (Rikkyo University), “The Chrysanthemum and the Laugh: Questioning Japanese History through Contemporary Jidaigeki Films” (video presentation)
* Le-Na Dao (Vietnam National University), “National Identity in Conflict: The Reconstruction of King Ly Thai To on Vietnamese Screen”
* Barbara Wall (University of Hamburg), “The Construction of Crown Prince Sado as Symbolic Victim in the Fight against the Establishment in Films and TV dramas”
* George Guo (Royal Holloway, University of London), “From Serious History to Time-Travel TV: A Critical Study of Time-Travel Television Series on Contemporary Chinese Television” (canceled)
* Discussant: Donald L. Baker (University of British Columbia)

Unfortunately, two of the panelists could not attend, but at least one of them (Jose Montaño) had prepared a video presentation, a slightly ironic take on recent parodies of the samurai film genre.

Then Barbara herself presented her take on different depictions of crown prince Sado (사도 세자, 1735–62), from historical records to a memorial mural along Cheonggyecheon, as well as in different movies and drama series (The Throne 사도, Secret Door 비밀의 문). From a murderer to a victim, later to a rebellious reformer, the ways Sado has been interpreted often reflects the specific circumstances of the reception of this enigmatic character, making it difficult (or impossible) to distinguish between fact and fiction in retrospect.

Barbara also mentioned a play that deals with the Sado-plot and I vaguely remembered that Oh Tae-suk (오태석) had written something similar. Indeed, his 1987 play Intimacy between Father and Son (부자유친 父子有親) tells the well-known story from a close-up, intimate perspective. The play has been translated into English by Ah-Jeong Kim and R. B. Graves (in The Metacultural Theater of Oh T’ae-sok, Univ. of Hawai’i Press 1999) and into German (as “Nähe von Vater und Sohn”) by Lee Kyungboon and Kai Köhler (in Mumiengrab und andere Theaterstücke, Edition Peperkorn 2013)

I couldn’t find any other plays that deal with this famous – and highly dramatic! – historic episode. It would be interesting, though, to compare different productions of Oh Tae-suk’s classic, for example before and after the IMF-induced reorientation of cultural policies. I’m quite sure, though, that other dramatizations of this plot exist…

Le-Na Dao’s talk on cinematic representations of Vietnamese King Lý Thái Tổ was a great complement to Barbara’s. Le-Na discussed how famous acts of the first Emperor of the Lý-dynasty – such as moving the capital to today’s Hanoi and promoting Buddhism –, as well as legendary attributions (e.g. a dream of a golden dragon) are depicted in different movies. Interestingly, she also stresses the use of traditional arts as a means to evoke a national spirit.

Le-Na Dao on representations of King Lý Thái Tổ

Le-Na Dao on representations of King Lý Thái Tổ

Donald Baker, the discussant of the panel, stressed that movies, like (academic) historiographies, oversimplify matters – only to a higher degree. It is certainly true that movies, TV shows, and plays (as well as productions thereof) are a product of their time, thus more valuable as a historiographic source on the time they are produced than the time they depict.

Korea Foundation reception

Korean Foundation Reception

The day ended with some reception hopping (from AAS to Korea Foundation to University of Hawai’i), rushed buffet dinner, some old friends, some new ones, and a late-night meeting of the Committee on Korean Studies, on top floor (or so it seemed).


— 17 March 2017 (金)

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