A legendary dance career is celebrated
Legendary dancer Yi Mae-bang will join 90 other Korean artists in performances at the National Theater of Korea this weekend to celebrate his storied 70-year dance career.
Yi, 77, who has been designated an Intangible Cultural Property by the Korean government, will perform his signature dances ― the seungmu (monk dance) and salpuri (spirit cleansing dance). Ten other traditional dances will also be performed. Yi’s wife, Kim Myeong-ja, and his daughter, Yi Hyeong-ju, will be among the other performers.
“Stillness in movement” defines Yi’s approach to traditional Korean dance. “It is his intention to express the dichotomy of yin and yang, light and dark and power and grace through the medium of dance. He expresses these opposing forces in dance, and this dichotomy is manifested in movements that are at once effortless and light, forceful and strong,” according to a Korea Society article.
Yi was born in 1927 to a family of artists. He grew up surrounded by traditional Korean art forms, and began dancing as soon as he was able to walk.
At the age of seven, he started attending a gwonbeon, a traditional performing arts academy. He was educated by famed dancers Yi Chang-cho and Park Yong-ku.
Yi learned traditional Chinese dances from famed Peking opera artist Mei Lan-fang. Yi even adopted a variation of Mei’s name: mei became mae in Korean, and fang became bang. Under Pae Ki-ja, a Korean dancer who studied modern dance in Japan, Yi learned Western and Japanese dance forms.
But Yi concentrated on two traditional Korean folk dances, seungmu and salpuri. Seungmu is based on a gisaeng’s seduction of a monk, and is performed to eight rhythmic cycles.
As the rhythm shifts, the dancer changes the mood by changing his steps and the movements of his long white sleeves.
Salpuri is based on a shamanistic ritual to invoke spiritual cleansing. It was part of ancestral worship rites that were pushed underground during the Joseun Dynasty’s embrace of Confucianism.
For a time, salpuri was the dance of itinerant entertainers at outdoor marketplaces. The dance uses a white silk scarf to convey moods. Yi would later be designated an Intangible Cultural Property, in 1987 for the monk dance and in 1990 for salpuri.
Other dances to be performed this weekend include some of Yi’s own creations, such as giwonmu (supplication dance) and sogo chum (dance of small drums). Other highlights include sapungjeonggam (Gentlemen scholar’s dance) and mudang chum (shaman’s dance).
by Joe Yonghee
For more information, go to www.ntok.go.kr. Tickets are 15,000 won ($14) to 70,000 won.