Book Explores Growth Of Korean Dance from Tradition of Shamanism

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Book Explores Growth Of Korean Dance from Tradition of Shamanism

It is significant that Korean dance performances produced during and after the 20th century rely increasingly on traditions of shamanism. Perhaps the country's turbulent political history offers a vague explanation of the reasons: Concerned mainly with notions of healing, the modern aesthetics of dance in Korea have been heavily influenced by the traumas resulting from post-war experiences and a history of repression.

"Contemporary Dance Scenes of Korea," published by the Korean Information Service, presents an ambitious overview of Korean dance in the style of a textbook. It deals with conceptual readings of socially engaging works, which Korean dancers from the 1960s to the present day have explored. The book covers various contemporary issues such as questions of authenticity, cultural identity, gender and changing trends in avant-garde dance.

The book is divided into eight chapters. The first two, "In Search of the Korean Sprit" and "Historical Reality Expressed by Dance" discuss the search for an authentic meaning of national identity by examining works based on the Korean War, civil riots and Confucian traditions. It features works such as "May, 1980" and "1919," which refer to specific political events embodying feats of public activism.

More poetically, the third and fourth chapter, "Koreanization of Various Ballet Styles" and "Dance as a Ritual," offer examples of works reflecting ideas around the concept "East meets West." The third chapter discusses classical European masterpieces like "Swan Lake" and "Samson and Delilah," which have been adapted into the contemporary Korean context. "Dance As a Ritual" on the other hand, features progressive styles of dance inspired by ancient Eastern traditions such as Buddhist and Shamanistic rituals.

"Dance for Amusement and Satire" reflects the technical adaptation of Martha Graham, the mother of American modern dance, into the local dance scene. "Open Age, Open Dance" introduces outdoor productions or those challenging the confines of the theater. It includes works like "Firefly, Firefly" and "The Fifth Character II," which stress the urgency of environmental concerns by being performed in significant places.

The last two chapters, "Korean Creative Dance" and "The Modern History of Korean Dance," present a brief, but concise overview of the local history of dance with a full appendix of dance companies and performance facilities in Korea.

Lee Ok-seon, the editorial adviser for the book, says the book was specifically designed for foreigners who are interested in the local contemporary dance scene.

"Traditional practices like fan dance and mask dance have been introduced to foreign audiences already. But there hasn't been an English publication made by Koreans which deal with contemporary dance," she says, while adding that the word "contemporary" stands more as a sign of progressive dance practices rather than a reference to certain time period.

It is noteworthy that the publication has been put together by the Korean Information Service, a government organization promoting Korean culture and food. Its fundamental aim was to focus on introducing diverse aspects of Korean culture rather providing cultural analysis. As a result, the translated work fails to show readers how or why Korean dancers reconciled their traditions with progressive styles of Western dance.

"Contemporary Dance Scenes of Korea" will be distributed to major libraries around the world and will also be on sale at Kyobo Book Store for 30,000 won ($23). For more information, call (02) 745-0004 (English service available).

by Park Soo-mee

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