Let Me Entertain You, Says Madanggeuk Fest

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Let Me Entertain You, Says Madanggeuk Fest

Madanggeuk are Korean traditional plays that combine various forms of folk entertainment, such as puppetry, mask dances, tightrope dancing and music. They used to be presented in open-air arenas, like a marketplace or a town square, hence the name: madang is Korean for an open yard, and geuk means a play.

Madanggeuk once was very popular among the poor, helping soothe their condition with rich social satire, offering fun and excitement to those who did not have many sources of entertainment. But over time, the form nearly died out.

In recent years, however, there have been efforts to revive the tradition, including an annual madanggeuk festival in Gwacheon city, Kyonggi province, which includes a variety of performances from at home and abroad. Gwacheon Madangkuk Festival is celebrating its fifth season this month. The festival is one of the more successful cultural events in Korea, creatively developing and changing traditional madanggeuk into forms that fit contemporary tastes. The festival, which opened Tuesday, continues through Sunday, featuring 43 performances from nine countries, including Korea, the United States, Canada and Colombia.

This year, the festival aims to increase participation by opening many street performances to the public. On the first day of the festival, for instance, the audience joined performers in producing "Mudong-dapgyo-nori," a street performance held in the Choson dynasty to console King Jeongjo as he visited the tomb of his father, Sado-seja.

There are many chances for visitors to take part in various madanggeuk. For those interested in acting, there are workshops held by the participating troupes.

The festival includes foreign productions, such as "Peace," "Caribbean Rhythm," and "Flight II." Over the weekend, at 7:30 p.m., an American puppet troupe called In the Heart of the Beast will stage "Peace," at Gwanmun Sports Park. The troupe creates marvelous visual images, using masks and puppets, up to eight meters high. The troupe will collaborate with Korean performers to produce a play dedicated to peace and harmony.

For lovers of Latin dance, "Caribbean Rhythm," by Son Como Son, a Colombian dance company, is a must see. The troupe also will perform on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Grand Theater of Gwacheon Citizens' Hall.

The Fire and Paper Theater from Poland will perform "Flight II" at Jayu-madang on Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m. The work will be a fantasy of fire and acrobatic dances depicting the destiny of a girl possessed by witchcraft. The troupe will use real fire on the stage to create intensity with the images, which include a huge firebird and a flaming winged-chair.

"Sword Song, Sword Dance" is a madanggeuk based on the Donghak revolution, a peasant revolt against feudalism in 1894. The 1994 work created by the Korean troupe "Han-du-rei" is one of the most spectacular of all contemporary madanggeuk productions. The performance revolves around exciting sword and drum dances. "Sword Song, Sword Dance" will be performed on the lawn near Gwacheon subway station, line No. 4, on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Also worthwhile is "Gyeolhon-gut," a drama by Sim Woo-sung, director of the Gongju Folk Drama Museum. Mr. Sim will use puppets to perform an exorcism for a deceased couple and a wedding ceremony for their spirits. The work will be performed at Ononsa on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the festival, visit the Web site at www.madang.or.kr (English available) or call 02-504-0945 (English available).

by Jung Jae-wal

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