[ON STAGE]Culinary Symphony Satisfies"Nanta" is a non-verbal performance that depicts three chefs and an assistant who are preparing for a wedding banquet. But the plot is unimportant. Audiences come for a rhythmic extravaganza.
The performers use kitchen utensils and appliances as percussion instruments, and reproduce the rhythms of nong-ak, the traditional instrumental music originally played by farmers at harvest time.
Widely acclaimed, "Nanta" succeeds both artistically and commercially. Produced by the PMC Production Company in 1997, when performances such as "Stomp" and "Tap Dogs" launched this international trend, the show aspires to become "an export item," touring abroad to bring revenue into the country.
The new Nanta Theater, located in Jeongdong, central Seoul, is frequently packed with Japanese tourists, some of whom come to Korea just to shop and see Nanta on a "Nanta Package Tour." Working with major Japanese travel agencies, the organizers of "Nanta" actively promote their performance as the next big tourist attraction. Near the theater entrance, friendly doumis, female assistants promoting company products, stand by the gift shop to guide the foreign tourists. Browsing through the shop, where they sell Nanta paraphernalia － clocks, T-shirts and brooches － one wonders if this isn't really Disney.
The success of the play, however, does not rest entirely on marketing strategy. An eclectic mix of makeshift instruments include saucepans and various brass bowls. The crisp sound of chopping vegetables rounds out the culinary symphony.
PMC recently committed "Nanta" to a 10-year run, and is also planning an American tour next year. Considering that the Korean performing arts hasn't fully recovered from its decline, the show is an exceptional achievement.
It is somewhat strange to think of a performance group as a wildly successful business venture; one is more accustomed to hearing tales of starving theater actors. But the show's success provides encouragement for the local theater industry. In a country where long-term performances run no more than a year, this show, which has thrived, gives hope to other performance groups.
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by Park Soo-mee