Calming spirits with disguiseIt was the year 1300. The ghosts were restless. They entered the dream of a young man and told him to retreat to a secret place. He was to use wooden masks in a dance to honor the spirits. They bound him under an oath of death to keep his deeds secret.
The young man fled deep inside a cave. There, for 100 days, he danced. But his lover grew to miss him, and searched for him. She found him and his 12 masks. The spirits were angry and killed the young man.
Thus begins the legend of the Andong mask dance.
Over the centuries, mask dances have come to exist in many forms and in many countries. In 1997, the Korean government created an official festival for Andong centered on the mask dance. Hahoe, one of the villages in Andong, North Gyeongsang province, was an ideal candidate to host the International Mask Dance Festival. Not only is the village well preserved in the Joseon tradition, it is home to the byeolsingut, a combination of shamanistic ritual and mask dance.
Organizers invited foreign groups as well as professional and university troupes. After attending the first showing, Koo Hee-sue, a drama critic, wrote in Koreana magazine, “The only time that such a variety of mask dance performances can be seen is when the nationally designated groups hold one of their regular performances in Seoul.”
Now in its seventh showing, the festival brings together more than 40 troupes, including nine from abroad ― Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, Germany and Finland. The celebration begins today and runs through Oct. 5.
Many of the performances require audience interaction. A performer will call to the audience, and the audience responds.
There will be performences of the Hahoe byeolshingut at 10:30 a.m. from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2. The sacrificial ritual is based on three ceremonies: gangsin (inviting the spirits), osin (consoling the spirits) and songsin (bidding the spirits farewell).
In addition to the Hahoe byeolshingut, there will be Bongsan Mask Dances, a street performance of sorts, at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27 and 3 p.m. on Sept. 28. This nine-part dance centers around Buddhist monks, but becomes a tale about corruption of the noble class.
The Dongraeyaru, at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, is from Busan. Designated by the government as Intangible Cultural Property No. 8, the Dongraeyaru usually begins with a tug-of-war on the first full moon of the year. The ritual includes a leper’s dance, a noble’s dance, a monster and noble’s dance and a dance among an old man, his wife and his lover.
The Gangryeong Mask Dance, at 6 p.m. on Oct. 2, is another Intangible Cultural Property, from Gangryeong, Hwanghae island. Traditionally, it’s part of the Dano festival celebration. Farmers and fishermen used to perform this dance wearing long sleeves.
This time, organizers are trying to return to the heart of the mask dance, and at the same time look to the future. “In a way, the Andong mask dance festival is a local event,” says Kwon Doo-hyun, an organizer of the festival. “We want to show the rich local history of Andong. Also, when most people think of the mask dance, they think of an old, old performance. But the dance is evolving to meet today’s standards.”
Some new forms include a team that combines aerobics with mask dance, Maria Aerobic; one that combines martial arts with mask dance, Taegeum Gymnastics, and a mixture of hip-hop and traditional dance by local high school students.
There are other Korean traditional performances. Sonyul Jolbu Nori is a nighttime festival near a stream. Chajeonnori is a men’s mock battle where each of two teams carries a dongchae, a ladder made of wood. This performance was shown at the Expo in Hanover, Germany. Notdarribalkki is a female collective play similar to Chajeonnori.
For children, there’s also a puppet play festival. People are encouraged to participate in the Pungmul contest, which is actually a collective dance.
The festival also features cuisine. Andong is famous for sikye, fermented rice punch, and Andong hanwo, the beef of the region.
by Joe Yong-hee
Andong is a three-hour bus ride from the East Seoul Bus Terminal; call (02) 446-8000. The train from Cheongnyangni Station, eastern Seoul, takes 4-1/2 hours; call (02) 960-7788. The festival grounds are a 10-minute walk from the train depot.