Festival a celebration of world’s folkloreOn May 5 of the lunar calendar, the sun’s energy ― yanggi ― is said to be strongest. The origins of Dano, as that day is called in Korea, date back to agricultural practices and religious rituals that paid respect to ancestors and gods.
During the day, women washed their hair in streams where the calamus plant grew. At noon, they plucked wild herbs like mugwort and used them in dishes that were to protect their health in the summer.
Vivid displays of Dano practices still take place across the country each spring. Nowadays, the traditions are celebrated in festivals that feature folk music, mask dances, tugs-of-war and ssireum wrestling.
One opportunity to experience this ancient folk culture arrives next week. The Gangneung International Folklore Festival, held in the coastal city’s Namdaecheon Park from June 11 to 27, will feature a Dano festival. A re-enactment of traditional mask dances, rope-walking stunts and performances on the gayageum, a 12-stringed instrument, will be waiting for visitors willing to trek to the east coast.
The Bukcheong Lion Mask Dance was once widely performed to repel evil and pray for the peace of a village, based on the presumed power of the lion to drive bad spirits away.
Dramas by actors performing behind masks have also played a role in Dano festivals for centuries.
A re-enactment of the Namsadang wandering folk troupe is also part of the lineup. From the late Joseon Dynasty to the 1920s, male entertainers wandered the countryside, bringing laughter to the commoners in farming and fishing villages. Their plays, which normally included puppetry as well as acting, singing and farmers’ bands, often criticized the immorality of the nobility.
For those who want to get a true “taste” of Dano, an opportunity to indulge in local wines will be provided. Other hands-on programs include lessons on how to make rice cakes and paper fans, and hand-drawing on amulets.
Exhibits are also part of this festival. Four pavilions are being set up with plenty of background information on the meaning of Dano, the typical life of local Gangwon farmers and the folklore of other nations.
There’s a vibrant international side to this folklore festival. Troupes from 22 countries will be attending, including four performances recognized by Unesco as “masterpieces”: Kunqu opera from China, Kuttiyattam from India, Hudhud chants of the Philippine Ifugao and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.
Kunqu consists of more than 24 scenes by a group of 12 actors who employ gestures, pantomime, mock combat and acrobatics. Kuttiyatam is a form of sacred theater; the use of fire as a sign of the divine, the sanctification of the stage and the purification of actors are aspects of an act that is said to have originated with sacrificial rituals. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia, recognized for its graceful hand gestures and extravagant costumes, accompanies ceremonies attesting to the monarchy’s power and glory, such as coronations and marriages.
According to festival official Nam Chang-tae, locals are eager to see Gangneung Dano registered on the Unesco list in the future.
by Limb Jae-un
For more information, including the schedule, call (033) 640-5940 or log onto www.gangneung.gangwon.kr.