[VIEWPOINT]Korean arts need our supportThe New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Britain’s Royal Ballet, and Italy’s Parma Opera ― these are world-famous performing groups that visited Korea as part of the festival to commemorate the opening of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in 1978 when it proudly opened.
At that time, our performing arts were struggling hard to bloom in infertile soil and with inadequate nurturing. Foreign performance groups that came through Korea at that time were seen as having brilliant staging and skillful, almost perfect performances, which impressed the Koreans watching.
I still vividly remember the conversation of a young couple who sat beside me when I was watching the fantastic performance of the Royal Ballet: “Could we produce such performance someday?” “It’s probably impossible. Aren’t we born with a different physique, first of all?”
But now after 27 years have passed, great Korean artists who have overcome difficulties in foreign lands and attained knowledge and skills there are returning home, one after another, to form groups or performers equipped with enthusiastic passion and excellent skills that are equal to any foreign performers’. Not only that, we can see one or two Korean opera singers in leading roles in theaters with a long-standing tradition in Europe.
Also, it is not difficult to find a few Korean names on the list of the members of the five largest symphony orchestras in the United States. Our arts education has improved to such a point that our students no longer need to study abroad now. Our wish of 27 years ago was not an impossible dream.
But there is one thing that still remains unchanged: The Korean audience still prefers famous foreign groups, as they did 27 years ago, over local performers.
One day, I watched a talk show program in which a senior comedian emphasized the importance of the audience’s attitude toward performance. He said, “If people in the front row are seated with their arms folded and a hardened expression, as if saying, ‘Try making us laugh,’ the day’s performance is a failure, nine out of 10 times.”
This goes for the performing arts as well. The same performance will have an extremely different reception between an audience that thinks, “It will be wonderful. I will watch with enthusiasm,” and another audience that thinks, “Let’s see how well they perform.”
Isn’t it unfair to continue to have a nonchalant attitude toward Korean performing groups’ passionate performances, which have almost reached world-class levels, while giving unreserved applause and praise to foreign groups’ performance?
When a great performer from abroad makes a mistake, audiences here are more likely to cheer them on, saying, “It’s human to make mistakes,” but they will look coldly upon a Korean performer who commits the same error, saying, “Well, just as I had expected.”
The performing arts are most affected by the attitude or prejudice of the spectators. We should break the attitude of showing unconditional submission to famous groups or performers from abroad. We should be able to look at our artists properly, people who may be practicing with great effort somewhere at this moment, fighting alone under difficult circumstances.
This plea isn’t designed to appeal to our sense of patriotism. Just because they happen to be our people doesn’t mean that we should excuse their lack of ability. Rather, this is just a suggestion to toss out our prejudices and show the same affection to them as we do to foreign artists.
The world’s top artists owe what they are to the audiences that watched these performers as they tried to do their best, encouraging them and believing in them. Together with our artists, let’s create an unforgettable moment of deep emotion.
I’d like to attend a Korea National Ballet Company performance with that young couple who sat next to me at the performance of the Royal Ballet ― they’re probably in their early 50s by now ― and show them what Korean artists are capable of.
* The writer is the president of the Seoul Arts Center. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Yong-bae