Market promotes Korean art groups
In his opening speech, Lee Gyu-seog, the president of the Korea Arts Management Service, the event’s organizer, said, “There is a proverb in Korea that salt in the kitchen is useless unless it is put on the food. I hope the Performing Arts Market in Seoul will be like putting salt on food by creating a marketplace that connects buyers and sellers.”
“Ultimately, it is to lay the groundwork to form a network to introduce Korean performing arts and to exchange information,” said Choi S. Kyu, the multidisciplinary arts program director of the market. He is also the deputy artistic director of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival.
The Korea Arts Management Service was formed in January by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which sponsors the market. The ministry invested 800 million won ($830,000) for this year’s event.
The ministry also spent 400 million won this year to help local performing arts groups travel outside Korea, and will earmark 1.1 billion won next year for the same purpose, according to Lee Jin-sik, head of the performing arts team at the ministry.
Arts markets resemble trade shows in that they have booths where promoters hand out brochures and DVDs of performances they are promoting. There are also showcase performances by selected groups. The best-known performing arts markets include CINARS in Canada, the Asian Arts Mart in Singapore, the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, the Australian Performing Arts Market and Mexico: Gateway to the Americas.
Through 24 20-minute shows and four full-length performances, this year’s event showcased 28 performing arts groups in four different categories: dance, theater, music and multidisciplinary arts. There were 13 dance, eight theater, four multidisciplinary and three music performances. Dance as a genre has a stronger presence in international arts markets because there is no language barrier.
Theater plays can be difficult to understand without translation, and even with translation it is often difficult to communicate the deep meaning of the works. “Nuances are often lost in translation,” said Chang In-joo, the dance program director of the market and a dance columnist. This influenced the selection of works chosen to showcase.
“Even CINARS, the biggest arts market, is well known for physical theater or performing arts pieces that are heavily dependent on body language,” Mr. Choi said.
After watching “Woyzeck” by the Sadari Movement Laboratory ― a combination of theater and dance ― Norman Armour, executive director of Canada’s Push International Performing Arts Festival, said, “It is always an issue whether it is a Korean theater piece for an English audience or vice versa. But cultural references are more challenging than language, ultimately.”
Mr. Armour was impressed by the Seoul market. “It seems to be run very well. It is only two years old. It is remarkable that there is so much activity,” he said. “I will come again.”
“In the past, Korean performing arts were not recognized internationally,” Mr. Choi said. “It was difficult to sell local performing arts overseas.”
Another characteristic of this year’s market is that it was held at the same time as the 6th Seoul Performing Arts Festival 2006 and the 9th Seoul International Dance Festival, or SIDance 2006, “to show more performances to domestic and international visitors,” said Wie Ji-yun, the secretary general of the Performing Arts Market in Seoul 2006.
It can take 18 months or longer to evaluate whether a market was successful and assess how many performing arts groups were invited overseas due to the event, because most performing arts festivals plan their schedules two to three years in advance.
Of 41 performing arts groups showcased during last year’s market, nine groups had performed at overseas festivals and arts markets in 12 countries as of May. However, it is difficult to judge whether this was a direct result of the 2005 market.
Regardless of statistics, the program directors agreed that the biggest accomplishment of the 2005 market was to expose Korean performing arts to the world.
“Considering the fact [last year’s market] was the first, the Performing Arts Market in Seoul became known to some degrees,” Ms. Chang said. “Even CINARS, which is a trendsetter in world art markets, showed interest in this market.”
More than 120 foreign participants attended the event this year, up from 94 foreign visitors last year.
“By demonstrating many performances in a concentrated fashion, we can show our identity or a trend, as opposed to showing one performance at a time,” Ms. Chang said. “At least it had a good start.”
For the market to grow internationally, it has to differentiate itself from other arts markets and develop its own identity, the program directors said.
The Asian Arts Mart promotes groups from different parts of Asia, while the Tokyo Performing Arts Market focuses on young Japanese avant-garde performing arts groups.
“The Performing Arts Market in Seoul should evolve in a way that it has its own color so people can say, for example, ‘if you go to the Performing Arts Market in Seoul, you will see contemporary performing arts,’” Ms. Chang said.
“It must have originality. That is the way to survive. This does not happen in one year, but as time passes, it will come naturally,” she added.
Although it is too early yet to compare or evaluate the market, some said it still has a long way to go.
“I didn’t see many foreign visitors to the booth exhibitions,” said Gabriel Han, the president of Korean Culture & Arts Planning, which promoted a world-music band, Kang Eun Il Haegumplus, at the Performing Arts Market in Seoul 2006. The band showcased its latest album, “Remembrance of Future.”
“This is a performing arts market, but there were few buyers,” Mr. Han said. “It is only the beginning but it was a bit discouraging.”
Mr. Han said when Kang Eun Il Haegumplus participated in the Tokyo Performing Arts Market in 2000, they experienced a heated atmosphere, with deals constantly being made.
“[The Seoul market] felt like performing on a remote island,” Mr. Han said. He added there was no database established for previous performances, and there were problems with the performing arts venues.
Mr. Han advised, “The Performing Arts Market in Seoul should have a long-term plan. If they are going to have another event next year, they should have started promotions for it already.”
The critically acclaimed contemporary dance piece “Born Again” by the Trust Dance Company was the opening performance for the Performing Arts Market in Seoul 2006. It was awarded the grand prize for Dance of the Year from the Arts Council Korea and won the Choreographer of the Year award from the Korean Organization of Dance Choreographers. The company was also awarded the 2nd-Best Prize in the Saitama International Creative Contest for its piece, “What We Want To, Is.”
“Born Again” explores the meaning of human life. A spinning wheel represents humanity as part of the circle of life and going through wooden doors symbolizes rebirth.
Kim Yun-gyu, leader of the Trust Dance Company, explained why it took part in the market. “We’ve participated in foreign arts markets before, but there wasn’t such an opportunity to introduce Asian and Korean performing arts in the past. We thought it was a good opportunity,” he said.
“It is difficult to participate in international festivals without a process like this. The event has given young performing artists opportunities to show their work, and this makes it more meaningful.”
“I hope that this market can provide a venue for young performing artists and experimental works that have less popular appeal but artistic significance,” Mr. Kim added.
Mr. Kim said arts markets would not necessarily bring economic benefits. “Even international arts festivals cannot afford to pay a lot of money when they invite performing arts groups. I think it is the same for all arts markets. In that sense, rather than buying or selling performing arts, it needs to be an exchange between two countries. Governments need to support performing arts groups so they can perform in other countries. Then exchanges will become possible. When there is a mindset about such exchanges and small steps are made each time, it will lead to more frequent exchanges,” he said.
by Limb Jae-un