Old Seoul fights for musical past

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Old Seoul fights for musical past

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“Gyeongseong 1930” revives the streets of Jongno under Japanese colonial rule. Provided by the organizer

Rickshaws run next to streetcars. People wearing traditional hanbok bustle down the streets rubbing shoulders with modern boys and girls in Western-style attire.
The city looks confused amid the winds of change swirling across the country.
The scene is Gyeongseong, a term that the Japanese used for Seoul during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).
Korea was deprived of its independence and stifled by Japan’s oppressive rule, making this a dark period in Korean history.
The dance-drama “Gyeongseong, 1930,” which opens next week, whisks audiences back to these turbulent days, when Koreans could not be Koreans; they were forced to be Japanese.
Seoul Metropolitan Dance Theater devised the show in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul.
The story conjures up the romance and tragedy of those sad days through the revival of dance, music and costumes.
Inside a social club in Jongno, young men and women dance to loud music. Hidden among the crowd are young independence fighters. Suddenly, Japanese soldiers identify one of the fighters, Hyeong-cheol, and chase after him.
Shot and wounded, he falls in front of a rickshaw. The woman inside the rickshaw is San-hong, a celebrated gisaeng, a traditional entertainer skilled in classical music and dance.
She helps Hyeong-cheol escape and falls in love with him. But, in the great tradition of love triangles, a former colleague of San-hong called Geum-hyang secretly admires Hyeong-cheol.
Geum-hyang represents the new woman of the colonial period. She quits working as a gisaeng and became a successful businesswoman running a Western-style social club called Moulin Rouge in Jongno.
The story is based on the book “Noreummachi (Great Artist)” by Jin Ok-seob, a traditional art director. The book tells the story of artists, including gisaeng, and their desperate struggle to preserve Korean artistic traditions in changing times.
While Hyeong-cheol is fighting for independence in an underground organization, San-hong battles to keep the gisaeng tradition free of Japanese intervention.
The show’s organizers said they want to convey the level of training, discipline and persistence needed to become a great artist.
Gyeongseong, 1930 is probably the first dance-drama to be set in a gisaeng house.
In addition, to make gisaeng music and dance more accessible, the music team behind the production have given the score a more contemporary feel.
“The highlight is when San-hong grieves for her loved ones with her last dance,” said Lim Yie-jo, the director of the Seoul Metropolitan Dance Theater and a well-known traditional dancer in Korea.
“She pours her sorrow into her art, and her dedication eventually takes her performance to another level.”


“Gyeongseong 1930” will be performed from April 24 to 25 at the Grand Theater of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets cost from 20,000 won ($20.22)to 100,000 won.
As part of the 30th anniversary, there will also be a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra in May and the American Ballet Theater at the end of July.
For more information about tickets and dates, call (02) 399-1766 or visit www.sejongpac.or.kr.


By Kim Hyung-eun Staff Reporter [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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