Dancers take steps to preserve culture from North

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Dancers take steps to preserve culture from North

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Kim Gil-ja and Park Ok-soon, who hold North Hamgyong Province’s Intangible Cultural Property No.1, “Aewonseong,” rehearse in front of the National Theater of Korea. By Kim Hyeong-soo

With feather-like movements in graceful hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing, two North Korean women recently reproduced North Hamgyong Province’s Intangible Cultural Property No.1, “Aewonseong,” at the National Theater of Korea.

One of the dancers, Kim Gil-ja, often blinked with her very fake eyelashes that felt awkward to her. Another dancer, Park Ok-soon, wore gache, the traditional big wig for Korean women, on her head. It was impossible to guess their ages.

“I’m presenting these dances by listening to the seniors,” said Park.

The women recalled their youth during the recent Five Northern Korean Provinces Intangible Cultural Property Festival. They performed with more intense emotions due to the postponed reunions of separated families, which have been planned for three years.

“We apply [for the reunions] every time to meet family in the North, but it just doesn’t work,” Park said. “Then I try to console myself with ‘Aewonseong,’ the song I have hummed at home when things were troublesome and tiring.”

The two, both alumnae of the Bosin Girls’ School in North Hamgyong, have been reproducing the original “Aewonseong” since 2005 and made it into a 30-minute performance with 60 people from the same hometown. They developed choreography according to the meaning of the lyrics and tap on wooden bowls filled with water. Once a week, they study choreography and rhythm, and bring their children with them in an attempt to pass on the tradition. They also made sure an “Aewonseong” program was included in training for North Korean defectors.

Unlike important intangible cultural properties of the South, there is no governmental measure to pass down and preserve the intangible cultural properties of the North. The Cultural Heritage Administration has drafted such a bill, but it hasn’t yet become a law.

The 11 intangible cultural properties include No. 5 “General Choi Young-gut (Korean traditional rite of Shamanism)” (holder Seo Kyeong-uk); No. 3 “Nol-ryang Sageori” (holder Han Myeong-soon) of Hwanghae Province; No. 3 “Pyongan Province Dari-gut” (holder Kim Nam-soon); and No. 2 “Pyongan Province Hyangdugye nori” (holder Yoo Ji-sook) of North and South Pyongan Province, respectively, which were performed at the festival.

The women said they are proud of themselves for protecting intangible heritages that are vanishing even in the North, but they fear they are too old to continue.

“Please encourage us so that we can support selected young trainees,” they said.

By Jeong Jae-sook [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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