HAVE YOU ever fully basked in the splendor of Korea’s high Rocky Mountains, force of the river valleys, and the melodious trickles of waterfalls? Have you maybe even felt the specific emotions of joy that are solely existent in the Korean vocabulary, like heung or shin-myung? Become swept away with a kaleidoscopic array of hues on Korea’s beautiful traditional wear, han-bok? In this particular Korean traditional dance performance, called Bae-bi-jang-jeon or The Story of Secretary Bae, viewers might peek at the idea of what experiencing Korea really might be.
The epic chant, pan-so-ri
The original story of The Story of Secretary Bae roots from the Korean pan-so-ri, a type of a vernacular song or an epic chant sung by commoners since the 17th century. Pan-so-ri singers are storytellers often parodying governmental figures or poking fun at the members of the upper-class gentry. It was a source of widely popular mass entertainment, combining music, dance and drama for the commoners. Pan-so-ri holds outstanding cultural significance as it was listed in UNESCO as one of Korea’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2003. Entering the 20th century, The Story of Bae was recorded as a novel and has taken the form of a traditional dance performance today.
Foreign readers may be unfamiliar with the exclusive Korean emotions of heung and shin-myung, mentioned earlier above. But the ecstatic playing of percussions and obstreperous movements of the Korean dance will evoke this particular unique emotion of gaiety and the urge to dance along. Pan-so-ri is an expert at provoking these feelings. So sit back, relax, and indulge the four centuries of culture cultivated brought to life on stage.
This outstanding recreation of Korean traditional pan-so-ri is Jeong-dong theater’s launched brand, Miso’s second effort. Launched in 2008, Miso has been triumphant in both repertories, Chun-hyang-jeon and Bae-bi-jang-jeon, by successfully promoting Korean culture to foreigners. Directed and written by Yoon Jong-hwan, who also directed the worldwide renowned nonverbal performance of Nan-ta, this traditional dance performance has got raving reviews not only from the audience but also from critiques. Coming up first place on satisfactory performances according to the survey poll in Korea Tourist Organization (KTO), the performance is full of surprises by eliminating the barrier between the formerly disparate Korean and modern culture.
Gather up for a story of Bae
This particular story is set in the Chosun dynasty, a time period in Korea lasting from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 20th. Back then, classes were divided, on the top being the gentry. This particular member of the gentry, “Secretary Bae”, gets appointed to one of Korea’s most beautiful sites, Jeju island, as a secretary to the district magistrate. Before he leaves, his concerned wife warns him not to become infatuated with Jeju’s infamously beautiful women. So when he arrives at Jeju, he decisively neglects parties and dancers. People around him instantly become annoyed with his stuck-up and hypocritical behavior, and decides to prank him into falling in love with Jeju’s unparalleled beauty, Ae-rang. Somehow toying with one’s emotions was socially acceptable back then, but it was all in good jest and people were just thirsting for entertainment. So the skilled seductress Ae-rang performs a titillating dance in front of Bae, and thus begins his predicament.
Sights, sounds, and emotions
The intent of the story is to reveal the hypocrisy of the gentry and mock them for their false display of nobility. Pan-so-ri itself is supposed to be very frivolous and full of tongue-in-cheek. This traditional dance drama of “The Story of Secretary Bae” reveals this frivolity, by demonstrating dance movements full of jest and humor.
The performance is absolutely breathtaking. The stage recreates prominent features of the Korea’s nature, like high mountains, waterfalls, and the ocean waves. The dance movements are artistically choreographed displaying a combination of Korean traditional dance but exuding a modern vibe. The choreograph not only expresses specific emotions like desperation for love, but also recreates movements horses galloping through open fields and even natural phenomena like waves crashing on a stormy night. They express waves with dancers dressed in sea-foam colored flowy gowns and dancing around gracefully as to portray the undulating waves of the sea. Shin Ye-jin, the deputy head of producing Bae-bi-jang-jun commented that “the audience were particularly mesmerized with the picturesque costumes and the beautiful movement of Korean dancers.” She added, “There were even some who re-spectated the show up to 10 to 20 times.”
The sounds of the performance are specifically composed of Korean traditional instruments, creating a harmonious mixture of Korean classical melodies. In between scenes, a professional storytellers narrates the plot by singing pan-so-ri in accord with the mellifluous flute and percussion. There are eight types of traditional instruments along with a modern synthesizer played in the show: dae-geum*, hae-geum**, ga-ya-geum***, jan-ggu**** and more. Their impeccable orchestration fills the ears of the audience with glee.
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Korean traditional culture is underrated; it has the misconception of being tedious and elusive. But The story of Secretary Bae accomplishes the feat of exterminating the previous stereotype of Korean music and dance, by dynamic movements, variegated colors, and an ear full of traditional tunes. Jeong-dong theater accomplishes the feat of opening the door of the vast unbeknownst world of traditional culture to foreigners by beautifully re-painting Korean traditional movements and sounds with a modern edge. This performance is imperative to watch especially for foreigners who would like to experience the zenith of Korean culture and for Koreans who have been neglectful. The world’s fastest internet, convenient delivery services, and futuristic bidets not only define Korea; but also this heung-evoking performance does.
Date: April 3, 2015 ~ December 31, 2015
Price: VIP 60,000 / R 50,000 / S 40,000
(Tip: 10% discount for foreigners, 30% discount for all students with student ID)
Place: *Jeong-dong* theater
*Dae-geum:A traditional Korean wind instrument
**Hae-geum:A traditional Korean string instrument
***Ga-ya-geum:A traditional Korean zither with 12 strings
****Jan-guu:A traditional Korean double headed drum