Korean cultural dance blend with drums and martial arts for a unique performance at Toronto Centre for the Arts
2013 was designated the Year of Korea in Canada and what better way to cap off the year than with a performance of Korean cultural dance both classical and modern? A performance that also incorporates elements of martial arts, swordplay, mask work, strong man stunts and even audience participation. It’s sure to be a unique experience.
On the night of our first major blizzard this winter, my friend Vance and I trekked through near whiteout conditions to The Toronto Centre for the Arts for Korean Dance Studies Society of Canada‘s (KDSSC) with Ryu Art Company’s performance of K-Dance Revolution. Though we both debated the rationality of traveling in the storm, we persevered — our mutual appreciation for cultural studies driving us on for what would hopefully be an eye-opening performance.
The performance followed, though loosely, a mythical story — the peaceful Waterworld is attacked by assassins from the Fireworld sent to destroy the tranquility of the Waterworld and set the world ablaze. Cho-A (played by Si Woo Jeong), a female Waterworld warrior, and Maruna (Heung Jin Kang), the Warrior of the Sky, ban together to banish the Fireworld assassins and bring peace back to Waterworld.
I say loosely followed as the storyline felt lost midway through though it seemed the majority of the audience didn’t appear to notice being captivated by the dance. As for the dance itself, there were parts that stood out and parts that didn’t.
The women and girls that performed more of the traditional Korean dance incorporating long flowing sleeves, intricate fans, and drums (including Jang-go chum, the hourglass shaped drum). Without a doubt, their dances throughout the piece were beautiful — airy, willowy, flowing and innocent. But that’s about it. Vance felt it was all very one note and once their first dance concluded, their following numbers felt repetitive. My limited knowledge of Korean dance tells me there’s more to the traditional dances than what we saw.
For two martial arts fans, we were immediately captivated by Jeong and Kang and the assassins played by Jong Dae Kwon, Eui Hyun Hong, and Je Won Lah. From their dynamic sword dances to the well-choreographed battle scenes, this was a treat to watch. Kang is fantastic to behold as he’s both disciplined and well-trained and yet he still has fun and hams up the audience with abandon.
There were a few interesting moments — three male dancers who were quite obviously the comic relief of the production, and their rather curious headdresses with dance ribbon attached. While they drummed and danced away, a swing of their head twirled the ribbon around for an effect I just couldn’t get over.
Also, a song and dance routine that felt very ‘love scene in heaven’ a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon accompanied by Jeong singing to a pre-recorded track. Though Jeong has quite a beautiful voice, the canned music made the song feel much like karaoke night. A live band, perhaps even a better audio director, would’ve made the production better, as often the music seemed to be cut too abruptly. Though the constraints of the venue would’ve made having live music difficult.
The number that stood out the most for me was the exceptionally executed drum scene by Kang, Jeong and the warriors. Though there were four performers, there were five drums on stage and while we wondered who would man the fifth drum, they started doubling up on where their sticks would strike, expertly manning all instruments on stage.
The great thing about cultural performances from a part of the world I’m not familiar with is though I might not understand everything that I’m seeing, I can still recognize the beauty and the discipline of the art form and often find myself inspired to learn more. Though this was a one night performance, what the KDSSC have in store for the upcoming year is well worth exploring.
- K-Dance Revolution played on December 14 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts
- For more information on upcoming performances from the Korean Dance Studies Society of Canada, visit their website at koreandance.net.
Photo provided by the company.