On the evening of 9th March the UoN Korean Society, together with the Korean Cultural Centre, showcased several dazzling performances reflecting the best of Korean culture.
Korea Day quite literally kicked off with a bang as the UoN Korean Society’s K-pop Dance Group performed to Bang Bang Bang and Gashina. Both routines featured finger-guns – a subtle motif which made their stage cohesive. The dancers were dressed for the part in Asian streetwear, distressed and flannel patterns featuring amongst others.
“An equally high-energy routine that was difficult to take your eyes off”
Gashina came first – a catchy synth-pop piece accompanied by flirtatious and feminine moves. But it was Bang Bang Bang that had the audience clapping along. A fierce combination of dance-pop and rap by one of the pioneering groups of the genre, the song was paired with an equally high-energy routine that was difficult to take your eyes off.
The night’s main spectacle was ‘The Shilla Ensemble’. The group of musicians and dancers – all four of whom have practised their craft for years – donned stunning traditional garments, including colourful hanboks. Illuminated by either blue or yellow lighting, their stage acquired a melancholy or joyful atmosphere in line with the emotional register of each piece, two of which were arranged or composed by the Ensemble’s own members.
“The sprightly trills created a melody that was almost other-worldly”
Leader Hye Lim Kim was up first. Standing front of stage with an ease that can only be acquired after performing at international festivals, Kim played Ch’ongsonggok on the taegum – a transverse bamboo flute. It produced a surprisingly shrill and clear sound which became more piercing as the pitch increased. The sprightly trills created a melody that was almost other-worldly.
Next was the aptly named Bi (Sorrow), played by Ji Hee Yoon and Jeung Hyun Choi on the fiddle-like haegeum and two-sided drum janggu. Images depicting the cyclical process of night and day were projected onto the background. Kim, who switched to the role of dancer for this performance, entered with the rising sun.
“She appeared to float across the stage”
Feet barely visible under the skirt of her hanbok, she appeared to float across the stage in a series of lingering movements which ended with her body slowly collapsing down as the sun dimmed behind her. Such a parallel is unsurprising seeing that the philosophy of the Shilla dynasty – after which the group is named- placed great emphasis on nature.
Another enthralling performance was Choi’s solo on the janggu. I was taken aback by the completely different sounds made by the two sides of the drum – one a steely ring, the other a hollow thud. Solchanggo started off with simple enough beats, one stick reserved for each side.
As the pace increased and rhythmical flourishes were added, the piece took on a rousing edge. Choi twirled the sticks and moved them from side to side at an almost dizzying speed. The sheer kinetic energy of the performance was nicely reflected by the simple image of moving lines on the background.
“Her movements were an uncanny juxtaposition of opposites”
The true versatility of Korean dance was exhibited in the penultimate performance of Ch’ongsan Pyolgok (Song of the Green Mountains), a piece composed by the Ensemble musicians. All three instruments accompanied Hae In Song, who wore simple attire. Her movements were an uncanny juxtaposition of opposites – softness was immediately followed by sharpness, slowness by speed, the closing in of the body by its opening.
Half-way through the performance, Song removed two white cloths from her attire – props originally used in shaman dances – and incorporated them into her movements. The mystical overtones were consolidated by images of a solar eclipse on the background, rendering this performance an especially haunting one.
Taken as a whole, Korea Day succeeded in reconciling Korea’s pop culture with its traditional artistic roots. While the hallyu wave has pushed the former into mainstream popularity, groups like ‘The Shilla Ensemble’ remind one why it is so important to treat the latter with equal respect and attention.
Images courtesy of University of Nottingham Korean Society