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Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Danoje: an enjoyable but slightly baffling event from Think Korea

Danoje: springtime rites at the Bloomsbury, 13 September 2006
Danoje: springtime rites at the Bloomsbury, 13 June 2006 (photo: LKL)

If you had read the blurb on the Bloomsbury Theatre website you might have been expecting two seperate pieces to be on the programme at the NewRa Dance Company’s performance: a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; and a performance of a Korean springtime ritual. Here’s the material from the Bloomsbury site, which was repeated in the handouts on the day:

Notice the difference of the spring festival through body language and passionate percussion! NewRa Dance Company combines two major elements. The first is The Rite of Spring, and ancient Russo-Slavic May festival that was translated into 20th century modern music by Stravinsky. The second is Korean Gangneung Danoje ritual music, the Korean May festival praying for successful farming, which was registered by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. A new version of The Rite of Spring is born!

Yes, there was some Stravinsky, but not as he wrote it. The first bit I recognised was Dances of the Young Girls from the Rite. We were probably about half an hour into the performance, and we’d been treated to some fairly incomprehensible stuff up till then. There was the village idiot prancing around with a kimchi jar on his chigye frame, whose job it was to warm the audience up. There were scenes where the dancers were trying to jump over streams, or avoid some cowpats — it wasn’t too clear — and there were clearly some ritual scenes. In other scenes they were waving leafy branches around or twirling some colourful streamers. The printed handouts were of little help; the only material they offered to add to what was on the website was the following framework.

Section 1: Purification
Danoje ritual performance, the ritual of purifying the secular world into the sacred place.

Section 2: Summer and Winter
A war between Summer and Winter. The Goddess of May wins the war and brings summer.

Section 3: Marriage of the Gods
Danoje ritual performance. Marriage of Gods symbolizes richness and restoration of life.

Section 4: A maiden victim
Cosmic Vitality revives through death. Lady Jung from Gangneung sacrifices herself, reincarnated as a goddess

Section 5: Return Way
Spring Goddess goes back to the mountain, and the festival goes on all night by the remaining humans. Yongseon ship put out to sea with dream.

It was not clear where the scenes started and finished. But the traditional music was all very jolly, drums, gongs, and the strangulated oboe.

Danoje: springtime rites at the Bloomsbury, 13 September 2006
Danoje: springtime rites at the Bloomsbury, 13 June 2006 (photo: LKL)

Then suddenly we came up to date, with dramatic lighting, exciting and fluid dance movements, modern but very simple costume and an all-female troupe dancing to that frenetic music which caused a riot a hundred years ago. Later we had two reinterpretations of Stravinsky’s opening bassoon theme: a Mike Oldfield / Jean Michel Jarre version and a Keith Jarrett version. We had some stuff which sounded like Reich, and we had something which sounded like a Piazzolan tango. Then we were back, inexplicably, in the shamanistic ritual world with more elaborate and traditional costume. The village idiot wheeled a coat-rack onstage to allow some costume changes. Four men seemed to be miming rowing a large ship. A troupe of red-robed furies with cymbals dancing around a human tree were replaced with white-robed dancers dancing around someone carrying a paper ship. Probably everyone lived happily ever after. It was an enjoyable but puzzling experience, and the combination of two pagan rites a novel and interesting idea. But you needed a cultural interpreter by your side or in your hand to help you out, and Think Korea didn’t provide one.

A flickr slide show of the event is available from this post.

Update: Some time after this event, the Think Korea website emerged onto the internet. The website had the programme details which really should have been given to the audience on the day. Those details are now transcribed here.

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