A garden of dancers blossoms
The stage blossomed in an array of color and finery as dancers wafted on and off the stage, performing a diversity of dances that reached back to the origins of Korean dance, rhythm, and music. Beautifully subtle movements were the medium of choice. However, the understated gestures were, on occasion, punctuated by dynamic movements that conveyed the enormous energy being harnessed by each dancer. The result: presentations that were at once stirring and full of graceful calm.
The group that achieved these colorful results-turning a dead stage into a garden of life-is called Hanguk. The group performed as a part of a slew of events in last weekend's Invitational with a diversity of artistic forms. Hanguk is a group based out of New York City that performs traditional Korean dance and music in costumes that are breathtaking and with discipline that is practically otherworldly.
The group began the night by performing improvisational folkdance, emphasizing joy and style and reflecting humanity's rigorous zeal to survive. Although no loner improvised, this dance set reflected the kind of movements and gestures originally used in improvisational dancing. Hanguk followed this set by performing the Dance of Extract-a number in which the use of fans is meant to recall forms of landscape.
Hanguk then went on to perform a Militaristic Dance in which subtle movements were punctuated by snapping sounds as fans opened and closed. The gentle movements that the pair of dancers performed were alternated with the quick energetic ones that occasionally excited the stage like sudden blooms of a rare flower.
After a short break, Hanguk performed the Dancing Drum, which was originally designed for performance on the battlefield following the conclusion of a fray. Four dancers circled around a central drum and, mixing the ideas of music and dance, the dancers played a part in the traditional music.
Thus, it was as if the dancers were as much a part of the music as the music was part of the dance steps that they performed. This dynamic is an important one to recognize in understanding traditional Korean dance. A dazzling Fan Dance-whose origins can be traced back to the 18th century-followed. Fans are thought to expel evil and bring prosperity in Korean mythology. As the fans snapped open and closed, forming the shapes of flowers that lived for a few seconds on stage and then disappeared into thin air-the magical form of the fan was truly made apparent. A Shamen Ceremonial Dance followed in which a solo dancer dressed in white filled the stage with her understated movements-mimicking the graceful shapes made by the white scarf she held. This dance represented the most powerful expression of grief and longing.
The final dance was a pure crowed pleaser. The Drum Dance filled the stage with unceasing rhythm and excitement that left the heart beating more rapidly. In Korean mythology, the drum is seen as an earthly symbol of heaven. Indeed, the thunderous sound of the drums was intoxicating and all thoughts of trouble slipped away-replaced by the heady splendor of the intricate pulses.