A Song and Dance Tradition of Five Millennia | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A Song and Dance Tradition of Five Millennia


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In South Korea many traditional crafts and forms of music and dance are designated "important intangible cultural properties"--some of which are on display in A Song and Dance Tradition of Five Millennia. Before Japanese colonization, Korean culture was a subtle blend of Chinese influences and indigenous practices, exemplified in the 12 selections of this hefty showcase. "Gyeonggi Minyo" is a suite of folk songs praising the beauty of the central Korean mountains: sung slowly in a quivering, heartfelt voice, the lyrics refer to scenic spots celebrated in Chinese scrolls. The 12-stringed gayageum, famed for its delicate tone, is so vital to Korean folk music that it's considered native despite its resemblance to the zither and the 8-stringed ajaeng, which came from China, and "Gayageum Byeongchang"--singing to its accompaniment--is also in the lineup. For me, sinawi, the ensemble music derived from shaman rituals in the south, is the most flavorful form, its nasal melodies layered and its rhythms quickening into trancelike delirium. A sampler will be performed. Also included is a song from the distinctive narrative tradition of pansori--popular histories delivered by a husky-voiced vocalist who sings, talks, and gestures. The dance numbers, which alternate with musical performances, are no less impressive. In "Taepyeongmu," offering a prayer for peace and good harvest, dancers in silk robes undulate and wave their rainbow-striped sleeves. A dance to the janggo (hourglass drum) is earthier, as is "Pungmulnori," a farmers' dance accompanied by the janggo and other percussion instruments. The performers include singer Ahn Sook-sun and dancer Yang Seong-ok, two of Korea's finest. Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-443-1130 or 312-902-1500. Tuesday, June 3, 8 PM. $20-$50.

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