South Korea - Culture

Facts & Stats | History | Culture | Geography | Religion | Current Events | Links & Resources


Theater

Talchum: Masked Dance Drama

Talchum is a popular Korean mask play that originated during the period of the Joseon Dynasty. Talchum is a mask play in which commoners such as farmers, dance to a tune to console their anger and sadness. Therefore, whenever the Talchum was performed, the villagers would congregate for a day of festivity. The play portrays life under the constraints of the ruling class, the cynical remarks of sinful monks, complaints of a corrupted society, and the harsh realities of life.

Baltal

Baltal is a puppet show played with feet. Mainly consisting of wisecracks and foot puppetry, it is a fusion of a mask dance drama and a marionette show.

Mask Dances

Mask dances have been handed down under the name of talchum, Sandae nori, Ogwangdae, and Yayu, each rooted in a different region.

During ancient times, masks were believed to drive away malicious spirits, diseases, and fearsome animals. Their purposes were to ward off all evils, to manifest supernatural beings, to honor the deceased, and to represent totemic animals.

Korean mask dances evolved from dance, music, and drama performed during Palgwanhoe (court ceremonies of the Goryeo dynasty), Yeondeunghoe (a Buddhist ceremony held to pray for the nation's peace and the well being of the people), and Narye (the shaman rite that was held on the lunar New Year's Eve to ward off evils).

Korean mask dances date back to the court entertainments of the Silla Kingdom, such as Cheoyongmu (the masked dance celebrating the life of Cheoyong) and Hyangak Ogi (Five Masked Entertainments). The latter originated in China and Central Asia. It combines Geumhwan (Ball Game Masked Dance), Woljeon (Mime Farce or Comic Masked Dance), Daemyeon (Talismanic Masked Dance), Sokdok, (Acrobatic Masked Dance), and Sanye (Lion Mask Dance).

Sanye, a lion masked dance drama that reached Silla from India through Central Asia and China, is related to Japan's Kigaku as well as to Korea's numerous masked dance dramas, including Bukcheong Saja noreum, Bongsan talchum, Suyeong Yayu, and Tongyeong Ogwangdae.

The Joseon court established an office to manage the masked dances and dramas. This court style of entertainment gradually evolved into diverse forms that were dispersed throughout the country.

The dominant themes of these masked dances and dramas are to relieve the anger of the commoners against the ruling class, to make fun of debauched monks, to expose the triangular relationship between husband, wife, and concubine; and to encourage virtue and punish vice.

Mask dances in Korea have been handed down by different regional styles: the Hwanghae-do province's Haeseo style, such as Bongsan, Gangnyeong, and the Eennyul Mask Dances; the Gyeonggi-do province's Yangju Byeolsandae and Songpa Sandae Mask Dances; the Gyeongsangnam-do province's Suyeong Yayu, Dongnae Yayu, Ggasan Ogwangdae, Tongyeong Ogwangdae, and Goseong Ogwangdae; Gyeongsangbuk-do province's Hahoe Byeolsin-gut; Gangwon-do province's Gwanno Mask Dance; and the Namsadangpae (Male Itinerant Entertaining Troupe of the Northern Line) Deotboegichum Mask Dance.

The common instruments for the melodic and rhythmic support of mask dances are piri, a double-reed cylindrical oboe, jeotdae, or transverse flute, janggu (or janggo), an hourglass-shape drum, kkwaenggwari, a hand-held gong, and haegeum, a two-stringed fiddle. The instrumental ensemble differs by region.

Festivals

Sesi customs: Annual rites & festivals

The expression "sesi customs" refers to ceremonial acts that are repeated regularly during the year. Sesi, are festive days that act as a stimuli in life and accelerate the rhythm of the yearly life cycle so as to help one move on to the next cycle.

Sesi customs are based on the lunar calendar, as the sun was not believed to show any seasonal characteristics. The moon, on the other hand, was believed to display these seasonal characteristics through its waxing and waning. As a result, it was easy to see and evaluate the seasonal changes based on a careful observation of its changes.

return to top