Byungsin Chum: the Dance of the Handicapped
Yoon Han-sol's reinterpretation of traditional dance
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Originating from ancient shamanistic rituals thousands of years ago, the Korean traditional dance later evolved into various forms, such as the court dance performed for the royal family and court officials, the folk dance including Talchum (mask dance), and the renowned Buchaechum (fan dance). Korean traditional dance has many attributes in common, mainly focused on conveying the emotions of the people along with the flow of Pansori (Korean genre of musical storytelling usually performed by a singer and a drummer). This is in sharp contrast with contemporary music, resulting in something that people only see on rare occasions. Yoon Han-sol (Department of Sociology, '90), a play director renowned for his past reinterpretation pieces of traditional art, produced another reinterpreted masterpiece on Byungsin chum (the dance of the handicapped) which has brought about both acclaim and criticism.
Byungsin chum (the dance of the handicapped), is a Korean folk dance that was performed by lower class peasants to satirize the yangban (Korean nobility). Although the dance depicts the yangban as the handicapped such as midgets, hunchbacks, the deaf, and the blind, it does not simply mimic and ridicule them. Back in the days, the handicapped were basically any individual who did poorly in society, and it gave the audience innocuous laughter. Now the times have changed with just the name of the dance being offensive enough to many people, and Yoon’s remake of it has brought about criticism in this respect. To this, Yoon did not think much of it as he has said that the dance was simply a way of storytelling in the past when there was less sensitivity on the terminology.
Prior to working on the “Byeongshin Chum,” Yoon directed “Ways of Storytelling, Ways of Singing” in 2014. According to Yoon, it was not because he was solely interested in Pansori or Korean tradition itself, but rather, he wanted to know why people could not personally relate to it. “We all know that it’s important that some of our tradition must be succeeded to the future generation. Quite a lot of money is being spent for this purpose, but people just don’t seem to be able to relate nor form any kind of connection to it much. So I decided to learn all about the Pansori and our tradition myself. In my plays, I showed the audience the whole process of learning Pansori, which luckily allowed the audience to understand more about the play and the songs being performed. Then I decided to move on to traditional dance.”
That is how “The Byeongshin Dance” came to be. Originally, this dance was designated as an intangible cultural asset by the government, but it was later cancelled because there was simply no successor. “I chose to work on this dance because it was not included in the genealogy of Korean traditional dance. The fact that I’m trying to interpret the dance in the name of tradition and culture may offend some traditional dancers, but I just wanted to focus on how we can all systematically pass on our culture in this modern society,” said Yoon. That is why Yoon incorporated a Kinect sensor in his play. The Kinect sensor captures full-body 3D motion, facial and voice recognition, and can be seen in games such as Xbox. Just like how one can play dance battles with Xbox, one would be able to copy and learn traditional dances. “If you go on YouTube nowadays, you see so many tutorials on all kinds of dances. This boosts the accessibility for people which I think is one of the most important conditions in passing on a culture.”
Yoon was not always about producing innovative reinterpretations of plays. According to Yoon, he initially wanted to become a renowned producer. “In 2000, I went to study in the States, and that’s when 9/11 happened. It was just around the block and it really shocked me. How could anyone have that much hatred to kill thousands of people? I just couldn’t understand, and that’s when I started to question more about our society. My perspective on the world completely changed and so did my path as a play director,” said Yoon.
“Another incident that influenced me was after interviewing a father of the Sewol Ferry victim. When people watch devastating stories of another person like this on television, they empathize and maybe even shed tears. But the problem is the human theater effect. When the show is over, people think they are fully empathizing with society’s issues and are not turning a blind eye on them. It helps them to justify themselves for not acting on the issue. That’s why I think as a director, we shouldn’t just create content that brings light upon these issues, but it should be so that the audience is thrown with good questions that they can take back home and really think about it.”
When asked for his advice and tips for students interested in his field, Yoon said, “from time to time, I hear students saying that I’m a role model. I don’t really know if this is a job that I can easily recommend. However, I can say that what’s important is that you have to have a story you want to tell, and this doesn’t just appear out of the blue. There needs to be a special relationship. A relationship with a person or an issue doesn’t just happen as well. You need to be truly interested in them, and this isn’t something you can fake.”
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Photos by Lee Jin-myung
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