Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 11, 2022

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, The New York Korean Performing Arts Center

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 9, 2022
by Josephine Sarnelli

Jacob’s Pillow, celebrating its 90th season this year, invited back The New York Korean Performing Arts Center that had last been there in 2018. The nine performers include Artistic Director Sue Yeon Park-Wartski, who started the troupe 36 years ago.   The Henry J. Leir outdoor theater, with its new comfortable wooden benches, was a perfect setting, both visually and acoustically, to enjoy an evening of colorful dance and music.

For the first of the six performance pieces, entitled Farmer’s Dance, the entourage entered through the audience, each with a different percussive instrument and one with a double-reed horn.  With its folkloric origins in praying for a successful harvest, the women’s headdresses resembled large multi-colored flowers.  The dance’s highlight was an interesting sequence by Margarite Soh-Choe (dressed as a man) who had a long ribbon attached to her hat.  She was able to keep the ribbon spinning as she playfully transitioned to many various poses.

The Buddhist Monk Dance showcased Park-Wartski, who has been recognized by the Ministry of Culture of South Korea for her high level of mastery of this traditional ritual dance.  She held a drumstick in each hand to help manipulate the six-foot long sleeves of her robe, reminiscent of those used in Chinese Water Sleeve dances. Her fluidness was punctuated by pauses of stillness on her journey to nirvana, which culminated in a drum solo.

Five graceful dancers created lovely patterns in Buchae-chum, each carrying two large, embroidered fans.  The choreography included the usual formations seen in fan dances.  However, there was one very unique pattern where two dancers stood stationary behind one another and created a circle with their four fans.  This dance was distinctly a crowd pleaser and somewhat of a turning point for engagement with the audience.

Arirang was a piri solo performed by a musician who goes simply by the name “gamin.”  The instrument is described as a double-reed bamboo oboe.  Gamin sometimes created music with almost a “blues” sound to it.  At other times it sounded jazz-like, as if played with a muted trumpet.

In her solo Jindo Drum Dance, Songhee Lee-Chung danced while performing on the buk (barrel drum).  Although drum playing is usually gender specific to males in Korean culture, this troupe with only one male performer has made successful adaptations.  This routine personified feminine elegance without compromising the artistry.

The Buddhist Drum Dance finale engaged all the performers on stage, but highlighted five drummers, who each played three drums.  The synchronization of their movements and high level of technique in drumming was truly impressive. 

This delightful immersion into Korean music and dance is best summed up in the comment made by my guest: “I feel like I took a 45-minute drive to the other side of the world!”