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In Session: Tradition Now: New Roles, Platforms, and Audiences for Korean Performing Arts
2: Vitalising Tradition: New Creative Flows in Pansori Theatre
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Ewha Womans University, Republic of Korea
The singing/storytelling tradition pansori, acknowledged as an artistically refined icon of Koreanness, appears to be out of touch with South Korean contemporary reality to many. In the early 2000s, a young generation of pansori performers, opposing the “fossilized” traditional music scene, began to reclaim pansori as a means for contemporary discourse and social criticism. Their new works, based on everyday life, popular culture, and openly political topics, took performance practice into new directions. Since then, various new ensembles produce more elaborate feature-length works of pansori theatre, making use of structures, resources, and conventions of the theatre scene, to which they increasingly move their activities.
In this paper I explore how recent pansori theatre works question, challenge, and transform traditional conventions while engaging with current social issues of local and global scope. I am particularly interested in how the expansion of both aesthetic vocabulary and institutional contexts contributes to an increased diversity, efficacy, and (international) outreach of pansori. Comparing the activities of several ensembles, I argue that these innovative artists, through their original works, free adaptations of both Western drama and the pansori canon, or cross-genre collaborations, address both current issues such as gender discrimination or neo-liberal self-reliance, and the outdated values perpetuated by uncritical preservation of cultural heritage. The productions I discuss show that, as an art adaptable to our times, pansori has the potential to grapple with its own past as well as with the present of its makers.