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Korean court dances, called Chongjae,
meaning literally "display of talent," were used to entertain for the
royal family, court functionaries, and foreign envoys. They were also performed
on festive occasions sponsored by the state. Some were derived from those of
Tang China and called Tang-ak chongjae, while
others were newer forms of Korean court dances called Hyang-ak chongjae.
The former were gradually modified by Korean dancers and musicians over the
centuries so that it is hard to trace their original traits.
Court classics glorifying the court and praying for a long
life for the king were formulated in solemn, elegant movements accompanied by
equally solemn music and occasional songs. Today, about 50 court classics are
preserved in the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts,
including Kommu (Sword Dance), Ch'Doyongmu
(Dance of Ch'ioyong), Mugo (Drum Dance),
P'ogurak (Ball-Throwing Dance), Suyonjang (Banquet
Dance), Ch'unaengjon, Kainjommoktan
(Beautiful Persons Picking Peonies), and Hangmu.
follow a strict formula. Each movement is solemn and graceful, without outward
extravagance, particularily due to Confucianism's influence. Even though dancers
were accompanyed by splendid stage settings and costumes, their movements were
never dramatic, but always serene and self-composed.
Chinese court dances began to be imported from Song China
during the Koryo Dynasty(918-1392). These mostly
followed simple formulas. For instance, dancers would divide themselves into
lines moving forward or backward together or facing each other. Whatever the
case, their left and right arms moved together with their left and right legs.
The lines move symmetrically left and right and then would disperse into four
groups. They would then converge again at the center. Their costumes and props
differed by theme and role. This required a variety of different garments,
shoes, extended sleeves of different lengths and colors, belts, and coronets. A
king's procession also requires a variety of dignified props, such as
long-handled dragon, phoenix, peacock fans, a short-handled lotus, plantain, and
In accordance with the theory of the five cardinal elements,
all costumes were designed in red, blue, yellow, white, and black. To heighten
the visual effect, all court dancers wore sleeve extensions, called hansam,
over the hands. Court music accompanying dance usually has a slow beat and
produces a solemn yet magnificent ambiance. The common times are 20/1, 16/1,
12/1, 10/1, and 4/1.
The stage props are often referred to in the names of court
dances. A court dance is called Honsondo
(Peach-Offering Dance) if a silver tray appears as a prop, Posangmu
(Treasure Table Dance) if a lotus-flower jar on a service table
appears, Sonyurak (Boating Dance) if a
boat appears, and P'ogurak (Ball-Throwing Dance) if a ball and
Early court dances followed strict styles and rules. In
performing dances imported from China, chukkanja, or pole bearers, led
the way for the premier dancers at the start, who sang kuo
and ch'io Chinese songs in Korean
pronunciation. In the indigenous Korean court dances there were no pole bearers
and dancers lifted and lowered themselves backwards and forwards as they sang.
These distinctions became blurred as Chinese and Korean dances influenced each
other from the late Choson period.
The outstanding pieces of this period include Ch'unaengjon,
Ch'uoyongmu, and Chinju Kommu
(ChinjuSword Dance). Ch'unaengjon
was created by Crown Prince Hyomyong. Of all the
court dances, this piece is the sole remnant with steps recorded in detail and
it is still frequently performed today.
The story goes like this: one morning Emperor Gaozong of the
Tang Dynasty heard the beautiful twitter of a nightingale. The king ordered the
court musician Bai Ming-da to record the lovely tune in musical notation. To
this music, a dance piece was attached later. It was later transmitted to Japan.
However, in Korea, Ch'unaengjon
has its own story, form, and music. One balmy spring day, Crown Prince Hyomyong,
listening to the flute-like twitter of a nightingale sitting on a willow tree,
instructed a court muscian to record its song. Then he wrote the following poem:
A wind from the Wolhabo Levee ripples my silk sleeves.
I see the face of my beloved in a flower.
The Dance of the Spring Nightingale is perhaps the loveliest of all.
Later, a court musician, Kim
Ch'ang-ha, created a dance to
accompany the song. Of the numerous court pieces choreographed in the Choson
era, Ch'unaengjon and Musanhyang are
both pas seul (solo dance), which are rare today. Ch'unaengjon
integrates the full range of beautiful movements seen in most court dances. The
bewitching pose of the dancer, her quiet movements and enigmatic smile which all
take place in front of a spring blossom, is testament to the Korean ideal of
dance captured in the adage "overdone is worse than undone."
Ch'unaengjon conveys a
traditional feminine image expressing the delicate mood and slow movements of a
professional woman entertainer. Musanhyang is performed in the nimble.
The Ch'unaengjon dancer wears a large coronet
and yellow court suit, dancing gracefully on a mat woven with a floral pattern.
The accompanying music is called Yongsan hoesang
(a chamber suite for the Buddhist Dance honoring the sacred mountain Yongsan).
Another court dance is called Ch'toyongmu.
Ch'toyongmu is the sole mask dance inherited
through court tradition. This free and masculine dance was used to expel the
evil spirits and performed at the end of the year. It was initially performed as
a pas seul. The dancer wore a black robe, a court official's headgear,
and a red mask (red was believed to ward off evil spirits). Later, it became a
dance for five persons, with the dancers dressed in five colors, white, blue,
red, green, and yellow, reflecting the concept of the five cardinal elements of
The earlier masks in Ch' Coyongmu
were all gigantic, as if to be more effective at driving away evil spirits. The
use of space in this dance was much more complicated than that in other dances.
Chinju Kommu, which
originated from the court repertory, has been handed down from Chinju. This
production is considered highly artistic, as it preserves both the archetypal
form of the court sword dance and the special techniques developed on the
The difference between the sword dance of the courts and that
which evolved in Chinju tradition is summed up as follows: the former is
performed by four dancers, the latter by eight; the former is accompanied by t'aryong
changdan, or the rhythmic cycle of folk ballads; the latter by yombul
changdan, or the rhythmic cycle of Buddhist invocations which builds up to a
very fast pace.
The special movements which make the Chinju Sword Dance
distinctive are sugun sawi, ipch'um sawi,
pingsak sawi, pangsok tori, and yonp'ungdae.
The dancers start with bare hands and take up their swords later. They wear
extended white sleeves at first, then take them off and perform varied motions
with their bare hands. The overall pattern of the dance resembles a military
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