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Modern Dances at the Time of Transition

Western dance was introduced to Korea around the Japanese colonial period(1910-1945). Modern Korean dance was inaugurated in 1905 with the opening of Won-gaksa, a theater that fostered new performance styles. Under the Japanese policy, however, Korean folk dances and other performing arts rapidly waned. In this milieu, some Korean pioneer artists who learned the dance traditions of the West introduced them to Korean audiences. At about that time Han Song-jun systemized many traditional dances for their better preservation, while other artists tried to integrate Western dance styles with Korean forms. Of all the variations of traditional dance born in the 1930s, Hwagwanmu (Flower Coronet Dance), Puch'aech'um (Fan Dance), and Changguch'um (Hourglass Drum Dance) were the most popular.

The introduction of Wigman's expressionist style of dance of the pioneer of German modern dance, May Wigman (1876-1973) had a great impact on the history of modern dance, as did the lyrical performances of Baku Ishii, a leading Japanese dancer. Cho Tak-won and Ch'oe Sung-hui, who followed the Japanese master to Tokyo, later made great contributions to Korean dance circles. They were devoted to creating their own dance expressions by incorporating modern Western dance techniques they had learned in Japan and the spiritual motifs they drew from Korea's traditional dances. They combined the subtle lyricism inherent in Korean with fresh stage idioms borrowed from contemporary dances of the West. In 1937, Ch'oe Sung-hui embarked on a tour of the United States, Latin America and Europe under the sponsorship of Solomon Hurok, a world-renowned manager of performing arts at that time. She gave more than 100 performances during the tours, which continued until 1939.

The later "liberation generation" tried to weave the skills of Baku Ishii's artistic "walking ballet" with Wigman's expressionist influence and the improvisational style of Korean traditional dances.

The modern dances created around this time had several distinctive features. One example is the three-stage stepping technique from the heel to the balls of the foot, to the toe tips. This resulted from combining the Western technique of tiptoe lifting and pirouette with the Korean's two-state stepping from heel to sole.

Korean dance troupes struggled during the Korean War and ceased to exist for a time. Despite these hardships, some rose again to bring back stage productions. The Korean repertoire gradually began to proliferate.

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