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Andong Maskdance Festival in need of more… masks

Andong Maskdance festival, korean theater

Andong Maskdance festival- where are all the masks?

 

My October kicked off with the Annual Andong Maskdance Festival and friends, Gina & Joel of A Year in Daegu (you can read their review here).

Festivals in Korea can come in all shapes and sizes and yet, they can often get into the habit of feeling eerily the same. Inflated tents sell the standard Korean festival foods and vendor knick-knacks in sunglasses, hardware, kitchen cutlery; some are reserved for carnival games or an arts and crafts section for kids…  This festival, being one of Korea’s better-known festivals, launched our hopes higher.

Welcome to the Andong Maskdance Festival… uh, where are the masks?

The crowd attendance was huge. Festival grounds were colored with outdoor mask sculptures, impressive, giant-sized blow-up dolls and some Korean folk war re-enactment being performed on the outdoor main stage.

But after 45 minutes of wandering around fair grounds as Gina & Joel searched for traditional Korean masks to buy as souvenirs, we grew bored.  In fact, there was only one booth selling masks!

Where was the carnival’s star attraction?

Where was the mask dancing …and where were all the booths selling traditional Korean masks?


Pajeon: It’s flour pancakes with vegetables. Yum

Andong Maskdance festival:  Marionnettes

 

(middle left) Noh Theater, (top) Commedia D’ell Arte by Tessa Wallis, (bottom) Greek Theater (Alyssa Ravenwood)

What’s behind a Mask?

Coming from a dance performance background, I was curious to see a bit of traditional Korean theater and mask fun in forms reminiscent of Commedia Dell Arte, Greek or Noh. Theater is a great signifier of a culture, often portraying traditional beliefs, values, societal status and myths of a culture.  Cool, right?

Mask performances aren’t as easy to pull off as one thinks. In mask performances, a mask can embody any archetype: deity, ghosts, gods, monks, outcasts and mortals. When wearing a mask, character expressions can feel harder to convey as a mask’s expression is static. A performer therefore, must rely on their body animation, gestures and vocal pitch to communicate their archetype’s ever-changing emotions and thoughts.

An eclectic and modern fusion, touching on the idea of masks… sorta.

But under the main performance tent, the schedule of shows felt random at best. The thematic thread wasn’t clear.

A  long Thai martial arts show and an equally long Ajosshi ballet performance, choreographed to a French jazz/ballet theme. ..This latter show was a bit strange for the venue; but as it was produced by a Korean-based dance troupe, the cross-cultural hybrid produced a bizarre perspective I appreciated.

Finally, the golden moment I had been waiting for…

A shade more simple and folksy but absolutely reflective of mask traditions, the next act was a story about a girl, her mother and a cow. The performers executed a wide range emotions and expressions for their characters flawlessly and it produced a delightful look into Korean folklore.


This was the last day of the 10-day Andong Maskdance Festival and I had seen only a small sample of what it offered. Perhaps I’d missed the actual brochure highlights of the festival. I’ll never know. As a tourist or traveler, sometimes an event only has one shot to make an impression.

I think A Year In Daegu’s review sums up my feelings best when she says:

“In the end, I’m sure any country would have it’s hits and misses with cultural performances and festivals, but you gotta give it to Korea, they really do try.”

They really do.


Getting to Andong from Daegu
via express bus:
Departs from:
Dongdaegu express bus terminal
(* Note: this is not the main express bus terminal which exists directly outside and across Dongdaegu subway station. This is a smaller station around the far right-hand (if you’ve just exited the subway and are facing the bus terminal) corner of the main terminal. This terminal goes to smaller cities and towns.
Duration: 1hr 40min
Times: 6:40A-8:50P (check the Kobus schedule for regular updates); every 20-40 min
Cost: 7700 W

The main festival grounds is a 10 minute walk from the Andong bus terminal and you will need to cross under the bridge.

14 Comments

  1. Tiffany says:

    Hi Christine,

    My 8 year old son is practically OBSESSED with Korean Masks (his teacher recently introduced his 2nd grade class to them, and he can’t stop talking about, asking for help searing the internet for them, etc.). We are trying to find anywhere in the Los Angeles –a shop, festival, class, museum, etc., where he can learn about the masks, make the masks, see the masks, etc., anything. Do you know of anywhere in the LA area that we could visit to learn about Korean Masks (we haven’t even been able to find ways to order the masks online)? ANY advice or suggestions you can give would be so appreciated!! Thank you so much in advance.

    -tiffany

    • @Tiffany: I wish I could help on that one. I’ve only recently discovered Korean masks in Korea. If you’re in Korea, you’ll find mask workshops at traditional villages and at festivals; outside, I wouldn’t know. You may want to look into your local Korean community center. They may have an annual cultural fair. Good luck.

    • @Tiffany: Actually, I just remembered a person who might be able to help as she’s studied in LA and is currently in SK continuing her research about mask dancing. http://cedarbough.blogspot.com/ Email her– she might be able to help!

  2. Gomushin Girl says:

    Did you check the schedule beforehand? Did you check at both venues? Most of the traditional Korean mask dances were scheduled for the Hahoe Village stage, not the downtown one, which featured non-Korean and modern dances.

    • @Gomushin Girl: Researching how to get to an event is a task in itself. Might’ve helped to research beforehand but it didn’t occur to me that the festival might be split into 2 different locations and that the traditional masks would be at the secondary location. =-( I went with a group of people also, so we weren’t clocking a definite schedule or sharp shooting performances. Once boredom hits, it takes a lot to convince people to stay much longer. Curation of talent needs to be tight if a festival is to be successful. It was still interesting & I might attempt it another year.

  3. Melanie says:

    Hi Christine! I found you on Twitter and then started reading your blog since you sound like you’re in a similar place in life as me (also an American expat who moved to Korea last year). It’s great reading your experiences because I can relate to so many of them.

    Anyways, I also went to the mask festival and I really liked it, but A. I’m easily entertained and B. I also saw the mask dance at Hahoe Village (the same weekend) and that was awesome! That felt more traditional and beautiful to me than the performances I saw at Andong City.

  4. CB Saeji says:

    Well, as you can see from my website, I actually do doctoral research focused on mask dance dramas in Korea, an interest sparked by my first trip to Andong at the inaugural festival in 1997. The players in the piece you have photographed have learned (most of them) through traditional mask dance drama players for between a few weeks and on and off for years, but they are the product of drama programs not mask dance programs (hence they don’t really dance, it’s more about the story, the dialog, the interaction between the characters and not about the music and the movements). There’s a real mask dance festival in Seoul this weekend if you have time it will be amazing, packed back to back Friday, Sat and Sunday, without modernized things, foreign performances, etc. to distract.

  5. CB Saeji says:

    the “Korean” mask dance you saw was a modern new production, not traditional, just so you know. I also felt there were fewer mask dances than there should be this year, def. the least offered in all my years going to that festival. But enjoying your blog.

    • @CB Saeji: I appreciate the insight! 😉 Yes, it felt contemporary, especially due to the story and mask, but it felt like it was inspired by a more folksy or traditional root. Is that true? Feel free to share more insight on the subject of mask dancing as you and your site seem very informed by on the topic. I was hoping to see some of the types of shows I saw in the brochure.

  6. Jo and I had thought about hitting this festival up, but opted for a special night program in Seoul. We have an outing this weekend and a special project the following weekend, before we attend out next festival. ‘Tis the season is seems.

    Great review.

    • @QiRanger: Well, you can see part of what you missed I guess. Ha ha… Well, have a fun weekend.Looking forward to seeing some fun madness of the festivals you attend. Anything planned for Halloween?

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