Andong Maskdance Festival in need of more masks

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Last Updated on February 9, 2018 by Christine Kaaloa

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.

Festivals in Korea can come in all shapes and sizes and yet, they can get into the habit of feeling eerily the same. Inflated tents sell the standard Korean culture festival foods like pajeon (my favorite- it’s a Korean flour pancake) and vendor knick-knacks in sunglasses, hardware, kitchen cutlery. Some tents sport carnival games or an arts and crafts section for kids.  This festival, being one of Korea’s better-known festivals, launched our hopes higher.

Andong Mask Festival
Andong Mask Festival
festivals in korea
Andong festival
korean festivals
Korean festivals
panjun, korean Pancakes
korean pancakes, 파준, Pajeon: flour pancakes with chives

The Andong Maskdance Festival

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, well… bored.  Although there were mask floats and activities,  there was only one booth selling actual masks! Where was this carnival’s star attraction in the souvenir section?

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

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SAM 3569Andong Maskdance festival:  Marionnetteskorean festivals
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The Andong mask festival program

To be fair, we attended the mask festival on close to the last day. There were more mask dance programs at different parts of the city of Andong and some in more historical areas. One dance I wanted to see was a shaman dance. The festival grounds were the festival’s final culmination.

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.

andong mask festival, korean masks
Korean masks

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Andong Mask Festival
Andong Mask Festival

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.

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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.

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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

The main festival grounds is a 10 minute walk from the Andong bus terminal and you will need to cross under the bridge. The Andong bus terminal bathroom is not very lovely. Find another bathroom if you can.

Daegu -> Andong

Take the 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. Check the Kobus website for schedule . Duration: 1hr 40min  Bus hours: 6:40A-8:50P; every 20-40 min
Cost: 7700 W


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  • 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: 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. Email her– she might be able to help!

  • Gomushin Girl
    November 2, 2010 4:17 am

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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