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A Super-sized Korean Outdoor Performance

Posted September. 29, 2004 22:07,   


On the night of September 28, a full moon flickered between the cloudy skies. For the first time in 220 years, the Korean traditional celebration known as “Sandaehui” took place at the Silhak Festival 2004 in the Gyeonggi Arts Center, Ingye-dong, Suwon, under the supervision of executive officer Im Jin-taek.

Sandaehui is a performance that was held when the ancient kings took a stroll outside the palace or when Chinese envoys were received. Historical documents record Sandaehui as far back as the Jinheung dynasty, 6th century Shilla.

According to archives from the Joseon dynasty, Sandaehui mainly took place at Gwanghwamun in Seoul, and the towering decoration, “Big Sandae,” placed at opposite sides of the road, reached a height of 25 meters.

At this year’s festival, a mobile replica of a small sandae, “Yesandae,” was recreated. Embellished with images of valleys and caves in mountains, the stage-designed decoration sandae was placed on an outdoor stage. Originally, people would attach wheels and push, but mini-trucks transported it instead. Although colorful silks and various fabrics were not entwined as ancient records show, styrofoam and sponges painted green and furnished with ornaments of model evergreens, deer, cranes, and “elixir of life” herbs covered the tree frame.

The legendary sandae was only passed down through the centuries through the written word, but was first revealed when Qing Empire envoy Ah Geuk-don’s 1725 illustration of Joseon’s reception event “Bongsado” was disclosed to the public in 1999. The Yesandae displayed this year was made to resemble the sandae in the “Bongsado” as closely as possible.

Sandaehui expert and Seoul National University Korean Cultural Research Institute senior researcher Son Tae-do explained, “According to the early 17th century ‘Narecheong Registrar’ and other documents, the government mobilized 1,000 laborers for two to three months to make a big sandae and stuffed all the wild animals that pulled the sandae, but magpies, ravens, owls, and 20 to 50 other winged creatures were released into the sky.” The preparation costs for the majestic and elaborate event eventually overwhelmed the government’s budget during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and Byeongja War, and were suspended after 1784.

This year, high-wire master Kim Dae-gyun’s “Oehongjabi” performance, keeping one foot on a taut rope while repeatedly sitting and bouncing back upright, was among the nearly 10 kinds of events that entertained the audience of 500.

Ten Yura musical artists clambered up the sandae and stood there to sing the “Sun Sori,” while the Yangjubyeol Sandae mask dance reverberated and students of the Korean National University of Arts, School of Korean Traditional Arts roused the crowd with puppet plays. Sandaehui dropped its curtain after two-and-a-half hours of classical Korean traditional songs and spiritual dances during which excited spectators jumped onto the stage and swayed to the Ganggangsullae.

Meanwhile, the Silhak Festival 2004 opened under the motto: “Approaching the public with a reformed Silhak mentality will prove practical to citizens” on September 29, and will continue its nearly 10 events until October 3 at various locations in Gyeonggi, such as the Gyeonggi Arts Center.

For more information: 031-267-0950 or www.silhakfestival.com.