Nanta (also known as Cookin’) is said to be a nonverbal performance. And in fact, no words are spoken. Contrary to conventional theater works that invariably involve dialogue, the Nanta performance relies on sounds and bodily movements alone, which serve to transcend the language barriers and cultural differences that often separate peoples. Since its launch in 1997, Nanta performances have been staged on five continents, to the delight and entertainment of audiences around the world.
People often have a sense of excitement, anticipation, and apprehension when dealing with a “first.” This was true for our group as well, as we embarked on our first tour of Africa and the Middle East. For us, this was an especially meaningful and pride-filled endeavor since it was our first performance on the African continent, the final frontier for the Nanta performers. Although the schedule was tight, we were all curious about how the audience would react to our kind of performing arts show, along with wondering if the local circumstances or environment might be a problem for us.
Upon our arrival in Carthage, Tunisia, we found ourselves most concerned with the weather. Indeed, there was much worry about the intense heat, with temperatures of about 40°C, since the performance was being staged at an outdoor venue. Nonetheless, the preparations went smoothly thanks to the thoughtful assistance of the Korean Embassy in Tunisia. As a result, the performers were noticeably energized and animated when they took to the stage in a historic amphitheater in Carthage.
In addition, we were proud of the fact that Nanta represented the first-ever performance by a Korean group at the amphitheater venue, which is said to be highly selective about the type of works that are shown there. After the performance, many people in the audience gave us a standing ovation, and a large crowd of children and adults gathered on the stage, who were especially curious to examine our stage props and see how such pulsating rhythms, which reverberated throughout the venue, had been generated. In fact, the enthusiasm of the crowd was something of a surprise to us. But in the end, the audience was not so different from those in other countries, in terms of its enjoyment of our dynamic performers. In the future, perhaps other kinds of Korean performing groups will have an opportunity to entertain the local residents as well.
In Rabat, Morocco, the desert heat could be felt from the early morning. However, Morocco is bounded by the seashore that provides gentle winds, like a spring breeze in Korea. The residents there seemed to accept Asian people like us, giving us a sense of comfort. Since the country’s performing arts culture was quite well developed, as a result of European influences, the preparations proceeded smoothly and the group felt at ease. Moreover, the event included the performance of Myosung, a B-boy group from Korea, which had the audience in a frenzy, with their gravity-defying maneuvers. The Nanta performers staged a high-energy show of their own, which the enthusiastic audience appreciated as well.
The audience, of more than 1,000 people, said that the novelty of the Korean performance was so amazing, even beyond description. We were all filled with pride when everyone in the audience gave us a standing ovation and shouted for an encore during the curtain call. It brought a smile to my face to think that our performance resulted in a pleasant memory for the local residents of Morocco. The people here might not have a much better understanding of Korea, but you could see their appreciation for the vibrancy of our performance.
As for countries of the Middle East, which tend to have a more conservative society, I can only wonder about the impression that our performance can have on the audiences. In Oman, we were fortunate to stage another joint presentation of Nanta and Myosung B-boy group, which included successful performances in Muscat, the capital city, and Salalah. During our stay, we were impressed with the several large-scale projects being built by Korean contractors, including roadway construction and energy-generation facilities. And just as the members of our group began to crave Korean food, which had been rarely available during the trip, a group of Korean firms in Oman came to the rescue by hosting a dinner for us. Moreover, a number of the Korean personnel here went well out of their way to attend a Nanta performance, after which they sincerely thanked us for the Korean entertainment, even though it was us who were so grateful for their gracious hospitality.
People in Oman seem to have a favorable image of Korea, as a result of the presence of the Korean contractors here, so hopefully our performances helped to reinforce this positive impression. Of note, we were honored to have the Korean Ambassador to Oman attend our performance, who also took the time to congratulate each member of the group. Finally, I must express our group’s sincere gratitude to the Korea Foundation, which made this performance tour possible, as well as the Korean embassies and staff in Tunisia, Morocco, and Oman, who extended such helpful assistance, often behind the scenes.