Anseong Namsadang Baudeogi Pungmuldan, a Korean folk performance troupe, performed in Libya to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution and to promote cultural relations between the two counties (November 5-6, 2009).
A Korean cultural event was staged to celebrate the four-decade reign of President Muammar Gaddafi, who rose to power at the age of 27. For sometime now, Korea has maintained a favorable image in Libya due to Dong Ah Construction’s successful completion of the Great Man-Made River Project and a growing presence of Korean businesses. It was thus time to build on this economic foundation and develop more comprehensive ties with the Libyan people through the promotion of cultural relations. For a cultural event in Libya, it was originally proposed that a world-renowned B-boys group from Korea would be dispatched. The Libyan authorities, however, expressed concern about the overly commercial and Western aspects of a B-boys performance. Thereafter, it was agreed that a Namsadang Nori performance would be staged, comprised of farmers’ music, traditional dance, tightrope walking, and a puppet play.Korea-Libya Cultural Exchange
We were told that a prominent traditional dance group from Korea had visited Libya in 2006 for the staging of an invitation-only performance at a hotel. As for our group, however, we insisted on an outdoor venue. Based on our experience of performing in Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2008, we were aware that countries with a conservative Islamic society would tend to prefer an indoor rather than outdoor performance. But the Namsadang performances are better suited for an outdoor venue. The staff of the Korean Embassy inspected several possible sites before deciding on the Ethihad Union Sports Club, with a hard-court field for indoor soccer. At the site, we immediately encountered a problem with securing the tightrope supports, which normally involved digging into the ground. Nonetheless, after carefully explaining our situation, the facility staff came up with a workable solution that satisfied everyone’s concern.
Another difficulty with the venue was the numerous cracks in the surface that resulted from the facility’s 20 years of usage. Even in Korea, there is invariably one problem or another during our preparation of a performance site. But again, Anseong Namsadang Baudeogi Pungmuldan showed that it was possible to overcome almost any challenge, based on a can-do attitude. Korean contractors built the Great Man-Made River and high-rise hotels in Libya, a country with a large territory covering an area about 17 times greater than that of Korea. Similarly, our group was prepared to introduce the richness of Korean culture to the people of Libya.
Finally, the day of our performance arrived. We were slated to perform after a welcoming performance by a Tripoli folk music and dance group. We hurriedly went about final preparations for our performance. To our surprise, we noticed a woman who was not wearing hijab attire among the Libyan performers. It was our understanding that a woman was not allowed to dance in public to the music played by a man, according to the male-oriented society of Islamic culture, especially in a conservative Sunni Muslim country like Libya. However, seemingly without such concern, she performed a graceful dance. Later, we took a photo of her.
The show was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. The audio technicians showed up at 7 p.m. and worked frantically to install the equipment. We were then told that the performance could begin after the 7:30 prayer session, the final of five daily prayers that the Muslims observe. So, we simply waited and even had no chance to rehearse since the audio system was still being installed. This situation, while beyond our control, added to our sense of apprehension. However, we noticed that the audience had already filled up the venue’s 1,000 seats, amidst a heavy police presence, while additional people gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the activities.
After a quick sound test, the Libyan performers started to perform without any announcement right after the welcoming remarks by Korean Ambassador to Libya Chang Dong-hee and the former Vice Minister of Culture of Libya. This 40-minute presentation included a robust dance by male dancers, solo work by a female dancer, remarkable music performance, and group dance. Then, the Korean performers took the stage. To our delight, the audience laughed aloud and applauded, even without understanding our Korean dialogue. No one left their seat during our 60- minute performance of samulnori, tightrope walking, pungmulnori, beonanori, and sangmonori. We were told that some 100 Koreans residents in Libya would attend the show, but in fact a large majority of the 1,000-person audience was made up of Tripoli residents, whose warm reception encouraged the performers to put forth their best efforts.Enthusiastic Reception
On the second day, we were anxious but hopeful of staging another entertaining performance, which was slated to start at 8 p.m. Again, the audio technicians showed up just 45 minutes before the start time, forcing them to rush around, while there was no time for any kind of rehearsal. We finally got underway about 8:15 p.m. The Korean Embassy had warned us that because it was a holiday in Libya, people might tend to spend time with their families. In addition, there were only a few passersby outside due to a large number of security police posted around the venue, as a precautionary measure. Nevertheless, we were pleased to see another large audience, which filled more than 80 percent of the seats. It seemed that word of mouth about the previous day’s performance had helped to spark interest among Tripoli residents. To open our performance, we planned to add Korean folk songs for any Koreans in the audience, but the audio system did not work properly. The performers, however, managed to improvise, resulting in a wonderful presentation. The group staged a uniquely Korean performance thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of the performers. All of this success was attained as a result of our ability to adjust to certain cultural differences, in regard to our expectations of punctuality and protocol. Korean Ambassador to Libya Chang Dong-hee emphasized the importance of efforts to enhance the “Korea brand” throughout the world, including in countries like Libya. Performing arts is a cultural treasure that should be shared by all humankind. This is especially true with Namsadang Nori since it has been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. Anseong Namsadang Baudeogi Pungmuldan is thus pleased to have contributed to this cause, while looking forward to future opportunities to share Korea’s folk culture with global audiences.