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Jumping Korea

World-renowned performances: made in Korea
INon-verbal performances including <Nanta> and <Sachoom-Love dance> became  symbolic products of Korea. Indeed, 15 percent of foreign tourists visiting Korea who watched those performances revisited to enjoy them again. The shows are attracting foreign audiences without the presence of Korean-wave celebrities or idols. Indeed, they visit Korea solely to watch these shows. This article analyzes the success factors behind these Korean non-verbal shows that are now evolving at a superhigh speed.
Korean-style martial arts, at the forefront of an evolving theater culture
In front of the UNESCO Hall performance theater in Myeongdong, many foreigners stand in line, looking forward to watching <Nanta>, a famous non-verbal show. 80 percent of the audience are foreigners: Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese, etc. Myeongdong has already become a must-visit shopping place for foreign tourists. At Myungbo Theater (Myungbo Art hall), <Drum cat> and <Drawing: Show Hero> are now showing. At the place where the Hollywood theater was previously located in Nagwon Arcade, there now stands an exclusive theater for <Sachoom-Love dance>. Cine-Core theater has now been replaced by exclusive theaters for <B Bab> and <Binari>. Seoul Cinema also has an exclusive hall for <Jump>. <Jump> has been performed in 56 cities in 40 countries. In 2011, a record 93 percent of tickets were sold in 13 cities. This year will show will be performed in Hamburg in Germany and Nagoya in Japan. In 1997, <Nanta> went to Broadway, a first for a  show from Asia, and was introduced on the <Today Show> of NBC - long before the Korean singer “Psy” made his appearance on the show. Now, the Korean wave of non-verbal shows is all the rage.

Culture diplomats: Taekwondo and Bibimbab of Korea
Korea’s non-verbal shows have been able to become globally successful thanks to a variety of multimedia channels, the popularity of K-pop and a strong tourism industry, all of which have gained the attention of foreigners. Still, there was one more reason behind the success of these kinds of shows: “unique performance factors.” A case in point is <The TAL>, a non-verbal performance, which ran in Trelleborg in Sweden last year. After watching this fantastic show that includes “Arirang” -Korea’s famous folk song- and Taekwondo, audiences in Trelleborg gave a standing ovation and lingered in the performance hall for a while after the show. Some of those who got the autographs of the performers had driven for 9 hours to watch the show. <The TAL> was watched by 750,000 people in 18 countries. It was co-produced by the Korea Taekwondo Association in 2010 in order to promote Taekwondo as a permanent Olympic sport as well as to become a value-added, globalized and artistic product. Korea-representing Taekwondo athletes became actors in the performance, continuously demonstrating Taekwondo and percussion techniques as well as Korean traditional dance and B-boying. The striking images of oriental martial arts combined with other artistic genres have captivated foreign audiences and are playing a role similar to that of a cultural diplomat. <B Bab> was first created based on the fact that the most famous item of Korean culture for foreigners is “Bibimbab” The 3,000 seats for the performances in Singapore last year were all sold out. Now, the show is playing to adoring audiences in Taiwan, Macao and Indonesia. Audiences can place an order and try Bibimbab on stage.

Diversification of performances: fantasy, gymnastics and dance musicals
Last February, <Action Drawing Hero> ran at the Blue Theater in Roppongi in  Tokyo, Japan. In this show, a picture is completed using a handful of sand, not a brush. While another picture is being completed by solving a puzzle involving 200 cubes in a short time, various cultural icons such as Michael Jackson and Bruce Lee are shown on the canvas. When the pictures are finally completed after fantastic dance and mime performances that have no dialogue, the audiences give a rapturous response. <Action Drawing Hero> received favorable reviews and praise such as “a stimulating show” or “a performance beyond our imagination” For the first time in the history of non-verbal performances in Korea, it had a one-month-run in Japan. Another non-verbal show <Flying>, a show about a newly interpreted code of Shilla chivalry and a goblin, is directed by Choi Cheol-gi of <Nanta> and <Jump>fame. In <Flying>, you can see a variety of performance activities: apparatus gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, martial arts, and B-boying. After achieving record ticket sales during the first performance run, the second performance run took place in Singapore this March. The fact that second performance run took place only 3 months after the first one is quite unprecedented. Furthermore, invitation shows in Turkey and China are now planned. <Sachoom-Love Dance>, a dance musical that includes Hip Hop, Jazz dance and modern dance, also achieved great success recently. At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, all the seats were sold out for the first time in the history of the “George Square Theater” 60 percent of audiences for the opening-run show were foreigners. Some of them visit Korea every other month to watch the show. Some hard core fans come to the show everyday while staying in Korea. The 2,000 plus seats at the Grand Theater of Beijing were all sold out one week ago. The performance is now scheduled to run in 24 locations, including Inner Mongolia, by May.

Audience-customized “story telling” and localization
“We normally find hints and inspiration for performances from books and stories. On the other hand, <Sachoom> created a festival through street culture and plays,” one Edinburgh Festival organizer said. The success of non-verbal shows that do not exploit the popularity of  Korean dramas or K-pop idols is due to not only the dynamic movements of the body but also comedic content, story composition and real story subjects that are customized for local cultures. Korea’s non-verbal shows combined with B-boying, martial arts and comic musical performance are developing and evolving and are gaining attention and popularity among world audiences thanks to an approach that is systematic: interpretation service for foreign audiences and SNS promotions. The first generation of non-verbal performances simply projected an image of a “mysterious performance from the oriental world.” However, as the non-verbal performance became one genre of stage art and the second and third performance runs were successfully staged, audiences abroad evaluated them according to higher and stricter standards. Executive director Choi So-ri of <The TAL> says, “Thinking about how <The TAL> was a sell out, I now expect that the stage arts of Korea will become a new factor and element associated with the Korean wave.” In order for Korea’s non-verbal performances to maintain their popularity experts advise that rather than making a series of shows that are very eye-catching, they need to be more focused on artistic value and overall perfection.

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