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[Herald Interview] Putting Korean culture in global limelight

Kwon brings Korean artists to international festivals

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Published : 2014-04-14 19:54
Updated : 2014-04-14 21:06

This summer, a series of Korean concerts, plays and performances will be held in London, competing for the limelight at the city’s major arts festival ― the City of London Festival.

Five or six other Korean performance groups will take the much-coveted stage at the famous Edinburgh Festival next year, continuing what Angella Kwon hopes to be “the Korean culture bash” at high-profile international arts festivals.

“Hallyu, or the popularity of Korean culture overseas, is still a very tiny, tiny movement on the global scene. To make it a real big phenomenon, we must take our culture to the global audience in large volumes, just like bombshells exploding here and there,” said Kwon, who is organizing the Korean events for the two festivals. She also runs a cultural content agency. 
Angella Kwon

With nearly 15 years of experience and contacts with arts festivals like Edinburgh’s, Kwon says an internationally renowned festival is a good place to start in any effort to expose Korean culture to a larger audience.

Arts festivals serve as a barometer of what’s happening in the global cultural scene by bringing together many culture industry insiders from around the world, she explained.

Kwon first participated in the Edinburgh Festival in 1999 as a staff member with “Nanta (Cookin’).” The nonverbal show, derived from traditional percussion performance samulnori, was literally the talk of the town, wowing audiences with its exciting beats and comic plot.

“Their first reaction was like, ‘Koreans made an arts performance to show here?’ Then after watching the show, they were surprised by how good it was,” she recalled.

“It kind of hurt my pride in my country. Look at Daehangno. There are about 160 theaters and every day they show different plays, musicals or other stage works. There aren’t many countries out there with such a dynamic performing arts scene like Korea,” she said.

After the “Nanta” show, Kwon turned into a globe-trotting promoter of Korean culture ― mostly nonverbal performances ― assisting productions like “Jump,” “KARMA,” “Bibap (Chef!),” “HiKick” and “Korean Drum” in over 32 countries.

Her focus now is on the upcoming City of London Festival in June, for which she is organizing 10 performances that best show what Korean culture is, from a classical music concert featuring conductor Chung Myung-whun to B-boys.

“No Korean team has participated in the festival before,” she said.

Presenting a wide array of artists from one country is a brand new project for the festival since its new director, Paul Gudgin, who led the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 1999 to 2007, took charge last year. 
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the main venues of the City of London Festival. This year’s festival, which runs from June 22 to July 17, will feature 10 Korean cultural performances, including a concert at the cathedral by maestro Chung Myung-whun and the London Symphony Orchestra. (City of London Festival)

Aimed at making music more accessible to Londoners and visitors, the festival makes use of the city’s popular spaces and icons such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as performance venues.

The highlight of the 10 events under the “Seoul in the City” program will be a classical music concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where maestro Chung Myung-whun will lead the London Symphony Orchestra in its performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Soprano Kim Kathleen, mezzo-soprano Yang Song-mi, tenor Kang Yosep and bass Park Jong-min will join in the concert.

As for the Edinburgh festival next year, Kwon said she was working out details with one of the festival organizers, regarding a similar presentation of 5 to 7 Korean performing arts teams.

“The festival organizer will share some of the cost to invite Korean teams. (Inviting that many teams from Korea to Edinburgh) is another first,” she said.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)

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