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National Dance Company of Korea's 'Sanjo' visualizes Korean music through dance

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 6, 2023 - 09:51

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Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform "Sanjo" in 2021. (National Dance Company of Korea)

The National Dance Company of Korea is set to perform “Sanjo” at Haeoreum Theater from June 23-25.

“Sanjo” reinterprets the beauty of “sanjo” -- traditional Korean music involving an instrumental solo -- in a modern perspective, expressing melody through dance and mise-en-scenes.

Sanjo music is characterized by a blend of formal beauty and spontaneity, as the melody is crafted freely within a structured framework. Similar to Western jazz, the genre allows for variations depending on the performer’s skill and creativity.

“Sanjo” premiered in 2021, selling 99 percent of seats, according to an NDCK official. The premiere was highly regarded for its groundbreaking approach that broke down the boundaries between tradition and modernity.

Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform "Sanjo" in 2021. (National Dance Company of Korea)

Act 1, "Moderation," explores the aesthetics of emptiness and abstinence, demonstrating tranquility within imbalance through Korean-style dance. The music incorporates traditional sanjo melodies played on geomungo, janggu and kkwaenggwari.

Act 2, "Extremity," focuses on the concept of equilibrium within imbalance. Meanwhile, Act 3, "Middle Path," exemplifies the ultimate philosophy of sanjo, demonstrating a new order that embraces cacophony and imbalance.

The music in Acts 2 and 3 incorporates electronic sounds into traditional sanjo melodies. A synthesizer and janggu starting with the rhythmic moderato “gutgeori” and the beats gradually intensify with “hwimori,” reaching extreme emotion at an urgent pace.

Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform "Sanjo" in 2021. (National Dance Company of Korea)
Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform Members of the National Dance Company of Korea perform "Sanjo" in 2021. (National Dance Company of Korea)

Fashion-designer-turned stage director Jung, who is renowned for his simplicity and originality, brings picturesque mise-en-scenes to the stage by visualizing the essence of sanjo.

Jung teamed up with choreographer Choi Jin-wook, choreographer-composer Kim Jae-deok and two-time Grammy-winning sound engineer Hwang Byeong-joon for the choreography and music.

Choi, who was also a senior member of NDCK, choreographed the aesthetics of sanjo, focusing on the elements of “spreading and gathering,” drawing inspiration from its irregularity and spontaneity. The performance transitions from slow and restrained dances to everyday movements such as brushing hair, washing one’s face and scrubbing the floor with stylized dance moves, before culminating in dynamic group dances.

“Sanjo” marks the sixth collaborative project between the NDCK and creative director Jung Ku-ho. Their previous works together include “Scent of Ink” (2013) and “The Banquet” (2015).

“Scent of Ink,” which is themed around “sagunja” (orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums and plum blossoms) and the seasons they represent, has toured around the world including Japan, France and Denmark. The NDCK is scheduled to perform the piece in the US and Canada in October.