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Performances resume as strict social distancing relaxed

Pianist Son Yeol-eum cancels sold-out recital; maintaining required distance between audience members deemed impossible

Pianist Son Yeol-eum (Credia)
Pianist Son Yeol-eum (Credia)

As the spread of the new coronavirus continues to slow in South Korea, the nation has switched to a new strategy stressing disease prevention in everyday life, allowing national theaters and arts troupes to return to their normal routines.

Five state-run performance venues -- the National Theater of Korea, National Gugak Center, Jeongdong Theater, Myeongdong Theater and Asia Culture Center -- that were shut down in late February will all resume operations, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Wednesday.

Seven national art troupes -- the National Theater Company of Korea, Korean National Ballet, Korea National Opera, Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, National Chorus of Korea, Seoul Performing Arts Company and Korean Symphony Orchestra -- will also resume their scheduled performances.

State-run theaters are required to comply with guidelines issued by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.

Audience members should make online reservations if possible, must stay 1-2 meters apart and have to wear masks at all times. Theaters are required to leave every other seat unoccupied.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, the Asia Culture Center will premiere “I Was Not in Gwangju” on Tuesday, becoming the first national art institution to resume its schedule after the coronavirus shutdown.

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea will present traditional play “Chunhyang,” May 14-24 at the National Theater in central Seoul. Some of the performances are sold out, as only 50 percent of the venue’s 500 seats were made available in compliance with government guidelines.

The National Theater of Korea’s seating plan for “Chunhyang” by the National Changgeuk Company of Korea reflects the government’s distancing guidelines. (National Theater)
The National Theater of Korea’s seating plan for “Chunhyang” by the National Changgeuk Company of Korea reflects the government’s distancing guidelines. (National Theater)

The National Gugak Center will resume performances on May 16, and the Korea National Ballet will stage “Giselle” in June.

Some performances, however, are finding it difficult to comply with the government guidelines.

Deeming it to be impossible to follow government guidelines, organizers canceled pianist Son Yeol-eum’s sold-out recital slated for May 13 at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul. Marking the release of her latest album in April, it was to have been Son’s first solo recital in Seoul in four years. The concert hall, with 2,500 seats, was sold-out.

“Though coronavirus spread is slowing down at the moment, dangers remain. We thought it would not be safe to continue with the recital engagement in a situation like this,” an official from art management agency Credia, in charge of the event, said.

While all tickets are to be refunded without penalty, further details have not yet been decided.

“As the coronavirus is evolving at a fast rate, this year’s performance plans remain undecided. We are not sure how things will work out,” the official added.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is imposing stricter guidelines for its affiliated facilities. On Wednesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said key cultural facilities -- including theaters, museums and galleries -- would start to reopen, but would admit visitors on a limited basis.

Under the guidelines, theaters can maintain audience occupancy rates of no more than 30 percent.

The Sejong Center said no detailed guidelines were in place yet, but it hoped to work out a plan soon.

“Official follow-up guidelines have not yet been issued. We will see how things turn out,” said Yang Jun-hyeok, a Sejong Center official.

By Im Eun-byel ( and Song Seung-hyun (