East Asia, Korea

TALCHUM DANCE – East Asia: ‘Korean Mask Dance’

Talchum is an intriguing Mask dance of East Asia Korea . This mask dance is said to have originated in the Hwanghae Province located in North Korea. This dance style is said to be highly dramatic in nature and is said to possess theatrical elements. Furthermore, the masked performers usually represent ordinary people, animals, and supernatural beings. In addition, this dance style is known as Sandae noli in Seoul or the Gyeonggi Province, and Yayu on the southern coast of Korea.

Talchum, a traditional Korean mask dance, was first performed by villagers as a folk dance. Behind the protection of a mask, performers would narrate village life or parody corrupt government officials. Commoners could express their emotions and lives through art thanks to talchum without worrying about social repercussions.

a. History/origin of the Talchum:

It is said that initially this dance form was developed as a form of shamanic ritual to provide protection against evil spirits as well as to provide farmers with a good harvest season. Furthermore, it is gradually over the years that this dance developed from a form of a ritual to pure entertainment. In addition, this dance was also once performed in the royal court belonging to the Koryo dynasty.

b. Costumes used in the Talchum:

The costume used in this dance form is a colourful hanbok i.e. the traditional Korean attire. Furthermore, the use of facial masks as a prop also forms an integral part of the costume used in this dance style.

Additionally, the dance calls for particular traditional attire. Wearing stocking-like coverings tied over the shins, they are wearing a white shirt and loose-fitting pants. Dancers cover these with robes in vivid hues like red, green, yellow, and blue. When the dancers’ faces are hidden by masks, it is important to emphasize their movement with handsome, flowing white sleeves, which are fastened to the wrist. The distinctive feature of talchum is its paper or wooden masks, which feature heavily caricatured faces in vivid colors. The more despised members of society, such as the yangban or the nobility, are frequently represented by masks with more distorted features.

c. Music involved in the Talchum:

The musical instrument used in this dance style basically includes haegeum (fiddle), daegeum (flute), janggu (hourglass drum), and buk (barrel drum).

d. Training availability and technique involved in the Talchum:

In terms of technique, this dance basically requires the performers to rhythmically jump, leap, and squat to the beats of the accompanying music. As for training centres/schools, there are a few training centres available in Korea for those interested in learning this unique Korean mask dance.

Talchum has remained consistent throughout Korea, maintaining elements like the overarching storyline, outfits, and masks. Talchum also incorporates some basic dance steps. Three basic arm movements are used by performers: oe-sawi (circling one arm), yang-sawi (circling both arms), and kyup-sawi (circling both arms twice). Dancers jump, walk or skip in circles, lift their legs with bent knees. Dancers frequently improvised during traditional performances, tailoring their performance to the audience’s response.


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