|| Muscles ache and hearts open
By DENNIS CODAY
The Korean-Japanese Culture Exchange Workshop is intense. A couple weeks before the workshop, the youth are told the theme and asked to reflect on it. They write down ideas and pass them to the organizers who distribute them among the group. This builds anticipation and ensures that ideas are flowing when the group meets in Seoul for the first time.
Once in Seoul, the group hits the ground running and doesnt stop for eight, 18-hour days. By the end of the first day, they have concrete images and themes to translate into movement. Over the next two days, they study traditional movement, rhythms and chants, and musical instruments. A few participants have some training, but all are amateurs.
Workshop founder Kim Hyun Soon said this part of the workshop "is difficult and tedious." Muscles ache from physical exertion. Egos and brains ache as the youth work out a common performance from their collective ideas.
The group communicates in a jumble of Korean, Japanese and English. They also draw, use gestures and act out ideas. Kim said they learn that "every culture has an aspect that allows people to be connected. We dont need to speak. We can join through our hearts."
As time passes, "we began to see changes [among the group], and through shin-myung [joyful and energetic spirit] we become one," Kim said.
As they train in the dance traditions, they also begin forming their themes and images into patterns of movements and rhythms with chanting to create their madang guk.
What emerged in 1998 was a five act madang guk called "Bap" (bap means cooked rice in Korean), which tells the story of a poor farmer losing stewardship of his land through neglect and commercial exploitation. After a misguided sojourn in the city, he returns to his village and is able to retrieve his land.
The students take the performance literally into the streets in slum areas and rural villages as part of traditional street festivals with games, food stalls and other entertainment.
The organizers also take the young dancers to visit historical sites often scenes of Japans cruel colonial rule over Korea and to mourn the victims of war.
Because of Japanese-Korean history, first time participant Kim Kwang Soo, 22, said that before the workshop he had doubts if he could be friends with Japanese.
"But now I realize we are the new generation of young people, so we have to create a new culture a new culture of community, of caring and sharing," he said. He came to the workshop after completing the military service that is compulsory for all Korean men.
He said the best part of the workshop was the hard work. Planning, practicing and performing a 60-minute song and dance routine is arduous, he said.
His past experience with youth groups seemed to focus only on the positive parts of life, he said, filled with lots of meetings and talk. "But as young people, we want to act together. ... We share physical suffering, sorrow and joy. The movement makes us feel as one because we can feel each other."
For 21-year-old Japanese dancer Tamura Ryo, 1998 was his second workshop. Ryo said coming to Korea worried him the first year. "I didnt know what the Koreans would be like, whether they would accept me."
"But the Koreans accepted me warmly," he said, and the dance resonated with him. He was determined to return in 1998, though it meant working as a construction laborer to earn the 190,000 yen (about $1,500) he needed to attend the workshop.
Korean Dancer Kim Soo Kyoung, 24, just out of commercial college, observed that "Japan is actually close [geographically] to Korea, but in a sense is very far away because of prejudice and because people dont know each other." But in the workshop, she continued, "We learn to appreciate each other and how to share. We learn how to reflect together, share and organize ourselves."
The young people found chong, a Korean word that describes a special relationship that leads to longtime friendship, she said.
National Catholic Reporter, February 12, 1999