Forerunners of K-pop: Korea’s national dance company stuns Sadler’s Wells, 1977 | life and style


Alan Road reported on the return visit to Britain of the “graceful dancers of Korea”, which had been a great success in 1972 (“East Side Story: Korea Brings on the Dancing Girls”, September 4, 1977) in a early examples of his soft power, long before K-pop.

The 45-strong National Dance Company has appeared in 50 other countries. Tongue in cheek, Road described them as “a Korean export that should encounter no tariff barriers in Europe.”

“The bouquet of beautiful girls seen at Kyung-Bok Palace in Seoul start a flower dance for the London public,” he wrote. “With their feet hidden by long robes, they seem to glide across the stage in undulating undulations like colorful caterpillars.”

It was quite the traditional side of a rapidly changing country. “Traditional music is provided by flutes, drums like hourglasses, a kind of harp which is a veritable cradle of strings for cats and an instrument which sounds like someone opening and closing a door with a rusty hinge. Perhaps the tariffs had prevented the export of WD-40 to Korea.

Beneath all that veneer are years of hard work. The dancers began their training at the age of six and continued to study “the age-old mysteries of the three traditional forms – court, religious and folk dances”.

The Sadler’s Wells performers had been rehearsing for five months. “Even in a rehearsal room like a huge warehouse, where the temperature is in the 80s and the recorded music tends to hiccup, the graceful performers generate a certain magic with their hypnotic movements,” wrote an enchanted route.

“European audiences may not grasp the importance of every blinking glance or the sadness of outstretched fingertips,” he concluded, “but the sheer beauty of the girls, the color of their traditional costumes and the vitality of their dance should not be unappreciated.


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