Getting Artsy with some Traditional Korean Dance

There are many theaters and venues in Seoul where you can enjoy some traditional Korean performing arts — from plays to dance to non-verbal performances. We recently visited two of these, the Jeongdong Theater and the Korea House, and I’ll just go ahead and say it, I loved the shows at both places.

Jeongdong Theater could be considered your small, local theater. It’s tucked away in the historic Jeong-dong neighborhood of Seoul, near the Deoksugung Palace and Seoul Museum of Art. They do performances twice a night, every night except Mondays, and tickets aren’t too expensive (40,000-60,000 won). We went on a Saturday night to see “MISO: Baebijang-jeon,” based on a classical novel written by an unknown author during the Joseon dynasty. The play is basically about an official, Secretary Bae, whose new magistrate tests his human desires by sending Ae-rang, a beautiful woman, to seduce him, even though he’s a married man.

I thought the sets were absolutely beautiful and, especially the ones depicting Jeju island, really transported you elsewhere. The acting was pretty good. The music was performed live by musicians in a type of orchestra pit, which was fantastic. They were so good, at a certain point I forgot it was live music. The dance numbers were also fun. While it’s mostly a non-verbal performance, the parts that were spoken were translated into English, Japanese and Chinese on two screens on either side of the stage. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photos, and they seemed pretty strict about it, so I’m including some stock photos of the performance below. The show only lasted about 70 minutes, but it was very much worth it.

The Korea House is both a cultural center and a restaurant. Visitors can immerse themselves in different activities like learning how to make kimchi, tea etiquette, handicrafts and martial arts. The restaurant is known for serving traditional royal cuisine. And lastly, they have a small (smaller than Jeongdong’s) theater for traditional arts performances.

We visited Korea House with our church group for a Valentine’s dinner and show. As you’ll see in the pics, there was plenty of food, and I personally liked most of it. Everything from different spicy dishes like kimchi to fish cakes, meat dishes (duck, beef), squid stuffed with pork, and various soups and porridges. The “sweets” were not so sweet. I had a “cinnamon punch” and it was pretty tasty.

After a round of games (we won for being the couple married the shortest time — Will insisted we wouldn’t win, and then we did), we headed into the theater. Very cozy. Very cute. And you’re allowed to take photos as long as you don’t use flash. Again, live musicians accompanying the performances here.

The show is about an hour long, and it’s split into eight performances, each a different style of traditional dance/music. I don’t really want to compare this with MISO, since that was a play and these were just individual numbers, but I’d say the show at the Korea House is of a slightly higher caliber. I don’t know what it was — they just seemed more “together,” more experienced. The costumes and makeup were a sight to behold. The musicians were impeccable. One of the performances is of seoljanggo, four drummers going wild, and they were SO TIGHT, it was unbelievable. You can just tell how dedicated and practiced these performers are with their craft. Another one of the instrumental-only numbers was an Arirang Concerto featuring the  gayageum (12-string instrument – this girl was amazing), haegeum (played with bow), and other traditional instruments. Arirang is considered by some to be Korea’s unofficial national anthem, and is registered on the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

I’d easily, highly recommend either of these performances to anyone looking to see some traditional Korean dance. Here are some photos below….and don’t miss the three videos at the end!


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