The Samgamo Dance of the Chongdong Theater
For any enthusiast of complex rhythm structures, the Poongmul (also called Farmerís Dance and Samulnori) is a must see on any visit to Korea. One venue that is always a reliable source of quality samples of the Korean folk traditions is the Chongdong theater in Central Seoul. Chongdong Theater troupe performs a range of different examples of drumming including the trance-like Poonmul dance (that is performed in costume with a ribbon-twirling hat that is used to trace mesmerizing visual patterns as the drummer twirls and flits the hat during the performance in beat with the meter) Pansori vocal recital accompaniment (where the drum is used as a syncopating emphasis during a rap-like tale of traditional stories) and classical orchestra where the chyango drum is used as a rhythmic backbone to string/reed/flute accompaniment.

Another very rare percussion method that can be seen consistently at the Chongdong is the Samgamo dance. (Pictured above) This performance is unique both for its rhythm and synchronized motions of women who each play between a set of three vertically aligned Buk drums in wooden frames. The drummers do visually oriented drumming tricks in the performance such as playing a constant rhythm on a single drum while turning their bodies (such that they bend over backwards) still playing a consistent rhythm.

The Samgamo dance comes from a court-performance tradition and has a circus-like excitement about it, in part due to the contortion tricks the drummers perform in the dance, but also because of the synchronized motions of the drummers. Like watching a tightrope performance (or like the Blue Angels aerial acrobatics) the audience is on the edge of their seats to see if the drummers can stay in perfect synchrony as they execute the continuous tricks among the three drums. Finally, the Samgamo dance has a fascinating rhythm as the tones of three drums of different tone are struck in different combination. In some ways the Samgamo rhythm sound like Flamenco stomping as the seven women beat the enormously complex rhythms in synchrony in similar fashion to flamenco troup dancing.

This is a must-see for anyone visting Seoul. Performances are nightly, year-round.

Chongdong Theater Website

Another good source is the Center for Korean Traditional Arts near the Nambu Bus Terminal in the South of the Han River in Seoul.

National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts

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