Hahoe Mask Dance Drama
By Shim Hyun-chul
The spacious square is packed with a horde of onlookers, who sway and clap to the energetic rhythm of gongs and drums. A jester hypes up the mirth with dance movements that are as droll as the grin on his mask. A rumble of laughter fills the air as the jester throws brogue-ridden lines at the crowd. There is no separation between the stage and audience, as viewers also call out reprimanding remarks to the comedian while wearing smiles that resemble his mask.
The Hahoe Mask Dance Drama originated in Hahoe Village, Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, and dates back to the mid-12th century, being the oldest among the country's mask dances. It was performed by and for the common people.
Designated Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 69, the dance drama is part of a shamanist ritual for the town's peace and prosperity. It took place around the Lunar New Year's day, with an interval of three to 10 years but also on special occasions throughout the year, such as for warding off evil spirits.
The drama comprises of 10 acts, each of which features different themes and various characters represented by wooden masks. The masks represent different members of society, such as a blushing bride, a depraved monk and a greedy aristocrat.
In the Butcher's Act, the butcher takes down a bull and comically offers the testicles for sale, poking fun at the ruling class' conservative attitudes about sex. One scene criticizes corruption in religious circles of the time through a monk who runs away with a woman. Another act satirizes the hypocrisy of the ruling class.
The Hahoe Mask Dance Drama Preservation Society offers performances at the Hahoe Village. The full 10-act drama is staged once a year while the six-act version is presented on weekends.
For more information, visit the Hahoe Mask Dance Drama Preservation Society's Web site www.hahoemask.co.kr or call (054)854-3664; or visit Hahoe Village's Web site www.hahoe.or.kr or call (054)852-3588.