Great performers earn the title of "Intangible National Treasure" in Korea, and Sun Ock Lee, who gave a varied program of her nation's traditional dances at the Smithsonian's Baird Hall last night, studied with three such masters. She is a subtle artist who can convey a mood with the flicker of her eyes or with a barely perceptible quickening of her breath.
The dances of the nobility were the most restrained.The performer walks slowly and deliberately with a slight rise and fall and, as in Japan's Gagaku style, the purpose seems to be the display of the rich and voluminous court dress. Much more active, with jumps and spurts of speed, were the dances of the common people. They are mostly of rural origin and the clothing, even if festive, show more of the body's shape.
A unique alphabet dance showed all the Korean classical steps and positions; the arms were balletic but the feet pointed at the heel instead of the toe. Religious dances were haunting maneuvers. A perverted one is used by women who want to seduce priests. They dress as acolytes and gradually reveal their nature. The culmination is a virtuoso orgy of triumphant or frustrated dance drumming.