The audience does not see the hands of a Korean court dancer; they are encased in long, flowing sleeves that extend several feet beyond the fingertips, giving a more-than-human dimension to arm gestures and providing a convenient place to conceal such essential dance equipment as drumsticks or bouquets.

Elaborately costumed (with red the predominating color but a great variety of others to suit different moods and themes), the musicians and dancers of the National Classical Music Institute of Korea made an unusual appeal both to the eye and to the ear last night in the Baird Auditorium.It was ancient court music, with roots going back a millenium or more in some cases -- ritualistic, restrained and doubly exotic in terms of time and space, but it communicated immediately and beautifully with an enthusiastic audience.

Like the Korean word which designates it ("Aak," related to the Chinese "Ya-Yueh" and, more clearly, to the Japanese "Gagaku"), this sonic and visual art clearly has links to those of China and Japan but is also clearly unique, reflecting a very distinctive culture (one that has, for example, an alphabet of its own, dating back to the 1300s, when Koreans invented movable type 200 years before Gutenberg).

One of the most striking women's dances included a ball game in its choreography; another was a sword dance with no trace of ferocity, and best of all was a drum dance in which some of the dancers, equipped with drumsticks, contributed to the music. But probably the oldest and certainly the most impressive was the men's masked "Dance of the Son of the Dragon of the Eastern Sea."

Outstanding among the musicians were Kyu-nam Hwang, who sang and played a p'iri (oboe), and Sang-kyu Lee, who played the taegum, a bamboo flute with interesting differences from the Japanese shakuhachi.