Making its first appearance in this country at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, the Korean Folk Dance Troupe (representing the Traditional Dance Society of Korea) proved to be wholly engaging in spirit, visually fascinating and pleasurably instructive.
The 14 performers turned out to be not just dancers, but also -- in consonance with the polydexterous traditions of Oriental theater arts -- musicians, singers and actors as well. The program included samplings of Buddhist and shaman rituals, ceremonies from the ancient royal court, folk dances and also a genre called "free dance" (Hottnchum), which revealed a surprising conceptual kinship with what we Americans term "modern dance."
The repertoire had many other aspects Westerners might not expect to encounter. For example, among the most artful dancers were several of a very advanced age; almost all the numbers were solos, with considerable latitude for personal inflection; some pieces showed not only a taste for comedy, but broadly satirical caricature as well; and in the free dance, the interplay between dancers and musicians was oddly like that between hoofers and jazz players.
The step vocabulary, based on a soft flexion of the leg joints, seemed relatively limited, but the movement achieves a floating quality allowing for extreme delicacy of statement and nuance. Clearly these Koreans are heir to an enormously rich dance culture. One hopes the future will bring us more frequent exposure to it.