The musicians and dancers from the National Classical Music Institute of Korea who brought Aak (Korean court music and dance) to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night provided a kaleidoscopic sampling of the color, ritual and style of a rich and lengthy Oriental artistic tradition. Throughout an evening of unusual variety, the senses were dazzled by, first, the colors and dignity of the musicians as they sat solemnly on the floor for the opening instrumental piece translated as "Long Life as Immeasurable as the Sky"; then by the sounds, some as familiar as the wide-bored flutes, played with the improvisational virtuosity of the great jazz artists, some as foreign as the various "zithers" on which microtonal ornamentation is so idiomatic. The ensemble included double reeds that sounded at times like bagpipes, and at times like the most gentle, mournful cry. The sounds were punctuated by drums and ordered about by a green-clad director who snapped together wooden paddles with whip-like authority.
When the dancers appeared, it was in stately, highly stylized slow motion--four women who wove lovely figures around a display of what were presumably peonies.
There were dances of the four corners of the universe performed by marvelously masked men, a broadly comic Buddhist spoof and a splendid loud processional that combined the precision of martial authority with the vigor of peasant exuberance.
Most enthralling to these Western ears was the "Drum Dance," a solo performance by a dancer in white with a red cape who, with her back to the audience, played a suspended drum while moving beautifully to the rhythmic patterns she was creating. This, again, was part of a Buddhist ritual.
These dances and the music are part of an oral tradition that extends back centuries. The institute that presented them is not only a performing organization, but a scholarly one as well, dedicated to researching every aspect of this historical art. Their efforts made very good theater.