Without words or scenery or conventional mime, the members of the National Dance Troupe of Korea miraculously evoke distinct and complete milieus ranging from ancient village rituals to court splendors. The eloquence of the company's dance and acting also conjures marvelously subtle emotional worlds in which words would be all but extraneous.
In a performance last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall presented by the Korean Embassy, the large company provided a splendid sampler of Korean dance -- from the earthy acrobatics of exuberant folk dance to restrained and abstract court dances to ecstatic religious dances.
The different styles were naturally encompassed within the plot of the full-length dance drama "Tomi's Story," choreographed by Song Beom. Based on a 13th-century Korean legend of an evil king who uses his power to destroy two lovers, "Tomi's Story" is complete with apotheosis.
The form of this dance drama would be familiar to westerners as essentially that of the ballet classics -- that is, as a love story in which abundant evil and supernatural intervention allow generous play for mime and dance.
It was the superb acting of all the principals that distinguished the work, particularly that of the exquisite Yang Sung-ok as Tomi's wife -- for, despite its title, the story is actually hers. The supporting characters were each masterful creations adding to the depth of this world, from the dance of seduction by the wife's friend to the repelling yet fascinating toadying of the king's flunky.
The program also featured a mixed repertory that included a Fan Dance, religious dances and the most popular and spectacular of all Korean folk dance, the Farmer's Dance. In all of these, props, costumes and instruments extended the dancers' bodies so that the movements were magnified, defining and sculpting the larger space around the bodies. The accompaniment included complex percussive rhythms, much of which the dancers created by playing gongs, drums and cymbals as they moved.