A Seoul performance of the palilmu
Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 9, 2008
HERE’S A SERENDIPITOUS FIND: While looking for something else, I ran across a snippet in the Korea Times about the palilmu performance in Seoul last Sunday. The palilmu is a dance performed on the first Sunday in May by 64 women divided equally into eight rows. (It’s a yin and yang thang!)
The dance was brought from China and first performed in Korea in 1116 during the Goryeo dynasty. During the Joseon dynasty, it was incorporated into the Jongmyo Daejae, or Royal Shrine Ritual, a rite to honor the ancestors of the royal family. (The Jongmyo is the royal shrine.)
It used to be a common sight once upon a time, as it was performed five times a year (the first month of each season and in December), but that ended when the Japanese arrived. The performances resumed in 1965.
The word palilmu is derived from pal, or the number eight, and ilmu, which is a line dance. The entire ritual includes other ceremonies, music, and dance, and is conducted according to Confucian practice. That’s not surprising, because Confucianism has been a strong influence in Korea, much more so than in Japan.
After watching the video here, which supposedly has explanations in four languages, I was struck by the similarity of the music with that of gagaku, or the ancient ceremonial music of the Japanese court. (Not the instrumentation, but the underlying music itself.) Like palilmu, gagaku music and dance originated in China (with some performances also coming from Korea), and neither are performed in China today.
There are two varieties of palilmu: munmu and mumu. The women perform munmu in the first part of the video, with three-holed bamboo flutes in their left hand and a wooden bar adorned with pheasant feathers in their right. The latter part of the video shows the mumu, which is a military dance. The dancers in the first four rows wield wooden swords, and those in the last four rows hold spears.
The ceremony has been designated a Korean intangible cultural asset, and (not that it makes any difference) part of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of the world. (Here’s the explanation on the UNESCO site.)
I would have loved to have been there to see it, but the video’s the next best thing!
Postscript: Here’s a YouTube clip of a gagaku dance for comparison. Keep in mind the form also includes other dances and music unaccompanied by dance.