Thursday, October 6, 2011

Andong welcomes visitors for the Maskdance Festival

Visitors from all over Korea are flocking to Andong this week for the Andong International Maskdance Festival. Under the slogan "Festival, make me a King!", the festival runs until October 9.

Festival-goers are treated to a variety of activities and traditional performances from all over Korea and the world. International dance troupes at the festival include Srinakharinwirot from Thailand, which was formed about 40 years ago by a group of students and professors who were worried that the increasing popularity of mainstream western music was threatening traditional Thai music. Still more dance troupes come from Israel, Uzbekistan, China, and more.

Dancers in masks participate in the Harmony Parade in front of outside the Maskdance Theatre (photos by Jon Dunbar).

Festivities are being staged at the Maskdance Theatre, on Culture Street in downtown Andong, and in nearby Hahoe Village, a traditional Joseon village that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. The stage there is positioned among pine trees on the riverbank, where audiences can see traditional folk dances from regions all over Korea such as Tongyeong, Gangneung, and Yangju. Hahoe Village is accessed by bus, and the ride takes 50 minutes. For more information, visit (Korean, English, Japanese).

Korean mask dances, or "talchum," are derived from traditional Shamanistic practices dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty, and incorporate dancing, music, drama, and audience participation. Masked dancers portray people, animals, and supernatural beings. Many mask dances, such as Goseong Ogwangdae, offer social satire of the Joseon Dynasty, depicting the Yangban, or aristocratic class, often in a negative light. Other mask characters include Seonbi (the scholar), Gaksital (the bride), Imae (village idiot), and Jujital (head monk).

Facing the stage, there is a giant statue of a Hahoe dancer, depicted wearing a Yangban mask.

Visitors are also treated to more interactive activities, such as demonstrations of traditional wedding and funeral ceremonies, as well as ancestral rites ceremonies and tea and wine-drinking ceremonies. Taekwondo demonstrations are staged throughout the week. For younger children, there are even small amusement park rides. Many other folk festival events are offered as well, including a Shamanistic ritual feast, a bonfire, and a Naebanggasa (a genre of Korean traditional women's literature) chanting contest.

Festival-goers participate in a funeral ceremony (left); Some festival-goers get in the spirit by wearing their masks (right).

Another popular activity is mask-decorating, in which visitors get a cardboard mask and paints for decorating. The paints are a unique product, made of small coloured beads that can be smeared on the mask surface without leaving a mark on hands or clothes. Prior to the festival, students and adults were invited to submit their creative mask designs, and the best masks are on display outside the Maskdance Theatre.

Festival-goers decorate their own masks (left); Entries of the Creative Mask Contest are on display (right).

As well as typical Korean fast foods, the festival offers several of Andong’s specialty dishes. Grills are set up to cook mackerel, an Andong delicacy. For adults with a strong stomach, the Andong Soju distillery has a boot set up to give out free samples and sell bottles of soju. Andong Soju is prepared using centuries-old techniques coupled with a unique vacuum distillation method. Bottles start at 3,000 won and increase in price along with the alcohol proof and quality of the bottle. Find out more about Andong Soju here: (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese).

Fresh mackerel, a staple of Andong, is fried up for hungry festival-goers (left); a bottle of Andong Soju in the style of a Yangban mask (right).

The festival finishes on Sunday with the final round of the World Maskplay Contest, as well as the final Hahoe Maskdance at the Maskdance Theatre at 6 p.m. and the Dongnae Maskdance in Hahoe Village at 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit the official website: (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, German).


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