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Exporting Korea’s High Arts, Culture Abroad

Six years after Seoul Arts Centre (SAC) started its SAConScreen project, aimed at making ‘high arts’ such as ballet, concerts, operas etc available and affordable to the poorest Korean child and population, Korea has begun exporting its high arts abroad via its cultural centres.

The country’s culture centres in Abuja, Nigeria, and Ottawa, Canada are screening the 2016 reproduction of Universal Ballet Company’s Shim Chung.

Shim Chung, a Korean folk tale remodeled into a ballet performance, tells of the travails and triumph of a motherless young maiden, who sold herself as a sacrifice to the sea dragon king to save her father. The five acts, over a seven-scene plot, take viewers from the girl’s tumultuous journey to the sea king, her release and return to land, in the royal palace of an earth’s emperor and the final reunification with her parent; all rendered in hanbok inspired costumes, with exaggerated but gracefully punctuated ballet movements and timely expressions.

Moreover, the performance inserts Korea’s story, values, traditional setting & lifestyle, and culture in this western art form. At the same time, contemporising Korea’s traditional fashion.

The ballet, screened in Korea Culture Centre, Nigeria, on April 23, while it is scheduled for screening at the Korea Culture Centre, Canada, on this month. Last year, the Abuja centre screened SAC’s classical music concert.

Modelled after the United States’ The Metropolitan Arts & Museum, MetonScreen, that distributes its videos for affordable price to arts centres, the beauty of SAConScreen is its ability to present live, front-seat viewing experience to its audience, despite the fact that livestreaming is currently overtaking this form.

Highpoints of this screened art form, are the cameras’ focus on the projected roiling sails of the merchants’ ship, rendering a tumultuous impression to the static scene of Shim Chung’s climb to the ship’s steeple, and a realness to her pre-recorded feet-first dive, and gradual descent to the depths of the sea. Concerning the number of cameras deployed to achieve this live viewing effect, MetonScreen is known to have used 17 cameras for this effect.

Further commendable were the one-sentences as intros, explaining parts of acts unclearly projected by dancers acting or movement.

Reaction of the Nigerian audience is dicey at best, since they are not used to the ballet art form, though they are heavy moviegoers and watchers. The sparse audience at the KCCN studio, grew thinner by the end of the performance.

While the participating audience of mainly teen-aged Hangeul students – K-pop and K-drama enthusiasts seemed to love the plot by their, reactions earlier into the screening, the thin audience could be attributed to further reasons as the absence of self-representation on-screen, zero dancers among the audience, and heretofore unknown existence of African dancers in Korea.


The addressing of, or presence of the later three challenges, through the rental or distribution of such films to art/dance workshops on celebratory days or for studio use, and the presentation of black artistes, and signs of opportunities for African dancers and artistes in this supposedly world standard arts centre, will increase interest and attendance in the “high culture/arts’.


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