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Reviewed by:
  • Perspectives on Korean Dance
  • Yoshiko Fukushima (bio)
Perspectives on Korean Dance. By Judy Van Zile. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001; 334 pp.; illustrations. $70.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.

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Judy Van Zile's investigation of Korean dance focuses on how the dance form has been affected by the historical and political complications of the country. Her lively performance descriptions and photographs create vivid kaleidoscopic images of Korean dance, enabling readers to imagine the dance she analyzes.

In the late 1970s, Van Zile took lessons in Korean dance with Halla Pai Huhn at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Soon after, Van Zile studied court dances in Korea, including the mask dance Ch'ŏyongmu and the sword dance Chinju Kŏmmu. Part of the strength of Van Zile's approach lies in her direct contact with Korean dance as an audience member, student, and interviewer of leading artists, both in Korea and in the United States. Another unique feature of the book is Van Zile's movement analysis of individual dances using Labanotation scores. Her scores, together with figures of floor plans showing the dancer's spatial pathways, give an accurate portrayal of a complex physical language of Korean dance. [End Page 194]

Divided into three parts, Van Zile's book begins with a broad overview of dance in Korea today, including traditional dance, creative dance, ballet, and modern dance. In discussing the government's Korean National Treasure system for Intangible Cultural Assets, Van Zile claims that the system was soon compromised by problems of monetary corruption and standardization of the art. The system, originally established in order to reassert Korean identity following the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, according to Van Zile, "contributes to creating things of the past and hence serves to provide the rationale for constructing an imagined or desired past" (59).

In the second part of her book Van Zile takes a closer look at two court dances designated as Intangible Cultural Assets: Ch'ŏyongmu and Chinju Kŏmmu. Van Zile's Labanotation scores and detailed discussions of historical development of both art forms corroborate her main argument about individual dances as "a way to mark an identity of the past that is integral to an identity of the present" (207). She also examines the life of the court dancer and National Living Treasure for Royal Ancestor shrine and music, Kim Ch' Avoiding critical analysis in this section of the book, Van Zile admires Kim's personal life and contribution to Korean music and dance.

Van Zile's investigation into interconnections between the structured movements of the shaman ritual kut and Korean dance movements is worth noting here. Through Labanotation analysis of videotaped performances, Van Zile notes the tenacity of recurring movements like the zigzag floor pattern in both actual kut and staged kut. According to Van Zile, the correct execution of shamanic movement helps both the shaman and the Korean dancer "achieve a desired state of mind and can dissolve into the individual performance style" (164).

Van Zile concludes her book by examining two Korean dancers, Ch'oe Su .ng-hu .i and Halla Pai Huhm, both of whom performed in the United States. Ch'oe, who studied modern dance with Ishii Baku, danced under the Japanese name of Sai Shoki, made a U.S. tour with a Japanese passport, set up a dance institution in North Korea after World War II, and was later executed as a political enemy. Halla Huhm used Korean dance abroad to help preserve the Korean heritage and identity. Van Zile is an experienced and knowledgeable writer and scholar whose strong attachment to Korean culture, dance, and dancers sometimes diminishes her critical perspective.

Yoshiko Fukushima

Yoshiko Fukushima completed a PhD in the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts/NYU. She is currently Assistant Professor of Japanese at the University of Oklahoma.



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pp. 194-195
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