- Performing Korea by Patrice Pavis
Patrice Pavis' current book, entitled Performing Korea, is a record of contemporary Korean performances, examining what the author "perceived" as Korean performance from the viewpoint of a foreign spectator. This experience resulted from "seeing Korean dance and theatre almost every day" (p. 249) during the author's stay in South Korea between 2011 and 2012. This book's greatest asset is how it provides insight into the contemporary landscape of Korean theatre. In this book, Pavis explores and analyzes "everyday practices drawn from his own experience of wandering" Korea (p. xi), of which his viewpoint is also partly inspired by Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs. With a diversity of artistic practices from Korean performances and dances to K-pop and Pansori adaptations the author shows and (re)arranges contemporary theatre practices by writing about emerging and "unknown" directors' works into the very contemporary context of Korean theatre. This approach thus offers a new understanding of Korean theatre, which can be replicated outside of Korea in the global context of contemporary theatre.
Performing Korea has five parts consisting of 16 chapters. In part, titled "Introduction to the Examples and to the Method," the author looks at "theatre and theatre research in Korea and elsewhere" (chapter 1), "Globalization in a few Korean performances" (chapter 2), and "Mise en Scène made in Korea" (chapter 3). By delineating the feature of Korean practitioners that "they place themselves, without regrets or hang-ups, in a multipolar, globalized world" (p. 11), Pavis states that [End Page 506] "[m]y examples will not be Korean traditional forms, but practices involving Euro-American texts, performances, and forms, performed by Korean artists and best explained from their point of view, with their understanding of interculturalism, of Koreanization" (p. 30). Korean stage productions are understood "in no way standardized, which should prompt the critic to analyze with more care what kind of Koreanization is taking place in each specific case" (p. 53). The author defines the opaque and complex term Koreanization as one which "means adapting the play to the special needs of a new audience" (pp. 63–64). From this point of view, Pavis argues, Korean theatre practitioners' "styles and methods of showing Koreanness do not differ radically from the Koreanization of a foreign play" (p. 65) as a product of "an idealized and stereotypical view of the past . . . and . . . a self- and state-induced way of staging accessible and exportable texts and performances" (p. 65).
Part 2, titled "On a Few Theatre Productions," describes contemporary practices on Korean stage, ranging from well-known theatre directors' works to emerging directors' such as Lee Young-Seok's Coming Up Air and Kim Minseung's I, Na Hyeseok, the Undesirable. This second part of the book also includes a comparison of French and Korean playwrights' use of dramaturgical structure and theme. What makes part 2 interesting is that the author analyzes, in a very meticulous way, which performances embody "telling style and technique," as a new attempt to aestheticize contemporary Korean theatre. In this regard, this book challenges a dominant narrative of contemporary Korean theatre that focuses more on famous directors' productions in terms of popularity in favor of highlighting some emergent artists.
In my view, part 3, "On a Few Theatre-Dance and Dance Performances" and part 4 "On a Few Cultural Performances" are the most interesting sections of the book. These two parts contain work on K-pop and installation art, thereby broadening this book's exploration of Korean culture and theatre. By bringing up margins of contemporary Korean theatre narrative into one of symptomatic phenomena, this book articulates how the diversity of Korean practices can be understood without "the risk of ethnocentrism and cultural prejudice or appropriation" (p. 31). This is best highlighted by the fact that the author "had ample access to the empirical and naïve dimension of everyday existence" of Korean people (p. 258).
In part 5, titled "Epilogue," the author writes, "[m]y only ambition in Korea was to attend a few shows, to do micro-analyses...