Dulsori: Wild Beat

With soaring colors, whipping ribbons, and vigorous acoustic sounds, Dulsori: Wild Beat transports a piece of traditional, Korean history to the Barclay Theatre and presents it with a contemporary flair, energetic tones, and dynamic dancing.

The program was divided into sections that each focused upon a wide range of cultural aspects of the pre-modern Korean lifestyle, from the importance of prayer to the gods to an optimistic outlook on life through “A Sailor’s Song.”

Opening the first of two acts, “Gil-no-ri”, literally “street fun”, commenced within the audience from the back of the theatre. Interacting with the crowd, the performers danced their way to the stage with colossal energy, banging their traditional drums strapped upon their backs.

In “Ta-jing”, the three jings, or, gongs, are introduced. The first gong, reminiscent of the more renowned, pancake-shaped ones, renders a clashing, cacophonous noise while another smaller, rounder gong produces a high pitched, delicate sound. The last one emits a much deeper tone than the other two do. The performers manipulate the dins by either striking the metal with swiftness or with a blunt force, muting the waves.

In addition, an interaction between the painter and the music occurs in the background. A thick, black calligraphy-like medium is applied with an enormous brush on an empty canvas. The strokes create a mountain along with birds in the sky, symbolic for the gods of heaven and earth. The music complements the movement of the artist who then wears a nest of eggs upon his back as a heavy burden, a tribute to a mother’s yearning for her family’s prosperity and health to the deities.

Yet, “The Beat” and “Eo-eo-yeop” provide an ecstatic and festive transition. The performers wear feathered costumes much like those of an ostrich and long streams of ribbons are attached to the middle of their hats. Twirling their heads, the long, narrow material swishes about, forming iridescent illusions of silver, gold, and white.

The anticipation grows more as the stage lights up for part two. With the audience taken back by surprise by the grand display of handsome drums supported upon chestnut, wooden foundations detailed with carved designs, this family of drums ranges from tiny to gigantic, breathtaking sized ones. The second the performers lash their sticks upon the surface in unison, the bass intensifies and echoes. They pound mercilessly in a rhythmic, heart-pounding pace.

Intermittently roaring out grunts and “Huah’s!”, the musicians yell with such ferocity and enthusiastic magnitude. It seems the performers feel the waves of energy from their instruments soak into themselves and project back into the audience. Nearly head-banging, they possess amazing precision and timing, unfailingly demonstrating the unity in their rhythm of the drums and acrobatic-type moves from the intricate movements of their arms and feet. The level of high tension continues on from beginning to end with a gradual crescendo of the tempo.

Donning the customary clothing of the time, the musicians exhibit a varying line of entertainment, street-wear costumes throughout the show rather than the brightly colored, more well-known hanbok. They impress with the silkiness, exquisite patterns, and radiant colors from their sashes on their waists and the cords on their drums.

Furthermore, the musicians’ facial expressions evoke a sense of allurement to the ongoing beat while the layout of puffs of smoke and moody lighting from the stage aid in the production’s attempt to showcase a mystical scenario.

A prominent feature attached to the music was a young woman’s gut-wrenching voice. Strong and sorrowful, husky and deep, she sings with longing which is accented by striking vibrations.

Dulsori means “Hearbeat of the Land” and its musical origins extend back to the B.C. era. Primarily played for the royal courts, jeongak, or for folk music, the Korean drums are handmade out of leather and fixed with nails or tied back with leather straps.

Not only were the drums exhibited, but other instruments such as the taepyeongso (oboe), daegeum (bamboo flute), gayageum (zither) and bak (wooden clapper) were played, displaying the casts’ multiple talents. They harmonized well with the drums, forming an ensemble projecting melodic, catchy tunes.

An awe-inspiring mixture of the contemporary and tradition, Dulsori provides another facet to the musical entertainment and devotes a deep appreciation of the traditional, acoustic roots on a global scale from Eastern history.