The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is well known for its riverside establishment and venues such as The Rose Theatre. Less familiar might be the fact that the borough is also home to the largest Korean population in the UK, but that said, it is no surprise that Kingston is now home to a festival celebrating their vast culture and heritage. The borough joined forces with Arts Interlink and the Rose Theatre to curate a stunning array of Korean music, comedy, dance, trade and design, all held in the mere 10 days between the 30th of July to 8th of September.

The audience witnessed exquisite performance by an outstanding ensemble of young musicians, including pianist Yoo- seok Shin and violinist Grace Yeo, both of whom drew a large crowd. This popularity did not, however, detract from the success of the more traditional performances- Kim Hee- sun and Lee Ji- jung’s exquisite display on the gayageum being particularly delightful as well as Huh Yun- jeong (geomungo), Lee Tai- baek (ajaeng), Lee Seok- ju’s (piri) performances.

The real treat of the festival, however, was a performance of pan’sori, the musical story telling style peculiar to Korea. One of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This pansori performance was presented by Kim Seong- a and Im Hyeon-bin as the tale of of a man’s struggle with everyday life.The delivery of the narrative through song and the punctuation of the drummer’s accompaniment transformed, what would otherwise be, a familiar tale of life and woe into epic experience, highlighting how much interest in a story in a product of its delivery.

Dance has always been an important part of Korean cultural heritage. The festival’s tribute to this importance was in the form of several splendid performances by nine of the ladies from The Institute of Traditional Korean Culture, including, most notably, director and performer In Nam Soo. I myself was unable to attend the performance, but met later with a friend who is both a writer and a dancer, and who freely lauded the show as the most engaging he’d seen in months. The show consisted of four performances of Sogochum, a dance form centered around the inclusion and beat of a small hand drum, and which bears a striking resemblance to more contemporary forms of dance.

There is, of course, more to Korean arts and culture than just the traditional, and festival attendees had a virtual cornucopia of more modern options, least of which were Ongals in Babbling Comedy and nights dancing to music by DJ Seoul Train. Attendees also had the chance to go and see a modern adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, arranged and choreographed by Hyo-jin Kim. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the show myself, and chose not to read about the performance beforehand so I could go in without knowing what to expect. At the end of it all, one thing was undeniable. Alice in Wonderland had amazed me. Despite having seen more than a few modern adaptations of Alice and her adventures, this was my first experience of the story transcending any verbal or written form. Dance was this performance’s medium of narration, Hyo-jin’s complex and spectacular choreography the only dialogue between performers. It is safe to say that there’s never been a tribute to Alice quite like it.

After the show, I had a brief conversation with Hyo-jin about the production process. I was surprised to find out that although it took a year to prepare the show, the choreography and visual images took only four months for the dancers and technicians to master. To Kim it was a personal production: “I got interested in Alice in Wonderland purely because Alice is an icon of an imagination and creativity. As a parent myself, I wanted, through this piece, to deliver that creativity and imagination to my own child. However, while I was producing the show, I realised that there are two perspectives in it, one of an adult one and the other one of a child. The gap between the adult and the child was big. I wanted to overcome this issue through my work. I hope I managed to do that.”  

Showing Alice in Wonderland was, without a doubt, a great end to the fantastic 10 day festival. I would like to express my gratitude towards Mrs Hye- jung Joen for her involvement in promoting the Korean culture in the UK. Without her, we wouldn’t have had the London Korean Film Festival as well as other events promoting the country’s culture.                                                                 

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Alice in Wonderland (Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck)

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Alice in Wonderland (Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck)


Alice in Wonderland (Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck)


Alice in Wonderland (Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck)

Written by Maggie Gogler

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About View of the Arts

We are enthusiasts of the arts, passionate about cinema, theatre, and literature. Maggie is a freelance film producer, production manager and she also works with children. Sanja is a freelance translator, occasional writer and a perpetual dreamer. Film is her first and longest-lasting love. Roxy is an Arts Journalist, who writes for several magazines and websites.


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