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Dance drama 'Modern Jeongdong' travels back to early 1900s

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : May 3, 2024 - 16:44

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Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong. Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong." (Yonhap)

In the 1920s, a "modern breeze" swept through Gyeongseong, as today's Seoul was called during the Japanese colonial period.

Leading this movement were Korean women who earned the moniker "modern girls" for embracing Western attire, wearing suits and high heels and adopting progressive thinking.

Breathing life into the bygone streets of Jeongdong, where this modern wind first stirred, is the National Jeongdong Theater with its latest dance drama, "Modern Jeongdong."

The narrative follows Yu Yeong, a figure from 2024, as she slips a century into the past to Jeongdong, encountering modern girls of that era, Hwa-seon and Yeon-sil.

"While the colonial era had its shadows, it was also a period of diverse changes. Jeongdong stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of history and culture that defined the modern era," said artistic director Choung Soung-sook during a press conference held Thursday.

Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong. Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong." (Yonhap)
Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong. Actors rehearse a scene from “Modern Jeongdong." (Yonhap)

The story is told through an array of dynamic dance styles, from Korean traditional dance to Charleston swing and revue dance.

The costumes, props and makeup reflect the fashion trends of that era, transporting audiences back in time.

Pansori performers Yoon Jae-won and Kim Yu-ri perform on stage as singer-narrators. They sing popular songs of the time such as "The Hymn of Death," "Welcoming Spring," and "Maidens and Bachelors," as well as newly composed music inspired by the era.

The LED screen displays a collage of archival footage capturing the era's essence, from bustling Jeongdong Street to the iconic Deoksugung, the Joseon palace in the Jeongdong neighborhood.

But this isn't a mere romanticized portrayal of the modern girl era, said the production team.

Director Ahn Kyung-mo said, "Rather than explicitly depicting the suffering endured by the characters under Japanese rule, we tried to show a collage of images of the romance and despair of the times."

"Modern Jeongdong" runs until Saturday.