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Angella Kwon: Showcasing Korea at the Fringe

By | Published on Tuesday 18 August 2015


This year’s Edinburgh Fringe includes its first ever showcase of Korean work, presenting dance, comedy and theatre through five shows performed by a hand-picked selection of companies based in South Korea.
The season has been curated by Angella Kwon, who first produced at the Fringe seventeen years ago, presenting the first Korean show to ever appear at the festival, ‘Nanta’. We spoke to Angella about her aims and ambitions for this new showcase, and about the shows that appear this year.

CC: So, why a season of Korean shows at the Edinburgh Festival, and why now?
AK: I think this current decade, in particular, has seen the popularisation of Korean culture worldwide. The recent success of Psy on YouTube brought Korea to the attention of the internet generation, while Korean TV dramas continue to make inroads into the Western market, after dominating market share in Asia. So, seventeen years after ‘Nanta’ was the first Korean show at the Edinburgh Fringe, we wanted to present a whole selection of companies and performers from Korea, to build on the newfound interest in this faraway place by bringing the best of the country to the world’s stage, and broadening the audience’s experience of it, beyond the TV drama or YouTube videos.

CC: Tell us about your own Fringe experiences to date.
SK: 1999 was my first year at the Fringe, and that magical experience changed my life. There were 1300 shows from all over the world and I was mesmerised by the amazing artists and audience that came to the Festival. Now there are well over 3000 shows, and I can’t believe it’s still growing!

CC: How did you go about picking the companies and shows for this inaugural season?
AK: Korean companies from all genres were invited to apply to participate, though theatre, dance, physical theatre and music were our initial preferences. We then had a judging panel who were looking for interesting uses of different art forms, and especially those that included Korean traditions in some way.

CC: It does feel like you have tried to pick an eclectic mix of shows, rather than just one art form. Was that important to you?
SK: Yes, it was very important. If someone asks me what’s the ‘Korean style’, or what’s the most popular performing arts genre in Korea, I don’t have a simple answer. And we wanted to represent that variety across the programme.

CC: Have all the featured companies performed at the Fringe before, or are there any first-timers? What advice did you give the first-timers before they headed to this unique festival?
AK: Two of the companies featured have been to the Fringe before, three are new to Edinburgh. For the latter groups, we had to explain that the Fringe is a little like a war, and each show needs to fight to survive by itself! But at the same time, you can feel the spirit and energy of the Festival as soon as you arrive, and it’s a feeling you don’t get anywhere else. The Fringe is very tiring for the performers, of course, being on the street everyday grabbing the audience’s attention, and then getting on stage and performing each day too. And for our first-timers, there’s the simple challenge of dealing with the cultural differences, food, language, and so on. But we know that once the Festival is over, and everyone goes back to their ordinary lives, they will miss the Fringe so badly! Which is why people try so hard to come back the next year. The Edinburgh Festival really has this magic spell.

CC: How are the companies finding their Edinburgh experience so far?
AK: Needless to say, everyone’s quite tired. But as we’re surrounded by the people all experiencing the same thing, it’s still a real joy to be part of it all. And we’re all still pretty mesmerised by this beautiful city.

CC: Let’s quickly discuss the shows themselves. Tell us about ‘Leodo’ and the art form it revives.
AK: ’Leodo : The Paradise’ is a performance inspired by Korean shamanic ritual. The official tourist site of Korea explains that “the ‘gut’ is a rite in which the shaman offers a sacrifice to the spirits and, through singing and dancing, begs them to intercede in the fortunes of the world. The shaman wears a colourful ritual costume, speaks while in a trance as a spiritual oracle, and sings and dances to the accompaniment of music”.

CC: There’s a number of dance productions in your programme, how do they compare?
AK: ‘One Fine Day’ involves contemporary dance, unlike ‘Pan’ and ‘Leodo’ which are more traditional. The company behind it, EDx2, is one of Korea’s most celebrated contemporary dance companies, who have toured to over 30 countries, and the show is a double bill of two of their most acclaimed works.

CC: You have a show for younger Festival-goers too. What happens in that?
AK: ‘Brush’ is an innovative Korean family show for ages two plus where paintings are created and come to life live on stage. It includes a creative mix of music, puppetry, dance and storytelling.

CC: And finally let’s talk about ‘Lotto’, which seems to be a magic show with a narrative.
AK: Yes, an energetic and multi-talented cast – and the creators of Fringe hits ‘Cookin’ and ‘Jump’ – came together to produce this brand new show, which we’re billing as “The Alchemist meets Charlie Chaplin”. It features a cast of Korea’s top illusionists including Juno Moon, who won the prestigious Magic Association Of FISM Award

CC: I know you intend to make this Korean season at the Fringe a regular annual event. What plans do you have for the initiative in the future?
AK: For the first year, we’re presenting five shows covering theatre, comedy and dance. For 2016, there’ll be seven shows, including music and another art form, and then in 2017 there’ll be nine shows. We look forward to many more years of this new initiative, and to introducing the very best in Korean performance to a global audience at the world’s biggest arts festival.

Angella Kwon’s season of South Korean shows appeared at Assembly venues at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

Photo by Kat Gollock