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Captivating Performance: The Magic of “Sim Chung” at SAC on Screen

Captivating Performance: The Magic of “Sim Chung” at SAC on Screen

Jerry Adesewo

In September 2023, I was engaged by the Korean Cultural Centre in Nigeria to facilitate one of their signature Cultural Exchange initiatives, SAC on Screen, a global showcase of Korean theatrical performances designed to enhance the accessibility of performing arts by broadcasting high-quality recordings of live performances from the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) to a worldwide audience.

Fast forward to 2024, when another edition of SAC on Screen was initiated, during which three Korean live performances will be screened over three months. This time, the event was open to a mix of professionals, students, and the general public.

“Sim Chung,” our second show in this series, is a powerful narrative rooted in Korean folklore, brought to life with innovative neoclassical choreography by the esteemed director Adrienne Dellas, the founding artistic director of Universal Ballet, the producers of the show. This stage production captivated my audience with its blend of classical ballet and contemporary dance elements, underscoring the timeless themes of love, sacrifice, and transformation.

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It tells the story of a young, devoted daughter who sacrifices herself to restore her blind father’s sight. Sim Chung’s father loses his vision while mourning his wife’s death, and the impoverished family struggles to survive. To help her father regain his sight, Sim Chung agrees to be sacrificed to the sea gods in exchange for a substantial donation to a temple. Miraculously, she is saved by the Dragon King and later returns to the human world. During an emotional reunion, Sim Chung’s touch restores her father’s sight, symbolizing the transformative power of love and sacrifice.

Sim Chung
Participants at the SAC on Screen session

What struck me, and a handful of my audience, was not just the beautiful storyline, but the sheer excellence and magical feel of the production in its totality, which I will attempt a cursory review of in this article, despite my very limited knowledge of ballet.

“Sim Chung” is a testament to Dellas’s artistic prowess, characterized by a harmonious blend of classical ballet and modern dance. Dellas’s fusion of classical precision, modern fluidity, and Korea’s traditional dance patterns is magical. The traditional ballet techniques provide a solid foundation, while contemporary movements infuse the performance with a dynamic and expressive quality. This blend allows the dancers to convey deep emotions and complex narratives through their movements, creating a rich, multi-layered experience for the audience, even as we were only watching a recorded version.

The set design of “Sim Chung,” which premiered in 1986 with an estimated production cost of $500,000, is minimalist yet evocative, creating an atmosphere that enhances the storytelling. The set comprises simple yet effective elements such as traditional Korean architecture and symbolic props, which serve to ground the narrative in its cultural context. The use of a minimalist approach ensures that the focus remains on the dancers and their expressive movements.

Captivating Performance: The Magic of "Sim Chung" at SAC on Screen
Participants watching Sim Chung at the Korean Cultural Centre, Nigeria

The sheer beauty of the costumes was not only complementary but also beautiful to behold. The costumes of “Sim Chung” are richly detailed and vibrant, reflecting traditional Korean hanbok styles, with particular opulence in the Dragon King palace underwater scenes, where the attire features intricate designs and shimmering fabrics to evoke the mythical and aquatic environment, repeatedly wowing my audience.

Lighting plays a crucial role in this production, accentuating the emotional tones and highlighting key moments. The lighting design employs a range of techniques, from soft, ethereal glows to stark, dramatic contrasts, to underscore the narrative’s shifts in mood and tension. For instance, the scene where Sim Chung sacrifices herself is bathed in a somber, blue light, evoking the depth and danger of the sea, while her reunion with her father is illuminated with warm, golden hues, symbolizing hope and renewal.

Though an American, Dellas skillfully integrates elements of Korean culture into the production, enhancing its authenticity and depth. The use of traditional Korean costumes and symbolic gestures enriches the narrative, creating a culturally immersive experience. For instance, the scene where Sim Chung is offered to the sea gods features a traditional Korean ritual dance that adds a layer of cultural significance to her sacrifice.

Captivating Performance: The Magic of "Sim Chung" at SAC on Screen
Post Event Photo Session of the participants

The choreography of “Sim Chung” is meticulously crafted to reflect the emotional journey of its characters. Sim Chung’s sacrifice is depicted with grace and poignancy, highlighting her selflessness and strength. The moment when she touches her father’s face and his sight is miraculously restored is rendered with delicate expressiveness, symbolizing the transformative power of love and sacrifice. This pivotal scene, both literal and metaphorical, captures the essence of the narrative, leaving a lasting impact on the audience.

The musicality in “Sim Chung” is another hallmark of Dellas’s directorial excellence. The choreography is closely intertwined with the music, with movements that echo the rhythms and nuances of the score, such that my legs were twitching constantly throughout the show. This synergy between dance and music heightens the emotional resonance of the performance, drawing us all deeper into the narrative.

Dancers Hong Hyang-gee and Lee Dong-tak perform “Sim Chung.” (Universal Ballet) Photo Credit: The Korea Herald

Adrienne Dellas’s “Sim Chung” stands as a testament to her artistic vision and her ability to bring classic tales to life through the medium of dance. Her neoclassical approach, combined with a deep understanding of cultural narratives, ensures that her productions continue to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.

It is worth noting that the first production, ‘In Thin Air,’ was directed by Israeli choreographer Idit Herman, and ‘Sim Chung’ was directed by American Adrienne Dellas. This raises the question of whether an African has ever directed any of Korea’s international collaboration productions. Although we didn’t receive a definitive answer, we thoroughly enjoyed ‘Sim Chung’ and the magical experience it offered us. We eagerly await the next production.

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