Gwangju

Gwangju’s Performance Maru

If you are ever in Gwangju between Tuesday and Saturday, and enjoy a bit of cultural entertainment, look no further! Gwangju offers a wide variety of traditional Korean music performances, at zero cost. Situated in the upscale area of SangmuJiGu – SeoGu – Gwangju Culture and Art Center and Gwangju City collaborated to build a Performance Maru(광주공연마루) – performance hall.

This space is dedicated for traiditonal arts, and provided to the public 5 days a week.  The program is varied – from pansori to masked dances to folktale theatre.  My favorite is the 사물놀이 ensemble of 4 instruments – including the 장구 and북 drums, 징 large symbal, and the noisy tin 광과리.

How to get there

There are no buses that stop right in front, but the closest stops are GyeSu Elementary School, or Korea Land and Geospatial Information Corporation.  They still require a 10-min walk, so plan ahead.  The 518 bus, however, stops very near by, at SangMu District stop.

On Fridays, there is a market happening right on the street between the Performance Maru and the Energy park, making that road car-free. 

The 공연마루 performance hall building is in the middle of the Statue Park, and across the street from the Energy park.  It is surrounded by a large pond, and the scene of greenery, skyscraper apartment buildings and blue sky reflecting in the water make for some beautiful summer snapshots.

Program 

The program for September is not announced yet, as Corona has taken its toll again. But it should be up and running again soon. They take all the precautions, rigorous registration process at the entrance, and only every other seat is available.

Every Tuesday – Saturday at 5pm.  The show lasts for one hour.

Reservations are desired, as the venue cannot host more than 100-150 pax, and especially social distancing, the capacity is halved.  If you did not make reservations, just show up at 4.30 and mention you have not made reservations.  There are always spare tickets left, and the venue is never sold out. 

Since corona measures are taking longer than anticipated, they have made it possible to watch the performances online, live on their YouTube channel: Gwangju Culture & Art Cente

Traditional music 국악  

Traditional Korean music refers to pre-historic music – folk music, court music, and even religious music used in shamanistic rituals.  ‘gugak’ (국악) literally means National Music.  Today, these songs are considered heritage, and can only be seen performed on special occasions or festivals.  While the young Korean generation are generally not fans, they still perform this for tourists.  Luckily! 

There are a variety of instruments used – wind instruments, string instruments and percussion.  Each region also had different versions of songs, like Arirang, and each region was known for a different style of song.  The southern Namdo regional had dramatic pansori songs, while northern regions had more upbeat songs, which accompanies fast dance moves, to stay warm in cold winters.  As you can imagine, Korean traditional music also has a deep history, ranging from pre-historic times, throughout the dynasties, and across different regions. 

Pansori 판소리

To visit the pansori museum, it is not far out from Gwangju, in Gochang.  You can read my article about it here.

Check out: Gochang Fortress – Filming site for historical dramas – and surroundings

Pansori is sometimes called ‘Korean Opera’.  It is usually dramatic and sorrowful, with the narrator singing one of five songs,  accompanied by a drummer playing the jang-go drum.  The narrator depicts all characters in the story, and the songs are often updated and can include audience participation.  A beautiful movie on Pansori is “서편제” (Sopyonje)

Samulnori 사물놀이

My personal favorite part of traditional Korean music, is 사물놀이 – samulnori.  It is the formation of 4 instruments – janggo 장고drum, buk 북drum, jing징 symbal, and the clattering gwenggwari 괭과리.  The drums build up the tension, while the jing gives a gong-like sound in the background.  The noisy copper gwenggwari calls the rhythm and leads the band to a great performance.  Although the 4 mostly sit cross-legged on the floor, there are occasions when the janggo drummers dance around, or give solo performances.  The head movements are key when playing the drums, and sometimes the drummers wear hats with long white ribbons tied at the top, giving a mesmerizing effect while listening to the ever-growing beats. 

In one short hour the kongyeon maru manages to immerse you in Korean music, having a taste of folk music, masked dancers, and beats that will linger in your mind for hours ahead.  I greatly appreciate the venue, and the organization it takes to provide this for the citizens free of charge.  And by the amazing performances, I cannot understand how they are not sold out every night. 

While in the area

The SangMu area, while a business hub by day, is very much an entertainment hub by night.  Lots of pubs, bars, and noraebang signage brightly light up the streets.  If you are more into a quiet and peaceful evening after such a performance, the Gwangju Stream runs along the SangMu area.  You can rent bicycles and cycle along the stream, or throughout the parks in the area.  The green bicycles are parked all around the area, and with a simple app, you are on your way.  You rent the bikes for upto 1,5 hours.  The price is 500 won per 30 minutes. 
read my article on Renting a Bike in Gwangju and discover the neighborhood!

If you are a fan of cycling, the bike rental system 타랑께 has parking spots at the Statue park and Energy park, so you can park right in front. 

The Tarangge bike rental system operates in the SangMu Area, and through the designated app, you can rent a bicycle for max 1,5 hours, for 500W per half hour.  It is an ideal system, once you managed to set up the payment system in the mobile app.  The bicycles come with their own helmet, and a hand-sanitizer is available at every bike parking spot.  The designated parking spots are numbered and marked with the green signs . 

Not into cycling, there are beautiful parks for evening strolls.  The 5.18 Memorial Park is a 20-min walk from the performance hall, which is a vast area with multiple walking trails.  You will see hikers at all times of day.  Things to see are the Mugaksa (무각사) temple, the pavilion, and the 5.18 memorial statues. 

Across the street from the park is the Uncheon Reservoir (운전저수지), with a beautiful wooden deck laid over the reservoir, that is filled with lotus flowers in summer, or surrounded by cherry blossom trees in spring. 

The City Hall also hosts a beautiful Rose garden, that is in full bloom in May.

🇧🇪 Aline Verduyn

Belgian third-culture kid living in my favorite country, South Korea. Currently mastering in Korean, excited to explore and share Korea's beauty with you. Greetings from Gwangju!