The Korea Herald


Story of first female leader of traveling entertainers reimagined

Jeongdong Theater’s latest production ‘Am-deok’ brings UNESCO-listed traditional circus onstage

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Nov. 23, 2023 - 11:45

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A scene from A scene from "Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water" (Jeongdong Theater)

Meet Baudeogi, who was born to a poor peasant in Anseong in 1848 and joined the Namsadang, a traveling entertainment troupe, at age 5.

Anseong was one of the largest marketplaces during the Joseon era. Raised by a troupe of male acrobats, she mastered the art of singing, dancing and jultagi, or a traditional Korean performance of tightrope-walking.

Before long she made a name for herself, captivating audience hearts with her looks and unparalleled talent and earning a reputation that echoed through the markets, “When Baudeogi walks on the rope, money pours in.”

By 15, she was unanimously voted in as the head of Anseong Namsadang, becoming the first-ever female leader of the troupe. She died at the age of 23.

The story of Baudeogi, the trailblazer who led a brief yet dynamic life as an artist, takes center stage in the latest production by Jeongdong Theater's Arts Troupe.

Titled "Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water," the show premiered Wednesday at the National Jeongdong Theater in Jung-gu. The title comes from Baudeogi’s birth name, Kim Am-deok.

A scene from A scene from "Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water" (Jeongdong Theater)

"When I went to Anseong to study dance, I came across Namsadang Nori, and it left a deep impression on me. It's a piece that I've been thinking about for a long time. Through the story of Baudeogi, we have given a modern reinterpretation to the UNESCO-listed Namsadang Nori,” said Jeongdong Theater Director Choung Soung-sook on Wednesday, ahead of the premiere.

The six components of Namsadang Nori -- a segment of farmers’ music, a mask dance, a tightrope walking act, a puppet play, an acrobatic performance and an intricate display of hoop spinning with a wooden stick -- are employed at times, directly or symbolically, explained the choreographer, Lee Hyun.

Min Sae-rom, who directed the play “Army on the Tree” which garnered much attention this summer, directs the dance production that incorporates pansori and circus.

"I wanted to portray the moments where the character grows -- not specifically as a female performer, but as a human being. It will allow the audience to reflect on similar phases in their lives too,” said Min.

A scene from A scene from "Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water" (Jeongdong Theater)
A scene from A scene from "Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water" (Jeongdong Theater)

The main character, Am-deok, is portrayed through four distinct "personas," each showcasing different talents.

Pansori singer Seo Jin-sil embodies the singing Am-deok, traditional tightrope performer Park Ji-na takes on the role of the tightrope walking Am-deok, and Cho Ha-neul, a dancer from Jeongdong Theater’s Arts Troupe, portrays the dancing Am-deok. Additionally, a child actor plays Am-deok as a youngster.

"Am-deok -- The Myth of Rock on the Water" runs until Sunday.