World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


OngDance Company

GENRES: Contemporary, Traditional
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2005


OngDance Company was founded in 2004 by master artist Kyoungil Ong, who achieved national acclaim as the principal dancer for the National Dance Company of Korea and the winner of the Korean National Dance competition. This company has been at the frontier of promoting Korean traditional and contemporary dance and drum in the world, performing in forty countries. It has produced over 30 works through collaborations with various artists throughout the world. OngDance has been honored by the Isadora Duncan Awards, supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, and has been acclaimed on ABC7, NBC, and in the New York Times.


GENRE: Traditional and Contemporary
TITLE: Salt Doll
COMPOSERS: Jean Ah, Tekn Kim
ASSOCIATE MUSIC DIRECTORS: Jason Jong, Kyoungil Ong, Galen Rogers
DANCERS: Jiang Bian, Hee Jung Choi, Tamara Chu, Seojeong Lauren Jang, Jiwoo Ellie Kim, Haiou Wang, Jesse Wiener, Aiping Xiong, Ayana Yoneska, Ryeonhwa Yeo
MUSICIANS: Leslie Chu (Japanese taiko), Audreyanne Covarrubias (Korean jang-gu, kkwaeng-gwali), Phillip Ginn (Chinese gu), Sandy Ito (Chinese gu), Jason Jong (Chinese gu), Vivian Pham (Japanese taiko), Kyle Tan (Japanese taiko), August Toman-Yih (Japanese shime daiko) Kristi Tsukida (Japanese taiko)


Salt Doll is named for a classical Korean character who leads others to their destination in the heat, knowing it will melt. OngDance Company presents it in homage to teachers, and especially to Korean master teachers of the past who sacrificed to lead others on their journey of dance. There are two parts: Dance of Flowers and Dance of Life.

Dance of Flowers is a duet choreographed by Artistic Director Kyoungil Ong, based on the Buchaechum, or Korean Fan Dance.

The music is Changbu Taryeong, a folk song of Korea's central Gyeonggi Province, originally a shaman song of the Han River—

...A mythical bird is flying alone, crying for its mate. I am desperately waiting for my sweetheart. In this long autumn night I cannot fall asleep. The cloud is rising in a beautiful shape; the forest is dense with tall trees, a gentle breeze is blowing flower petals...

The performance honors Master Baek-bong Kim, creator of Buchaechum, born in South Pyungan in 1927. As dancer/choreographer for the conservatory of renowned Korean Dance Master Seung-hee Choi, Baek-bong Kim brought Korean dance to various Asian countries. After the Korean War, she established her own conservatory. She presented Buchaechum in 1954, using the Korean fan to express the beauty of falling leaves, blooming blossoms, and drifting clouds. Kyoungil Ong studied with Kim, and her Dance of Flowers
builds on Kim's legacy, expanding the theme of beautiful nature. She dances here with Chinese dancer Jiang Bian, who performs a Chinese-based choreography for a bird. Kyoungil’s costume is an elegant Dangui garment as worn in the courts of the Joseon Dynasty, with a queen's embroidery of a gold dragon. The white fabric suggests the Salt Doll.

The second piece, the harmonious and vibrant Dance of Life, presents Korea’s bak wooden-clapper dance; bangwool bell dance; and buchae fan dance. Drumbeats sound—from the Korean jang-gu and buk, Japanese taiko, and Chinese gu—expressing the close relationship between nations and cultures; sounding the force of human life, beating of hearts, and rhythmic energy of Earth.

This performance piece was supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission.


GENRE: Traditional
Tales of Spring Beauties
Hyuckjoon Cheong
Ajin Choi, Jiwon Kim, Julia Kim, Janet Lee, Kyoungil Ong
Audreyanne Covarrubias, Seungik Lee
Hyesoon Kim, Hojun Lee

This elegant performance, Tales of Spring Beauties, is a picturesque encounter of glamour, beauty, and romance. The dancers tell an old story in three parts: Kisaeng Dance, a geisha dance; Sarang ga, a love duet; and Seven Drum Dance, a celebration of the lovers’ union.

When Artistic Director Kyoungil Ong created this piece, she was inspired by two great works of Korean art. The first was the masterpiece Hyewon pungsokdo, an album of 30 watercolors by the painter Shin Yunbok (born 1758) now in the Gansong Museum in Seoul. The paintings are sensitive portrayals of daily life in old Korea (well worth looking at online). Ong’s admiration of the scenes, especially “An amusing day in a spring field,” and “The lovers under the moon” led to her second inspiration: a well-known love story from the pansori opera, Chunhyang ga, known for its beautiful music and high literary content. The story protests the constraints of a class-based society: Chunhyang, the daughter of a kisaeng (lower class) entertainer, is raised as a woman of chaste reputation. She falls in love with a district magistrate, and they marry in defiance of law and societal norms.

In Kisaeng Dance, a mother, who is an entertainer, hopes to raise her daughter, Chunhyang, for a better life. The elegantly-styled and brightly-colored costumes are based on the dresses in the Hyewon pungsokdo painting. They were designed and created in Korea under Kyoungil Ong’s direction. Chunhyang’s high-waisted dress shows her modesty.

The second dance, Sarang ga, is a duet directly from the pansori opera Chunhyang Ga. Here, Chunhyang falls in love with her handsome magistrate. Korean pansori opera—a UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage—evolved in the 17th century from the narrative songs of shamans. Vocalists accompanied by a barrel drummer use expressive song, speech, and gesture to tell stories from Korea’s Joseon period (1392-1910)—from the earliest folk tales to late nineteenth-century sophisticated literature. Pansori singers undergo long and rigorous training to master vocal timbres and memorize complex repertoire, and the form is constantly evolving

The final celebration, Seven Drum Dance, is an original choreography of the traditional Korean samgo-mu (traditional drum) dance—here with extra drums. This form also originated in ancient shamanic rituals thousands of years ago, and evolved into a sophisticated dance performed in courts, academies, and ministries. It represents the symbolic merging of the spirits on earth.


TITLE: Hae Tal - The Way of Eternal Liberation
DANCERS: Gayoung Jung, Soomi Oh, Kyoungil Ong

This performance—called Hae Tal - The Way of Eternal Liberation—is a contemporary Korean Buddhist performance based upon traditional Korean dance forms. OngDance Company expresses two differing Buddhist philosophies of nirvana (spiritual enlightenment) and hae tal (emancipation).

The first section expresses the path to nirvana of Hinayana Buddhism. Hinayana is the tradition of the “lesser vehicle”, where the vehicle is the means of transport to enlightenment. Here, the dancer portrays the modern world with its ties to sin, pain, and loneliness. The sins of the past pull down the human spirit, but the dancer eventually finds emancipation from her struggles, and she finds it within her human form. The Korean dance style is barachum, a form known to excite the weary spirit through the ringing cymbals on the dancers’ hands.

The second section illustrates the path to nirvana of Mahayana Buddhism (the tradition of the greater vehicle). The dancer expresses an emancipation that escapes the bonds of humanity and cuts ties with Earth. This section is performed in the Korean Buddhist dance style seungmu, in traditional dress with long flowing sleeves. Seungmu is a dance often performed by Buddhist monks and is one of Korea’s famous traditional dances: it was designated as South Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Asset #27 in 1969.

The final section is a Beopgochum ritual, a Dharma drum dance celebrating life as the pursuit of transcendence. The performers express their newly liberated state as they slowly fall back to earth.


Kyoungil OngTITLE: Voices of the Spirit World
GENRE: Shaman Dance


Kyoungil Ong performs an authentic Korean Shaman Dance, as a spiritual blessing and in honor of the women who suffered during the Korean War. Using traditional instruments, dance, and music, the soloist literally invites the spirits to enter her: she enters the stage as a human and ends the dance as an intermediary, a dancer halfway between the human and spirit world. When a shaman channels spirits, she dons an elegant and colorful costume, encouraging the spirits to enjoy moments of her happy dancing life. She holds a fan for dignity and a bell to call the gods. Most importantly, the dancer’s ceremonial actions with the bara—a cymbal-like Korean brass instrument—expel evil spirits and purify the mind. Kyoungil dances to traditional Korean music, played on gongs, drums, and the shaman’s piri flute.

There are two kinds of Korean shaman dance—one is for the cleansing of the spirit after death, and the other is to heal spiritual sickness in the living. Shamanism is Korea’s indigenous religion and it is very much alive in contemporary Korean society. Spiritual guides, called mudang, are usually women. Selected for their integrity and skill, they act as intercessor between the spirits, ancestors, unknown forces from history, and deities.

Their rituals and ceremonies—highly valued in Korean society—help with all aspects of life, from illness and marriage, to school exams and the lottery, to a final peace after death. Rituals may run a few hours to a few days, and some mudang, especially in the northern regions, follow a spirit-possessed, ecstatic tradition.


Title: The Last Empress
Bori Ha, Heymi Kim, Soo youn Kim, Barom Lee, Eun young Lee, Gi-yeon Lee, Ina JungIn Lee, Sarrah Moon, Soomi Oh, Kyoungil Ong (Empress Min), Alyssa Park

The Last Empress returns us to the reign of Korea’s beloved Empress Min of the Chosun dynasty, before Japanese annexation.

The piece opens with a court dance, celebrating Queen Min's coronation in 1866 in Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace. Kyoungil Ong's original choreography uses elements of traditional ka’injeonmohkdan and taepyungmu dance, to bring to life an ancient and beautiful nobility. Next, dancers perform the minimal Hyangbal Mu, named for the dancers' hand cymbals. The celebration is interrupted by the brutal pre-dawn assassination attack by the Japanese army. The empress and her attendants wear identical clothing, but their efforts to hide the queen are futile. Queen Min's final dance is the expressive Salpuri, a dance of spiritual cleansing. Soloist Kyoungil Ong wears white—the traditional color of death in Korean culture. As the Empress prepares to enter the afterlife, she offers a consoling farewell, expressing sorrow, concern, and encouragement to her people.

Salpuri is listed as a "national intangible heritage" because it embodies the essence of Korean dance. Focusing on internal expression and metaphysical joy (mot and heung), Korean dancers express life's heavier aspects, while embodying an inner lightness; they move continuously, mirroring the eternally revolving yin and yang, darkness and light; they lead each step with the heel, holding the body in check, reflecting an introverted spiritualism.

The music is improvised in South Han indigenous shinawi style. Instruments include the gayageum, geomungo, and ajaeng zithers; haegeum fiddle; piri oboe; and daegeum flute.


GENRE: Contemporary Korean Dance
Kyoungil Ong
Kyoungil Ong, Soomi Oh, Soo A. Park, Seokkyung Lee, Injeong Kim, Taek H. Lee, Kent Hong
wHOOL—Yoon-Sang Choi (Musical Director/Composer/percussion), Hyun-June Juen (drum), Hyun-Soo Kim (bak), Si-Youl Kim (daekum), Yea-Rim Lee (piri), Dong-Il Park (synthesizer)

In ancient Korea, nature's mysteries were attributed to spirits residing in trees, rocks, and animals, and other phenomena. Korean shamans, called mudong, acted as intermediaries between humans and the spirit world. They prevented natural disasters, drove wild demons away, and helped promote a life of peace and joy. It was believed that earthly life—han—was one of deep-seated agonies and sorrows, which could not be resolved in this world. After death, many souls wandered restlessly in pain, and when they complained to their relatives in dreams, a mudong was called in as a guide. The mudong —usually a woman—honored the sun, moon, and constellations in elaborate ritual, offering tributes and animal sacrifices. She opened a passageway that soared to the sky, so souls could depart in peace. Korean Shamanism, or Musok Sinang, is still practiced today. Over the centuries, it has become fused with Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, and more recently it is practiced along with Christianity.

Mumu is the most primeval of the Korean ritualistic dances. It shows the direct connection between worlds. Dancers evoke, welcome, and ingratiate the gods; banish stray gods to the other world; and combat malicious spirits. Choreographer Kyoungil Ong learned mumu in its traditional form in Korea, and today presents a premiere of her own choreography. She has recast the ancient rituals with contemporary movements and costumes.

As the dance begins, the souls of the dead are restless within their tombs and trapped in the trees. The mudong shakes bang wool (tin bells) to wake the souls of a thousand years. She captures the awakened souls with bu chae (fans) so they can rejoice with her and ease their suffering. She offers the dead a zhijeon, a long sheet of paper encrusted with coins, for good fortune and currency in the afterworld. She also offers the baek mok cheon, or long cloth, as the soaring pathway to heaven. The mudong splits the cloth, opening the passageway, and the undead enter the afterlife. The music for this piece features percussion and horns, and reflects a Shamanic percussive music, which is popular all over Korea.

Today, OngDance is accompanied by international guest musicians from Korea—wHOOL (to empty out all thought)—who will play Korean wind instruments, piri and daekeum, and percussion, jang gu.


TITLE OF PIECE: Korean Drum Dance
Korean Drum Dance
Yun-jung Yoo
In-Jeong Kim, Ji-hye Lee, Sun-Young Lyu, Kyoungil Ong, So-hee Park, Ji-Kyung Yoon
Jae- Hong Jin, Kyung-wook Jung, Sarah Moon

Ong Dance Company performs the Korean Drum Dance, which uses several sets of dragon-shaped small drums hanging on three sides of the dancer, on a carved wooden frame. One drum is hung at the center, and two on the sides, so the drum is open to the audience to reveal the movements of the dancer pounding the drum in rhythmically complex and syncopated phrases. Elegantly dressed, the dancer applies all parts of her body to make the sound of the drum, and incorporates graceful yet powerful acrobatic movements. This is symbolic of the merging of spirit on earth.

The costume worn for this piece is the traditional hanbok consisting of fabric that creates straight lines and smooth curves. Women wear short jackets and long skirts, men wear trousers, a vest and jacket. Traditional these would be in all white, or very colorful for special occasions, and recently different styles of the hanbok have been altered to better suit practical everyday comfort.

The choreography of this piece by Kyoungil Ong has been supported by a Choreography Commission Award from the San Francisco Foundation.

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