Ulsan Fetes Legend of Cheoyong with Mask Dances

      October 19, 2013 09:28

      The city of Ulsan in southwest Korea comes alive with singing and dancing every October when it holds a festival to commemorate the local legend of Cheoyong. This year, the festival was held from Oct. 3-6.

      Cheoyong asserted himself as the son of an ocean king during the rule of King Heongang in the Shilla Dynasty and served as a government worker in the Ulsan region.

      According to the legend, Cheoyong returned home late one night to find his wife in bed with another man. Rather than exploding in anger, however, he turned the other cheek and went back into the village singing and dancing. The man, who was actually a god of disease, was so impressed by Cheoyong's forgiving nature that he swore an oath to him.

      "I admired your wife and committed a wrongful deed. I was so impressed by your virtuous mind that I will never again enter any house that bears your portrait," he said.

      Since the legend originated, putting an image of Cheoyong's face on the gate of a house was said to prevent contagious diseases and dispel evil spirits.

      Now in its 47th year, the Cheoyong Festival starts with a ritual honoring of Cheoyong and a performance of Cheoyongmu, a court dance. This dance consists of five people wearing different costumes representing north, south, east, west and the center. They all wear Cheoyong masks. It ranks as the oldest surviving Korean court dance and was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

      After the initial performance, a program full of dancing and music follows. This year's festival showed how traditional Korean music can easily harmonize with Spanish flamenco dancing.

      Traditional plays and Cheoyongmu were performed in the city's main plaza, and proved especially popular with middle-aged and elderly members of the audience. Fifteen teams from 14 countries joined 11 Korean teams in showcasing various musical genres and dances this year.

      The festival also had a separate facility for children, including a hugely popular pinwheel tunnel at the entrance spouting water. Nearby, sculptures of Cheoyong's face were put on display.

      Visitors could also engage in various hands-on programs, sample food from around the world, and sign up for a souvenir-finding program by following a trail of images of Cheoyong. There was also a mask exhibition showing their different styles and functions.

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