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N.K. art troupe charms South Koreans on eve of PyeongChang Olympics

2018/02/08 23:35

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By Woo Jae-yeon and Joint Press Corps

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean art troupe staged a rare performance in front of hundreds of South Koreans on Thursday night to celebrate the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The 140 member-strong Samjiyon Orchestra led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the all-female Moranbong Band, began the concert at 8 p.m. at the 998-seat Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in the Olympic sub-host city of Gangneung.

It marked the first art performance by North Koreans in the rival South since August 2002.

A North Korean art troupe performs at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap) A North Korean art troupe performs at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap)

The audience started to pile into the hall at 7:40 p.m. The government invited members of families divided by the Korean War and the socially disadvantaged, while 560 seats were reserved for ordinary citizens who had been chosen by lot.

The Moranbong Band took the center of the 14-meter long and 16-meter wide stage, and orchestra members sat next. At the back of the stage were North Korean percussionists against the backdrop of a large screen. The distance between the stage and the audience seats was as close as three meters.

A North Korean art troupe makes a historic performance at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap) A North Korean art troupe makes a historic performance at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap)

The South Koreans responded with hearty cheers when a North Korean emcee in a red suit came onto the stage and said, "Nice to meet you all. We are so touched and happy to see you as if reuniting with separated parents and brothers."

   He continued, "Samjiyon Orchestra visited here, Gangneung, to celebrate the Olympics, a happy occasion for Korean people ... With the celebratory songs that we've prepared, we hope to lighten up the festival and make our people stronger."

   The performance started with North Korean singer Lee Kyung-sook singing "Bangapseumnida," or "Nice to Meet you" in Korean.

The North Korean musicians performed a wide variety of music, including popular South Korean songs such as Choi Jin-hee's "Maze of Love," Lee Sun-hee's "To J" and Shim Soo-bong's "Man is Ship, Woman is Port." Some of the songs were rearranged to be sung in harmony. They also belted out western folk songs like "Old Black Joe" and "Red River Valley" as well as the opera song "Carmen Overture."

  

North Korean singers in the Korean traditional attire of hanbok sing during a historic performance at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap) North Korean singers in the Korean traditional attire of hanbok sing during a historic performance at the Saimdang Hall of the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangeung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 8, 2018, in this photo released by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap)

The performance went without a hitch. The two sides discussed until the last minute whether to perform certain songs because of possible political implications. As a result, North Korean singers tweaked some of the lyrics to avoid possible controversy.

The project orchestra is comprised of musicians from six or seven famous North Korean music teams, including Samjiyon Band, Moranbong Band, Chongbong Band, the State Symphony Orchestra of the DPRK, Mansudae Art Troupe and the Korean People's Army State Merited Chorus. Among the 140 performers, some 80 were orchestra members while the rest of them were singers and dancers.

Their second and final performance will be held at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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