Feb 172011

Last night I went to see NANTA a non-verbal performance  in a kitchen setting.  The two hours will alter the way you witness kitchens ever again!

I have been travelling, (6 flights and 4 train rides so far) but only now, in Seoul with free broadband, can I get to write down what I have witnessed. (Other posts of earlier events & meetings to come!).

Last night my amiable guide Annie took me to see this performance in downtown Seoul.  To get to the theatre,  she guided me  through what looked like a department store, but at the back, sure enough, a ticket office pointed to the entrance to the theatre.  Seated in the very first row, seemed like prize position – until the show got under way: “up close and personal” does not quite capture the visceral sense of being in a kitchen.  The photo here I took from the my seat just before the show started: it shows traditional tables for preparing food.

Here’s a short review by (unamed) Singaporean

Cookin or Nanta is a delightful, comedic musical Korean version of “Stomp” that transcends the language barrier. It combines Korean folk music and the pulsating rhythm of Samulnori, or traditional Korean drumming, in a crazy, fun way. Nanta debuted in 1997 and has since performed internationally in more than 141 cities. …. The performers had everyone in stitches, but audience beware: particularly those seated in the front, you might get more than just kimchi on your shirt front by the end of the show.

Percussion paces the show through the sounds of knives hitting a chopping blocks;  sieves rubbed with whisks; rolling pins hitting tables; pots and pans pounded or gently tapped; and of course the sound of food being cut, cooked, packed, and presented.  The show will produce for me new associations whenever similar sounds in the kitchen occur any time soon in the future

For the show to run for 2 hours would seem a stretch. It might then be described as a long drum roll (with proxy drums).  But the very fact that it does run for two hours,  points to something else that keeps it alive. While  percussion provides the pacing, plot and characters give a lot more depth to the show.  Three cooks find they have to prepare a wedding banquet in an hour, by a manager who, apart from giving this deadline,  installs his cousin as a chef (even though of dubious culinary competence).  So the five characters in interact in a flow of one-up-manship, slap stick and energetic dance routines amidst the tables and cooking (which at times has flames, water, steam all impacting on all real food being actually cooked). All dialogue mimics language rather than being real dialogue. Names of food (in English) find expression in song. One particularly entertaining routine in which the cooks sing these four words -  onion, cucumber, carrot, and cabbage – initially in a contrapuntal arrangement  then in a 1950s style rock arrangement ought to be added to the collection already on YouTube!

Being in the front row felt like those 3D films where stuff comes at you.

First,  dance that close up becomes more of a vortex pulling you into a swirl of bodies and muscles.  With a stage that wide, I could not see all at once, so literally a performer would leap past seeming coming out of nowhere.

Second, the props – streamers, brooms, knives, pots, flame throwing etc – actually crossed the edge of the stage at times: You could feel heat from fires, sense the moisture of steam, hear the huff and puff of dancers breathing and the sound of food being cooked.  And the drumming, particularly at the end when massive drums, camouflaged as barrels get ferociously pounded, literally had chairs, bodies and floor vibrating. Some drums had water on the top of them so all this water would sparkle up on each thump made all the more compelling with the strobe lighting that would occasionally intensify the routines even further.

Finally, the play moved towards more audience participation, with audience members invited onto the stage to participate. Thus the boundary of ‘performer vs spectator’ become ever more diced, just like the food on the stage.  The show ended in wild applause as much for performers as for the audience themselves. In the end the sounds of the kitchen had left their mark.

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