When I was asked if I wanted to attend a 'non-verbal' performance vaguely themed around the idea of cooking for a Korean wedding, it didn't exactly sell me on the idea although I agreed to go. As I gathered it might involve - amongst other activities - drumming with kitchen equipment, my interest was piqued; I'd been to a taiko performance in England and really enjoyed it.
What I didn't appreciate at the time was that the performance, called 'Nanta', is practically a Korean institution - having premiered in 1997 the show is still running twelve years later, and was apparently at some point designated as one of the top ten tourist attractions in Seoul. More than that, it's expanded - there are currently four Nanta troupes, one of which has been on Broadway since 2004. There are regular tours outside Korea - where it's often called Cookin' rather than Nanta. Clearly, it's run so long that individual performers come and go, and the show is its own mini-industry. Described as a combination of samul nori drumming and music mixed with comedy, pantomime and audience participation. But it isn't without controversy - with at least one Korean samul nori artist considered a national treasure in this country denouncing it as something of an affront to tradition.
Not particularly wishing to end up on the stage at some point, we'd carefully chosen seats a little further back from the front in the middle which proved to be a wise move. I'd counted three other foreigners in the audience near the front, and two of them ended up in front of everyone before the end. I've noticed that Koreans really like audience participation - and it features in a lot of these types of event. I couldn't help but wonder if the jokes were the same every time though.
In spite of the supposedly 'non-verbal' nature of the show, it actually did have some speaking - a mix of English, Korean and nonsense. It didn't greatly impact on the enjoyment, but a little of the meaning at certain points was lost due on me to the language difference. In the end, I'm not sure anyone's really there for the story though, it's all about the spectacle, and there's none greater than when the performers frantically drum on a variety of surfaces with a variety of implements - at times it really is a sight to behold as the noise thunders around the auditorium.
Photos are not allowed, but below is the promotional video on Youtube. While it tends to concentrate on the drumming parts of the show, this probably only represents about half of the performance, the remainder being a mix of non-verbal comedy and audience participation.