It's a big taste we're getting, too: 60 dancers and a 14-piece orchestra offering a full-length program. Heading the company is 82-year-old Kang Sun Young — in what, hint the organizers, may be one of her final appearances on any stage.
Kang Sun Young is viewed in her homeland as the chief disciple and successor to Han Seong Jun (1874-1942), the modern pioneer of Korean traditional dance and its preservation. In 1930 Han founded the first Korean dance academy, where Kang became his top student. (She began her studies with him at age 12; she has now been dancing for 70 years.) After his death, she established her own school, the Kang Sun Young Traditional Dance Academy, and from 1962-1982 she was the choreographer for the Korean National Dance Company. In 1992 she even served as a legislator in the South Korean parliament.
The centerpiece of the program is Tae Pyung Mu, adapted by Han Seong Jun from a shamanistic ritual performed at the ancient Korean courts as a prayer for peace and prosperity. In 1988 the South Korean government designated Tae Pyung Mu as the nation's Intangible Cultural Asset No. 92 — and conferred the title on Kang Sun Young, as Han Seong Jun's leading disciple and thus the individual best qualified to preserve the dance.
In 1998 Han established the Tae Pyung Mu Initiation Hall and Academy to teach that and other traditional dances and to provide a venue to perform for visitors; today, the Kang Sun Young Arts Organization (www.kangyoungsunarts.org) provides an institutional framework for the master and her work.
Among other items on the program are the traditional Fan Dance and Drum Dance, the comic "Dance of the Prodigal Youth" and a portion of the Salpuri, performed by Kang herself, in which a widow dances with a long white scarf symbolizing the soul of her late husband.
The Kang Sun Young company's performance in New York is sponsored by the South Korean government's Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as several Korean-American organizations in the New York area. Tickets are available at the New York State Theater box office and from Center Charge (tel. 212-721-6500).