Chuncheon Mime Festival

Excitement had been building up for weeks, and now Chuncheon Mime Festival was finally here. An International art /theatre based festival was to be held in our new home town. In preparation, Chuncheon had been decorated with buntings and streamers, but also with more alternative art installations such as a mannequin dressed as a homeless person on the street, and a number of horror masks dotted around random places!

I really didn’t know what to expect from a mime festival, and my mind conjured up iconic images of white faced, stripey- topped performers in imaginary glass boxes. Sure, there was some of this to come, but also so, so much more.

The first event that I made it to was on a weekday evening (during the week leading up to the main events of the weekend.) Whatever I was expecting, this certainly wasn’t it. There were a trio of performances. The first was an evocative and immaculately choreographed movement piece, with three women moving around a square. The movements were balletic, dance-like and graceful, and I realised that mime was a much broader term than I had first thought.

The second act was Theatre Momzi by Yu Jin Gyu (the director and founder of the festival), and this was arguably the best performance of the festival. The focus of the piece was hanji, beautiful traditional Korean paper, and light also played a large part. Huge sheets of hanji formed were waved against the light, moved precisely yet with poise and style, and with interplay against the movements of the artist himself. This was so aesthetically brilliant, and demonstrated the genius of mime.

The final piece of the night was the wackiest. A crazy, witch-like woman abseiled down the theatre building using only a rope (and no safety equipment), as we all stood in the car park below, with lit candles that we had been handed. When she reached the ground, she encircled the audience, and approached each one of us, looking us straight in the eye with varying expressions. Brilliantly bonkers!

Then came Chuncheon Mime weekend, a huge event on Chuncheon’s (and my) calendar. Mime artists, circus troupes and audiences had travelled from all over Korea, Australia, Europe and other Asian countries had all made it to humble Chuncheon for this awesome display and celebration of talent.

The weekend’s festivities began with an all-night party on Friday. There were a number of performances, including a very strange underground play that included girls in matching blonde wigs, an overweight opera singer, a mock-crucifixion, and tomato ketchup. Some local indie bands played, festival goers warmed themselves by a bonfire, and a disco ran for the entire night.

The sunny Saturday morning of the fest confirmed that this was a weekend for audiences of all ages and from all over the world. Chuncheon Mime ensured that each and every festival attendee was thoroughly entertained. There were magicians, puppeteers and circus performers (some of which I found a bit tedious, but the kids loved), traditional Korean Shamanistic dances, and local experimental theatre / dance acts, amongst others.

Some of the highlights were the stunning Suspenz from France, in which we saw the two performers running and dancing up and down the vertical plane of Chuncheon’s department store building, suspended on lengths of elastic; and Australia’s Candy Butchers who fused Burlesque, physical comedy and circus influences for a mime extravaganza.

My personal favourite was Geum Hyung Jeong who presented a series of body movement- orientated pieces, using facial masks placed on different parts of her body, and memorably a blue all in one body suit with a ship attached- her body movements mimicking the waves of the sea. I later found out that her performances were interestingly based around the theme of sexual anti-climax. To this day, this was one of the most engaging and compelling pieces of theatre that I had ever seen, and I’d jump at the chance to see her again.

The festival was not just about mime, but also about bringing people together, and introducing them to Chuncheon. At the closing ceremony, the streets of Chuncheon were filled with Chinese-style dragons, a tug of war for all to be involved in, and a town-wide communal dance.  It was sad to see the end of the festival that had brought so much diversity, colour and vibrancy to Chuncheon.

To me, Chuncheon Mime Festival was exploring and pushing the boundaries of the definition of ‘mime’. I loved this festival, and really enjoyed the acts it attracted. I was so inspired that I spent the next few weeks writing my own mime! My dream is to one day take this back to Chuncheon, and entertain Korean / international audiences against the backdrop of one of my most-loved places.

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