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Thursday,August 22,2019
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King of Clowns

  Afresh sign that spring is already here was felt in Gyeongbokgung on March 4.  Amid the sounds of shouting and cheering I watched a man walking on a tightrope above amused spectators.  Kwon Won-tae, a tightrope dancer of Ansung Namsadang Baudeogi Pungmul Trope (ANBPT), entertained the public with witticism and funny gestures.
With the success of King and the Clown at the box-office, people are showing a lot of interest in our traditional culture, especially tightrope walking which is a main feature of the movie.  Tightrope walking, Jultagi, is known as slack-rope walking in English.  And the performers show viewers a variety of movements while entertaining them with satire and humor.
  The Post interviewed Mr. Kwon, who has been walking the tightrope for 30 years.

  Entrance into Jultagi
  "I started doing tightrope walking when I was 10 years old because it was my family's occupation.  I'm very happy about the Jultagi revival and public interest.  However, when I first started in the 1970s, it was a terribly hard way to make a living.  I just managed to survive those 30 years,"he said with a bitter smile.  In the smile, I saw lamentation that could not be put in words.

  His Jultagi World
  "What is the charm of tightrope dancing?" He paused for a moment and then answered.  Most reporters asked me the same question, but it's hard to explain fully.  After I began to do Jultagi, I lost interest in other things.  Thus, Jultagi is everything I know; it's my life, my destiny.  I'm just an acrobat and that's why I feel uncomfortable when people add 'Sir'to my name," Mr. Kwon confessed.
He almost gave up Jultagi because of hard times. However, he overcame those hard times because the clown's life was everything to him.
  Of course, there are some difficult things about the Jultagi lifestyle: 1) one mistake can be fatal and 2) every clown has to wander around the country.  But he has become used to the danger and feels like an emperor whenever walking on the rope.  "When I look down on the audience from the rope, I feel like one of the birds.  I'm allowed to be a king, not a lower person. No matter who I am, I always try to give satisfaction to my audience,?he said.

  Try to Maintain Tradition
  In 2004, he won a competition in the U.S.A. by running the fastest on a 50-meter rope, at the height of 8 meters above the ground.  He also took part in musical Baudeogi in 2003.
Through these activities, he contributed to spreading Korean culture and is considered an intangible cultural treasure. I'm so proud of myself because I'm still on the tightrope and keeping this cultural tradition alive despite the hardship,?he said.
  "Frankly speaking, I'm concerned about the possibility of losing our national culture.  To keep cultural confidence, Koreans also need to be aware of Korea's own culture above all.  For a successful example, worldwide Chinese arts groups were born as a result of finding and developing the roots of their national plays. But many Koreans are ignorant of our culture while enjoying opera and musicals from the West,"he said.
  He also criticized university organizations for not getting to the root of traditional culture.  Moreover, he insisted that we should keep developing Korean culture because it's our heritage and not because of sudden interest in a movie.
"ANBPT is going to give free performances every Friday from April to October at Ansung Namsadang Center.  We want to inform people about Namsadang culture and Korean traditional plays.  Besides, it is significant to hold a local festival in which local people can enjoy,"he finally added.
  Lastly, he is planning to organize a national festival and expert Jultagi  to the world.

Lee Ji-eun  yukiilo@dongguk.edu

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