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[Contribution] Hallyu heats up Mexico City

On the evening of October 11, 2011, I joined a bustling crowd in front of Teatro Julio Castillo to await the start of the first Korean Culture Festival to open in Mexico City.

The festival was one of the largest international cultural events held in our country, attracting over 1,000 curious locals eager to get a firsthand experience of Korean culture. As the long lines showed, there has been a growing interest in Korean culture in Mexico, and among Mexican youths listening to the music and copying the dances of their favorite K-pop groups, the K-pop craze has only just begun.

Korean traditional dancers (left) and samul nori performers (right) perform in Mexico City in October 2011 (Photo courtesy of KOCIS).Korean traditional dancers (left) and samul nori performers (right) perform in Mexico City in October 2011 (Photo courtesy of KOCIS).

The October night began with the reading of a celebratory message from Korean Culture Minister Choe Kwang-sik. Then, as the lights dimmed, the rich string vibrations of a traditional Korean orchestra began to fill the auditorium, announcing the entrance of the Nanuri troupe dancers.

Together with the lively rhythm of the orchestra, the energetic motions of the graceful dancers had us wanting to leap out of our seats and join in. The intensity of the performance only continued to build, and by the end, we were all on our feet cheering the performers on.

Next, we were treated to the unique sounds of a traditional haegum, a sleek electric cello, and a grand piano. Listening to the stirring harmony, I felt like I had been swept away to a Korean garden where beautiful women danced with mugunghwa (the Korean national flower) in their hands. The trio not only brought out the distinct colors of their individual instruments but also affirmed the universal value of the arts as a way to transcend cultural and regional differences.

An incredible performance of taepyeongmu, or the Dance of Peace, came next. Floating across the stage in vibrant Hanbok, the dancers showed masterful skills of expression and created one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen. The fan dance that followed also brought many exclamations from the crowd. It was clear that the seemingly simple dance requires much more than just a fan, as demonstrated by the precise choreography and refined motions.

B-boy and taekwondo teams (left) share a stage in Mexico City in October 2011. All of the 1,000 seats of the Teatre Julio Castillo (right) were filled (Photo courtesy of KOCIS).B-boy and taekwondo teams (left) share a stage in Mexico City in October 2011. All of the 1,000 seats of the Teatre Julio Castillo (right) were filled (Photo courtesy of KOCIS).

The excitement of the audience reached its peak with the entrance of the taekwondo performance group the K-Tigers and b-boy team MB Crew. Highlighting the strength of the taekwondo athletes and the agility of the dancers, this spirited joint performance was a testament to the versatility of Korean culture.

For me, the most meaningful moment of the night was the samul nori performance. The familiar sounds of the kwaengwari, the janggu, the buk, and the jing -- the percussion instruments that are played by the samulnori quartet -- brought back memories of watching the world-famous Kim Duk-soo Ensemble perform in Korea. It was my introduction to samul nori that had sparked my interest in Korean culture, and hearing the pounding rhythm of the drum beats, I felt like I was hearing the beat of my own heart; I felt truly alive.

For the finale, the Korean traditional orchestra and electric cellist performed a moving rendition of Besame Mucho, the classic Spanish-language tune written by Mexican pianist Consuelo Velasquez in 1940 and still sung throughout the world. It was like the cultures of our two countries had come together on stage. The night ended with resounding applause.

I believe that the Korean Culture Festival really contributed to expanding the scope of our interest in and appreciation for Korean culture from individual actors and singers to the broader landscape of the Korean arts. My thanks go out to KOCIS and Ambassador Cho Hwan-bok for giving the Mexican people an opportunity to learn about Korean culture, and I look forward to seeing more and more events of this kind in Mexico.

By Raquel Cario Martinez, president of Mexico’s Bae Yong Joon Fan Club

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