If we’re trying to pin it down, maybe it’s best to imagine a Western show of the likes of Stomp, combined with acrobatics performances, comedy, and the traditional art of non-verbal story telling. The basic plot to the Nanta performance involves three chefs – pressed for time – trying to prepare a wedding banquet. However, they’re not exactly cooking in the conventional way. Percussion runs throughout the performance (using their utensils) along with magic tricks, acrobatics, and slapstick comedy.
If you want to, you can even get involved with the show yourself. Including being the bride and groom in the wedding ceremony, interacting with the performers, and playing the rhythm on stage yourself.
The idea of a slightly ‘over the top’ comedy is something often associated with this region of the world. (The likes of K-Pop dances and TV from Korea’s close neighbour, Japan!)
While that certainly seems distinctive to Westerners visiting, the uniquely Korean part of Nanta is the traditional samul nori percussion it incorporates. This genre of music developed in the 1970s bringing a revival to the Korean art of pungmul which, itself, was over 2000 years old. The art form involves using percussion instruments and originally involved dancing when performed. Song Seung-whan – Nanta’s creator – took this ancient art form and completely modernised it!
After the show’s explosive success in Korea, the show was taken international. It’s first performance abroad was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it received the award for best performance. It also made an appearance on Broadway in 2004. However, while it was enjoyed worldwide, the show isn’t exactly Mamma Mia. Unlike some Western shows, it isn’t one of the ‘safe bet’ performances that remains on Broadway forever. It’s incredible to watch, but an interest in Korean culture partly drives the appeal. For those who are interested, it’s estimated 750,000 foreign visitors to South Korea watch the show every year.
Today, Nanta is performed in three theatres in South Korea and one in Bangkok. If you’re in Seoul, there are two different theatres, and if you’re way out on Jeju Island you can also watch it there! When we’re on our South Korea Adventure and visit Seoul, there’s the opportunity to watch it on the second night. We would definitely recommend you do!
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