Baltal performance with a narrator dancing and musicians accompanying.
Baltal is an unique puppet theatre of Korea. Unlike the ordinary puppet show, it uses the feet ( bal )to manipulate the puppet mask ( tal ), which determines its peculiar techniques. It looks like a fused form of the mask dance drama and the marionette show. It used to be popular among the people before, however its present condition of transmission is not active because young generations are reluctant to succeed this rare art form.
According to an oral legend, it is said that Baltal is a variation of the puppet show of Namsadang, the itinerant male entertainers' troupe of Korea, the center of which used to be located in Anseong in Gyeonggi-do. It is also said that it was derived from the repertoire of some other wandering professional troupe. Likewise, it has been performed by a puppeteer who belong to the itinerant troupe although it is played as an independent item at present time.
Music, Puppet Theatre
Baltal seems to have developed through several stages. Initially, the head part of the scarecrow-like puppet was put on the performer's feet. The puppet's arms had strings for the performer to handle them with hands. Later, the puppet's elbows and shoulders came to be manipulated by strings and the performer's feet were also connected by strings to the puppet's arms for more delicate movements. The eldest artist of this skill, Lee Dong-an, used to manipulate long-sleeved puppet arms with bamboo sticks.
Baltal's basic stage setting is the three-sided black curtain inside of which the puppeteer lies down. The bottom center of the curtain is split for manipulation by feet. The performance is usually interwoven with witty dialogue, song and dance. Outside the curtain is a woman wearing yellow jacket and long red skirt and a narrator wearing gray trousers and jacket and holding a fan. Both provide timely interjections to encourage the performer. Musical instruments used are piri (thin wind instrument), jeotdae (transverse flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), buk (barrel drum), kkwenggwari (small hand-held gong)and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum).
The performer must be able to twist his ankles to left and right and to make the head quiver, nod, and so on. The arms are stretched out to the sides or up or down, folded, etc. The performer punctuates his songs with witty remarks. The story is that a wayfaring mask dance performer and a fishmonger wander around first in Gyeonggi-do and the rest of the northern part of the country and then throughout the whole country. They render satirical messages about the corrupt and immoral upper class while portraying the joys and sorrows of the common people.
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Society for Preservation of Baltal
Ms. Young-Il Heo
Professor, Department of Dance
Korean National University of Arts (Korean National Institute of Cultural Properties)