Two Korea’s Art Troupes End Joint Performance On a High Note

Ben Cho, April 3, 2018, 8:42 a.m.

Art troupes of South and North Korea finished their joint performance in Pyongyang on a high note amid thawing tension on the Korean Peninsula. A 160-member South Korean art troupe, including various pop stars, and a North Korean art troupe called Samjiyon Orchestra staged the concert titled "We Are One" at the fully packed 12,000-seat Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who made a surprise appearance with his wife and aides at the first performance by the South Korean team held Sunday in Pyongyang, did not show up.

But many high-level Pyongyang officials, such as Kim Yong-chol, a ranking Workers' Party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs; Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country; and Pak Chun-nam, minister of culture, attended the concert. Also on hand were a group of South Korean government officials led by Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Do Jong-whan.

The South Korean artists traveled to Pyongyang as a prelude to a historic inter-Korean summit scheduled for April 27 and also as a reciprocal cultural visit after North Korea sent the Samjiyon performers to the South in February to celebrate the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The South Korean team's second and last performance in Pyongyang began around 3:30 p.m. (South Korean time), about an hour earlier than originally planned, and lasted for about two and a half hours. It was co-hosted by South Korean singer-actress Seohyun from Girls' Generation and Choe Hyo-song, a reporter from the North's Korean Central TV.

The concert repertoire was almost the same as the Sunday performance, except that some of the songs by the South Korean singers were accompanied by the North's orchestra.

Eleven Korean acts -- Cho Yong-pil, Lee Sun-hee, Choi Jin-hee, Yoon Do-hyun, Baek Ji-young, Red Velvet, Jungin, Seohyun, Ali, Kang San-eh and Kim Kwang-min -- performed their own songs or South Korean pop songs that are well known in the North, as well as some North Korean songs.

But the atmosphere began to heat up with the crowd clapping in unison when Lee Sun-hee performed her '80s hit song "Beautiful Country" hand in hand with North Korean singer Kim Ok-ju, who visited Seoul in February. The two also duetted Lee's "To J."

The spectators burst into cheers when female singers of the two Koreas performed a North Korean song titled "Paektu and Halla are My Fatherland" accompanied by the Samjiyon Orchestra in the last part of the concert.

Then all the performers appeared on the stage to sing the famous North Korean song "See You Again" and the common Korean children's song "Our Wish is Reunification" together for the finale.

The performance ended with a standing ovation by all 12,000 audience members, including the ranking South and North Korean officials who were present. Even after the show was over, the applause lasted for more than 10 minutes.

"I think the performance was a success. The South Korean singers did really well without any mistake even though they had only half a day to practice. I liked the part where singers (of the two Koreas) sang together," Hyon Song-wol, head of the North's art troupe, told South Korean pool reporters after the show.

Shown in between the performances were videos showing the history of the two Koreas' cultural and sports exchanges, ranging from temporary reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to the joint women's ice hockey team at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Following a performance by South Korean rocker Yoon Do-hyun, five North Korean singers and 60 members from the Samjiyon Orchestra appeared on stage to play a medley of several common Korean songs written during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule of Korea.

Cho Yong-pil, a contemporary South Korean pop legend who had a solo concert in the North's capital in 2005, performed two of his'80s mega-hit songs "Dear Friend" and "Mona Lisa."

"It was great. Cho sings really well. I've heard his songs, but this is my first time to see him," a North Korean audience member emerging from the concert told South Korean reporters.

The latest set of performances were the first by South Korean artists in Pyongyang since Cho's concert in 2005. After the final concert, the South Korean artists and a taekwondo demonstration team attended dinners hosted by Kim Yong-chol and Choe Hwi, chairman of the North's National Sports Guidance Committee.

The South Koreans are scheduled to return home later in the evening, wrapping up a four-day visit to North Korea. The artists' visit follows a thawing of relations between South and North Korea driven by North Korea's participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The North sent not only athletes and cheerleaders but also an art troupe and a taekwondo demonstration team in celebration of the Olympics. The Samjiyon Orchestra staged a concert in Gangneung, on South Korea's east coast, and another one in Seoul.

The Pyongyang visit also comes weeks ahead of a historic inter-Korean summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim will sit together for what will be the third inter-Korean summit, following meetings in 2000 and 2007, at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27.

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