Baltal

Baltal

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Arts

Writer HeoYongho(許龍鎬)

Puppet play using the feet.

Traditional Korean performing art where human actors exchange jokes with puppets that are handled by puppeteers with their hands and feet.

Baltal, which literally means “foot mask, ” is also known as baljangnan, joktal, jokgamyeon, jokmuyong and baltalchum. These names originated from the style of performance in which masks cover the feet for manipulation. Baltal can be referred to as masked dance-drama in that masks are used. The name Baltal also emphasizes tal, which means “mask, ” providing the grounds thereof. However, Baltal is different to general masked dance-drama in many ways. Though masks are used they cover the feet rather than the face and only function as the head part of the puppets. Considering that puppets appear, it can be called a puppet play. Yet it is not a puppet play in the real sense. Unlike Kkokdugaksinoreum played by male itinerant entertainers, which features only puppets on stage, in Baltal human actors also appear. In addition, the development of the performance in which abnormal puppets with only the upper body and normal human actors dance together or quarrel, neither side budging an inch, resembles traditional witty repartee.

Baltal is different from usual masked dance-drama despite the use of masks, and has unique points that differentiate it from other puppet plays. Its performance style resembles the traditional witty repartee of masked dance-drama as two characters bicker with each other, and yet it is idiosyncratic in that it is a story of conflict between human actors and puppets. Baltal is hence a traditional performance unique in that the puppets are handled by puppeteers with their hands and feet and that human actors bicker with the puppets. This makes Baltal noteworthy in three aspects: its uniqueness and value in terms of the actors and their roles in the performance; its significance in the history of traditional performance; and its uniqueness in terms of the style of performance.

First, Baltal is significant in that the play focuses on the uniqueness of the actors and their roles in the performance. This is evident when we consider the coexistence of human actors and puppets. In Baltal, human actors who move and speak of their own accord appear with abnormal puppets who have only the upper body. The puppets can only move and speak at the will of human puppeteers called baltalkkun. In contrast, human actors can move and speak by themselves. Baltal is a traditional performance unique for the way the puppets and humans coexist and bicker with each other. It is even more interesting when we examine the roles these actors play in the performance. The abnormal masked puppet that cannot speak or move by itself plays the role of a wanderer. He is depicted as a free man with a cheerful and jovial nature who wanders the eight provinces across the whole country. On the other hand, the human actor who can move and speak by himself is Eomuldoga Juin (fishmonger). He is depicted as a man who stays in one place and is constrained by the rules of everyday life. Thus, conflict is contradictory and overlapping in terms of the nature of the actors—normal/abnormal, alive/absence of life, human/puppet in terms of the nature of actors, and in terms of their roles—settled/wandering, normalcy/ abnormalcy, everyday life/festival, restriction/freedom, and regularity/deviation. Indeed, Baltal is a traditional performance with the subtle paradox of assigning roles in a way that is contradictory or against the nature of the actors. Although contradictory, unusual meaning and potential is implied. And it can be said that the implications of Baltal are greater than what meets the eye.

Second, Baltal is significant in terms of the history of traditional performance. It constitutes the tradition of witty repartee by focusing on the way the two actors bicker with each other, refusing to budge an inch. Korea’s tradition of jaedam, or jokes and witty repartee, has been passed on from comic drama called uhui (Kor. 우희, Chin. 優戲, lit. superior drama) performed in the court in the 14th and 15th centuries, to jokes in the center of Seoul in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the performances of Park Chunjae, including Baltal of the early 20th century, and comic broadcasting starting with comedy double acts in the 1930s. It can be said that the comic performances by Park Chunjae, including Baltal, played an important role in pointing the way forward for Korea’s comedy tradition in a period of radical change in the shift to the modern era. Under such changes in the comedy tradition, the traditional style of bickering can be recreated by focusing on Baltal. Baltal can be said to have played a role in succeeding the comedy tradition of jaedam in the form of a bickering duo, which had been passed on from the court comic drama of the 14th-15th century represented by the social satire of the play Domokjeongsa nori to performances held in the middle of Seoul in the 18th-19th century and at the same time, in connecting such tradition of witty repartee to the comedy acts of the 1930s.

Third, the significance of Baltal can also be discovered in the style of performances. The method of manipulating the puppets with the feet is worthy of note. The way baltalkkun manipulate puppets consisting of only the upper body (Kor. 반등신, Chin. 半等身, lit. half body) is certainly unique. Sitting behind the stage covered with a curtain, the puppeteer sticks out the feet covered with masks beyond the curtain while his hands hold the bamboo rods that function as the arms of the puppets. The puppeteer moves the feet and hands to move the face and both arms of the puppets. As such, it is a method that uses the entire body. This manipulation method used by the puppeteer, especially using the feet, is a unique feature that cannot be found in any other traditional performances.

Baltal

Baltal
Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Arts

Writer HeoYongho(許龍鎬)

Puppet play using the feet.

Traditional Korean performing art where human actors exchange jokes with puppets that are handled by puppeteers with their hands and feet.

Baltal, which literally means “foot mask, ” is also known as baljangnan, joktal, jokgamyeon, jokmuyong and baltalchum. These names originated from the style of performance in which masks cover the feet for manipulation. Baltal can be referred to as masked dance-drama in that masks are used. The name Baltal also emphasizes tal, which means “mask, ” providing the grounds thereof. However, Baltal is different to general masked dance-drama in many ways. Though masks are used they cover the feet rather than the face and only function as the head part of the puppets. Considering that puppets appear, it can be called a puppet play. Yet it is not a puppet play in the real sense. Unlike Kkokdugaksinoreum played by male itinerant entertainers, which features only puppets on stage, in Baltal human actors also appear. In addition, the development of the performance in which abnormal puppets with only the upper body and normal human actors dance together or quarrel, neither side budging an inch, resembles traditional witty repartee.

Baltal is different from usual masked dance-drama despite the use of masks, and has unique points that differentiate it from other puppet plays. Its performance style resembles the traditional witty repartee of masked dance-drama as two characters bicker with each other, and yet it is idiosyncratic in that it is a story of conflict between human actors and puppets. Baltal is hence a traditional performance unique in that the puppets are handled by puppeteers with their hands and feet and that human actors bicker with the puppets. This makes Baltal noteworthy in three aspects: its uniqueness and value in terms of the actors and their roles in the performance; its significance in the history of traditional performance; and its uniqueness in terms of the style of performance.

First, Baltal is significant in that the play focuses on the uniqueness of the actors and their roles in the performance. This is evident when we consider the coexistence of human actors and puppets. In Baltal, human actors who move and speak of their own accord appear with abnormal puppets who have only the upper body. The puppets can only move and speak at the will of human puppeteers called baltalkkun. In contrast, human actors can move and speak by themselves. Baltal is a traditional performance unique for the way the puppets and humans coexist and bicker with each other. It is even more interesting when we examine the roles these actors play in the performance. The abnormal masked puppet that cannot speak or move by itself plays the role of a wanderer. He is depicted as a free man with a cheerful and jovial nature who wanders the eight provinces across the whole country. On the other hand, the human actor who can move and speak by himself is Eomuldoga Juin (fishmonger). He is depicted as a man who stays in one place and is constrained by the rules of everyday life. Thus, conflict is contradictory and overlapping in terms of the nature of the actors—normal/abnormal, alive/absence of life, human/puppet in terms of the nature of actors, and in terms of their roles—settled/wandering, normalcy/ abnormalcy, everyday life/festival, restriction/freedom, and regularity/deviation. Indeed, Baltal is a traditional performance with the subtle paradox of assigning roles in a way that is contradictory or against the nature of the actors. Although contradictory, unusual meaning and potential is implied. And it can be said that the implications of Baltal are greater than what meets the eye.

Second, Baltal is significant in terms of the history of traditional performance. It constitutes the tradition of witty repartee by focusing on the way the two actors bicker with each other, refusing to budge an inch. Korea’s tradition of jaedam, or jokes and witty repartee, has been passed on from comic drama called uhui (Kor. 우희, Chin. 優戲, lit. superior drama) performed in the court in the 14th and 15th centuries, to jokes in the center of Seoul in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the performances of Park Chunjae, including Baltal of the early 20th century, and comic broadcasting starting with comedy double acts in the 1930s. It can be said that the comic performances by Park Chunjae, including Baltal, played an important role in pointing the way forward for Korea’s comedy tradition in a period of radical change in the shift to the modern era. Under such changes in the comedy tradition, the traditional style of bickering can be recreated by focusing on Baltal. Baltal can be said to have played a role in succeeding the comedy tradition of jaedam in the form of a bickering duo, which had been passed on from the court comic drama of the 14th-15th century represented by the social satire of the play Domokjeongsa nori to performances held in the middle of Seoul in the 18th-19th century and at the same time, in connecting such tradition of witty repartee to the comedy acts of the 1930s.

Third, the significance of Baltal can also be discovered in the style of performances. The method of manipulating the puppets with the feet is worthy of note. The way baltalkkun manipulate puppets consisting of only the upper body (Kor. 반등신, Chin. 半等身, lit. half body) is certainly unique. Sitting behind the stage covered with a curtain, the puppeteer sticks out the feet covered with masks beyond the curtain while his hands hold the bamboo rods that function as the arms of the puppets. The puppeteer moves the feet and hands to move the face and both arms of the puppets. As such, it is a method that uses the entire body. This manipulation method used by the puppeteer, especially using the feet, is a unique feature that cannot be found in any other traditional performances.