Glistening chandeliers dim as the huge tapestry curtain goes up. Thirty young girls dressed in the bright, colorful costumes of their native Korea smile confidently as they whirl from side to side, beating hourglass drums.
The audience, at first breathless at the spectacle on stage, is soon charmed as the girls perform other Korean folk dances, songs, and instrumental pieces, plus specialty numbers such as yodeling - unexpected in this part of the world.The show ends with a dancing waters rendition of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Then the spirited young performers charm the audience with encores of "The Happy Wanderer" and "Amazing Grace" in three-part harmony - in both English and Korean.
This is "The Face of Korea," and these are the Little Angels, Korea's national folk company, which performs for foreign delegations, government officials and other cultural exchanges. The girls are from 8 to 15 years old. Supported by the Korean Cultural Foundation, troupes of Little Angels have given more than 2,000 performances in 40 countries, including benefits for needy children.
When first organized in 1962, the Little Angels were "homeless," but now they have a permanent home in The Little Angels Performing Arts Center, an elegantly decorated building with marble, red carpet, wood trim, and gold leaf reminiscent of Hotel Utah and Promised Valley Playhouse. The center opened in November 1981 and is one of seven buildings on the campus of the Little Angels Arts School near Seoul's Walker Hill.
Established in 1974, the school is actually three schools: Kyung Bok Elementary, Sun Hwa Junior High, and Sun Hwa Senior High. More than 4,300 students have passed stiff competition to gain entrance to the school, which emphasizes music, dance, and visual arts.
More so, it emphasizes a dedication to cultivating character along with artistic abilities. The school's motto is "Love God, love mankind, love your country." The Korean flag is displayed in every classroom.
The Little Angels - actually four troupes of 30 each - put in an extra three hours of rehearsal every day after regular school classes to maintain their performance standards. The company has its own rehearsal studio adjacent to the performing hall.
Students who are not in the troupe (they cannot perform with Little Angels beyond age 15) are encouraged to spend after-school hours studying and practicing in their particular fields of artistic interest.
School facilities include practice rooms with 100 pianos, 38 of them Steinway grands; rehearsal studios for the Universal Ballet Company (the only private professional company in Korea); and other studios for
olk, modern and classical dance training.
Teachers from the United States are recruited to teach ballet, and artists and music professors from top U.S. schools give master classes and concerts.
In the Solgo Building, named for an artist of the ancient Sila Dynasty, older students sculpt, sketch, and paint. Work of fine arts majors in various media are displayed in hallways.
In the elementary school, students begin computer classes at age 10. A closed-circuit TV studio allows students to broadcast short lessons or demonstrations to each classroom in the building.
The emphasis on preserving culture through art is evident in a large, mural-style mosaic of a Korean folk dance, composed of small pieces of paper torn from magazines. Every one of the 1,800 elementary students contributed to the finished product.