Sept 18, 2006

By Seo Dong-shin
Staff Reporter

Until about three years ago, Lee Woo-sung, leader of the top-notch B-boy team Expression Crew, had to deal with angry parents who flocked to the crew’s training room to inquire the whereabouts of their children, who ran away from home.

The crews, of course, were as clueless as the parents, but the parents often did not believe them.

"When something occurred in town, even the police knocked at our door," Lee said, reminiscing about the common perception of B-boys as a group of juvenile delinquents because of their hip-hop style outfits and zeal for break dancing.

A scene from "Marionette"

"It was hard to expect any reward even after a decade of B-boying," said the 31-year-old, who started break dancing 15 years ago.

Things have dramatically changed in just a few years. Speaking in a press conference last week after the premier of the crew’s first on-stage show, "Marionette," Lee grinned as he talked of his ambition to get married, raise kids and send them to universities by earning money by B-boying.

"I just hope that even after the society’s ‘trend’ passes by, Korean B-boys will be able to stand on their own and people will regard them as a part of the culture."

His wish seems to be already coming true. South Korean B-boys, who often sweep titles at world B-boy competitions called "battles," are basking in the limelight more than ever. The government touts them as the"next item for ‘hallyu,’ or Korean wave."

Seizing on the popularity and demand for B-boys, three performance shows featuring B-boys had their debuts last week, one after the other. "The Code" features T.I.P., another top-notch B-boy crew, while "Beat & B-boy," temporarily showcased by PMC, the production company responsible for the hit non-verbal piece "Cookin’," had break dancers audition for the piece.

For the three performances, the producers have come up with various strategies for hybrids _ adding the flavors of musical, non-verbal performance, theater or even slapstick comedy to the break dancing. Break dancing, however powerful and sophisticated the moves are, tends to have a little univesal appeal with the public.

"Marionette," based on a video clip piece that gained huge popularity on the Internet, is currently being performed at Theater ill in Taehangno, with about a 90-minute running time. It is basically non-verbal theater peppered with subtitles to tell the story.

Lee had choreographed the original 8-minute piece based on imagined interactions between the master of the puppets and his marionettes last February. He thought of it as his last piece. "But somehow the piece turned out to be a great success. I got to meet a lot of great people, and I didn’t need to resign anymore," Lee said.

Many B-boys also seized the chance to improve their status both socially and financially, as the mainstream media rushed to meet the latest trend, inviting them to appear on TV shows and commercials.

It seems that Korean B-boys’ greatest opportunities lie in the performing arts market. According to industry sources, some 10 performances featuring B-boys will have their premiers by early next year.

The producers say they plan to take the B-boy performances to other Asian nations, following in the footsteps of Korean soap dramas and singers who have successfully advanced into those markets in recent years. But the quality of the shows remains is still not fully developed.

"Marionette," for example, failed to show anything substantially new to viewers who were already acquainted with the fascinating choreography in the video clip. The brief showcase of non-verbal "Beat & B-boy" looked rather dull; it felt like another variation of "Cookin’," with only a change of outfits and settings. As for "The Code," it needs rather drastic improvement in lighting and screen facilities, even if it came across as the freshest performance, with the greatest potential yet to blossom into a major success.

The producers of the three pieces say that they will continue to work on improving the storylines, stage settings and choreography, based on audiences’ responses during their trial runs, before they take them abroad. It remains to be seen how they work out.

Source: The Korea Times