Purpose: As intangible cultural heritage, traditional performing arts depend on transmission by individuals and collectives. The purpose of this paper is to explore how traditional performers practice their arts in South Korea. The analysis focuses on the transformations of performance conventions and contexts, as well as on new genres that developed in response to heritage legislation and social change during the last 200 years. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on a wide array of existing ethnographic research, the paper compares processes of transmission and transformation of three different genres: the solo singing-storytelling genre pansori, the ensemble percussion-dance genre pungmul and the various regional forms of mask dance drama subsumed under the label talnori. The paper argues that the artists, who perform these genres, while not unaffected by the expectations of their audiences, have the power to transcend traditional boundaries. Findings: Due to early professionalization in the nineteenth century, pansori performers could adapt to the changing contexts of market-oriented modernity and survive until governmental intervention in 1962. Pre-modern pungmul and talnori was performed primarily by and for rural communities, resulting in an interruption of transmission when these contexts disappeared and partial re-invention in the wake of official preservation legislation. Originality/value: The need for repeated performance in historically varying contexts makes the analysis of performing arts particular fruitful for understanding how practitioners of tradition (have to) adapt to change. A historical-comparative perspective provides concise insights into the dynamics of development that informs tradition today. The inclusion of offspring genres (changgeuk, madang-geuk, samulnori) furthermore shows the potential of heritage development beyond the official system of preservation.
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- Performing arts