▲ Horseman Orgil, left, and colleague Anhaa pose backstage. Photos by Sarah Delroy
Jorangma (Pony) Town is an easy drive down the 97 highway from Sarabong. The peaceful road winds around hills and soon, visible on the left and right, are green fields and grazing horses.
Then come the go-karts. The area is lousy with them. They come in combination with other attractions. Go-karts and archery. Go-karts and pony rides. But where is Pony Town? Our car weaves in and out of various establishments in attempts to find our destination. Finally, it announces itself. Two large stone horses stand guard to either side of the right turn that leads to Pony Town’s orange facade. The staff are extremely friendly. Apparently the show has already begun, and we are ushered into the audience with politeness and efficiency.
The space is ablaze with color and sound. A Tuvan throat singer’s voice contrasts with modern-day dance music. The smell of horses is surprisingly subtle. The lights dim, we find great front row seats, and then the horses explode into the ring. Three men, in flashy traditional dress, ride shaggy ponies around the performance circle. The riders carry about them a wonderful charisma and pride. As they round the front of the ring, the beautiful Mongolian men throw open their arms and yell for encouragement. The audience claps and cheers. Something is obviously about to happen.
Incredible feats of strength, balance, and grace follow over the next 55 minutes. The three men leap off their horses, bounce off the ground and back onto their saddles. This energetic theme is developed as riders bounce on and off, changing to a backwards position, using the saddle as a gymnastics pommel horse. There are standing jugglers, riders jumping rope, men with feet hooked in the stirrups while their hands drag along the floor. Beautiful girls in silver costumes with purple trim ride with one foot in the stirrup, the other in the air in full splits. The horse performance is punctuated by short dance numbers, vaulting floor acrobatics, choreographed fights, and archery.
The troupe in performance. Photos by Sarah Delroy
There is also a special guest appearance I did not understand the importance of at first. The show commentary is in Korean, a fact which did not hinder my enjoyment until a man, dressed in an ornate white deel (traditional Mongolian clothing), rode into the center of the ring on a brown pony. The other performers bowed to him and raised staffs adorned with long white horse hair and Mongolian flags. The man took a few slow turns around the ring, and the audience clapped. I leaned over to my friend who was translating for me and asked what the narrator was saying. It was Genghis Khan.
I had always thought of him as a violent warlord. After some research into the matter I found he is looked upon as the greatest unifying figure of Mongolia. Before his rather bloody rein, the nomadic people lived under constant threat of attack from other ethnic groups. It is said in “The Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty” that Genghis’ conquered land was so safe that a virgin carrying 100 gold coins could walk from one end of the land to the other without any fear for her welfare.
Backstage the performers (horses and riders) take a brief rest before the next performance. Baatar, the troupe’s leader, has lived in Jeju for the last 10 years. Through a Korean interpreter (and the assistance of the show’s manager, Oh Moon Gya, who helped with the Mongolian), I find that Baatar himself secures new Mongolian talent for the show rather than going through a company in Mongolia. The current crew is brand new. Baatar says that it takes two months to become fully trained on how to perform the show. This is on top of an already high level of horsemanship. When asked about the horses, the manager explains that they are rotated in and out on a weekly basis.
I ask Baatar what crazy things have happened during the performances. It all looks rather dangerous. He says that the show is always very exciting. I press more. He smiles and says that the male Mongolian performers have a large fan-base among the teenage girls. I gather that the high school girls cheer quite loudly during the performances.
Pony Town has been in operation since 2000, and I understand why. I went in a skeptic and left with the sounds of Tuvan singers in my ears and the itch to go visit the Steppes. Its busy season is from March to May, though it runs year round.
Currently there are three performances a day: at 9:50 a.m., 10:50 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets range from 8,000 won to 12,000 won. For more information call 064-787-2259.
(Interpretation by Lee Ran Young)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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