▲ A dancer delivers just one of the many unusual and provocative performances offered at Jeju's hosting of the Delphic Games. Photo by Stephanie Reid
The world has come to Jeju. From Germany, Portugal, Brazil and the Ukraine; from South Africa and all four corners of the globe; 1,500 participants representing 54 countries have come to Jeju to compete in the world’s largest arts festival. The third Delphic Games, held Sept. 9-14, across many venues in Jeju, offered each artist the opportunity to showcase their work, in the hopes of taking home the gold for their country.
With a history reaching as far back as 2,500 years, the modern-era Delphic Games are comprised of six categories: music and acoustic arts, performing arts, crafts designs and visual arts, lingual arts, communication and social arts, and architectural and ecological arts. Within these categories there are 18 disciplines that artists can compete in.
Masoja Msiza, a poet from South Africa, traveled to Jeju to compete. He said: "The word [compete] comes from Latin. It means to strive together, to strive together towards our mission of peace and understanding.”
The Delphic Games, dedicated to the Greek God Apollo, first began in 582 B.C. in the city of Delphi. Always held one year before what is now known as the Olympics; the purpose of the Delphic Games is to advance the arts through competition, highlight human creativity, and foster the understanding and respect of other cultures.
The modern era The first modern era Delphic Games took place in December 2000; where 938 artists from 27 countries competed in Moscow, Russia. The modern Delphic Games were revived by J. Christian B. Kirsch, founder and Secretary General of the International Delphic Council (IDC), who felt that the Olympics failed to represent the artistic aspects of the human spirit. With the help of representatives from 18 countries, the IDC was created in 1994; with the express purpose of appreciating and preserving diverse arts and cultures from around the world. The purpose of the modern Delphic Games is to “set a floor for arts, culture, and education for the betterment of our children,” Kirsh explained.
Korea participated in the second Delphic Games and soon after, in Dec 2005, the Korean Delphic Council was established. On March 31, 2006, Korea was chosen as the host country for the third Delphic Games; with Jeju as the hosting province. When describing his impressions of Jeju Island, Kirsch said he felt that, “the people of Jeju are warm-hearted and want to be embraced.”
To re-establish the Delphic Games’ connection with their ancient past, in a manner akin to the Olympic torch relay, water from the Kastalian Spring in Delphi was brought to Jeju. During the opening ceremony this water was mixed with water from Baekrodam, the lake atop Mount Halla. Jeju Island is the first Delphic Games host to participate in this ritual.
Poetry sparks debate To compliment the games, and to emphasize the importance of education, lectures and forums were held on a wide variety of topics pertaining to art and culture. Claude Mouchard, a French poet, accompanied by a panel of distinguished writers from around the world, conducted a forum titled: ‘Poetry in a time of Globalism.’ The discussion revolved around the question of whether poetry can be translated. With the audience encouraged to participate, the discussion evolved into a debate about whether or not one can accurately derive a winner in a poetry competition; especially when all work must be translated into English; a common language among the judges.
No definitive answer arose and only more questions emerged, highlighting the need for sensitivity to the views of others, and the need to investigate intellectual curiosities; two fundamental goals of the Delphic games. Nolwazi Mkathini, a South African poet in the audience, remarked to the room that the Games were “not to be a competition, but a mission to share the language of poetry.”
Art in the shadows There were a wide variety of events that encompassed several forms of art; all noted for being disciplines common to cultures worldwide. The shadow-play genre was no exception. With the absence of speech, and relying heavily upon movement, color, and the manipulation of light to tell a story; the four competing troupes from the Philippines, India and two from South Korea, were on equal footing. The plays were 30 minutes long and each team’s use of light and choice of narrative structure differed drastically.
The Korean troupes had a fairly thematic approach to their story; using indiscernible settings created through placing water, and other objects, over the light source, with the purpose of creating a mood rather than a destination. The Philippine team, on the other hand, had a linear story; enacted against collages made from recyclable materials and depicting urban settings. All the shadow-plays were cast against the tabula rasa of a white screen in the theatre at the Jeju Hall of Art.
India is currently in the process of bidding to host the next Delphic Games which will take place in 2012. Dilip Mishra, President of the Delphic Association of India, was present at Jeju’s hosting of the games to support India’s team in the shadow-play contest. When asked why the Delphic Games seem to place so much emphasis on competition and winning in the arena of arts and culture, which is usually an area reluctant to be ranked, he remarked very coolly and casually that “competition makes the work serious, competition makes the work better.”
As the competition winds down and participants and visitors gradually begin their journey home, residents of Jeju can be proud of their achievements in hosting the third Delphic Games. As Dhananjay Purushottam Pimpalkhute, a competing visual artist from India, explained, “I tell you truly, Jeju is a wonderful place; it is the soul of the world.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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