If you thought your 2nd grade Christmas pageant where you spelled out 'Silent Night' with cardboard letters was impressive, it was nothing compared to the synchronized group performances in North Korea. Every year, thousands upon thousands of dancers, performers and schoolchildren train diligently for the mass games in celebration of national holidays like the birthdays of rulers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. The most popular mass games are the main attraction during the Arirang Festival in Pyongyang, when thousands of school children sit in the stands and flip color coded cards in a swift and synchronized movement to create a living mosaic backdrop for the dancers and flag wavers performing below. These amazing photos by German photographer/directer Werner Kranwetvogel show a side of North Korea that most have never seen.
Mass games developed as 19th century nationalist movements to promote youth, strength, militarism, and unity. The performances were thought of as a way to encourage group dynamics rather than singling out individuals. North Korea is now one of the few places where mass games are still commonly held, and the biggest and most popular event is held annually at the Arirang Festival. Children as young as five are asked to participate and spend months training in anticipation of the festival. The 2011 performance involved over 100,000 performers and lasted from the 1st of August through the 10th of October with four showings a week. The incredible show told the tale of North Korea’s history.
Dancers, flag-wavers, and children dance and perform on the stadium ground, while children seated in the opposite stands create the backdrops for the show. Each child is given a book with color coded cards, which they swiftly and deftly maneuver to change the scene. The card books are unique for each seat, and when put together they create spectacular works of nationalist art. Werner Kranwetvogel travels to the games regularly to document them and has published a book about the performances called A Night in Pyongyang. This living work of art is truly a spectacle and an impressive feat that requires hours of training and a lot of dedication – and frankly, it blows our piddly little US holiday school pageants out of the water.
Images © Werner Kranwetvogel, www.lumas.co.uk