With North Korea announcing that “Great Guidance,” the mass gymnastics and dance performance celebrating the founding of North Korea’s communist party, will run just through the end of the month, many Pyongyang residents reportedly want to see the spectacle – even if they have to pay to get in. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s attendance of the show’s first performance and its unprecedentedly short run is apparently driving up demand to see it.

“Even among Pyongyang residents, people in the central wards are saying they are going to go – even if they have to pay – since Kim attended it and it’s an original show,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Wednesday. “They want to go because they know its run will end soon, whereas in the past a performance like this would have [normally] started from the spring.”

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Pyongyang residents find it unusual and unique that the show was performed for Kim Jong Un first before it premiered for a more general audience. 

In fact, North Korean media outlets such as Meari had reported that “Great Guidance” would run from Oct. 12 in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium. On Oct. 11, however, Kim Jong Un and other major cadres attended a performance held in advance of the premiere.  

Kim also attended the first performance of last year’s gymnastics and dance spectacle “People’s Country,” but this year’s show was performed for Kim prior to its official opening, a fact that aroused greater public curiosity because it was reported in major North Korean media outlets such as Rodong Sinmun.

Tickets for the performance can only be purchased by people who have been selected within a seating allocation chart handed down by the authorities that is divided by workplace, organization, military unit or inminban – North Korea’s lowest administrative unit. Unsurprisingly, prices depend on the location of the seats, according to the source. 

Ticket prices have been set at KPW 30,000 for reserved seats and seats front and center; KPW 22,000 for front seats above the reserved seats; KPW 12,000 for seats to the left and right of the front and center seats; and, KPW 8,000 for lower seats. The source said, however, that foreigners, such as embassy staff in Pyongyang, have to pay for tickets based on US dollars. 

“After people affiliated with particular groups, organizations or inminban pay, they receive their tickets during the afternoon [before the start of their] show,” said the source. “People in outlying districts of Pyongyang aren’t showing much interest in the show since their entire families could live on that kind of money for a week. But it seems people living in the central districts of Pyongyang or well-heeled people in provincial areas want to go if they can.” 

North Korean authorities have issued quarantine rules to prevent the spread COVID-19 at the performances, including having everyone wear masks and ensuring people have more than one seat between them. When spectators have no choice but to sit packed together, ushers have been ordered to walk the aisles during the performances to check whether masks are being worn, or they watch over different groups at the performance using “telescope monitoring stations” erected at six spots in the stadium. 

Images published by North Korean media show that all spectators at the Oct. 11 performance were wearing masks.

mass gymnastics shows
An image from the performance of “Arirang.” / Image: (stephan), Flickr, Creative Commons

“Holding mass gymnastics and dancing performances on every major political holiday has now become our country’s tradition,” said the source. “Because this year [is the 75th anniversary of the communist party’s founding], [the authorities] had no choice but to organize the games to demonstrate the stability of the regime despite sanctions, the infectious disease and natural disasters, and to encourage unity among the population – if only during a short period of time.”

Meanwhile, the production team of last year’s show “People’s Country” produced this year’s performance, according to the source. Some 70% of the participants in last year’s show have apparently taken part in this year’s show as well.

Students were again mobilized for this year’s show. Their parents are said to be encouraging them to endure the shows to the very end despite the cold, telling them that since Kim attended the first performance, there will be “gifts” when the performance completes its run at the end of the month.

The source explained that “Great Guidance” is similar in composition to 2019’s “People’s Country” and 2018’s “The Glorious Country,” but scenes capturing the history and struggles of the Workers’ Party were broadly revised because this latest performance celebrates the founding of the communist party. 

In an Oct. 12 story on Kim’s attendance of the show, Rodong Sinmun reported that the performance included numbers such as the prologue “The March That Started from Mt Paektu Will Go on Forever,” “The Workers’ Party Is Our Guide,” “Along the Road of Socialism,” “Era of Stirring Events,” “Glory of the Nation” and the epilogue “We Have the Great Party.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.