Tightrope walking is a widespread form of entertainment that in most countries focuses purely on acrobatic skill. The traditional Korean performing art of Jultagi is distinctive in that it is accompanied by music and witty dialogue between the tightrope walker and an earthbound clown. Jultagi is performed outside. The tightrope walker executes a variety of acrobatic feats on the rope, along with jokes, mimicry, songs and dance, while a clown engages the tightrope walker in joking banter, and a team of musicians plays music to accompany the entertainment.
The tightrope walker starts with simpler feats, gradually moving to more difficult acrobatics, displaying some forty different rope techniques in a performance that can last several hours. Today, tightrope walking performers are frequently invited to local festivals that take place throughout the country, particularly in spring and autumn. Currently, transmission of tightrope walking in Korea is centred on the Jultagi Safeguarding Association in Gyeonggi-do Province.
Jultagi was mainly performed on special holidays like April 15, Dano (5th day of the 5th lunar month) and Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month). Tightrope clowns also performed for payment at private parties. There were two types of Jultagi performance, one for entertaining people of the noble class performed by exceptionally skilled clowns, and the other for commoners with the focus on gags and entertainment.
Jultagi performance was comprised the tightrope clown, jokers, and the players of instruments like piri (flute), jeotdae (bamboo flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), buk (drum), and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum). The rope was about 10m long and 3m high. The feat was performed usually by a well-trained man. A folding fan or a towel held in the clown’s hand was for balancing the body. The instrumental players brightened up the atmosphere. The clown entertained the spectators by displaying ten-plus movements on the rope, in addition to singing or telling jokes about depraved monks or noblemen, displaying foolish acts, or imitating a woman applying facial makeup.