The Little Angels Children's Folk Ballet of Korea are the South Korean people's roving goodwill ambassadors.
On Wednesday night, before a sold-out Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, the 32 members of the troupe's present-day generation of child performers brought their message of peace to Orange County, delighting their audience with a performance that featured a repertoire of Korean folk dances.
During the two-hour show, the children — mostly girls ranging from 9 to 15 years old — changed in and out of an array of brilliantly colored costumes. Among other moves, they spun on the stage like tops or folded and unfolded themselves into a collective flower. They performed a series of 10 harvest time and festive dances from their country, with names like "Flower Crown," "Fan" and "Mask."
They were here on behalf of their country to say thank you to the American people and other nations within the U.N. system that intervened militarily during the 1950-53 Korean War against the communist forces.
In a videotaped message screened for the audience,Lee Myung-bak, president of the Republic of Korea, conveyed his country's gratitude and appreciation. South Korea's consul general in Los Angeles also made some remarks on stage.
"We are very appreciative of their participation — they saved our country," said Kenneth Han, a retired UC Irvine librarian and Korean American who lives in Costa Mesa, referring to Korean War veterans.
The Little Angels were making a one-night stop in O.C. as part of a world tour that began in 2010 to commemorate the war's 60th anniversary. They are touring the 16 U.N. member states that sent troops to the war, as well as five others that sent medical units then to the Korean Peninsula.
"We owe a debt of gratitude, a debt of blood that we can never fully repay," Bo Hi Pak, the 82-year-old chairman of the Korean Cultural Foundation, which oversees the Little Angels, told the audience.
Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang and Irvine Councilman Steven Choi were in the crowd.
Kang took to the stage to express his own words of appreciation as a Korean American.
"Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten by the people of Korea...," Kang said of the rows of war veterans seated at the front of the hall. "Tonight, we salute you with [our] deepest gratitude."
The Little Angels also are marking their 50th anniversary as goodwill ambassadors. Although the faces of the children have changed over the years, Pak, himself a Korean War vet, has overseen the Little Angels since their beginning.
The troupe was founded in 1962 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who also founded the Unification Church, the worldwide sect likened by some to be a cult. Moon, 92, also founded the Universal Peace Federation, a group promoting world peace that also helped organize the event.
The Korean Cultural Foundation sponsored the event. Pak also is a prominent figure in the Unification Church movement.
Over the decades, Little Angels troupes have performed in front of American presidents, including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and European royalty.
The troupe's local appearance was not part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' official program.
The audience was made up of Korean War veterans — American and Korean vets alike — Korean Americans and so-called "Moonies," Moon's followers.
Despite its solemnity, the evening was sprinkled with humorous moments, such as when the emcee, through a slip of the tongue, introduced Kang onto the stage as the "mayor of Irvine, Korea."
Kang quipped back: "We now have a new city in a new country."