Ever since Winter Sonata and Bae Yong-joon hit television screens, South Korean artists have enjoyed a surge in popularity throughout the region. The first wave brought movie actresses such as Choi Ji-woo and Jeon Ji-hyeon (of My Sassy Girl fame), as well as popsters such as BoA and Hyori. A second wave is set to carry performing artists whose talents in the fields of dance, theatre and music have so far been confined to South Korean shores. 'Maybe it's because of historic links,' says J.P. Nathan, director of programming at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore. 'Japan had a long history with America, and Hong Kong with the UK - but the Koreans have been more insular and less integrated into the artistic community.' Things are changing fast. After touring universities in California this month, The Lim, a South Korean new-age music group, will perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. The group, who combine traditional Korean instruments such as the haegeum (two-stringed fiddle) and the gayageum (12-stringed zither) with modern bass, piano and guitar, are then due to return to the US in September to perform at the Lincoln Centre in New York as part of the Concert for Peace. Dance troupe Soom Movement will perform Air's Dream, a piece choreographed by Kuk Eun-mi, at Tokyo's Mapo Platz Theatre in July. 'The export of Korean performing arts is still at the beginning stage,' says Han Min-ho, director of the arts promotion division at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in South Korea. Han says language has been a barrier to exporting South Korean artists, but with a new generation of twentysomethings now speaking English, it's becoming easier. The South Korean central bank estimates that income from the culture and entertainment sector was worth US$67.8 million between January and April - up 142 per cent over the same period last year. The culture ministry is determined to promote its artists abroad. 'The Koreans are doing a terrific job at exporting their artists,' says Douglas Gautier, executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. 'There's a lot of young talent around and I've seen some very exciting shows.' In October, the first Performing Arts Market in Seoul will promote tradition-based, contemporary performances in Asia, and South Korean artists will be featured prominently. Noriko Ohara, director of international relations at the Tokyo Performing Arts Market 2005, says she's also planning to bring several South Korean artists ('probably dance or music') in September. 'The interest in Korea has been going on for some time in Japan,' Ohara says. 'More recently there's been a big boom, especially among the fortysomething Japanese, with the interest in Korean drama such as Winter Sonata.' Gautier says he saw energetic percussionist group Dulsori two years ago at the Asian Arts Mart (in Singapore) and brought them to Hong Kong. Since then, the musicians have toured Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This summer, they'll play in Malaysia, Jerusalem and Britain. Gautier says he's considering bringing to Hong Kong in 2007 or 2008 a 'wonderful little piece of children's theatre' by Tuida, a performance group who use traditional Korean music and hand-crafted paper and fabric puppets. The South Korean arts scene is flourishing. There are more than 250 theatre groups, with 160 in Seoul alone. Each year about 1,500 dance performances take place - more than half of them in the capital - and there are now five international dance festivals each year. 'Korea's drama side is obviously very strong,' Gautier says. 'But I'd say music and dance are even stronger. A lot of the young contemporary dance companies are terrific, with lots of energy, innovation and a good sense of music. They're also very strong technically.' Young South Korean musicians are increasingly mixing traditional instruments with electric ones in search of a new sound. 'They're very secure and confident in their culture,' says Gautier. 'So, they can easily push the boundaries and push it to the next level.' The Lim, which means 'a forest', is one such group. 'When we first started, there weren't that many companies doing this,' says group leader Shin Chang-yool. 'But now it's become a big trend in Korea and a lot of musicians studying traditional instruments are getting together to explore this kind of cross-over music.' The seven-member group has released one record in South Korea and is hoping to release a new one later this year. 'It's really fascinating to see our music prompt many Koreans, who have little interest in traditional music, to listen to this sound,' says gayageum player Jung Hye-sim.