Korean ballet is on focus nowadays. Two main ballet companies of Korea, 'Korea National Ballet (KNB)', and 'Universal Ballet (UB)', are now internationally acknowledged for their artistic latent energy, being compared to world-class ballet companies. In fact, Korea ballet was out of B30 (Ballet Ranking Top 30) ten years ago. But now its reputation has been prominently enhanced, as Korean ballet troupes are being invited to foreign countries, surely raising the pride of Korea’s dance world.
he world’s eye on Korea ballet
KNB has been leading the popularization of ballet, performing 81 times in 2009, 123 times last year throughout the country including its capital city, Seoul. Last year KNB performed in Bolshoi Theater (Bolshoi Teatr) and Mariinskii Theater (Mariinskii Teatr), creating a better reputation of Korean ballet. Recently, KNB was invited to theaters of Italy and France and currently further schedules in details are under discussion. A specific plan for a performance at San Carlo Theater (Teatro San Carlo) in Napoli, Italy will be carried out by this October. This theater is one of the most prominent theaters comparable to La Scala Theater in Milan (Teatro alla Scala di Milano) or Rome Opera House of Italy. Stressing the fact this historic stage was founded 39 years before the globally honored La Scala Theater in Milan, the invitation is much more meaningful.
KNB is also invited to 'Les etes de la danse', a dance festival held in Paris and further schedules for the 2014 performance are as well under discussion. In addition, KNB is planning to perform in Caracalla Theater (Terme di Caracalla) and Rome Opera House next year. Especially this performance will be a very historical occasion for Korea, as Italy is a birthplace of ballet, and France is meaningful home of ballet where it became an independent art genre.
UB is also planning to have a tour in 40 countries within the next 3 years. 'Shim Chung' and 'Giselle' is already scheduled to perform in 8 cities of 6 countries including Taiwan (April), Singapore (May), U.S.A. and Canada (July), Japan (September), and Oman (November) this year. Most of these concerts were attained by UB directly contacting the local theaters who happened to respond with great enthusiasm.
Last year UB staged an original ballet ‘Shim Chung’ in Taipei. The 1,500 seats of the National Theater of Taiwan were full with audiences and after the performance enthusiastic response and applause has continued for over ten minutes; there were some people who did not leave the hall even after the three curtain calls, proving how successful the show was. Not actually the Western ballet but the music, costumes, and stage effects that well featured Korean characteristic was what captured the eyes of the Taiwanese audiences. It is worth to note that the National Theater of Taiwan is very selective about the quality of the performance to put on stage while little chances are open to foreign organizations. The fact UB of Korea has won such opportunity, especially with sponsored stage facilities charges and stay expenses, indicates the notably enhanced reputation of Korean ballet.
The rise of Korean ballet masterpieces
With many rising young talented ballet dancers, the future of Korean ballet is more than positive. The number of ballet audiences is growing as well as that of ballet lovers who search for shows of their favorite dancer to send wholehearted support. Korean ballet companies are now being invited to renowned ballet theater overseas. What has made such transition?
First, Korean ballet companies who has been collaborating with foreign staffs now are being recognized for their talent. ‘Giselle’ recently staged by KNB was possible with the positive feedbacks of the foreign staffs who worked with the troupes in Korea before. Such feedbacks shared with other professionals in the overseas dance field led opportunities for Korean ballet troupes to prove their talent and stage performances in front of the world audience.
Besides, Korean ballet dancers who successively take main roles on international ballet stages, join world-class ballet companies and win international ballet competition awards has been another significant factor that helped Korean ballet to win favorable attention from the world. Now these dancers from Korea have good physique as a ballet dancer equivalent to fellow Westerners and exceptional talent receiving great compliments. Hyo-Jung Kang, who studied in Sunhwa arts school of Korea and now a ballet soloist of Stuttgart Ballet, Germany has been selected to take the Juliet role of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Sang-Eun Lee, former member of UB and who recently joined Dresden Semperoper Ballet has won a role of La bayadere. These young dancers, both having experiences performing classic and modern repertories, have proved the high standard of Korean ballet with skills and physique comparable to any other world dancers. Even in Russia, a ballet power, Korean dancers are taking their roles and joining classic programs such as ‘Swan Lake’ of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
The high standard quality of Korean ballet programs is one other contribution. Korean ballet companies are creating and staging original ballet performance such as ‘Prine HoDong’ or ‘Sim Chung’ that features the aesthetic of Korea, while foreign choreographers has been invited to teach ballet techniques upgrading the skills of Korean ballet dancers. The beautiful combination of traditional Korean melody and classic ballet movements are what captures the eyes and hearts of foreign audiences. The powerful and futuristic Korea ballet performance was enough to give a strong impression to the overseas audience of e.g. Poland and Russia; it was no doubt ballet, a Western dance genre, but beautifully performed by dancers from the Eastern land, Korea.
From ballet to classic art
Since the new millennium, the reputation and fame of Korean ballet has been remarkably enhanced, thanks to frequent exchanges with foreign ballet troupes and performing arts professionals.
Yet it is true in Korea, classic art including ballet has been still trapped in the image of an aristocratic art genre. Even in contemporary times with its long tradition and expensive ticket prices it has been considered as a culture to be enjoyed by the privileged. Also the exclusiveness of ballet is a problem to solve. In Korea, people still think of romantic ballet or classic ballet as its typical type, which in fact consists of most of all performances that are shown on stage these days. In overseas, the percentage of classic and contemporary ballet is half and half. Korea should now put more effort to promote contemporary ballet and overcome the stereotypical image of the genre so that more people can enjoy ballet as a popular cultural activity.
A national prestige cannot be mentioned without its cultural status. With continuous efforts of performing arts professionals to promote classical art besides ballet supported with interests of the general public, we can expect a brighter future of Korean ballet glittering on world stage.