She’s done “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Nutcracker.”
But many local ballet fans will remember ballerina Ahn Ji-eun as Shim Chung, the girl who pays off her blind father’s debts by selling herself to sailors and later plunges into the sea.
The Korean folktale ballet, which is also the signature repertoire of Korea’s Universal Ballet Company, also remains the 36-year-old dancer’s favorite for its rich theatrical elements. The ballerina, who does not hide her obvious preference for narrative-driven pieces over the classical, is now ahead of her first show as the famous heroine of Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet.”
“The classical pieces, such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ are mostly about the dance techniques,” Ahn tells The Korea Herald.
“But pieces like ‘Shim Chung’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are a collaboration of a lot of things. They require acting, musicality and dance to make one brilliant package.”
The upcoming show is choreographed by late British ballet dancer and choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, who served as the artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 1970-1977. The UBC is the first Korean troupe to stage MacMillan’s 1965 version of the piece, which is famous for its theatrical elements on top of the much-loved choreography. Its dancers are required to be dancer-actors, rather than simply showcase perfect posture and pointe work.
|Universal Ballet’s principal dancer Ahn Ji-eun poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“I think Juliet is very honest and curious,” said Ahn.
“When she finds out she likes Romeo, she does not try to hide it. She knows she wants to be loved, and openly demands it. That’s the Juliet that I understand.”
Though the upcoming show is Ahn’s first “official” appearance as Juliet, she performed the role back in 2002 in a version created by the UBC’s artistic director emeritus Oleg Vinogradov. The one-day performance was held in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, in celebration of the 2002 World Cup Games.
“The two versions are certainly very different,” said Ahn.
“While the 2002 show very much focused on the dance movements, the upcoming show is all about what the characters feel. Its mimes are very straightforward and easy to understand; many will find the piece very much like a theatrical play. I think I performed the 2002 show without knowing much. Now that I’m more experienced in both dance and life, it’s certainly more fun to play the role.”
Ahn is one of the three UBC dancers selected to be Juliet by Julie Lincoln, a former Royal Ballet dancer and now stager of various MacMillan projects. Ahn is paired up with British-born freelance dancer Robert Tewsley, who previously worked as a principal dancer for the Stuttgart Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet. He performed in Korea twice, in 1999 and 2002, in “The Lady of Camellias,” along with Korea’s star ballerina Kang Sue-jin.
“Julie really is charismatic and pushes us to do our best,” said Ahn.
“She really wants me to feel what Juliet must be feeling. And Robert is an amazing dancer. We’ve only been practicing together for about the last 10 days. But Romeo and Juliet are not long-time friends; they fall in love at first sight. So I think the fact that we have much to learn about each other suits the concept of the show in many ways.”
Ahn said the most challenging scene to act out is the one that takes place the morning after Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. “The deathbed scene is actually not so challenging because it’s easy to predict what she must be feeling,” Ahn said.
“But in that particular scene, Juliet is overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions. She is angry at Romeo for what he has done to her own cousin. She doesn’t want him to leave her, though he promises he’ll come back. And in spite of all of that, she loves him. So in the scene, she kisses him, gets upset at him, asks him not to go, gets upset again, and eventually lets him go. It’s challenging to follow that flow and make it convincing to the audience.”
Ahn joined the UBC in 2001, and her repertoire includes leading roles in “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Don Quixote,” “Shim Chung” and “The Love of Chunhyang.” The 36-year-old, who goes through weekly pilates and massage sessions on top of regular practice and rehearsals to “be in shape for stage,” said she wants to be on stage as long as she can.
“I’ve thought about retiring,” she said. “I guess it won’t be so easy to play the physically demanding pieces like ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as I get older. But I’d love to play the narrative-driven pieces ― which are also less physically challenging ― as long as I can if I’m allowed.”
“Romeo and Juliet” runs from July 7-14 at Seoul Arts Center. The troupe will collaborate with Gangnam Symphony Orchestra led by Paul Connelly. For tickets and information, call (02) 580-1300 or visit www.sacticket.co.kr.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com)