Korean National Ballet opens season with ‘La Bayadere’

By Claire Lee

Famed ballerina and KNB artistic director Kang Sue-jin to premiere ‘Seventh Symphony’and ‘The Rite of Spring’ in October

  • Published : Mar 2, 2014 - 19:32
  • Updated : Mar 2, 2014 - 19:34
A scene from the Korean National Ballet’s “La Bayadere.” (KNB)

The Korean National Ballet, which welcomed new artistic director famed ballerina Kang Sue-jin in February, is opening its 2014 season with Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadere.” It is the first ballet Kang is staging since her appointment earlier this year.

The ballet company premiered Petipa’s 1877 piece last year, showcasing its own, slightly altered version specially created for the troupe by Russian choreographer Yury Grigorovich. The first run of the ballet, featuring the tragic love story of a Hindu temple dancer, was a smash hit, selling 92 percent of seats last year.

The upcoming production will be accompanied live by the Korean Symphony Orchestra to be conducted by special guest Judith Yan.

Yan, currently the artistic director of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra in Canada, has taken the baton for numerous ballet and opera troupes in Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Canada and the U.S. It is the first time she has conducted the orchestra for the Korean National Ballet. Yan is known to be a close friend of Kang’s.

Set in India, “La Bayadere” begins with a passionate romance between the “bayadere” (temple dancer) Nikiya and a young warrior, Solor. It eventually turns tragic as the High Brahmin, who has fallen for Nikiya, and Gamzatti, the ruler’s daughter who is desperate to marry Solor, collude to break them apart. The ballet is noted for its music composed by Ludwig Minkus, sumptuous costumes and its famous scene known as “The Kingdom of the Shades,” featuring 32 corps de ballet dancers in white tutus.

The troupe’s four female principals ― Kim Ji-young, Park Seuk-ki, Lee Eun-won and Kim Li-hoe ― share the role of Nikiya, while Lee, Park and grand soloist Shin Seung-won play the powerful and manipulative Gamzatti, who ruthlessly dashes Nikiya’s hopes of love and life. 

Shortly after Kang took office as artistic director, the Korean National Ballet outlined its performance lineup for 2014. After “La Bayadere” in March, it is staging the Tchaikovsky classic “Swan Lake” in April, “Don Quixote” in June, and Tchaikovsky’s timeless Christmas ballet “The Nutcracker” in December. 

Ballerina Kang Sue-jin, who has became the new artistic director of the Korean National Ballet in February. (KNB)

The two and only new repertoires being showcased this year are “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky and Uwe Scholz’s “Seventh Symphony,” a dance performance to Beethoven’s famous score of the same title. Of the two, “The Right of Spring” was choreographed by American dancer and choreographer Glen Tetley in 1974. From 1974 to 1976, Tetley served as the artistic director of Stuttgart Ballet, where Kang danced as a principal since 1997.

German dancer and choreographer Uwe Scholz’s “Seventh Symphony” staged its world premiere by the Stuttgart Ballet in 1991. The two pieces are to be performed together in the same run scheduled for October.

After accepting the position at the national ballet, Kang cancelled all her pre-booked performances with the Stuttgart Ballet, except for three shows to be staged in Korea: “Madame Butterfly,” with the Innsbruck Dance Company in July this year; “Onegin” with the Stuttgart Ballet in 2015; and a special performance commemorating her retirement, scheduled to take place in 2016.

The celebrated ballerina, who has numerous awards including the Prix Benois de la Danse under her belt, is the seventh to hold the ballet’s head position. She is preceded by the highly respected Choi Tae-ji, who spent a total of 12 years as the troupe’s artistic director, from 1996 to 2001 and 2008 to 2013.

“La Bayadere” will run from March 13-16 at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater in Seocho-dong, Seoul. Tickets range from 5,000 won to 100,000 won. For more information, call (02) 587-6181 or 1566-1369.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)