[Herald Review] Kim Joo-won reprises role of Giselle in compelling performance

By Korea Herald

Universal Ballet Company concludes 30th anniversary production of ‘Giselle’

  • Published : Jun 16, 2014 - 21:00
  • Updated : Jun 16, 2014 - 21:01
Encompassing nearly every aspect of human emotion ― love, joy, agony and tortuous regret leading to an ultimate scene of forgiveness ― it’s no wonder why “Giselle” is one of the most popularly reprised and haunting ballet masterpieces of the Romantic era.

A young peasant girl with a weak heart, both figuratively and literally, is caught in a love triangle between fellow villager Hilarion and the handsome Albrecht. Yet, even with Hilarion’s full-hearted confession of love to Giselle, the emotionally and physically fragile village girl falls hopelessly in love with Albrecht and promises him her undying love.

Korea’s Universal Ballet Company gave new life to this time-honored story of devotion and deceit in its latest production of the classic ballet, which raised its curtains from Friday to Monday. 
Former Korean National Ballet principal dancer Kim Joo-won as Giselle. (Universal Ballet Company)

Reprising her iconic role as Giselle on Sunday night was guest principal and former Korean National Ballet principal dancer Kim Joo-won.

Kim’s portrayal of Giselle in the first act as free-spirited, yet feeble, was both compelling and elegantly poised. Her presence on stage not only shed light on her technical grace as a long-time principal dancer, but in her ability to truly embrace the expressive role of Giselle as she emotionally transitions from effervescently jubilant to grief-stricken and on the brink of mental instability.

After Albrecht, played by UBC principal dancer Lee Seung-hyun, also confesses his love for Giselle, the two share a brief moment of uninterrupted bliss as they dance side-by-side in seemingly effortless emotional tandem. However, Giselle’s world suddenly comes crashing down as she finds out that Albrecht is not the man she thought she knew. In fact, Albrecht is actually the Duke of Silesia who disguised himself as a peasant to win the young girl’s heart.

Kim, letting her hair loose, impressively embraced a shattering Giselle spiraling out of control after learning that not only was Albrecht a member of the royal family, but he is engaged to another woman. This shock to the heart poses too much for the fragile Giselle and leads to her untimely death in front of the whole village.

Despite the over-dramatized, prolonged enacting of Giselle’s death, as per the original intent of the script, the despair in Kim’s eyes was felt throughout the theater.

The ballet didn’t truly come alive until the second act, after Giselle’s passing and the appearance of her in spirit form. Amid the haunting backdrop of the misty, moonlit forest, the appearance of the dancers in chic white tutus dancing more in sync than in the first act gave the production a much-needed shift in sophistication.

Despite suffering through unimaginable betrayal, the merciful Giselle returns from the grave to ensure her love is not forced to dance to death by the vengeful Wilis’ evil spirits. The dramatic solo performances by Kim and Lee in the second act were mesmerizing in their depiction of Albrecht’s sincerest regret and Giselle’s unflinching compassion.

In the final scene, both Kim and Lee poignantly captured their respective character’s most vulnerable moments. Lee, realizing the errors of his ways, finally comes to terms with his actions resulting in the death of his one true love; and Giselle, opting against sweet revenge and instead committing one of the most selfless acts of the human race: turning the other cheek.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)