Kang Sue-jin as emotionally spiraling geisha of ‘Madama Butterfly’

By Korea Herald

Ballet production of Puccini opera to be staged in Korea for first time

  • Published : Jul 2, 2014 - 20:03
  • Updated : Jul 2, 2014 - 20:04
John Luther Long’s 19th century tale “Madame Butterfly” is not a narrative that can be personally related to by the masses.

While most women cannot even begin to empathize with the fictional story of Cho-Cho-San, or Madame Butterfly ― a geisha trapped in a whirlwind of blind love, deception and gut-wrenching betrayal, and pushed to the very brink of suicide ― renowned dancer Kang Sue-jin has taken on the arduous task of reliving her forbearance and suffering on the stage for the first time ever in Korea.

The short story-turned-opera (“Madama Butterfly”), turned ballet, is gearing up to open on Friday for a special three-day performance featuring leading lady Kang, one of the nation’s most well-respected and iconic ballerinas. 
A scene from the Innsbruck Dance Company’s upcoming production of “Madama Butterfly.” (Credia)

The dancer, along with leading ballerino Carlos Contreras Ramirez and artistic director Enrique Gasa Valga, spoke about the upcoming three-day production, which has already sold-out, during a press conference on Wednesday at the Gallery Mano, which has boldly exhibited enlarged black-and-white stills of the beloved dancer Kang.

“If she (Kang) had said no, I wouldn’t have made the ballet at all,” said director Valga, who stated that he produced the ballet solely with Kang in mind as the leading butterfly. “She was my inspiration.”

“From a ballerina’s perspective, to have someone tailor a stage performance with specifically me in mind, it’s just a great honor,” said Kang, who is also currently the artistic director for the Korean National Ballet and a principal for the Stuttgart Ballet.

Having thought for more than a decade about producing a ballet based off the classic literary piece, Ramirez admitted that the idea to cast Kang as the leading lady actually first came from his mother.
From left: “Madama Butterfly” artistic director and choreographer Enrique Gasa Valga and principal dancers Kang Sue-jin and Carlos Contreras Ramirez speak at a press conference held at the Gallery Mano in Seocho-gu, Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

“She told me, if you are going to do ‘Madama Butterfly,’ then you must have Kang Sue-jin in the performance,” said Ramirez, who also referred to her as “the only butterfly.”

“There are a lot of people in the world who are good dancers, but there are very few world stars,” he continued. “For someone like Kang Sue-jin, there is something about her soul that is very special on the stage and that’s something that she brings to her role and the ballet.”

When asked whether Kang had any challenges portraying a character who is a Japanese woman in the original, the dancer stated that the role came very naturally to her.

“I think one of the important things about this piece is that it is about a person,” Kang explained. “This is a story about the struggles of being human ... portraying people from different cultural backgrounds doesn’t matter because this is art.”

“When I read the book, I thought to myself that she (Cho-Cho-San) had characteristics that I relate to and I felt as though I had it in me to express these emotions,” she added.

The anticipation of Kang’s return to the local stage, especially in a production that has never been performed in Korea, has ballet fans hyped. The 2,340-seat Opera Theatre in the Seoul Arts Center will be hosting three sold-out shows from Friday through Sunday.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)