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[Herald Interview] Julia Moon striving for greater inclusion with Universal Ballet

Hailed as one of the first Korean ballerinas to achieve widespread international fame, Julia Moon is seeking to expand the global network of Universal Ballet and make it more “universal.”

One of the founding members of the Universal Ballet -- among the top ballet companies in the country, rivaling the Korean National Ballet -- Moon has been its general director for the past decade, since retiring as principal dancer.

Now in its 32nd year, the director says the company is ready to branch out more into international territory, having recently welcomed five new full-time Russian dancers to join the ballet troupe. 

Julia Moon, general director of Universal Ballet, poses during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)
Julia Moon, general director of Universal Ballet, poses during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)

“We used to always keep a limit on how many foreign dancers we had at the company, but we decided that in this day and age, that’s not necessary -- universal is universal, we don’t want to have that limitation anymore so that the company can become more international,” said Moon in an interview with The Korea Herald at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Monday. 

“This is one of the ways we want to differentiate ourselves (from the Korean National Ballet),” she continued. “I think it will be more interesting for the audience to experience something different, even if it’s the same music and the same story. Of course the stories are completely different versions, it’s about the character of the company that we are focusing to be more global.”

As of this year, the Universal Ballet consists of 65 members, 29 of whom are non-Koreans.

“Ballet is a Western art form, so from day one our company has always had Westerns dancers. But I have always thought that the blend of the East and the West made a production look more natural,” she explained. “I think having that type of blend within the company helps Koreans understand more of this Western art form, while the Korean dancers help Westerners add more of the Asian work ethic so to speak.”

Over the past decade, Moon has been one of the leading figures in the ballet world propelling the image of Korean dancers outside the peninsula. The company’s biggest break came in 1998, when the troupe was invited to the New York City Center in Manhattan to perform “Swan Lake” and its original ballet production of the Korean folk tale “Shim Chung,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. 

Julia Moon, general director of Universal Ballet, poses during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)
Julia Moon, general director of Universal Ballet, poses during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)

Both performances received positive reviews from local critics, but they snagged special high praise for introducing “Shim Chung,” which was considered Korea’s equivalent to “Madame Butterfly” set in Japan and “Turandot” set in China.

Since then, “Shim Chung” has toured around the world and was invited to tour in Indonesia later this year.

In honor of the production’s 30th year, Universal Ballet’s local staging of the ballet this summer is slated to be condensed down from three acts to two to appease those who found it overly long. The new production will also feature special cameo appearances by five of the past fathers of Shim Chung and five past Shim Chungs, including a stage appearance by the director herself.

“I will be one of the five Shim Chungs,” Moon added with a smile.

“It’s really just a mime part, I wouldn’t do it if it were a dancing part because after 16 years ... yeah,” she said, bursting into laughter. “It’s just acting with a little bit of movement, so it’s not too much pressure, but you’d be surprised when you get in a long dress and go onstage how easy it is to trip over. Even just walking across the stage can be very stressful.”

“I’m usually in the back, dealing with administration. It’s just a totally different mindset to be onstage. This is a special year for ‘Shim Chung’ so I think it will be very meaningful to have these five past Shim Chungs.”

The Universal Ballet’s staging of “Shim Chung” will be held from June 10 to 18 at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater. Prior to this performance, the troupe will first return to the stage with the contemporary dance work of “This is Modern,” which will be held at the Seoul Arts Center’s Towol Theater for two shows only on May 20 and 21.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)



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