A late start, but a quick jump to the top

By Shim Woo-hyun

Ballerino An Jae-yong credits success at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo to hard work, director Maillot

  • Published : Apr 25, 2019 - 17:40
  • Updated : Apr 25, 2019 - 17:40

Until high school, An Jae-yong, 26 and principal dancer at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, had never thought of becoming a ballerino.

An was a student interested in many things. He liked sports, music, drawing and other activities. 

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s principal dancer An Jae-yong performs in the Jean-Christophe Maillot production of “Cinderella.” (Alice Blangero)

He had many dreams. Once, he wanted to be a professional snowboarder, but decided to become a plastic surgeon after watching a documentary on people who needed reconstructive surgery.

It was during his second year of high school that An’s path took a dramatic turn.

“My sister, who is an opera singer studying in Germany, told me once that I would make a good ballet performer. But, I did not pay any attention to what she said,” An said in an email interview with The Korea Herald. An is due in Seoul in June with the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s production of “Cinderella.”

His sister then gave him a DVD of “White Nights,” starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, which went unwatched.

“A couple of months later, I picked it up and watched it. I think I watched it three times in a row. The video was life-changing,” he said.

At once, An transferred to a high school where he could study ballet. He later went on to the Korea National University of Arts.

An started ballet late, so he needed to work hard to catch up to his fellow dancers.

“During my college years, I had three professors. I practiced from nine in the morning to midnight, to prepare myself for the different performances that they assigned,” An said.

After graduating in 2015, he applied for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and became an official member of the company in 2016 -- his longtime wish fulfilled. And Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo suits him well, the ballerino said.

An said he was very interested in modern and neoclassical ballet as a college student and wanted to perform abroad. “Professor Kim Yong-geol advised me, ‘Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo will be a good fit for you,’ and now I also feel the same,” he said.

An made quick progress and was promoted to principal dancer in the summer of 2018. 

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s principal dancer An Jae-yong performs in the Jean-Christophe Maillot production of “Cinderella.” (Alice Blangero)

“I don’t know the detailed grounds for the promotion. But I was told that the ballet master favored the way I approached rehearsals. When I was asked to correct my performances, I tried to make the changes as perfectly as I could. I also worked on ways to reinvent them,” An said.

An credited the ballet company’s longtime director Jean-Christophe Maillot for his quick success.

“The director, Mr. Maillot, offered me opportunities to perform important roles and freedom to express my artistic vision from the very beginning of my career with the company,” An said.

Maillot’s productions have cinematic qualities, according to An.

“Watching Mr. Maillot’s productions, you get the impression that the performers are in actual dialogues. His rendering of characters’ emotions feels like those you would find in films. The settings and costumes are simple in general, yet also change according to the scenes. His interpretation of music is accurate yet also special,” he said.

An said he sometimes paints on his own. He likes going to a Chagall gallery near his home in the tiny principality of Monte Carlo. An says fine art is a great source of inspiration. Someday, he wants to work on bringing the two genres together.

But his goal for the foreseeable future is to become a ballerino recognized by other ballet performers.

“To become recognized among professional ballet performers, you have to be a good performer and have a good personality.”

An will perform the roles of the prince and the father in Les Ballets De Monte-Carlo’s “Cinderella” at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, running June 12-14.

“Everything starts and gets done with feet,” said An in summarizing the work widely known for featuring a barefooted Cinderella.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)