The Korea Herald


Korean National Ballet, Universal Ballet unveil new season lineups

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Jan. 2, 2024 - 19:59

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As the curtains rise on a new season, South Korea's two major ballet companies -- the Korean National Ballet and Universal Ballet -- have unveiled captivating lineups to enthrall audiences.

From the highly anticipated Korean premiere of John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid” to distinct Korean and beloved classics, both companies are set to unleash the magic of ballet with a compelling blend of movement and emotion.

"The Little Mermaid" (Kiran West)

KNB premieres ‘Little Mermaid’ in Korea

The Korean National Ballet is gearing up for the Korean premiere of John Neumeier’s adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" at the Seoul Arts Center in May.

Neumeier, widely acknowledged as one of today's foremost choreographers, has crafted a distinctive interpretation of the classic narrative, melding the pure yet intense love of the Little Mermaid with the tragic suffering she endures for the sake of love. Notably, the ballet showcases the Little Mermaid appearing on stage in a wheelchair, displaying her sacrifice to gain legs.

After spending four days with KNB dancers in August last year, Neumeier finalized the casting for this much-anticipated production, according to the ballet company.

In collaboration with Neumeier, the Royal Danish Ballet premiered “The Little Mermaid” in 2005 at the Copenhagen Opera House, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth.

The KNB has an impressive lineup of classical ballet masterpieces in store for audiences in the coming months.

It will kick off the season with "Swan Lake" in March, followed in June by a KNB rendition of "Don Quixote" rechoreographed by dancer-choreographer Song Jung-bin, based on Marius Petipa's original work. The version introduces a younger Don Quixote, who performs a pas de deux, instead of solely miming as in the original rendition.

The ninth edition of the KNB’s signature series, the “KNB Movement Series,” is to take place in June. Started in 2015 as a choreographic development project, the series has played a crucial role in bringing forth the artistic capabilities of KNB dancers such as Song. Over the years, the initiative has led to the creation of 52 original works.

"Romeo and Juliet" (Universal Ballet)

Universal Ballet celebrates 40th anniversary

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Universal Ballet, the first private ballet company in South Korea, has unveiled a diverse lineup, featuring both classical and original ballet works.

Kicking off the season, Universal Ballet will present "Korean Emotion" in February at the Universal Arts Center. Choreographed by the company's artistic director Liu Bingxian, the collection of nine short episodes explores various facets of relationships, delving into themes such as romantic love, family bonds and friendships.

Principal dancer Kang Mi-sun won the award for best female dancer at the prestigious Benois de la Danse in 2023 for her performance in the production. Kang portrayed a grieving widow who bids farewell to her deceased husband in the segment titled "Mirinaegil.”

Kenneth Macmillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” returns in May for the first time in eight years. The piece, which is praised for its faithful representation of the original storyline, premiered at the Royal Opera House in London in 1965. Universal Ballet was the first Korean dance company to secure the performance rights in 2012.

As an official invitation to The Ballet Festival Korea, "The Ballerina,” choreographed by Liu, will be performed May 31 and June 1. The production depicts the daily lives of dancers on stage and incorporates partial dialogue into the ballet.

"La Bayadere" (Korean National Ballet)

‘La Bayadere’ for fall, ‘Nutcracker’ for Christmas

Come fall, there will be a battle of two "La Bayadere" productions with Universal Ballet staging the piece in September and the Korean National Ballet performing the piece the following month.

Set against the backdrop of ancient India, the ballet depicts the love and betrayal of four main characters. It tells the story of temple dancer Nikiya and warrior Solor, who pledge eternal fidelity to each other. However, complications arise as the High Brahmin also harbors affection for Nikiya and the Rajah Dugmanta of Golconda chooses Solor to be the groom for his daughter Gamzatti.

With over 100 dancers and vibrant costumes, both productions promise to captivate the audience's attention throughout.

For the Christmas season, both companies will prepare festive delights with performances of the most beloved holiday classic, "The Nutcracker."

The perennial favorite will be featured in the Vasily Vainonen version by Universal Ballet and the Yury Grigorovich version by the KNB.