The Korea Herald


Kim Ji-young’s seasoned Giselle touches audience

By Park Min-young

Published : Feb. 24, 2011 - 19:45

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Original French version is Korea National Ballet’s first-ever sellout show

The sight of her tearstained face wrenched onlookers’ hearts, as she held up her hands in a plea to save her beloved’s life.

Playing Giselle, Korea National Ballet’s principal dancer Kim Ji-young, not only impressed the press rehearsal audience with her acclaimed technique, but also wooed her viewers with an emotionally intense performance of the painful love story.

“No, I didn’t take any special lessons in acting. But when you listen to the music and try to understand its emotions and fully express them through your body, the facial expressions naturally follow. You can’t scowl when you are dancing to a joyful music, or you can’t smile when you are flinching with pain,” Kim told The Korea Herald after the final rehearsal before the press at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater on Wednesday. 
Ballerina Kim Ji-young (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald) Ballerina Kim Ji-young (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Though she had seemed frail on stage, the strong voice and confident character she exuded backstage showed why she is currently one of the three principal female dancers of the company. She has been a principal dancer for five years from 1997 until she went to join the Dutch National Ballet in 2002.

Kim was the first ever Korean to join the Dutch company but became a principal dancer there as well. She learned more and came back to her home company in 2009. This is the fourth time she has played the role of Giselle.

“I can’t really remember how I did it before. But now, I think I have become better at expressing my feelings on stage,” said Kim.

Indeed, when Giselle first met Duke Albrecht she hopped like a young country girl in love; when she discovered the Duke’s fianc, her staggering dance, loose hair and darting eyes expressed both madness and grief; and when she begged for the duke to be freed her tempered, cautious movements perfectly portrayed the tragedy of the story.

Korea National Ballet is off to a good start this year. Their first “Giselle” in nine years, which opened Thursday, is completely sold out. They had to open extra tickets on the fourth floor, which cost 5,000 won each. 
A scene from “Giselle” performed at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater on Wednesday. (Korea National Ballet) A scene from “Giselle” performed at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater on Wednesday. (Korea National Ballet)

“I didn’t know that Korean ballet-goers liked Giselle this much. Perhaps Kim Yu-na’s (Giselle) performance had an effect, not that we used that to promote our show. I think there is a growing interest in ballet, especially after many ballerinas and ballerinos appeared on TV recently and many ballet-inspired clothes have been launched by fashion brands. The public got curious,” said Kim.

When people think of ballet, they usually imagine “ballet blanc,” or the “white ballet,” which is represented by “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.” This show might have evoked more interest because it is the original 19th century French version, Kim added.

This “Giselle,” the company’s 136th show, is directed by Patrice Bart, choreographer of Paris National Opera Ballet. Music is led by Italian conductor Marzio Conti and the Korean Symphony Orchestra and the costumes are designed by Luis Spinatelli.

“I was not a big fan of ‘Giselle’ at first. But the more you get to know it, the more you realize that it is a real masterpiece. Unlike other works which you have to focus on communicating with the audience, this one makes you concentrate on your inner self. I feel as if it is my life on stage,” said Kim.

Two more ballerinas share the main role with Kim this time ― Kim Joo-won, one of the other principal female dancers and inarguably the face of the company; and Lee Eun-won, an ambitious 20-year-old who was cast in the role when she was only an intern last year. She became a member of the company this year.

“No words are necessary to explain Joo-won’s Giselle because she is already so famous for the character and she is such a veteran. Eun-won is a debutant, who is so pure and innocent. Her purity seems to flow out on stage,” said Kim Ji-young.

Does she feel nervous, witnessing younger ballerinas climbing up, getting ready to take her place?

“I can’t say I don’t. I’ve seen Eun-won since she was just a little girl, playing the roles as one of the kids. But rather than being nervous, I think I get to recall more of my past and imagine how the elder ballerinas at the time must have felt when I first came,” she said.

Kim, who was just a skinny young girl before she started ballet, is perhaps the most like the lead character, a girl with a weak heart who loves to dance.

“Kim Ji-young’s Giselle has changed a lot over the years. This time, I am going to play it naturally and artlessly. Giselle is a girl who grew up overprotected, like a plant in a greenhouse. She is not the least bit tainted ― she is so innocent, pure, believes in everything she hears and loves to dance, despite her weak heart. I am going to play her as she is, and express all the feelings I feel at the moment.”

Giselle runs through Feb. 27 at the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. For more information, call (02) 580-1300 or visit

By Park Min-young  (