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Dancing through gugak on toe shoes

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 11, 2012 - 20:23

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Korea National Ballet experiments with gayageum master Hwang Byung-ki to add ‘something Korean’ to the Western dance


Forget about tutus, Tchaikovsky and pas de deux ― the very first things that come to your mind when you think of ballet. Korea National Ballet, one of the major ballet troupes here, attempts to create something new and also Korean by featuring gayageum master Hwang Byung-ki this month.

“I think Korean ballet has become one of the top class troupes in the world. And I thought it is the right time for the Korean ballet to develop its own repertoire with Korean music. I feel happy to work with the KNB on that,” Hwang told reporters at a press conference held in Monday in Seoul.

The master has been composing music for gayageum or the Korean 12-stringed zither, for more than 50 years. He was also active in collaborating with other artists like cellist Chang Han-na, filmmakers and even b-boy dancers.
A promotional image of KNB’s new project “A Beautiful Encounter” featuring gayageum master Hwang Byung-ki and three acclaimed choreographers (KNB) A promotional image of KNB’s new project “A Beautiful Encounter” featuring gayageum master Hwang Byung-ki and three acclaimed choreographers (KNB)

Based on his composition, three acclaimed artists ― Park Il, ballet master of the troupe; Nicolas Paul, choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet; and Chung Hye-jin, artistic director of Seoul Performing Arts Company, a Korean dance troupe ― created separate pieces that express the beauty of Korean traditional music.

The attempt to merge different cultural traditions is also in line with Korea National Ballet’s goal to create works that reflect not only Korea’s identity but also a common language the whole world can relate to.

“I feel really honored to work with a living legend like Hwang. When I first heard his music, I felt like my soul was completely shaking. It really touched my heart and that is why I decided to work with KNB on this project,” Paul of the Paris Opera Ballet said.

The dancer-turned-choreographer said Hwang’s music talks about all sorts of human emotions through a simplified musical format.

“I felt that there is a certain rule in gugak but it expresses human emotion in depth. And based on that impression, I created this work,” said Paul who created a modern ballet piece titled “Nobody on the Road.” He used Hwang’s composition titled “Silk Road.”

The other choreographers Park and Chung have dramatized Korean tales in their creations. Park created his work “Crazy Butterfly Flies Away” based on the story of Kim Sat-gat, a Joseon-period wandering poet, while Chung, an expert of Taepyeongmu, an early 20th century Korean traditional dance, portrayed women’s endless sorrow in her work “Moon.”

“I wanted to ‘balletize’ Korean dance. I wanted to show the Korean dance can be presented in the form of ballet movement,” Chung said.

The collaboration with Hwang is KNB’s latest project celebrating its 50th anniversary.

In June, the troupe staged an experimental, contemporary ballet piece “Poise” that maximized the aesthetic beauty of human movement in collaboration with fashion designer Jung Kuho and modern dance choreographer Ahn Hyun-sang.

The troupe has been trying to create unprecedented shows other than just performing classical ballet repertories to meet the heightened expectations of local ballet fans, said Choi Tae-ji, head of KNB.

“A Beautiful Encounter” featuring gayageum master Hwang Byung-ki will be staged at LG Arts Center in Seoul on Sept. 27-28. Tickets range from 20,000 won to 60,000 won. For more information call (02) 587-6181.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)