One of the best parts about living in Seoul is that Korea is right next door to Russia, home to the greatest ballet dancers in the world. Many traditional Russian ballets are performed in Korea. There is even a ballet company with a mix of Korean and Russian dancers called The Universal Ballet Company. Last Friday I went to see the Universal Ballet Company perform the traditional Russian ballet, “Onegin.” I even dragged two of my girlfriends with me this time (and they actually enjoyed it and didn’t fall asleep). This ballet is based on the novel “Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin. This ballet is not one of the popular ones in America, which made it important for me to see while I’m out here on the other side of the world. Even though the music to the ballet was by the very familiar composer, Tchaikovsky, it was the first time I had ever heard the music for this ballet. Apparently this was the first time for this ballet to be shown in Korea and it is only the second Asian company to have the rights to perform the ballet.
The story of the ballet is a dramatic love story that ends in tragedy. Onegin is a wealthy Russian man who is very arrogant and looks down upon country women, like Tatyana, who falls in love with him. He shows disinterest towards her and doesn’t realize his mistake until later in life when she is already married. He attempts to get her back when he is aging and gray, but she refuses to break apart her marriage. In the end he is denied by Tatyana and left to live his life alone forever. The dancer who played Onegin’s character did an excellent job and really made the audience hate him and his pompous attitude. The ending is very dramatic. Although you want to be happy that Tatyana rejected him after he was such a jerk, it is still emotional to see the pain she is going through. She had to reject her true love, but in her heart she did the right thing. The set design and costumes were simple, but gorgeous and the dancers were perfect. It was refreshing to see a ballet other than the classics like “Swan Lake” and “Giselle” that I have seen over and over again.
Thursday night I decided to take myself on a little date to the ballet. So far I have seen quite a few ballets here in Seoul and I wanted to add “Romeo & Juliet” to my list. Thursday night was the opening performance of Korean National Ballet’s “Romeo et Juiette.” If you could tell by the title, this wasn’t the average classical ballet, but rather a French choreographer named Jean-Christophe Maillot’s post-classical modern version of the ballet.
When the curtain rose up on the opening scene I was a little jarred to see that the classical Shakespearean sets and costumes that I expected to see were replaced by a clean, white set design and costumes that could have been easily placed in any era. The classical music was still the same, but the choreography and even the characters were portrayed very abstractly. By the end of the first act I was used to the modern take on the classical ballet and I grew to enjoy it. What was the most interesting part of this ballet is that even though the quintessential elements of Romeo and Juliet such as the balcony set and the weapons and potions used to commit the suicides were missing, the story line could still be understood. The simplicity of the set and the lack of fancy props made the audience focus on the beauty of the dancers and the story that they were telling through their abstract movements.
Since the age of five, a year has not gone by where I have not either performed or seen The Nutcracker ballet. The only thing that really makes the Christmas season come alive for me is when I am sitting in the theater listening to Tchaikovsky’s infamous overture. I can’t explain the feeling, but I think it stems from all those years backstage waiting for the curtains to go up and the magic of the party scene to begin. I just can’t help feeling a bit of nervousness and excitement when I hear that music, especially when it’s a live orchestra.
Last night I went to see the Korean National Ballet perform The Nutcracker. Next to the Kirov Ballet, I definitely think this was the best one I have ever seen. First of all I had amazing seats. One of the few great things about being single around the holidays is that when you ask for one ticket to something they give you a great seat for a great price because there’s always one leftover seat in a row that no one is going to take. So I had second row seats at a second balcony price. The opening scene blew me away. This was the first time to see the younger children dance and it is absolutely amazing. Clara, probably about 10 or 12 years old, was by far one of the best dancers I have ever seen. I felt a little sad for them because it’s almost scary how good they are. These young children already live, breathe, and sweat ballet (I doubt they are eating anything), but I completely understand the allure and it seems like if these kids are already dancing with the KNB then they have a pretty bright future as professional dancers.
Anyways, being The Nutcracker fanatic, I will say a few things. There were a lot of differences between this version and other versions I have seen. First of all the nutcracker doll in the very beginning was played by a tiny little child with a mask and she was excellent! It was adorable. I had never seen a version with a real person dancing the doll part. Also when the boys terrorize the girls in the party scene, they dressed up like mice, which makes sense to why the mice would be tied into Clara’s dream anyways. Clara killed the Mouse King with a candlestick and not her slipper. All of the characters from The Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy also appeared in the first act with Drosselmeyer before the mouse fight. The best part was on Clara’s journey through the Land of the Snow. The walnut boat was flying in the air and the set designs were moving up and down to make it seem like they were floating on the waves. I was really impressed by the costumes and scenery. Act II was similar to other versions I have seen but there was no “Mother Ginger” scene, that song was dedicated to all of the dancers. One ironic dance was the Polichenelle dance because the characters were two dolls with a lamb on a ribbon and I have danced in a version where the main characters were lambs and I have danced in a version where the main characters were ribbon candy. So basically it combined two elements of different versions. I won’t bore you any longer with my rambling but if you ever get the chance to see KNB it is definitely worth it. I was so happy to get the chance to see it and now it’s finally beginning to look like Christmas.