Hoon Sook (Julia) (Pak) Moon (wife of Heung Jin Moon)
Members of Universal Ballet in front of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, where they performed in July 2011
Hoon Sook Nim recently spoke about Universal Ballet's role in bringing beauty to the world, in the context of the current global tour the company is undertaking, and about faith. Two senior Universal Ballet staff members also added their observations.
Question: What was your response to True Father asking Universal Ballet to do a global tour?
Hoon Sook Nim: It was very providential and meaningful that with the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War last year, the Little Angels visited, under Father's blessing, each of the countries that had fought alongside Korea during the Korean War. Without the United Nations troops, Father would not have been saved from Hungnam prison camp. This year was, in a way, the last opportunity to directly thank the people who fought for Korea's freedom because they are now all in their eighties and nineties. Their contribution is significant not only because their sacrifice saved Father, but also because it was the first war that the United Nations fought.
I think it was appropriate that the Little Angels did this tour because they are a children's performing arts group, and children represent the future and hope. The Little Angels are so pure and innocent and have a special charm, so wherever they go, they move everyone's heart.
Last year, as Father heard the reports of the Little Angels tour, he gave the direction that Universal Ballet should also embark on a world tour. The nature of the Little Angels' performances and Universal Ballet's performances are somewhat different, however. They can perform in convention centers and hotels as well as in larger theaters. Universal Ballet, however, is more difficult because with full length ballets we need to be in a fully equipped theater.
Normally, we begin preparing for international ballet tours one or two years in advance. For our first tour to the West in 1998, Universal Ballet started preparing in 1996. When you're travelling with seventy people, and two forty-foot containers filled with scenery, costumes, and lighting and audio equipment, much preparation is needed. Also, when you arrive at a theater, a local crew of thirty or forty technicians is needed to set things up. All of this needs to be paid for, and it's very costly. In the case of most ballet companies, such a tour would usually be government#sponsored or supported by a wealthy patron or a corporation or business.
For Universal Ballet, without Father's spiritual and financial blessing, such a tour would be totally impossible. For the past couple of years, we haven't done any major international tours because of the high cost. So it is a great blessing that True Parents have given us this opportunity to tour again. Very few companies in the world today can embark on such an ambitious tour.
For twenty-seven years, True Parents have unconditionally supported this company. Especially in the days when the focus in Korea was on economic development and nobody thought about art, a time when ballet was very primitive in this country, Father's support for ballet and the arts was visionary.
This year people are saying that ballet is a major popular trend. The movie Black Swan came out this year, and one of the most popular comedy programs here in Korea has a segment called "Ballerino" that is very popular. Also, the famous Korean figure skater Yuna Kim did a piece called "Giselle," after the famous ballet, at the recent World Championships in Moscow. Traditionally, ballet is an art form that people find hard to understand, but trends like this are breaking down the barriers. The concept in Korea has been that ballet is just for an elite group of people, but this year, ballet has become much more popular among a much larger sector of the population.
Also Korean ballet dancers are now winning competitions everywhere. When we started this company, and when I was a dancer, Dr. Pak'- was managing the company. He would come speak to the dancers, and would say things such as, "Korea is going to be the Mecca of ballet." And I would be thinking, "My goodness, he is a real Don Quixote!"
But it's actually becoming a reality. The Varna International Ballet Competition is the biggest and most difficult ballet competition in the world (It's often referred to as the "Ballet Olympics"). It is the longest-running international ballet competition. Out of the thirteen medals they awarded at last year's Varna competition, seven went to Korean dancers. For one country to win so many medals is almost unheard of. It hasn't happened since the very early days of the competition when the Russians were very dominant. And this is happening in other places too, not just in Varna. In ballet competitions everywhere, Korean dancers are taking the highest awards and prizes. So in these last few years, ballet in Korea has risen to the point where Korea being the "Mecca of ballet" is no longer a far-fetched dream.
Father' wrote, "Heavenly Art Creating a World of Beauty" at the inauguration of the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington D.C.
Question: Why are Koreans are doing well?
Last month at the Tchaikovsky Competition, five awards were taken by Korean people, including two opera singers, a violinist and two pianists. This has never happened in the competition's history! This is the most prestigious musical competition in the world. Then you have the "Korean Wave" -- Korean pop singers, actors and TV dramas gaining popularity around the world. In Europe, America, Canada, and now the Middle East, Southeast Asia, everywhere -- people are going crazy about Korean performers. I was speaking with some typical young North Americans, and they knew more about the current Korean pop stars than I do! I was amazed. Reading it in the newspapers is one thing, but when you meet Americans face to face who talk to you about Korean pop, and actors and singers -- and they want to learn Korean -- you can really feel how powerful the Korean Wave is.
I was recently in San Francisco, and the consul general was telling me that they have begun Korean language classes in a public high school, as a regular language choice for high school students. He said it's going very, very well.
Father has been saying, for ages, that the world must speak Korean. Yet we all questioned whether that would really be possible. But because the Messiah, Father, should be accepted by the world, God's providence is moving in that direction. How much we have fulfilled our responsibility is another question. We all know, with the present difficulties that we face, that we have fallen very short. Yet Heavenly Father's agenda keeps moving forward. It's amazing to see how this is happening in such a short period. I believe the Korean Wave, with Korean artists gaining international attention, and now Pyeongchang being chosen for the Winter Olympics, are providential.
Although in 1984, when Universal Ballet was started, few people were thinking about culture here in Korea, now all major companies are marketing in a cultural context. Almost all the biggest companies have small theaters in their headquarters buildings, concert halls with 250 or 500 seats. Everybody is thinking about culture and its value. One might say that the Little Angels and Universal Ballet were the first Korean Wave, and in that sense Father was way ahead of everyone.
I see our world tour as a big gift from True Parents to the world. It's a great opportunity that not many companies in this world can dream of. I think that in Father's mind it is an extension of what the Little Angels started last year with the Korean War sixtieth anniversary tour.
Korea is no longer a country that receives support. After that war, we were a country receiving a lot of aid. Now we are a country that has transitioned to one that is giving aid. In that sense, I believe Father wants to give to the world and would like Universal Ballet to do that.
We have been touring since the very early days of the company, but the purpose of our tours have changed and developed over the years as the company has grown and developed. In our early tours, our goal was to introduce Universal Ballet around the world and to let people know that there was good quality classical ballet in Korea. At the same time, it was a challenge to ourselves to perform on the international stage and see where we stood in the world of ballet. While doing this, we sought to gain worldwide recognition from people in ballet and from the international press -- confirmation that we had become a world-class ballet company.
Our 2011-2013 world tour is different. Just as Korea has developed from a country that needed assistance to a country that is sending aid to other countries, Universal Ballet also, more than receiving recognition from the ballet world, would now like to make a substantial contribution to the development and legacy of the art of ballet. If you look back at ballet history, it is clear that the Ballets Russes influenced and uplifted ballet in Europe in the twentieth century. Universal Ballet should and can be a company that can uplift and bring new inspiration to the world of ballet now in the twenty-first century.
Another purpose of this tour is to actualize our vision, Ye Cheon Mi Ji (Heavenly Art Creating a World of Beauty) on the world stage. There is a saying in the Bible that people shouldn't hide their light under a bushel. Universal Ballet is a bright light of beauty we would like to share with the world.
Hoon Sook Nim speaking about ballet at Arts Council Korea's Artists' House, where artists are invited to speak about their work
Question: What do you see ballet, and in particular Universal Ballet, offering humankind?
Dostoyevsky said, "Beauty will save the world." When you look at the beauty of mountains, oceans or forests, something connects you very deeply with the spiritual, with God. In that sense, ballet is like the highest form of physical beauty. When you have the elements of highest professionalism and the right motivation and heart behind it, that's when I believe art has the power -- as Father says, "Heavenly Art Creating a World of Beauty" -- to make this world a better place.
"Heavenly Art Creating a World of Beauty" (Ye Cheon Mi Ji) is from calligraphy Father wrote after we opened the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, DC. Since the time I stopped dancing, I have been searching for a way to express Universal Ballet's vision. To find it, you have to go back to the source.
In our case, that source is Father. The words Ye Cheon Mi Ji embody what ballet is, a heavenly art form; and I believe that it is also what Father would like to see from this company, what the art of ballet should give to people. So we adopted Ye Cheon Mi Ji as Universal Ballet's vision and motto.
Question: You have begun giving talks about ballet to corporate personnel and other groups.
Yes, I've done this for Posco Steel Corporation, Samsung Insurance, Shinsegae'' and with other large companies in Korea; I have spoken to groups of VIP customers and groups of CEOs.
When I speak to a group of CEOs about ballet, they come out understanding ballet much, much better, so that the next time they come to a performance they have a much deeper understanding of what they are watching.
Since ballet is an acquired taste, another thing I do is that before each of our performances, I give a ten-minute explanation of the ballet and its movements. The key is understanding what the audience needs. It is important to make it easier for them. You have to keep finding new ways to reach out to people. That's what I try to do, and we've been very pleased with the results.
After I spoke at a program recently where high-level artists were invited to speak, two girls came up to get my signature. They said, "We heard your explanation before a performance, and since then we we've been to all of your performances for the past two years. If we hadn't heard your explanation, we wouldn't have become this deeply interested in ballet." That was rewarding to hear.
Question: Is there something you would especially like to say to our members around the world?
These are difficult times. Faith is always put to the test. It is easy when things are going well. As one Christian friend of mine said to me, "I believe in Jesus now, but would I have believed in him when he was being crucified?" It was very difficult to believe in Jesus when he was being put onto the cross. The people who had been close to him ran away. But now when so much of the whole world believes in Jesus, it's very popular, sometimes even advantageous, to believe in him. It's very easy to be Christian because much of the world is Christian. Faith is about believing when the whole world is not believing, or when there is a test.
I think it's a very difficult time right now for us. But consider ballet: You can do Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty or Giselle, with brilliant costumes and sets -- but the morning after the performance, you go back to that rigorous daily ballet class. No costumes, no makeup. You put on your rehearsal clothes, you look into that mirror and you go back to the basics. If you lose your basics, you lose everything.
It's the same in faith; you go back to the basics. Lots of things may be going on that make you confused, or make you question or even shake your faith to its roots. Things will always happen, but that doesn't change the root, the essence of what Father has given us. If you always go back to the basics, the simple teachings that Father has given us, they will always guide you in the right direction.
Don't lose sight of what's really important, the essence of what Father has brought to us and to the world -- the teaching of the Divine Principle, the universal values that have been set by Heavenly Father. They are like the law of gravity; they're not going to change.
Some of the laws made by Heavenly Father govern the way the world operates physically. But there are also moral and spiritual laws that Heavenly Father has put into place, which no one can escape or defy. Those are what we have to keep our eyes on, and we must apply them in order to work out the problems that we face.
Hoon Sook Nim, seen here at the August 6, 2011 celebrations, remained in America after Universal Ballet's performances in San Francisco and Vancouver in order to spend time with True Parents.
Question: Could you add a word based on your experiences with the True Family?
I would like to say that the True Children have such a huge burden to carry. Living here in Korea I often see firsthand how Hyung Jin Nim and Kook Jin Nim attend True Parents and I am always very moved by their devotion. There is so much we can learn from them. Their undivided loyalty and love for True Parents is something blessed family members and the second generation should observe and inherit.
Some people find it easy to criticize True Children. But if you have never been in their shoes you really don't know what it is like. Externally, the True Children's lives may look comfortable and privileged. But the True Children, who now have to take what True Father has created here and carry it on into the future, have a great responsibility. This is true for blessed family members as well, but especially the True Children who are in leadership positions have a much, much heavier burden.
No one can equal True Father. No single child of True Parents can embody Father's leadership, his charisma, his spirituality, his stamina, his love...which means the True Family must work together.
I feel each of the True Children embodies a different aspect of True Parents, like different colors of a rainbow. Kook Jin Nim has incredible business acumen and a very deep heart; Hyung Jin Nim has incredible spiritual sensitivity and sincere humility; Hyun Jin Nim has incredible diplomatic charisma; In Jin Nim is a fantastic speaker, a leader with great wisdom and is also very artistic; and like the sun, Sun Jin Nim is always giving positive energy and love to the members. I hope that together they can carry on Father's legacy and tradition.
Although I am member of the True Family, I am not a True Child. I am just a second generation blessed child. I have been in the True Family twenty-seven years now, and I feel that all of the True Children are special.
They have had difficult childhoods, and they have difficult responsibilities now. As long as the True Children are absolutely following True Parents, who are the substantial representatives of Heavenly Father on the earth, they need our undivided, unconditional support. The task ahead of them is not easy. They need our encouragement. In particular, first generation leaders need to live the Divine Principle of Cain serving Abel, not just teach about it in lectures.
The True Children are the lineage of True Parents, our true Abels. They need a great deal of support and I hope our leaders and members can give that to them. True Children are not perfect, just as none of us are. Sometimes they may make mistakes, just as we all do. Often, I feel people are too quick to criticize, and it is painful to see this. When True Children are attending our True Parents absolutely, we need to give them our support and understanding so that, together, we can be victorious for Heaven.
Looking through the eyes of two Universal Ballet staff members
Ballerinas who portray village women, backstage before a performance of Shim Chung
Question: What is the major difference between this tour and others Universal Ballet has done?
Soyoung Lim (International Planning Director): In the past, when the company was not known, we had to self-present, which was very costly because we had to take care of all the expenses involved in the tour, from airfare, hotel and meals to theater rental, technicians, equipment, and even local marketing and promotion. On the foundation of the early tours where we received great reviews and recognition from local critics and from important papers such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Times (London), La Repubblica (Rome), El Pais (Madrid) and Dance Magazine, we are now being invited by theaters and local presenters. They normally cover all the local costs, which comprise 50 -75 percent of the cost of the tour. Although we still have a financial burden, it is much less than before, and for us this is a great step forward.
Costs apart, it must be a headache to prepare and send out the full company and everything they use to perform.
Anne Inoue (Company Manager): If we are performing only one ballet, it usually requires two forty-foot containers, which need to be sent out from two to six weeks ahead of time, since they travel by sea. And, of course, air tickets and visas for seventy people is no small task!
Question: Can you say what it is about ballet that makes it a "heavenly art"?
Soyoung Lim: When Hoon Sook Nim tells people about ballet history, she always says that "ballet is beauty." The art that is ballet pursues beauty. Like sports, such as soccer, wrestling or swimming, ballet involves body movement. However, when playing soccer, for instance, when you get tired, you can scowl, groan or sigh, but in ballet, no matter how tired you are, you should never let it show. In sports, the players work out in such a way that they have large muscles, but in ballet you need to be strong, while at the same time maintaining a beautiful body line at all times. Ballet is all about beauty.
It is an art that pursues both external and internal beauty. A new branch of ballet, modern or contemporary ballet, has emerged, which is somewhat different.
Anne Inoue: Modern ballet doesn't necessarily express only beauty, it expresses other emotions too....
Soyoung Lim: But classic ballet is all about fairy tales -- about good winning over evil; those storylines are the backbone of a ballet performance.
From the spiritual point of view, ballet is an art of goodness and it pursues goodness. Moreover, many of the ballet moves depict pushing off from the earth to jump higher into the sky as if attempting to reach heaven. All these things combined tell us that ballet is indeed a heavenly art.
Anne Inoue: We should mention that Hoon Sook Nim gives lectures to CEOs, quite influential people -- using quite excellent PowerPoint presentations. She teaches them about the history of ballet and why the presence of ballet is good for society. Her work is not just in this building but in corporate Korea -- Samsung, Hana Bank, Choong-ang University.
Question: Hoon Sook Nim is educating people in Korea about the value of ballet?
Soyoung Lim: Yes. And also before the performances, Hoon Sook Nim comes out onstage and explains to the audience how to watch ballet.
Anne Inoue: She started with the contemporary ballets, which we usually do one season of each year, but now she has added pre-curtain talks for the traditional ballets as well. Many people don't feel they know what ballet is, so they are not comfortable watching it. They don't know what to look for.
Left: Hoon Sook Nim dances the title role of Shim Chung, ca. 2000; Right: Overjoyed at finding his daughter alive, Shim Chung's father regains his sight.
Question: Which countries will you visit on the world tour and what ballets will you perform?
Soyoung Lim: One main pillar of our repertory is Shim Chung, the ballet we created based on the ancient Korean folk tale.' The concept of filial piety is at the core of this work. We plan to tour forty cities around the world with Shim Chung and we have already given performances in Taipei, Singapore, San Francisco and Vancouver. Later this year, we will perform in Japan and in Muscat, the capital of Oman.
The performance in Oman will be special for us because it is the last place we are visiting this year as part of our tour, and Oman is holding a grand opening for an opera house in June. That opera house is the first major opera house to be built, not only in Oman but in all the Middle East, and we are going to give a performance there in commemoration of its opening.
Question: So, you are part of the opening festival.
Soyoung Lim: Yes. Besides us, the La Scala Theater Ballet from Italy, the America Ballet Theater from the United States and the Royal Ballet from United Kingdom have been invited, as has the Lincoln Center Jazz Band, led by Wynton Marsalis.
All the companies that have been invited are world renowned companies, and the fact that Universal Ballet is one of those invited is meaningful and special for us.
We have also been invited to perform in MOSCOW, in ballet's homeland of Russia, next year, at the Stanislavsky Theater, which has the highest standards for ballet and opera. We will also tour five nations in Europe, including France, for a month and a half.
Ballet began in Italy, developed in France and became a performance art in Russia, and we have been invited to give performances in France and Moscow next year, and in Italy in 2013, so we will be visiting all of ballet's homes -- from the current Mecca of ballet if you will -- during this world tour. We will also be performing in the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, next year, and in 2013 we are planning to tour five cities in South America, including venues in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
All this has been made possible because Universal Ballet's artistic quality is now more acknowledged worldwide than it was in the past.
Anne Inoue: Some of our overseas trips are arranged with promoters or theaters that we knew previously, and some are with relatively new ones. Ms. Lim has sent hundreds of letters to develop new touring contacts.
Soyoung Lim: There is a ballet boom in Korea now. In the past, ballet did not draw a large audience in Korea. Nowadays, however, people are becoming increasingly familiar with ballet. On television there are Korean soap operas where the lead character is a ballerina. Even in comedy programs, they have little skits about ballet. In the past, you couldn't have imagined ballet becoming popular like this. I like to think that one of the driving forces of the ballet boom is Universal Ballet and our participation in the popular Korean TV entertainment show One Night, Two Days.'-
One of the biggest reasons ballet can now be seen on TV and in movies, and that a ballet boom is sweeping across the nation, is that both Universal Ballet, a private organization, and the Korean National Ballet, which is government sponsored, have continued to give great performances over the years.
Universal Ballet receives grants from Rev. Moon, while the Korean National Ballet receives its funding from the Korean government. When running a ballet company, finances are a heavy burden, and picking the right productions and maintaining the artistic level are very important. In Korean society, it is very difficult for a private company to do all that.
Anne Inoue: It's hard enough in countries such as the U.S., where there is a tradition of private support for the arts, but here in Korea there is so little private support for the arts. Even government support for the arts is not very extensive.
Soyoung Lim: Rev. Moon's support for the ballet is comparable with the national level support a government might give. Until now, Universal Ballet has been better known internationally than the Korean National Ballet.
Ballet also benefits from the fact that we are now living in the visual era. The world is becoming globalized, for which reason many people are more interested in the visual aspect than in language. This is why nonverbal performances are becoming popular around the world. In light of this, ballet is the perfect performing art for this era.
The fact that Universal Ballet was founded in 1984, twenty- seven years ago, before Korea was globalized, shows that the founder was farsighted. In that regard, I think the founding of Universal Ballet was destined by heavenly fortune.
Who could have imagined such things twenty-five years ago? Back then, who in Korea would have thought that nonverbal performances would become popular worldwide, that cultural walls would break down and that the world would become globalized? Most people couldn't have understood that.
Schedule information is correct at time of going to print; for updates please go to www.ubcballet.com or the company's Facebook page. Universal Ballet's Korean performances outside Seoul are not listed here.