Unification News for
by Richard L. Lewis-NYC
The Universal Ballet toured America from March 13 through April 28. We will have a full report next month. In New York City, the press coverage was quite remarkable. Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times covered both Shim Chung, the Blind Man’s Daughter and Swan Lake. In her first report (NYT, 4/16) she wrote:
"Given their American influences, occasional Russian coaches and the fact that most of the dancers are Koreans trained in university dance departments in Seoul, it is no surprise that there is a hybrid style of classical dancing.
"The model appears to be Ms. Moon. Along the way she has picked up the supple torso of the Russian school, the soft toe work of the Royal Ballet and a streamlined American line.
"In the title role of ‘Shim Chung,’ she has a genuine star presence, using her natural lyricism and perfect arabesque to evoke the delicate purity of the heroine. The female corps, often seen in the Korean-style costumes designed by Sylvia Taalsohn, is similarly well placed in its upper body and generally avoids strong attack.
"By contrast, the men (village folk or drunken sailors) are encouraged to erupt into passages of standard bravura.
"Ms. Dellas’s choreography, propelled by Kevin Barber Pickard’s score, is never difficult. Mime is used to tell the story, which is straightforward: a blind man (Hyun-Woo Kim) is rescued from the river by a Buddhist monk who promises him sight in exchange for 300 sacks of rice. Shim Chung, the blind man’s daughter, obtains the money from an impressively virtuosic sea captain (Jun-Kyu Lee) who sacrifices her to a sea dragon.
"An underwater scene in Act 2, reminiscent of Diaghilev productions, is the best, with various sea creatures allowed to express their individuality in solos, contrasting with the reticence of the ensemble. Here, Ji-Hoon Yum, like Vito Iacobellis in Act 3, did well with his turns, and there was a welcome vibrancy from Sun-Hyung Yoon and Yena Kang.
"The heroine rejects the sea king (Jae-Won Hwang) in favor of a real Korean king (Chung-Lin Tseng) when she returns to earth. Ms. Dellas incorporates a stylized Korean mask dance in the wedding divertissement, which includes a vivid pas de quatre for two couples (Hyuk-Ku Kwon, Dragos Mihalcea, Yoo-Mi Lee and Mi-Ja Lee). All the blind men of the kingdom regain their sight in a truly happy ending."
The dance critic of the New York Post, Clive Barnes, was not so impressed. As a sophisticate and esthete, he found its simplicity too much for him. But even he, at the end of his snippy review, said (NY Post, 4/16):
"The dancing is quite good. The men seem rather better than the women-I noticed particularly the dash of Jun-Kyu Lee and the enthusiasm of Ji-Hoon Yum-and the ballerina role was neatly taken by Julia H. Moon, the Rev. Moon’s daughter-in-law and the company’s prima ballerina and general director, although of sufficient quality to suggest that nepotism had not all that much to do with it."
Both dance critics, however, praised the performance of Swan Lake. Anna Kisselgoff (NY Times, 4/20) wrote:
"It isn’t every ballet company that can afford to restage a lavish full-length production of ‘Swan Lake’ which was originally produced for the Kirov Ballet. Nor can every company drill into its corps de ballet the astounding precision and attention to stylistic detail which the Universal Ballet from South Korea demonstrated in ‘Swan Lake’ over the weekend.
"Here again it was obvious that this company, which dates its founding to 1984 in Seoul, is an anomaly on the international dance scene. Even the weekend series of debuts in ‘Swan Lake,’ which led off at City Center with Sun-Hee Park’s admirable performance as Odette-Odile on Friday night, defined the paradox apparent on the troupe’s first United States tour. Earlier in the week, the company had opened with a simple contemporary work drawn from Korean legend which made no demands on technique. Suddenly, it was asked to perform in a production of ‘Swan Lake’ that, except for a few changes, is the same which Oleg Vinogradov presented with the Kirov Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1992 and 1995.
"One might have certain reservations about this version: they were apparently shared by the Universal Ballet, which made the changes for this tour. Nonetheless, what is on view is an elaborate 19th-century classic which requires a level of technique and coherence that only major companies can deliver.
"What looked like a still-young troupe centered on its leading ballerina, Julia H. Moon (Odette-Odile on Saturday night), was suddenly transformed. How could the Universal Ballet stage such a big-league production this well? One reason is generous financial support from the Korean Cultural [and Freedom] Foundation. This group is affiliated with the company’s founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church.
"Another explanation is the rigorous coaching given to the visibly committed dancers. The discipline of the corps, especially in the ‘white,’ or lakeside, scenes of ‘Swan Lake,’ can put even internationally ranked companies to shame.
"Snaking around the stage in their entrance, regrouping into lines for the waltz, cringing in fear, wrists flexed upward, the corps moved in riveting unison. Where other companies would have Lev Ivanov’s traditional choreography breathe a collective sigh, all was now abstract, petrified beauty.
"But there’s the rub. Passion is sacrificed to precision. Here is a company which reaches toward perfection but with no juice.
"There are exceptions: notably, the long-limbed Yena Kang, who performed in the pas de trois in Act I on Friday, has contemporary daring, and Mrs. Park draws a clean distinction between Odette, the Swan Queen, and Odile, her evil double....
"Ms. Park gave the choreography full value and shape, especially in the Act II solo, and her Odile, teasing rather than seductive, included the usual fouetté turns. Jae-Hong Park’s Siegfried, an attentive cavalier of noble line, was adequate in his solos while Dragos Mihalcea on Saturday night seemed to suffer from nerves as partner to Ms. Moon’s under-danced Odette-Odile. The evening’s bravura belonged to the jester: Ji-Hoon Yum was an exuberant turner on Friday and Jong-Pil Lee a jumper with exceptional spring and split leaps. A word also for Seung-Han Choi’s excellent conducting of the company’s Prime Philharmonic Orchestra."
And even Clive Barnes loosened up (NY Post, 4/20):
"Although based on [an] earlier staging, Vinogradov’s present reading is an improvement. While his version of the first act seems characterless, and the last act positively banal, the ballet as a whole, with ornately pretty scenery by Shimon Pastukh and handsome costumes by Galina Solovyeva, all originally devised for the Kirov, looked at least adequate.
"More significantly, the young company was able to leave an unequivocally excellent impression, even if, with its 26 swans, it appeared somewhat cramped on the City Center stage.
"Admittedly, the national dances in the third act emerged with more spirit than style, but the general manner of the company, under the artistic direction of American Bruce Steival, proved absolutely exemplary, with swans so well drilled that they could give our Radio City Rockettes a lesson or two in conformity. The troupe also has considerable strength in depth-it produced four completely different sets of principals in ‘Swan Lake,’ of which I caught two, led by Sun-Hee Park and Julia Moon as the Odette-Odiles, partnered by Jae-Hong Park and Dragos Mihalcea as their Prince Siegfrieds.
"Moon, with her appropriately lambent style, was more the tragic Odette, while Sun-Hee Park did better as the coruscatingly wicked Odile, while Mihalcea was far the more impressive Siegfried, although Jae-Hong Park did well enough.
"Among the rest both Jong-Pil Lee and, particularly, Ji-Hoon Yum were brilliant as that perkily intrusive Jester, and I was most impressed by the Friday cast of the cleanly danced first act pas de trois, with the elegant Hyuk-Ku Kwon partnering the lively pair of Enrica Guana and Yena Kang, who both appeared as Odette/Odile at matinee performances."
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