Unification News for May 1998

Universal Ballet Tours the United States

by Anne Inoue-Seoul & Sunny Charla Asch-Los Angeles

It was 7:00 a.m. in Seoul. The sleepy dancers, most of whom stayed up all night packing, stumbled onto the waiting busses for the drive in the morning traffic to the airport. Here they would board their plane for the long flight (via Japan) to the United States. Fifteen hours later, after crossing the international date line, it was still morning when the Universal Ballet arrived at Los Angeles' International Airport on March 11, 1997. During the long flight the dancers slept, read, chatted and, of course, wondered about their first tour of the United States and Canada.

When the passports had been checked and the luggage cleared through customs, the dancers climbed onto two waiting busses for the first stop on their tour - a day of fun at Universal Studios where they could relax, enjoy the famed rides and attractions of this internationally acclaimed amusement park and get their first taste of fun, American style.

Was this an unusual way to start an arduous 12 city tour that was to include performances in Los Angeles and Riverside (California), Spokane (Washington), Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), St.George (Utah), Lake Charles and Shreveport (Louisiana), Raleigh (North Carolina), Fairfax and Norfolk (Virginia), Las Vegas and New York City? At first glance maybe, but this diversion was an essential part of the time adjustment for the dancers. They needed to stay awake until the normal Los Angeles nighttime so they could quickly adjust and avoid the damaging effects of jet lag.

After Universal Studios, the company checked into the hotel which would be their first American "home" and had dinner. Everyone seemed happy to have an early bedtime.

The same afternoon work began in the theater as the ballet's technical staff, led on this tour by Aaron Carmichael and Soo-Chun Yum, joined with the staff at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex to unload the first of two 45 foot semi-trucks that would be used to transport scenery, set pieces, wardrobe trunks, ballet barres and boxes and cases of equipment that would be needed for the productions of "Swan Lake" and "Shim Chug". Each production (sets, scenery, props, costumes), traveled in its own truck which would not be unloaded until it was time for that ballet to be performed.

The sets, backdrops, and costumes for "Swan Lake" and "Shim Chung" had begun their part of the tour in February when they traveled in containers from Seoul to the port of Pusan, Korea, where they were loaded onto ships for the long ocean voyage to Long Beach, California.

By the late afternoon of the second day, the stage was ready. Lighting was adjusted, backdrops were hung, props and set pieces were properly stored off-stage so they could be quickly moved into place as the performance progressed. In the wardrobe rooms, costumes were hung, steamed and put on racks for the dancers. Dressing rooms were assigned.

Production Coordinator, Anne Inoue, and General Manager, San-Yong Nam, set up the first of many "offices" that they would arrange on this tour. Sometimes they used a room in the theater, often it was a corner of hotel room, sometimes it was their places on the bus or airplane. With portable telephones and laptop computers they managed the day-to-day needs of the company and sponsors, including casting changes, media interviews, travel schedule changes, VIP tickets, sales of the company's souvenir program books and video tapes and the thousand and one details of taking a major ballet company on tour. When the company is on tour, their offices never close.

Now it was time for the dancers. They had the morning free to rest, get used to their new surroundings in the hotel, shop for whatever last minute "essential" they might have forgotten to bring from home and spend some time doing their own stretching exercises in their hotel rooms. They could also check the ballet's notice board in the hotel for last minute schedule changes.

The dancers assembled for their first class of the tour. Class is a structured workout that is designed to warm and prepare the body for the actual rehearsal and performance work of the ballet.

After class there was a stage rehearsal of "Swan Lake" which lasted until early evening. The dancers worked with the Ballet Master and Mistresses, Daniel Job, Galina Kekisheva and Mi-Na Kim, who taught class and conducted rehearsals throughout the tour. The ballet staff refreshed the dancers memories and kept watchful eyes on them to assure that steps, staging and spacing were absolutely correct at all times.

Class was a daily occurrence unless travel took up the entire day. Rehearsals were held virtually every day for some, if not all, of the dancers. Constant cast changes as principals and soloists alternated in the various roles within each ballet required frequent rehearsals to keep everyone in top performing condition. Occasional illness and injuries placed some dancers on the side-lines for various lengths of time and their places had to be covered by other dancers - more rehearsals. Occasionally the stage itself presented problems. In Victoria, BC, the stage was quite small for the size of the Universal Ballet. In this situation there was simply not enough space for all of the swans in their big tutus to fit on stage at the same time. Cuts had to be made to reduce the number of swans at this particular performance and so an extra rehearsal was necessary. At the next performance the normal complement of swans could be used, but another rehearsal was needed to help the dancers re-adjust to the original spacing that was set when the company rehearsed in Korea.

The first performance in Los Angeles was a performance for students which, in fact, doubled as a full stage dress rehearsal for the company. Students from throughout Los Angeles arrived by bus for an 11:00 a.m. performance of Act I of "Swan Lake". As the students took their seats in the audience, the dancers had a last practice of a particular step or pose and the technical staff made last minute checks of the lighting.

When the student audience was seated, the house lights dimmed and the moment had come when the magic of ballet would bring together the work of dancers, designers, technicians all to the music of the great Tchaikovsky.

One hour later the curtain came down as the students, many of whom had never seen classical ballet before, applauded and cheered. It was a wonderful moment for them and for the company.

As the students left the theater, a few brave ones could be seen making attempts at some of the steps they had just seen on stage. The spark had been lit! Someday maybe one of these students would become a dancer; maybe many would enjoy attending ballet performances throughout their lives.

Meanwhile, Bruce Steivel, Artistic Director of the company hurried backstage to give the dancers a few last-minute "notes" (corrections) so that the evening's full performance would be perfect.

Opening night is always special. There was great excitement in the air. Dignitaries from the Korean Consulate as well as the Korean and American business and social communities arrived. Officials and members from the Unification Church, who had worked so hard to ensure the success of this engagement, joined with ballet aficionados who, having learned about the company from feature stories in the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and other local newspapers, wanted to be present at the North American premiere of the newest member of the international dance community. It was an auspicious moment.

The Universal Ballet's first "Swan Lake" in the United States proved to be a great success. The audience showed its appreciation and acceptance by giving prima ballerina Julia Moon, her partner, Dragos Mihalcea and the entire company a standing ovation. The audience cheered and applauded. Huge bouquets of colorful flowers were brought on stage to Ms. Moon who led Artistic Director, Bruce Steivel, onto the stage to join the company's curtain calls. What an exciting moment! The months and months of planning, work, and worry had been well worth the efforts of everyone involved.

When the applause finally ended and the audience left the theater, the stage crew began to work. The production of "Swan Lake" (sets, backdrops, props, costumes) had to be loaded into its truck so it could begin the long drive to Spokane, Washington. The head electrician would fly ahead to the Spokane to begin work with the theater staff there in anticipation of the arrival of the truck and the rest of the company.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles the work went forward as "Shim Chung" (The Blindman's Daughter), the signature piece for the Universal Ballet, was readied for its opening the next evening. While the stage crew worked on stage and the wardrobe staff in their rooms backstage, the dancers had class and rehearsals for various segments of "Shim Chung". Saturday evening's performance would be led by Sun-Hee Park as the devoted heroine, Shim Chung. This was followed by a Sunday matinee performance with Ms. Moon as Shim Chung.

"Shim Chung" is a folk tale that is certainly well-known to the Korean audience members but, as it turned out, American audiences also fell in love with the story and joined the Koreans in cheering at the very touching moment when the father, now reunited with Shim Chung, regains his sight.

The company was thrilled by the audience's acceptance of their work and felt they had surely begun the tour on a successful note. The Los Angeles Times praised the company as "...an amazing achievement" and the Oxford Review (NPR) said, "A rare evening of dance poetry, human emotion and brilliant color - simply sensational."

Pasadena House and Dr. Bo-Hi Pak hosted a lovely garden supper party for the company following this performance. After dinner, Dr. Pak addressed the company and reminded them of the importance of the tour and of the impressions they would be making on the American people. He told them that everyone had worked hard to bring about this tour and now it was up to them to dance their best and be successful for the company and for the arts in Korea.

As the dancers returned to their hotel to pack for the next day's travel to Spokane, the stage crew worked late into the night to pack the "Shim Chung" production into its truck which would be driven to its next destination.

The following morning it was time to travel. The company checked out of their hotel and boarded the bus to the airport for the trip to Spokane. Despite the distance, when the company arrived there was class and, of course, rehearsal.

In Spokane the presentation was "Swan Lake" and, as in Los Angeles, young dancers from local ballet schools were recruited to act as "supers" (supernumeraries), taking part in the lavish scenes of the Prince Siegfried's court. In each "Swan Lake" city local dancers would be chosen to act as supers and they too had to have rehearsal. What a thrill it was for these aspiring ballerinas to be a part of the professional world of ballet.

In Spokane, the Swan Queen, "Odette", and her evil counterpart "Odile" were portrayed by Sun-Hee Park. Her partner, Jae-Hong Park offered strength as a partner not only in dance but in dramatic interpretation. The Spokesman-Review declared the Universal Ballet's "Swan Lake", "... was a performance event of a lifetime, one by which all other performances will be measured."

Next stop on the tour was the beautiful Canadian city of Victoria. Again the ballet was "Swan Lake" but this time the Odette/Odile was Enrica Guana from Italy. She has been a member of the Universal Ballet since 1990. Her partner, Jae-Won Hwang, won gold and silver medals in Korea's most prestigious dance competitions prior to joining the company.

March 20 was another travel day. Instead of going to Riverside, California as originally scheduled, the company returned to Los Angeles for an encore performance BY POPULAR DEMAND of "Swan Lake". How exciting this was! The dual role of Odette/Odile was danced by the willowy Yena Kang who was partnered by Jun-Kyu Lee, one of the foremost male dancers in Korea.

The next tour stop was St. George, Utah for another "Swan Lake" followed by a day of class and rehearsal in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Nevada Dance Theater, also directed by

Mr. Steivel, graciously made its studios available to the company.

March 26th was a big travel day for the company. Leaving Las Vegas at 2:00 a.m. the company flew to Memphis. At 8:45 a.m. another plane took them to Houston, Texas, where they boarded busses for the 3 hour trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Now the company could get its first look at the southern part of the United State and compare it with the Pacific Northwest (Spokane/Victoria) and contrast that with the enormity of Los Angeles. One dancer said they were all surprised to see that the cities, streets and houses they saw as they traveled looked exactly like those shown in the movies. By now the company realized that America was very big. That impression remained and by the end of the tour the dancers said they felt they had visited 12 countries and not just 12 cities. They realized how very small Korea was by comparison.

Americans got high marks from the Korean dancers who noticed Americans were very polite in their driving habits and followed the laws. They were also impressed by the police. They reported that they felt safe in America. They witnessed an accident and a robbery and saw how quickly and efficiently the police responded to these emergencies. They also said Americans were kind and friendly. Other hotel guests would greet them; people on the street smiled. One dancer needed a doctor. He later came to see her perform and offered his services, without charge, to the company.

In Lake Charles and Shreveport, Louisiana, the company again offered "Swan Lake". These performances were sponsored by the local Ballet Societies whose members made their ballet studios available to the company. They brought dancer-friendly food to the theaters. They drove various members of the company's management staff to a variety of errands. They did everything possible to really make the company feel welcome. It was that famous southern hospitality - dancer style - and it was great!

After the Shreveport performance there was another day of class and rehearsal. Then two very long (l0 hour) days of bus travel to reach Raleigh, North Carolina with an overnight stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

These long bus trips gave the dancers a bit of a chance to rest although the sitting for long periods of time is hard on their bodies. They could admire the beautiful scenery of the southeast, sleep, read, sew ribbons on toe shoes and of course knit. Knitting was a favorite tour occupation of some of the dancers. Leg warmers and dance sweaters seemed to be among the favorite creations.

The dancers also had opportunities in hotels, restaurants and stores to practice speaking English. As with most people who are new to a language, the Koreans felt that everyone spoke so fast.

Food provided a bit of a challenge to the dancers who found American food very different from Korean. They were constantly on the hunt for Korean restaurants but in the meantime learned about pizza, McDonald's and, in New York City, the many deli-style markets with endless varieties of hot and cold prepared foods that could be purchased for picnic-style meals in the theater or hotel.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, the company performed with the North Carolina Symphony. The Symphony, who had presented ballet companies in other seasons, reported that they usually presented a company for only one night, but they chose to offer the Universal Ballet for two nights of "Swan Lake" and nearly sold out both performances. Ms. Moon and Mr. Mihalcea and Ms. Guana and

Mr. Hwang danced the principal roles in these performances.

It was exciting for the company to perform with a United States orchestra. It must have been equally challenging for the orchestra to work with a Korean ballet company and its Korean conductor, Seung-Han Choi, but then music and ballet are truly international languages that transcend borders and cultures.

The Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia was the next stop on the tour. This venue was chosen because of its proximity to the Washington, D.C. area. Here the Unification Church joined as co-sponsors and assisted with marketing and ticket sales and served as hosts to the company. For the first time on the tour the company was joined by its own orchestra, the Prime Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Choi. Ms. Moon danced the heroine in "Shim Chung" while

Ms. Park and Ms. Kang danced the Odette/Odile role in performances of "Swan Lake".

Again, the press was responsive. The Washington Post declared, "Universal Ballet: An Enviable Resource" and stated, "...this company has been for its home town -Seoul- a resource that many an American or European city might envy."

While in the Washington, D.C. area company members visited the Smithsonian Museum, and the National Gallery. They also visited the Capitol and had their photos taken in front of the White House. They rehearsed at the renowned Kirov Academy and went to the famed Mall. The later provided the only disappointment as the dancers thought they were going to a wonderful place to shop but, alas, it was another important historic site. Oh well, there was always New York for shopping.

As the days passed, the excitement of performing in New York grew. Finally the big day arrived and on Sunday, April 12th, the company traveled to New York City.

As usual, classes and rehearsals occupied the dancers while the stage technicians were preparing the stage for opening night.

"Shim Chung" opened the New York engagement with performances on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-16th. The leading roles were danced by Ms. Moon and Ms. Park. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the company offered performances of "Swan Lake". All four ballerinas (Misses Moon, Park, Guana and Kang) and their respective partners shared the performances of "Swan Lake".

Reverend Moon and his family attended performances of "Swan Lake" and "Shim Chung". Members of the Unification Church came from as far away as Boston. Leaders from the diplomatic community as well as Korean and American business and professional leaders came to the performances of the Universal Ballet at New York's historic City Center .

New York is a city that is synonymous with energy. Even the air seems to be infused with it and it is contagious in the best sense. Everything moves faster. People seem to catch the unique spirit that is New York - the Big Apple! New York is an easy city. Everything is so compact. This gives the illusion of extra time as one can always cram in a moment to do an extra something. The dancers welcomed this. They seemed to have extra moments to sleep because the theater was an easy distance from the hotel; extra moments to shop on the way to class or rehearsal. The dancers also welcomed the Korean food that was generously provided to them by the Korean wives of the New York Church.

While the company worked hard to show their very best to the New York audiences, plans were being made for a European tour and for the next tour of the United States. Meanwhile, everyone waited breathlessly for the reviews from the New York critics. In the hierarchy of the world community of reviewers, they stand at the top. Whatever they say about an artist is read with eager interest by the artistic community as well as by the public.

New York Times said of Julia Moon, "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." Newsday declared, "... its dancers showed they can hold their own on the international stage... the Universal Ballet is making its first American tour in impressive style."

Of "Swan Lake", Clive Barnes, writing for the New York Post said, "...the young company was able to leave an unequivocally excellent impression..." and Anna Kisselgoff writing for the New York Times praised the company for its "... astounding precision and attention to detail". The Times continued, "The discipline of the corps, especially in the 'white' or lakeside scenes of 'Swan Lake" can put even internationally ranked companies to shame."

When the curtain came down on the final performance in New York the dancers were tired but happy. For the Universal Ballet, New York and, in fact, the entire tour signaled the fulfillment of a dream that was envisioned years earlier when the company was founded. What a wonderful feeling to know that the dream became reality and that the goal had been successfully achieved.

The next thrill for the company was an invitation to dinner at the home of True Parents. After the Sunday matinee, three busses transported the dancers, staff and orchestra to East Garden. As we entered the grounds a gentle mist was in the air. It was dusk and all was serene. We were greeted by East Garden staff who passed out slippers for everyone and we entered the banquet hall. After finding our places the dinner began with a few words of welcome followed by the saying of grace. After dinner, various members of the company were invited to sing for the assembled throng. Ms. Moon, and Eun Hee Smith sang as did the Artistic Director Elect, Oleg Vinogradov. Mr. Steivel joined in a moment of folk-type dance with Dr. Pak. True Mother and True Father each took a turn at the microphone to the delight the audience with their renditions of Korean songs. Members of the East Garden staff, dressed in traditional Korean costume, performed musical numbers on traditional instruments. Young-Keun Kim, Concertmaster of the Prime Philharmonic Orchestra, played three violin selections including Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee".

After the entertainment concluded, True Father, addressed the audience and reminded the company that there is always a "war" going on between the mind and the body. To be a true artist, one had to find a way to achieve harmony between these two aspects.

At the conclusion of his remarks, farewell gifts were given to each company member and the company boarded the busses for the return trip to New York City. Everyone agreed that it was a very special conclusion to a wonderful New York engagement.

The following day, Monday, April 20th was an unusual day for everyone on the tour. There were no classes, no rehearsals, no performances. It was a day to relax, sleep late, shop, see the sights and enjoy New York as a tourist. The dancers scattered in every direction for fun and adventure. New York really did look like it does in the movies!!!

However fun on tour doesn't last too long and the following morning, after a breakfast hosted by Dr. Pak, the dancers were back on the bus for another long ride. This time the destination was Norfolk, Virginia. Meanwhile, the Prime Philharmonic Orchestra headed to the airport for their return flight to Korea. They too could be immensely proud of the outstanding contribution they had made to the tour's success.

In Norfolk, the company was honored to be part of the Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival where it performed "Swan Lake" with the Virginia Symphony under the direction of Wes Kenney. The Festival is in its second year and featured outstanding artists and attractions offering performances of music, theater and dance. In addition to performances by the Universal Ballet, the Festival presented violinists Itzhak Perlman and Cho-Liang Lin, pianist Andre-Michel Schub, the Orion String Quartet, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, popular stars Gladys Knight and Betty Buckley, a special lecture by Harry Belafonte, and performances of "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "A Chorus Line".

Festival audiences loved the ballet giving them standing ovations. The Festival organizers were happy that tickets for both performances sold well and felt the Universal Ballet had been a good choice for inclusion in the Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival.

The company had one more stop on the tour, Las Vegas, but circumstances forced the cancellation of this engagement so the company had its second free day in fifty days of touring. What better place to be than Las Vegas, one of the entertainment capitals of the world with its theme hotels, gambling casinos, shops, restaurants and a non-stop devotion to fun! Everyone had a great time - and some got lucky with the slot machines and poker tables.

Finally, the last day in the United States, April 29, had arrived. The company had a short flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and after gathering up the luggage and changing terminals there was one final opportunity to enjoy American fast food. It was time to board the Northwest Airlines plane for the flight back to Korea.

What a glorious tour it had been. The company learned about the United States and the American people whom all agreed were friendly and open. The dancers enjoyed responsive audiences who understood and appreciated the art of ballet. They were thrilled to receive many standing ovations. Best of all the Universal Ballet went from a company that was unknown in the United States to one that was known, appreciated and respected. No longer was the Universal Ballet solely a Korean company. It was an international one. This was the tour where the Universal Ballet grew up. It is hoped that the success in the United States will be regarded as success not only for the Universal Ballet but for the arts in Korea and, of course, the Universal Ballet looks forward to many tours of the United States in the coming years.

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