Trailblazing dancers join major ballet troupes
By Do Je-hae
A number of Korean ballerinas have found success at some of the most respected European and U.S. dance companies, but rarely have male dancers made headlines until now.
Recently, three budding ballerinos were admitted to major companies in Russia and Europe after phenomenal competition successes, with support from the Woongjin Foundation. But their stories are not widely known, due to the lack of interest in ballet among the general public and a lack of media coverage.
Kim Ki-min, 18, a student at Korea National University of Arts (KNUA), was accepted by the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia for the first time as a male Asian dancer and will officially join the prestigious troupe in September. Kim is the winner of the 2010 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
Choi Young-gyu, 20, also a student of KNUA, will join the Dutch National Ballet in August. Han Sung-woo, 18, the first Korean male dancer to win second place at the Le Prix de Lausanne, will enter London’s Royal Ballet, also in August.
“What these dancers have achieved is just as phenomenal as the 1974 success of conductor-pianist Chung Myung-whun at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow,” said Woongjin Foundation Chairman Shin Hyon-ung during a luncheon Tuesday to congratulate the dancers.
Back then, Seoul City had organized a car parade to fete Chung’s rare achievement at a time when Korea was virtually unknown in the international community.
“But Chung had won as an American citizen. What is amazing about these dancers is that they are the products of domestic education,” Shin added.
The former deputy culture minister has been a mentor to the dancers, providing not only financial aid, but also hands-on advice in adapting to life overseas.
He has a special relationship with Russia. In 2000, he was in charge of organizing festivities for the 10th anniversary of Korea-Russia relations at the culture ministry.
“The Russians are deeply artistic and have a special appreciation for the arts. They say that even as Russian soldiers prepare to go to war, they carry in their coat pockets a copy of Pushkin (1799-1837),” Shin said. “Young dancers must increase their knowledge of humanities to interact with the people in such countries.”
Dance teachers urged more public interest and support for the art of ballet from the business sector.
“Top ballet dancers have as much potential to advance Korea’s global image as Korean-born sports phenomena such Kim Yu-na, the 2010 Olympic champion in ladies figure skating, or star swimmer Park Tae-hwan,” said Kim Hae-shik, professor emeritus of Korea National University of Arts and the founding dean of its dance school.
For the last 10 years, Korean ballet education has made a great improvement and has produced many talented dancers.
“When I participate at international competitions as a judge, many teachers were in awe of Korea’s ballet education,” Kim said. “The KNUA is equipped with excellent teachers and we invite famous artists from overseas to mentor our students.”