Kang Sue-jin, right, and Marijn Rademaker in a scene from “The Lady of the Camellias.” The couple has become stars of the company following their first performance of the work in 2006. / Courtesy of Stuttgart Ballet
By Do Je-hae
Kang Sue-jin, 45, and Marijn Rademaker, 31, both principal dancers with the Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet, are years apart in age and come from different parts of the world.
One thing in common between the Korean ballerina and the Dutch dancer is their affection for “The Lady of the Camellias,” choreographed by John Neumeier. The two dancers solidified their positions through this narrative ballet set to Chopin’s music.
The German ballet troupe will bring the masterpiece to Seoul next month to the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on June 16-17.
“We chose ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ for the Korean tour because of Kang, who has been received as a hero here as one of the first Korean pioneers of international ballet stardom,” Reid Anderson, Stuttgart artistic director said in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times.
“We selected the work because it is one of Kang’s greatest roles and it is perfect for her at this time in her career. It just felt absolutely right,” Anderson said.
“John Neumeier chose Marijn to dance the lead role with Sue-jin when he was still quite a young dancer. They were so marvelous together both physically and mentally and they brought the house down. After their first show (in 2006)I promoted Marijn from soloist to principal right on the stage in front of the public.”
Marijn Rademaker said that Kang’s help was immense when he first started as her partner in “The Lady of the Camellias.”
“Then I was still rather inexperienced and weaker. So I really had to work very hard on that. Sue-jin helped me immensely! She is so patient and helpful. We worked very hard and it was an amazing time, probably the most important time in my career.
“Sue-jin and I react to how we look into each other’s eyes, how we tilt our heads or even how we breathe. It is real when we dance. For me she is not superior when we dance together. Yes, I have the utmost respect for her. But I think there should not be any hierarchy on stage,” Rademaker said.
He auditioned and joined the Stuttgart Ballet in 1999.
For audiences unfamiliar with the company’s history, Anderson underlined the importance of Cranko’s contribution in the company’s rise to fame.
“What sets us apart from other prestigious European companies is definitely the Cranko repertoire and how we take care of it from generation to generation,” Anderson explained.
“Also the fact that we do so much new choreography and find and nurture young choreographers both from within the company and from the outside, bringing up the next generation of dancers from our school and from within the company is also a big part of our success.”
In that vein, Rademaker said he is participating in the Noverre Society’s “Young Choreographers Evening” this year. He said some of the biggest choreographers started here in Stuttgart doing that. He will also be choreographing for the first time this year.
There are two Asian principal dancers at Stuttgart, and many more studying at its John Cranko School, a training institution for young talent.
“We have around 12 Asian dancers at our school right now. I have absolutely no problem with the use of Asian dancers. A good dancer is a good dancer. I am also a firm believer in ‘race blind’ casting,” he said.
He credited Kang’s longevity as a principal dancer to “good training, work ethic and iron discipline.”
“She is also a natural stage personality, instinctive and endearing. She can capture the audiences’ imagination and is absolutely captivating,” he said.
A former dancer with the company, Anderson has served as artistic director since 1995.
Kang’s interpretation of the tragic role of Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan in 19th century, earned her the prestigious “Prix Benois de la Danse” in 1999. Kang joined the company in 1985 and has been a principal for almost 15 years. The Lady of the Camellias and “Streetcar Named Desire,” continues to be defined as one of the world’s best ballets for its combination of classical story and new interpretation.