From corps de ballet to choreographer
Kim Yong-geol to present 'Life, Love and Death'
By Rachel Lee
Kim Yong-geol is a man of patience and passion. He knows how to endure and endeavour to pursue what he wants — his love of ballet.
Kim, the first Asian soloist at the Paris Opera Ballet, is bringing “Life, Love and Death” to the local scene this weekend. It is seen as the cornerstone of his career as a choreographer.
Renowned artists Won Il, art director at the National Orchestra of Korea and Yang Jung-ung, writer and director at the Yohangza Theatre Company also worked on the production.
“This work is based on a traditional story from Jeju Island and the already well-known myth Orpheus and Eurydice,” said the 38-year-old dancer during an interview with The Korea Times on Friday.
“Orpheus and Eurydice” is one of the best-known Greek myths and has inspired a large number of artists. It is a tragic love story of legendary poet-musician Orpheus who loses his wife Eurydice. He gains a chance to get her back from the deities of the Underworld but is devastated when he loses her again.
Kim is to play the role of the male protagonist and his wife, Kim Mi-ae of the National Dance Company of Korea, will play the female counterpart.
“I was first cast as Orpheus for Pina Bausch’s version of the production in 2005 when I was with the Paris Opera Ballet,” Kim said. “I thought it was sensational that opera can be transformed into a ballet performance that well.”
German choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009) of Tanztheater Wuppertal was a leading influence in the world of modern dance from the 1970s, known for numerous works such as “Cafe Muller” (1975) and “Rough Cut” (2005), both performed in Seoul.
Kim, who also works as professor at the Korea National University of Arts, decided to create his own version as soon as he saw a performance by Korean music ensemble Baramgot directed by Won in Paris in 2007.
“I was fascinated by the power and the beauty of Korean arts and immediately came up with this idea of reinterpreting the play. I am telling the Greek myth in a Korean way.”
The ballerino describes the 90-minute performance as a road movie that engages the mind and the eyes of the audience.
“I would say it’s the middle ground between ballet and traditional dance and consists of more natural and basic movements. I tried to make it easy and smooth so that everyone can understand and follow the story without any difficulties,” he added.
The choreographer thinks that this is the time to bring out what he has learned from the past 17 years as a dancer. Of his diverse experiences in the industry, he still seeks inspiration from the nine years at the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the world’s leading companies.
“France is a country where you can do what you want without bothering about what others think of you. It’s completely the opposite in Korea; you unconsciously care about the opinions of others,” the artist said.
“Although I went through hard times and felt incompetent especially after I failed to pass the annual promotion test, I never gave up on my dream. I worked even harder to prove my ability at the company.”
When Kim returned home in 2009, he realized that the level of Korean ballet had improved but insists it has a long way to go.
“Korean dancers tend to obsess with winning international competitions, which I think is just a small part of a ballet career. It is more important to have proper institutions where students can receive professional training like the ones in established institutions such as the Royal Ballet School and the Paris Opera Ballet School.”
Kim has no concrete plans yet for his next piece, just focusing on the current production.
“I will strive to convey the key message in my works that are easy for everyone to understand.
“I wish to become a choreographer who can give amazingly impressive performances.”
“Life, Love and Death” will be at the Gangdong Arts Center in Seoul on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from 20,000 to 50,000 won. For more information, call (02) 440-0500.