Kim Ki-min, a 19-year-old ballet dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet, will perform Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake” at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Nov. 11-13. / Courtesy of the artist
By Rachel Lee
Korean ballet dancer Kim Ki-min said that his Asian physique, generally regarded as a drawback in classical ballet, prompted him to work harder.
“I have gone through many tough times due to my disadvantageous body shape, which sometimes caused me intolerable pain but I’ve never given up,” said the 19-year-old dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet in an email interview with The Korea Times.
“I guess my enthusiasm and passion for ballet have no limits,” Kim added.
Kim, who spends over 11 hours in the studio practicing every day, is the first Asian ballerino to join the company in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He joined last June and is returning to his hometown of Seoul in November to perform “Swan Lake” with the iconic Russian troupe. Kim is to play the lead male role Prince Siegfried.
“I am so excited about performing in my home country after joining the company. I am happy that I am performing ‘Swan Lake,’ one of my favorite pieces along with Spartacus.” said Kim.
“I will do my best to give a thoroughly professional performance and I hope to impress those who never came across ballet before by showing them the beauty of the dance next month.”
The Mariinsky Ballet, founded in the 18th century, was originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet. It has built its reputation on the back of such classics as Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” (1877) and “The Nutcracker” (1892), both of which it premiered.
It has a storied history, having shut briefly at the start of the 20th century due to Soviet paranoia concerning its links to Tsarist Russia. It was reborn later as the Kirov Ballet, a moniker with which it is still often associated.
Most of the 300 dancers in the company, including its current prima ballerinas like Yekaterina Kondaurova and Diana Vishneva, are graduates of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet a leading international ballet school based in the same city.
Considering its strictness in admitting foreign nationals (only three non-Russian members out of 180), the company’s acceptance of an Asian is a significant milestone. Korean ballerina Ryu Ji-yeon spent 15 years there and retired as a principal character artist in 2010.
“Russians are emotional and sensitive like people in the West. But they are rational too. Since I came here, I have encountered a language barrier but haven’t experienced discrimination like racism at all. I am getting along well with fellow dancers and the director,” Kim said.
The young dancer emerged as a star in Korea’s junior ballet scene. After having been educated at the Korea National University of Arts, he picked up gold medals at the Seoul International Dance Competition in 2008 and at the International Ballet Competition in 2010 in Varna, Bulgaria. He also won a silver medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 2009.
Kim, who started learning ballet while in second grade in elementary school, said ballet means everything to him and never experienced a slump since then. His brother Kim Ki-wan, 22, is also a noted ballerino at the Korea National Ballet.
“I think ballet is simply my life and destiny. I have fallen in love with it so deeply that I never been bored with it. I set a new dream and goal every day to become a respected artist. I can try constantly because ballet is the only thing that makes me feel alive,” he added.
The Mariinsky Ballet will stage a production of “Swan Lake” at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul from Nov. 11 through 13. For more information, call (02) 318-4301 or visit www.clubbalcony.com.