One of the most incredible phenomena in Korean ballet in the last 10 years has to be the 20-year-old ballerino Kim Ki-min.
The young dancer is not only the first Asian male ever to join Russia’s iconic Mariinsky Ballet. He is also the first ever Asian soloist with the company that rarely admits foreign nationals.
During a press preview of “Swan Lake” on Sunday at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the local press flocked to see Kim, who is one of the three male dancers taking the lead role in his company’s three-day tour in Seoul.
Kim is dancing the role of Prince Siegfried tonight, opposite fellow soloist Olesya Novikova, 27, who has been with the company for almost ten years. Novikova and Kim made a lovely pair during the rehearsal.
This is the first time for him to dance for a local audience as a Mariinsky member.
It has been a little over a year since he joined the Russian troupe and he seems to have no trouble communicating in Russian language during the troupe’s rehearsal sessions. He follows the instructions given to him by the ballet master.
Because the storyline of this ballet is mainly carried out by the female lead, it is hard for the male dancer to shine in Swan Lake.
As such, it was Novikova’s elegant lines and clean technique that stood out for most parts of the rehearsal. The corps de ballet’s unison and the skill of each member were equally impressive.
With his slender limbs, Kim is rather petite for a dancer and not as masculine as some of his colleagues.
However, he does have an amazing technique and showed an impressive level of attention to detail, checking his hand position several times at certain scenes.
He is also unusually diligent and committed to his trade, spending the better part of 11 hours per day rehearsing.
The Mariinsky Ballet’s “Swan Lake” tour began on Sunday and will conclude tonight at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul.
Ahead of the first performance, the company held a press conference at the Russian Embassy in Seoul.
“I can not express in words what an honor it is for me to dance a lead role at a company of my dreams,” Kim said.
What is special about this ballet performance is that it will be accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. Founded in 1783, the orchestra is one of the oldest musical institutions in Russia and has emerged as the top symphony orchestra in Russia under the leadership of maestro Valery Gergiev.
Kim has swept several important competitions for young dancers, including the 2010 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria and the Youth America Grand Prix international competition this year.
What is special about Kim’s unprecedented success as an Asian ballerino is that he is the product of local training, having just graduated from the Korea National University of Arts. Most of his Mariinsky colleagues are from the Vaganova Ballet Academy, an affiliate of the troupe. There are only three non-Russians out of about 180 dancers in the company.
Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies.
The only Korean to previously join the company was ballerina Ryu Ji-yeon, a Vaganova graduate who spent 15 years at the Mariinsky and retired as a principal character artist in 2010.