Posted : 2012-12-19 16:19
Updated : 2012-12-19 16:19

Korean National Ballet vs Universal Ballet

A scene from "The Nutcracker" in 2009 featuring Jung Young-jae, left, and Kim Li-hoe of Korean National Ballet.
/ Courtesy of Korean National Ballet and Universal Ballet

By Rachel Lee

For the dancers performing as Clara and the Nutcracker princes in Korea's two prominent ballet companies, December is the busiest month, during which Christmas plans mean nothing.

Kim Li-hoe, Jung Young-jae of Korean National Ballet and Son You-hee, Rhee Hyon-jun of Universal Ballet are among those who have spent years giving the best Christmas present to Korean audiences.

"I have performed Clara for six years now and it was the first leading role given to me after I joined the company," Kim said Monday in an interview held at Seoul Arts Center in Seoul. The 25-year-old principal dancer is well known for her fine physique and artistic presentation not only in Korea but also around the world. The award-winning dancer, who joined the Korean National Ballet in 2006, is considered as one of the up-and-coming ballerinas along with her colleagues, Lee Eun-won and Park Seul-ki.
A scene from "The Nutcracker" in 2010 starring Rhee Hyon-jun and his wife Son You-hee of Universal Ballet.

"When I was a student at Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts, I dreamt of becoming as good as famous dancers such as Kim Joo-won and Kim Ji-young. But seriously, I didn't expect it to happen in such a short period of time," she said.

Kim and her partner Jung have received rave reviews in their recent performance "Swan Lake," which closed its curtains at Seoul Arts Center in Seoul. The pair, who graduated from the Korea National University of Arts (K-Arts), has been working together since 2009. They also won the best couple award at ARABESQUE-2010, a Russian open ballet competition.

"Li-hoe is younger than me but technically speaking, my senior in university. I feel comfortable when working with her not only because we are personally close to each other but also because she understands me well and takes good care of me," said Jung Monday in an interview.

Jung Young-jae, left, and Kim Li-hoe of Korean National Ballet Rhee Hyon-jun, left, and his wife Son You-hee of Universal Ballet
/ Korea Times photo by Rachel Lee

The 28-year-old male dancer wanted to be a footballer but due to a skin problem, his parents suggested he should try something else like ballet.

"One of my relatives used to be a ballerina in Russia so my parents learned about ballet from her and thought it was ideal for me," he said. Jung then started to attend classes when he was 13 and later left for Moscow for further education. He used to be a member of corps de ballet at the English National Ballet in London for two years in 2008.

"Ballet is part of me now. I hope I can dance until the age of 50. Who knows? It seems pretty possible for me unless I get injured," added Jung.
Rhee Hyon-jun, left, and his wife Son You-hee of Universal Ballet

Kim, who spent over 20 years of her life in a studio practicing, also expressed her love and passion for ballet which she cannot live without. "It's my everything and it will always be. Now I hope people see me as a more grown-up dancer rather than just a girl performing some pretty role and dance movements. I have strived to add more depth to my performance so hope the audiences can see it," Kim said.

For those watching "The Nutcracker" for the first time, the two principal dancers said, "Enjoy the music and go back to the world of innocence and childhood."

For Universal Ballet's newly married couple Son and Rhee, the upcoming performance will be the last one before they leave for the United States where they plan to start a new life.

"We have long planned to join the Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma, well, it was my idea actually. I haven't had any overseas experience unlike my wife, who used to study ballet in Russia and France, so I convinced her to come with me and she happily accepted," Rhee said Monday in an interview held at the Universal Ballet studio in Seoul. The 27-year-old principal dancer was trained at Sunhwa Arts School and K-Arts and joined the company in 2007.

According to his wife Son, a senior soloist at the company, he is well known for proper self-care and management.

"He knows how to treat his body, he understands it very well," said the 28-year-old ballerina.

Son, who graduated with honors from Perm Ballet School in Russia, is known for her flexibility and precise technique. She was previously with the Korean National Ballet for about a year and joined Universal Ballet in 2004. Son, who has a bubbly personality, said she and her husband share the same taste when it comes to a sense of humor. "We always laugh at the same things and I think it's definitely one of the important things when you date a guy. But most importantly, I have fallen in love with his passion not just for ballet but for everything," Son said.

For their upcoming performance, the married couple is working hard in order to show more mature and improved partnering to the local audience for the last time before their departure.

"Both of us hope that our audiences see us not as dancers but as the characters in ‘The Nutcracker.' Each ballerina and ballerino has different strengths and the way they portraying their characters are different and I think that's the interesting bit," said Son.

For more information about Korea National Ballet's "The Nutcracker" (Bolshoi version), visit or call (02) 580-1300. For more information about Universal Ballet's "The Nutcracker" (Mariinsky's Vinogradov version), visit or call 1544-1555.

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