Dance, Genre That Needs No Tranlsation
General Director of the Universal Ballet Company
Among Korean art forms, dance, and more specifically, ballet, is a genre that has been aggressively pursuing the road toward globalization for some time.
In 1962, with the establishment of the Korean National Dance, the repertory of which included Western classical ballet,
Furthermore, in 1984, Universal Ballet, the first privately funded professional ballet company in Korea, was founded. Seeking to present the highest possible quality of ballet to the Korean audience, from its first year the company invited international artists including choreographers, designers, teachers and dancers to work on its productions.
The introduction of ballet to the Korean audience is significant because it was not only ``classical ballet'' that was introduced, but Western art as a whole. This is because ballet incorporates all forms of art: literature (libretto), fine arts (set design), fashion (costume design), music, and movement.
When one watches a ballet performance, through the costumes and sets one can get a glimpse of the architecture and fashion of the period in which the ballet was set, and through the dancers' movements and pantomime, one can learn about the mores and culture of the period. This is one of the qualities of ballet that makes it so important.
Having introduced Western culture and art to the Korean audience, did Korean ballet accomplish its purpose? If so, Korean ballet would have been criticized for blindly accepting and promoting Western arts without regard for the further development of its own culture.
After creating their own Korean ballets and achieving a certain level of success in Korea, Universal Ballet and Korean National Ballet have both invested in overseas touring, seeing the potential for Korean culture to take its place on the world stage. Furthermore, Korean artists understood that ballet is particularly suitable for the global era because dance is a universal language needing no translation.
While the Korean National Dance Company has undertaken many international tours with the support of the Korean government, among privately supported dance companies, Universal Ballet has the highest record for international touring.
Just as many aspects of Western culture were introduced to Korea through ballet, the Western audience around the world have been introduced to Korean culture through Korean costumes, sets, musical themes and traditional philosophy, such as the concept of filial piety, so central to Korean thought, while watching ballets such as Universal Ballet's Shim Chung.
In addition, because ballet incorporates so many different artistic elements, the fact that Korea is able to produce and tour such high quality ballet productions demonstrates to the world audience the level of accomplishment that Korea has achieved in all fields of the arts.
Since around the turn of the century, not only ballet, but also Korean contemporary dance has become very active in international touring. This success proves that Korean contemporary dance can express the sentiments of modern society with a youthful sensibility and share it with the world. The future of international tours for Korean contemporary dance looks bright because, in contrast to ballet, which requires elaborate sets, large stages and many dancers, it requires fewer dancers and more compact production.
Another change in the last decade has been progress in overcoming some of the prejudices that existed in society's perception of dance. Previously, dance was viewed as something one did if one was not good in academics. In addition, there was a conception that the Korean body type, with relatively short limbs, was unsuitable for ballet. Also, many people generally viewed dance as something unapproachable and difficult to understand.
What is the perception today? The news of Korean dancers winning international competitions all around the globe has proven that dance, as an art form that has no language barrier, is truly a means by which Korea can take its place in the global era, undoing previous misconceptions.
The number of Korean dancers who now hold impressive positions in international dance companies ― Stuttgart Ballet prima ballerina Kang Sue-jin and soloist Kang Hyo-jung, Paris Opera Ballet soloist Kim Yeong-gol, Dutch National Ballet principal Kim Ji-young and soloist Kim Se-hyun, Finnish National Ballet principal Han Eun-ji, and American Ballet Theater's Seo Hee, to name just a few ― is also a testimony to the global progress of Korean dance.
The concept that dance as a hobby can improve your health in mind and body is now making it popular in Korea not only with professionals, but with the general public as well. The fact that ``dance'' is taking an important place in creative education for children through movement is also a very welcome development. It seems that now is a time for ``dance.''
There are still a few things that we hope to see for the development of dance here in Korea. If the global value of Korean dance, now being recognized abroad as well as by the Korean public, is to grow further, government policies need to be adjusted to provide more support for the arts.
In order to fully realize a global Korea through dance, one of the most important elements is having first class dancers. There are several factors impeding Korea's dance companies efforts to fill their rosters; an education system that focuses primarily on university entrance exams when a university education is not needed for a student's field of study, compulsory military service, which interrupts the careers of Korea's male dancers, and the decrease in population, which is causing a concomitant decrease in the number of young artists pursuing a career in professional dance. It is sad that even though ballet has been the genre leading the global era through dance, the reality is that it is very difficult to find dancers, especially males.
Another obstacle is the difficulties Korean companies face when trying to create quality new works for their repertories. In order to create a work like the ``Nutcracker,'' which has been loved by the audience for hundreds of years, one needs to have great composers, set and costume designers, librettists, and choreographers. But because education here mainly focuses on training performers, there is a lack of professionals in these areas, which hinders the process of high quality creation.
If these issues were addressed by policies on a government level and supported by society as a whole, the realization of a global Korea through dance could be realized in as little as 10 years.