Dancing the Universal Language

By Henkin, Stepehn | The World and I, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Dancing the Universal Language


Henkin, Stepehn, The World and I


The Seoul-based Universal Ballet successfully blends the grace of traditional Korean folk dance with the bravura of the legendary Kirov company.

Whoever originally named the Universal Ballet Company (UBC) was farsighted, indeed. The Korean troupe, which completed its first North American tour in April, is a unique synthesis of Eastern harmony and lyricism with Western strength and spectacle. Founded in 1984, the Seoul-based company boasts an impressive repertoire of more than seventy Western classics, as well as an intriguing ballet based on a Korean folktale. Underscoring this happy marriage of Eastern and Western dance idioms, the UBC also wisely selected Oleg Vinogradov, the twenty-year artistic director of the legendary Kirov Ballet, as its own. Even the artistically versatile contingent of over fifty dancers has an international flavor, with seven nations, including Korean, represented.

Vinogradov, 60, who also serves as artistic director of the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington. D.C., will be guiding the company together with founding member Julia Moon, who handles the dual roles of prima ballerina and general director. Vinogradov stresses the shared advantages of this East-West joint effort: "The Kirov tradition had a very direct influence on the Universal Ballet," he notes. "Julia Moon has worked in many companies around the world and knows ballet internationally, but in creating a company she and [UBC chairman and president] Dr. [Bo Hi] Pak chose the Russian school as their foundation.

"They invited Kirov dancers, teachers, and repetiteurs to work with them, which is just what we did later in establishing the Kirov Academy [in 1994]," says Vinogradov [see "The Kirov Tradition Comes to America," The World & I, April 1994, p. 114]. "Kirov dancers continue to perform with the Universal Ballet, as they do at the Kirov Academy, and many soloists from the Universal Ballet have danced as apprentices with the Kirov."

Vinogradov highlights the cross-cultural cooperation between the two companies by noting that Julia Moon has performed several times on the stage of the Maryinsky Theater, the Kirov company's home in St. Petersburg.

The chemistry is working, suggests dance writer Anna Kisselgoff in the April 20, 1998, edition of the New York Times. "It isn't every ballet company that can afford to restage a lavish full-length production of Swan Lake that was originally produced for the Kirov Ballet. Nor can every company drill into its corps de ballet the astounding precision and attention to stylistic detail that the Universal Ballet from South Korea demonstrate[s]."

Indeed, Moon stresses the value of the Russian dance experience. "When it comes to classical ballet, [the Russians] have a 250-year history of classical ballet," she notes, adding: "When it comes to the classics, they have that heritage and history of it. They have a way of expressing it, especially the upper part of the torso, the coordination of the head, the arms, and the shoulders, which makes the dance much fuller and more expressive."

"In our company, when we have done the classics we have always tried to take the best of what the Russian tradition has to offer," explains Moon. "The Swan Lake production that we are doing here in the United States has been staged by Oleg Vinogradov." She notes that the UBC has been working with the renowned Kirov director since 1992.

"When it comes to the classics, we try very much to inherit that tradition," Moon insists. "We very often have Russian teachers with the company, because that kind of style has to come from daily repetition. It just doesn't come all of a sudden--the look when you have a corps de ballet of thirty-two dancers raise the leg or the arm.

"You want to have that same line and same way of moving. In a corps de ballet, that's very important, and I think that the Russian tradition gives us that training," she concludes.

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