Bolshoi's 'Spartacus' to Leap Into Ballet Arena

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Bolshoi's 'Spartacus' to Leap Into Ballet Arena

Last Friday at 3 p.m., an old man, gray-haired and dressed in a simple shirt, directed about a dozen dancers from the Korea National Ballet, including the male ballet dancer Lee Won-kook, at a studio in the Opera House of the Seoul Arts Center. The dancers were bathed in sweat.

Summer is usually the off-season for ballet companies. However, these dancers were preparing hard for an ambitious piece that will be staged soon.

The man leading the dancers was the acclaimed choreographer Yuri Grigorovich from the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia. Mr. Grigorovich, with his shining eyes and impressive, quick movements, looked too young to be 74. He and the dancers were working on "Spartacus," to be staged between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1 at the Opera House. For the performance, all the members of the Korea National Ballet, including Choi Tae-ji the artistic director, have given up their vacations and dedicated themselves to intense preparation.

Many ballet critics in Korea believe "Spartacus" to be one of the best pieces in the ballet canon, and the Korea National Ballet has confidence the work will be popular with Korean audiences. For the performance, Kim Yong-geol, who had entered the Paris Opera Ballet last year, hurried back home to join the Korea National Ballet.

Many people know the movie version of "Spartacus," starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1960. It was based on the true story of a gladiator who rebelled against the Roman Empire and was killed.

Ever since the Bolshoi premiered the ballet version of "Spartacus," in 1968, it has been the most important piece of the ballet company. "Spartacus" requires more than 30 male dancers, which is unusually large for a ballet. The work calls for a number of principal dancers who can also act well.

The performance will star Lee Won-kook and Kim Yong-geol, who will take turns playing Spartacus, and Bae Joo-yoon of the Bolshoi and Kim Ji-young of the Korea National Ballet, who will take turns playing Phrygia, wife of Spartacus.

Kim Joo-won, who recently won the bronze medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition, will play Aegina, the favorite mistress of Crassus, the antagonist.

The Seoul performance is expected to have many attractions including lavish costumes and sets. The Bolshoi is providing everything except the dancers. Even the conductor, Alexander Lavrenuck, who will lead the Korean Symphony Orchestra for the performance, is from the Russian troupe.

The pas de deux, or duo dance, of Spartacus and Phrygia may look very subdued, but it requires powerful acrobatic technique. "Afterward, I feel as if my head is spinning," Lee Won-kook said.

The dance will focus more on depicting dynamic masculinity than the controlled beauty of form. Kim Yong-geol assured, "If you ever thought that male ballet dancers are feminine, you will think again after watching our dance."

The music composed by Aram Khachaturian plays an important role in making "Spartacus" a grand piece. Mr. Khachaturian is well-known for other compositions, such as "Saber Dance," but this ballet is one of his best.

For more information visit the Web site at or call Ticketlink 1588-7890 (English available).

by Ki Sun-min

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