How sweet it is: Sugar plum fairies arriveOne thing ballet fans love about the Christmas season is the chance to see "The Nutcracker." The classical ballet piece, based on E.T.A. Hoffman's fairy tale "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and Tchaikovsky's music, will be performed by the nation's top two ballet troupes: the Universal Ballet and Korea National Ballet.
Korea National Ballet's performance, choreographed by the ex-director of the Bolshoi Ballet Yuri Grigorovich, will be staged at the Seoul Arts Center from Dec. 18 to 25. Universal Ballet will dance the Kirov Ballet version at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts from Dec. 21 to 26.
Korea National Ballet
This year the company has cast some new faces to lead "The Nutcracker." Among them is the 21-year-old prima ballerina Yoon Hae-jin, who joined the troupe early this year. She'll be paired with Lee Won-kook, the troupe's most popular dancer. Ms. Yoon will perform the Dec. 20-23 shows in her debut as a leading performer.
Yoon and Lee are "tti-donggap," meaning they have the same Chinese zodiac sign, the Goat － though there is a 12-year age gap between them. Yoon thus calls her partner "seonsaeng-nim" (teacher or sir) instead of "oppa" (big brother) to show respect.
Lee, one of Korea's most experienced dancers, has been something of a coach to Yoon since they began practicing for "The Nutcracker" about two weeks ago. This year will be his ninth to perform "The Nutcracker." "He's a great performer whom I look up to," Yoon said. "He helps and teaches me all the time; I'm sure he must be frustrated with me because I'm just a beginner, but he never shows it." Pirouetting, Lee said of Yoon: "Hae-jin is a dancer with the elegance of a prima ballerina. That's not something a dancer acquires easily. She just needs to have more confidence."
This is the second year the Korea National Ballet has staged the Grigorovich version. "The choreography shines in representing the original story faithfully," Lee said. "It is very powerful, making it physically challenging for the dancers."
The star performers of the Universal Ballet, Kim She-yun and Ohm Jae-yong, will perform the Kirov version of "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 21, 23 and 25. "It's a lot of fun to dance the Nutcracker," Kim said. "This version offers a light and delightful effect, rather than demanding techniques and artistic expressions."
The two have performed together many times. They won second prize at the Luxembourg International Ballet competition early this year, and this will be their second time doing the "The Nutcracker" together.
Born with the consummate ballerina physique, Kim is considered the heir to Julia Moon, the company's general director. Kim's legs are said to be more beautiful than any other Korean ballerina's. She is also the favorite of Oleg Vinogradov, the artistic director of the troupe, who calls her "Sophia."
Ohm, strikingly handsome, studied dance at the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C. (the flagship is in St. Petersburg) but returned to Korea to serve in the army. Since then he was exempted from the service for winning the Dong-A Dance Competition in Korea.
Asked to comment on each other, Ohm said, "Seh-yun? Superb." Kim was less terse: "Everybody thinks highly of Jae-yong, and he has a wealth of facial expressions. He hasn't been playing leading roles long but he can convey emotions very well. I admire his ability."
The company, formed 16 years ago, is coming off a big tour of North America, including a successful run at the Chicago Opera House.
For more information, visit the companies' Web sites at www.kballet.or and www.universalballet.co.kr.
by Ki Sun-min