With traditional dance, she stays step ahead

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With traditional dance, she stays step ahead

When she dances, Jang Hyun-soo feels for her heroine, Chunhyang, the central figure in a romantic Korean folktale. But Jang feels for her a bit too much sometimes, and confusion arises about her own identity. A lead dancer for the performance "Dance: Chunhyang," which starts this weekend at the National Theater of Korea, Jang grows perplexed whenever her fellow dancers tell her she is becoming too much of an actor, instead of a dancer.

Jang says that whenever her theatrics are taking away from her concentration on dance, she says to herself: "I am a dancer, not an actor. I am supposed to convey details through movements, not through my facial expressions." It's an obsession she has: Dance comes first.

Another thing she feels strongly about is tradition. As a young Korean dancer, she grew up secretly admiring Western ballet -- thinking that ballet was more feminine and beautiful than Korean traditional dance styles. But eventually she changed her thinking, and came to embrace the traditional styles. Whenever she feels tempted to imitate the soft curvy lines of European ballerinas, she reminds herself that her dance should rely on traditions. "It never works with the size of my body anyway," she says sighing.

At 30 years old, she is 169 centimeters tall and weighs 48 kilograms. Anybody would describe her as thin, but she rubs her tummy and grouses about her excess fat. She says she needs to lose a few more kilograms to look perfectly fit in her costume. Then she shyly acknowledges it's all part of a dancer's vanity.

Jang will be starring in two of next week's dance performances based on the popular folktale "The Story of Chunhyang." The tragic story is about the forbidden love between Chunhyang, who belongs to a working class family, and Mongryong, the son of a prestigious governor of their village. Mongryong becomes infatuated with Chunhyang the moment he sees her riding on a swing during the village's spring festival. The same night, he drops by at Chunhyang's house and asks her mother, Wolmae, for permission to visit Chunhyang's room. The mother guides him to Chunhyang's bedroom, and from there, the story begins.

"She's very provocative," says Jang, referring to her alter ego. "I am sure in the beginning of the story when she submitted to the governor's order to pour his drinks during his inauguration celebration, she must have been really insulted. She had an erupting sense of pride as far as I understand." As the story goes, and as is depicted in the dance, Chunhyang is thrown into prison after refusing to become a concubine of the wicked governor of the village. She is released, but again faces turmoil when she becomes involved with a man from a higher social caste.

Jang, like it or not, is a natural actor as well as a gifted dancer. But besides putting on stage makeup before every rehearsal, which Jang does to make it more like the real performance, she doesn't do much to immerse herself into the character. Nevertheless, her acting was so convincing while rehearsing the intensely passionate farewell scenes with the man who plays Mongryong that problems arose. Colleagues grew suspicious of Jang's relationship with her co-lead. Rumors spread that something was going on. Of course, the rumor was groundless. "But we almost ran into a scandal," Jang says. That would have been messy, because Jang is married. Her husband, Park An-ji, plays in Kim Deok-soo's Samulnori Troupe, which Jang performed with during the musical "Yongbo" in 1998.

Jang says the story of Chunhyang is more sensual than she expected. "Chunhyang is an assertive woman; like many other women, she was vulnerable in front of her man. But she was strong. I know it, because I am like that, too."

For more information, call the National Dance Company of Korea at 02-2274-1159. "Dance: Chunhyang" will run at the National Theater of Korea from Sunday through June 9 at 7 p.m. Jang Hyun-soo will play Chunhyang on Monday and Tuesday.

by Park Soo-mee

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