Singing the blockbuster musical’s praises

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Singing the blockbuster musical’s praises

Blockbuster theater in Korea is enjoying an unusual heyday, at a time most unlikely for singing and celebration.
The local cultural industry, which tends to be quite sensitive to economic ups and downs, is showcasing a series of big-budget performances, mostly by foreign troupes, despite the many voices worrying loudly about the local economy, the war in Iraq and the continuing Korean nuclear crisis.
Although many of these unfavorable conditions might have come as an unpleasant surprise to producers ― given that most of these major shows were arranged well in advance ― most are not considering cancellations or delays as an option.
“Turandot,” a 5-billion-won ($4-million) opera staged by Zhang Yimou, the Chinese director of “Hero” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” has already sold about 35 percent of its seats at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, a venue that can accommodate 30,000 people.
“So far we’ve had no problem carrying out our agenda,” said Choo Na-hyun, public-relations manager of Hanjeon Arts Pool Center, a producer of “Turandot.” “We’ve passed the break-even point with our ticketing already, and we have secured a good number of corporate investors, with more companies expressing interest in investing their money. The general downturn of the markets doesn’t seem to apply to our business.”
The musical “Saturday Night Fever,” a co-production between a Korean company, Gaekseok, and the renowned Robert Stigwood Organization of London, is also starting this weekend, with the aim of attracting 11,200 theater-goers in the first two weeks.
Gaekseok, too, has pulled in a lot of major investors for this show. One investor, Show East, chose “Fever” as its first theatrical project since its launch last month. Show East is run by a former executive of Korea Pictures who was responsible for the hit Korean runs of “Phantom of the Opera,” “Rent” and “De La Guarda.”
LG Arts Center is presenting a sequence of contemporary dance shows by prominent foreign troupes, including “Swan Lake” by the Cullberg Ballet from Sweden, “Masurca Fogo” by Pina Bausch from Germany and a return of the Irish biggie “Spirit of the Dance.”
According to NFO Korea, a global market researcher, the scale of the local musical industry has grown steadily at 15 percent a year for the past three years. Since the success of the home-grown hit “The Last Empress,” a series of theatrical works ― including “Subway Line No. 1,” “De La Guarda” and “Phantom of the Opera” ― have made enormous profits, and some are still playing. “For years, musicals in Korea were for cult fans only,” said Kim Dong-guk of the Korea Performance Association. “Even if you had a quality work, you couldn’t find a hall that was willing to rent its space. Not anymore.”
Problems outside Korea have given more grief to production companies than have local headaches.
Yoo Theater, the producer of the Korean musical “The Dwarf Who Loved Snow White,” was scheduled to perform in Israel this month, but that was canceled due to the nearby war. Arheus Ensemble, a Romanian music group that was to participate at this year’s Tongyeong International Music Festival, dropped its plans at the last minute because the Romanian government announced a few days before the festival that it could not pay for the group’s trip. The cross-cultural dance exchange planned with Japan, Korea and China by the performance agency 210, which was scheduled for summer, is expected to be delayed due to the SARS virus.
And as well as Seoul shows are going, Mr. Kim of the Korea Performance Association notes that the scene in the rest of the peninsula is much more shaky. A concert last year by Lee Eun-mi in Andong, North Gyeongsang province, sold out in 15 days; but the same show scheduled for next month is selling so slowly that the agency is considering calling off the event.
The rising number of blockbuster performances amid the threat of recession may also explain why local production companies are depending less and less on corporate sponsorship and are turning to government funding, which is less easily affected by economic fluctuations.
But while producers aren’t seeking direct corporate investment as much these days, they are turning to restaurant chains, frequent-buyer cards and group discounts, in order to help ensure that people keep coming.
“Saturday Night Fever” had a two-week trial run in order to test the waters before its official opening on Saturday. About 300 million won went in to preparing the trial run alone. During the period, audience were offered 30 percent discounts on tickets, along with surprise events after every show.
“Turandot” chose an outdoor stage at the World Cup Stadium rather than an opera hall in the Seoul Arts Center, because the soccer venue can accommodate more people for relatively less. “Spirit of the Dance” at the LG Arts Center is staging the same repertoire that it featured in its performance last year at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and in 2000 at Seoul Arts Center, both were enormous successes.

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A reimagined ballet with menacing swans

The British choreographer Matthew Bourne turns tradition upside-down with a new spin on “Swan Lake.”
Mr. Bourne has removed the play from Tchaikovsky’s classic setting and replaced it with a female corps of leggy, tutu-wearing swans and a menacing flock of bare-chested males.
Getting his start in dance late in life, at 22 when he enrolled in the Laban Centre, Matthew Bourne has achieved both artistic and commercial success with his imaginative versions of classical ballets.
There is a touch of Freudian psychology in his performance. Threatening yet attractive, the scenes make a strong impression on the audience. The male swans express strength and charisma, even to the point of evoking homosexuality.
Mr. Bourne’s version of “Swan Lake” went on to become the longest-running ballet in the West End, London, winning more than 25 international awards and culminating in a Tony Award on Broadway.
At last, this much-lauded performance lands in Seoul, as one of the events commemorating the 30th anniversary of the British Council Culture Center.

LG Art Center
Southern Seoul, Yeoksam-dong
From May 20 to June 1
Tuesdays to Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3, 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2, 7 p.m.
Tickets: 40,000-100,000 won
(02) 2005-0114
www.lgart.com

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Irish spirits make free with dance

The thundering footwork sold a lot of tickets during this Irish tap-dance group’s performance at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts last year. Now the troupe is back for more.
The dance company started off seven years ago in Dublin with the aim of promoting Celtic steps. The group remained unnoticed until it participated in a “Michael Jackson and Friends” concert in 1999. Now the company tours around the world in six teams, comprising 250 dancers and hundreds of technical staff.
More than just Irish caileighs, Spirit of the Dance draws a whole range of influences into its Celtic moves, including Latin steps like tango, flamenco and salsa. Some critics say Spirit of the Dance is a crime against the sanctity of Irish dance, or at least has little to do with tradition anymore. But its performance has been seen by more than 25 million people around the world, and it continues to set box office records.

LG Arts Center
Southern Seoul, Yeoksam-dong
From Tuesday to April 20
Weekdays at 8 p.m.
Weekends at 3, 7 p.m.
Tickets: 35,000-80,000 won
(02) 399-5888
www.lgart.co.kr

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Musical pyramid scheme of love

Verdi’s “Aida” is the opera that all vocalists want to perform. All opera lovers have seen the play at least once in their lifetimes.
The Genus Opera troupe, which was founded only last September, chose Verdi’s “Aida” as the group’s inaugural project.
The group invited many experts from Italy for the production, and brought more than 3 tons of opera costumes and stage props for the performance.
In order to re-create the true flavor and beauty of the opera, two top sopranos, Paola di Gregorio and Simona Bertini, both from Italy, will take turns performing the title role of Aida, and the Italian tenor Mario Leonardi and Korean tenor Kim Nam-du will take the role of Radames.
One of Italy’s highly renowned opera directors, Domitilla Baldoni, presents to Korean audience this classic love story set in ancient Egypt. It is the tale of a victorious officer, Radames, who falls in love with the Ethiopian slave Aida. But Aida’s owner, Amneris, is in love with Radames. Jealous of Radames’s love for Aida, Amneris plots to win her beloved.

Seoul Arts Center
Southern Seoul, Seocho-dong
Saturday to Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. daily
Tickets: 20,000-300,000 won.
(02) 574-8060
www.ticketlink.co.kr

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A ‘Swan Lake’ with bald swans

The Cullberg Ballet, one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies, brings Mats Eks’s version of “Swan Lake” to Seoul.
Mats Eks has reinterpreted the classical ballet, presenting it in an avant-garde style with an all-male cast of dancers.
His take on classical ballet includes bald, bare-footed male dancers, and it deals with a feeble prince whose isolation from the world brings him closer to his mother ― almost to a degree that he starts to develop jealousy towards his mother’s lover.
It’s Tchaikovsky’s music, but that’s about the only thing you’ll recognize.
The rest of the ballet is approached from a more contemporary perspective. Mr. Eks’s interpretation is often quite imaginative with touches of humor.
At some moments, he attempts to transmit the notion of the human struggle, and he deals with questions such as beauty and ugliness, good and evil, through explicit ballet moves that go beyond the typical theatrical performance.


LG Art Center
Southern Seoul, Yeoksam-dong
Today at 8 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m.
(02) 2005-0114
Tickets: 30,000-70,000 won
www.lgart.com

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Dance me to the end of love ... and Lisbon

As one critic noted, the German choreographer Pina Bausch has become the absolute measuring stick for everything that happens in contemporary dance.
“Masurca Fogo” by Pina Bausch and the Wuppertal Dance Theater comes to Seoul for four shows at the end of April.
In her last performance in Korea, “Carnations,” Ms. Bausch filled the stage floor with 8,000 pink plastic carnations, and crawled over the flowers with male dancers in cocktail dresses. Her first visit to Seoul in three years will introduce part of her recent series of dance works based on the artist’s impressions of cities around the world. So far she has performed “Only You” a project about Los Angeles, “Weisenland” about Budapest and “Aqua” on Brazil. “Masurca Fogo” was inspired by the artist’s visit to Lisbon, Portugal.
Ms. Bausch is known for questioning her dancers about their emotions and incorporating their feelings in her work. Sharp bending, sudden neck movements and free body works, rather than formalized ballet movements, mark many of Ms. Bausch’s productions.

LG Arts Center
Southern Seoul, Yeoksam-dong
From April 25 to 28
Weekdays at 8 p.m.
Weekends at 4 p.m.
Tickets: 30,000-90,000 won
Reserve seats at Ticketlink or (02) 2005-0114
www.lgart.co.kr

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Raise the red opera ― Zhang brings Puccini

Staged in Beijing’s Forbidden City in September 1998 by the celebrated filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the opera “Turandot” was an enormous success both artistically and commercially, earning lavish praise by critics.
Zhang’s reinterpretation of Puccini’s “Turandot” integrates Eastern culture in the style of a Western opera. The work is also significant in that Zhang redefines the epic ― the story of a princess of ancient legendary China ― from the perspective of a Chinese director.
The set used in the Chinese Imperial Palace performance will be delivered to Seoul for its staging here, while 1,500 tailored costumes made in Italy and China will be imported.
Carlo Palleschi, an art director of the Lecce Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the Seoul performance; Giovanna Casolla, who starred in the Beijing show in 1998, will act as the princess, while Nicola Martinucci from the Theater La Scala plays the prince Calaf.
The operatic event has been organized to celebrate the first anniversary of the FIFA World Cup, and Mr. Zhang has been quoted as saying he wants the Seoul show to be even grander than the Beijing original.

Seoul World Cup Stadium
Northern Seoul, Sangam-dong
From May 8 to 11
Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: 30,000-300,000 won
Reserve seats at Ticketlink or (02) 2005-0114

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Hot movie breaks out as a hip new musical

Released in 1978, the film “Saturday Night Fever” made John Travolta an instant Hollywood legend and catapulted the Bee Gees to an unrivaled level of stardom. The film’s soundtrack remains moviedom’s best-seller of all time.
The musical production of the film, which was premiered at the London Palladium in 1998, has conquered Broadway and cities across Europe with its frenetic, disco soundtrack and glitter-ball, spinning steps.
The Seoul production is the Asian debut for “Saturday Night Fever.” It is being performed by the country’s hottest young musical artists, including Choi Jeong-won and Ju Won-seong. Leon Alderton, who led the German show, will choreograph the performance in Seoul.
The musical presents a nostalgic look back at those familiar scenes from the 1970s . girls in miniskirts, loom pants, roller skates, ABBA and disco. All the disco classics from the original play will also be translated and sung in Korean, including the favorites “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Disco Inferno.”


Little Angels Center
Southern Seoul, Gangnam
Saturday to May 10;
Tuesdays to Fridays at 8 p.m.,
Saturdays at 4, 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3, 7 p.m.
Tickets: 25,000-70,000 won
(02) 501-7888
www.ticketlink.com


by Park Soo-mee, Tess Chae

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