‘Nutcracker’ provides two glimpses of Christmas

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‘Nutcracker’ provides two glimpses of Christmas

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For years, there has been a subtle rivalry between the two “Nutcracker” ballet productions, performed every Christmas on opposites sides of Seoul.
One is done by Universal Ballet and staged every year at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. The show has won over audiences with its modern, refined set and choreography.
The other show is by the Korea National Ballet Company and held at the Seoul Arts Center every year. Its appeal is its more traditional approach to classical Russian ballet.
For those who want credentials, Universal Ballet, founded in 1984, is a classical troupe once led by the Russian artistic director Oleg Vinogradov, of the renowned Kirov Ballet troup. Dance critic Clive Barnes was so impressed by the troupe he wrote of it that, “Those who say the 21st century of classic dance might belong to Asia can take heart.”
Naturally, Universal Ballet’s show is based on the one by the Kirov Ballet. The story, inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was revised by Alexander Dumas, the French author; Marius Petipa used the story to produce a ballet in St. Petersburg that has since become a classic, although with infinite variations. Tchaikovsky composed the score for the piece.
The story deals with a young girl at a Christmas party who receives a nutcracker doll from her godfather. Her brother is jealous and breaks the doll, but the godfather fixes it. Then later that night, the girl dreams of a nutcracker prince, and his battle against the Mouse King.
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Founded in 1962, the Korea National Ballet company was once under the wing of the National Theater of Korea. Today, the independent company has 65 in-house dancers, adding new members every year through an open audition.
The Korean National Ballet first staged “The Nutcracker” in 1977. For this production, eight dancers have been cast for each of the two lead roles of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.
The opening scene this year begins with Kim Ju-won and Lee Won-cheol, two of Korea’s top ballet dancers. Yuri Grigorovich, the famous artistic director and the chief choreographer of the Bolshoi Ballet from 1964 to 1994, made his fourth visit to Korea as an advising director this year, adding new gestures and movements to the show.
But most importantly, Grigorovich helped to flesh out the team’s choreography. He changed all the mime movements to dances, some of which involve highly sophisticated techniques. He also elongated the scenes of the mens’ military dances, turning it into a grandiose spectacle.
There are several other changes from the original play. The name Clara has been changed to Marira; The occupations of the main characters have also been slightly altered.


by Park Soo-mee

“The Nutcracker” by the Korea National Ballet Company begins Friday on Dec. 23 through Dec. 31 at the Seoul Arts Center. Tickets costs 20,000 ($19) to 70,000 won. Performances on the 23, 27, 28 and 29 start at 7:30 p.m. There is an additional show at 3 p.m. at 24, 25, 30, 31st.
Shows by the Universal Ballet takes place at Sejong Center from Dec. 17 through Dec. 25 on 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The admission costs 20,000 to 70,000 won.
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