In March of 2000, Kim Joo-won was watching French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem perform at the Royal Opera House in London. Kim, who was the Korean National Ballet’s prima ballerina at the time, was visiting the United Kingdom for a gala performance. She alone decided to check out the tragic ballet she’d never seen before.
The ballet was “Marguerite and Armand,” a 1963 piece by renowned choreographer Frederick Ashton. The British artist created the ballet, based on 19th century writer Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Lady of the Camellias,” specifically for legendary dancers Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) and Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991). After the two dancers died in the ’90s, the piece remained a legend until Guillem resurrected it in 2000 ― the very performance Kim was watching alone in the audience.
|Kim Joo-won rehearses for “Marguerite & Armand” in which she stars as a beautiful courtesan. (Theatro)|
“I was so touched that I could not move after the curtain came down,” said the 34-year-old in an interview with the press in Seoul, Wednesday. “I was sitting there, in tears, until everyone else left the venue. What was so striking was that I could not remember any of the body movements of the dancers. All I could remember was the story of the piece; it was as if I watched a movie.”
More than a decade later, Kim is bringing the 1963 piece to Korea next month ― becoming the first Asian dancer to play the role of Marguerite following Fonteyn and Guillem. The legendary ballet is her first show since her withdrawal from the principal position at the Korean National Ballet last year. She sent a number of video clips of her performance to the Royal Ballet in the U.K., to get their approval to stage the piece in Seoul.
“I never imagined I’d perform this piece when I first saw it in 2000,” Kim said.
|Ballet dancer Kim Joo-won poses for a photo after an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Wednesday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“And I wasn’t 100 percent sure, though I wanted to stage the piece really badly, if the Royal Ballet would allow me to perform it. I contacted them anyways because I wanted to give it a shot.”
Local ballet goers may be familiar with the plot of the piece, as German troupe Stuttgart Ballet, where Korean-born ballerina Kang Sue-jin serves as a principal, performed their repertoire “Lady of the Camellias” a number of times in Korea.
The ballet, danced to Chopin, is also based on the same novel by Dumas ― which tells the tragic love story between Marguerite, a beautiful courtesan, and Armand, a young provincial bourgeois. Kang Sue-jin in fact won the prestigious Prix Benois de la Danse for the role of Marguerite in 1999.
“I’ve also seen (Stuttgart Ballet’s) ‘Lady of the Camellias,’” said Kim. “The piece is very beautiful as well. The major difference between the two works is the choreography. ‘Marguerite and Armand” is also only about 35 minutes long, and is danced to Franz Liszt’s B minor piano sonata. I’ve always loved the score by Liszt ― I’ve been listening to it ever since I was a teenager training alone in Russia.”
It has been about nine months since Kim left the Korean National Ballet, where she spent 15 years of her prolific career. The award-winning dancer has been known for her distinct aura and dramatic flair, on top of her effortless technique. She was especially iconic as Giselle, the fragile, innocent peasant girl who dies after her lover had been secretly engaged to someone else.
“One of the reasons why I left the company is that I wanted to have more time to immerse into the characters,” she said.
“As the prima ballerina, I would have to practice four to five different roles every day, throughout the year. After 15 years of doing that, I thought I’d give myself more time to find the pieces and roles that I really want to perform.”
The dancer has been busy for the past nine months: she started teaching at Sungshin Women’s University as a professor, while finishing her first semester as a graduate student majoring in social welfare. The dancer also recently became a model for local designer Jung Kuho’s fashion label KUHO, as well as a promotional ambassador for UNICEF Korea.
“I’m a firm believer that what you do off stage really shows onstage,” she said.
“So I’ve been trying to explore as many things as possible when I am not preparing for shows. I started studying social welfare because I’ve been interested in supporting children in need through ballet. I believe ballet can be an encouraging and even therapeutic tool for children who are having a hard time. I don’t have a lot of money to support them, so I thought studying about welfare would allow me to find many different and creative ways to help them. It’s all about helping one another. No ballet show is possible without sponsorship.”
“Kim Joo Won Marguerite and Armand” runs from April 5-7 at LG Arts Center in southern Seoul. For more information, call 1544-1555.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org