The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] For breaker Lee Jae-bum, 'Notre-Dame de Paris' is home

Since 2007, Lee has performed the French musical around the world more than 1,100 times

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 26, 2024 - 15:36

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Lee Jae-bum poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, March 14. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Lee Jae-bum poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, March 14. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Breakdancer Lee Jae-bum came across the musical “Notre-Dame de Paris” by accident 17 years ago, but now Lee says the French musical feels like home.

Lee had been participating in a breakdance competition when someone approached him to join "this musical called 'Notre-Dame de Paris.'" That someone turned out to be Wayne Fowke, the artistic director who brought the French musical to the Korean stage.

At first, Lee wasn’t interested because he had little understanding of musical theater.

But after nearly a year of persuasion, he finally joined the musical and his life path has changed completely.

He joined the Korean premier in 2007 and had done more than 270 shows by the time the second Korean run was finished in 2009. At a party held at the show's end, Lee was acknowledged for appearing in the most performances among the cast.

“‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ is home for me. If I’m back home, I miss it just as I miss home when I’m touring with the show for a long time abroad,” Lee told The Korea Herald during a recent interview.

The dancer has traveled to nearly 20 countries, performing the show in front of both large and small audiences. Last year, the musical was put on in front of an audience of 20,000 people in Albania for a one-time performance. Lee also joined tours in New York, Paris, Canada and Turkey last year.

Visiting new places is something Lee said he greatly enjoys, along with making friends and, more importantly, making a living while doing what he loves the most -- dancing.

“I thought I would end up as an office worker because making a living as a breakdancer seemed impossible, especially back then,” Lee recalled.

When he was on a break from the musical, he missed it so much that when another opportunity came up -- a tour in China -- he took it.

“I’ve done other productions while taking time off from ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ from 2009 to 2012, but nothing felt quite like ‘Notre-Dame de Paris,’" Lee said.

Even though the production has changed some minor details over the years, it maintains its original form. Despite this, Lee finds it invigorating and challenging each time he takes to the stage.

“I’m given a scene where I have to figure it out myself. It's not a dance, but rather reserved movements, and I keep changing it up each time and I continue to think about it,” he said, adding “Performing the same production at different places is refreshing.”

Breakdancer Lee Jae-bum (Mast International) Breakdancer Lee Jae-bum (Mast International)

“Notre-Dame de Paris,” unveiled in 1998 in Paris, is renowned for its artistic flair, notably the dynamic acrobatics and breakdance routines performed by a cast of 22 skilled dancers, acrobats and breakers. The production mesmerizes audiences with captivating scenes, including dancers suspended from the bells and scaling the cathedral walls.

“Notre-Dame de Paris” began its sixth run on Jan. 24, returning to local stages for the first time in six years. After completing performances for two months, Lee's tally of total performances climbed to 1,118 and will continue to rise as the musical is set to embark on a national tour. The tour will start at the Sohyang Theater in Busan on Friday and will visit 12 cities including Daegu, Gwangju, Ulsan, and Daejeon. After the national tour, Lee will join an international team for a tour in China.