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Universal Ballet marks 40th anniversary with 'Romeo and Juliet'

Benois de la Danse winner Kang Mi-sun, ABT principal dancer Seo Hee, newcomer Lee You-rim to perform as Juliet

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : May 9, 2024 - 13:38

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From left, Kang Mi-sun, Seo Hee and Lee You-rim attend a press conference at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Wednesday. (Universal Ballet) From left, Kang Mi-sun, Seo Hee and Lee You-rim attend a press conference at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Wednesday. (Universal Ballet)

Universal Ballet is set to perform choreographer Kenneth MacMillan's Royal Ballet production "Romeo and Juliet" this weekend, marking the South Korean ballet company's 40th anniversary.

Among many adaptations, MacMillan's rendition with Sergei S. Prokofiev’s music stands out for its faithful portrayal of Shakespeare's original tragedy. Since its Korean premiere in 1983 by the Royal Ballet, Universal Ballet has secured performance rights, staging the production twice before in 2012 and 2016.

"'Romeo and Juliet' is a challenging production in terms of personnel and scale. We are very happy to stage such a piece to celebrate the significant anniversary this year,” said Universal Ballet General Director Julia Moon during a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday.

Universal Ballet General Director Julia Moon speaks at a press conference at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Wednesday. (Universal Ballet) Universal Ballet General Director Julia Moon speaks at a press conference at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Wednesday. (Universal Ballet)

Altering the role of beloved yet headstrong and passionate Juliet are Universal Ballet's star dancer and last year's prestigious Benois de la Danse winner Kang Mi-sun, American Ballet Theatre's principal dancer Seo Hee and newcomer soloist Lee You-rim, who joined the company last year.

Seo, who is performing in Korea for the first time in 11 years, said, “I have been performing Juliet every year since 2009 when I first took on the role (with ABT). It feels like I have been slowly building layers with this piece over the past 15 years. This is my first time to show my Juliet in Korea, so I am very excited.”

Having joined ABT in 2005, Seo was cast as Juliet four years later, debuting as the lead at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

"If you ask me how I felt when I first played Juliet, I think I did well. But now, with each subsequent performance, I find the role more challenging because I have more questions,” she said.

Seo added, "No matter where I perform, I feel nervous fluttering before performances. ... But I think what is important is how to control that trembling heart. And I am dedicating (myself) wholeheartedly to rehearsals to convey what I want to deliver."

Universal Ballet's Universal Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" (Universal Ballet)

Kang, who previously embodied Juliet in the 2016 production, takes on the role for the second time.

"Following Romeo’s exile in Act 3, Juliet remains onstage and almost never leaves the stage. The poignant part touches my heart the most. I am focusing on capturing the dramatic essence of the character," Kang said.

For Lee, this is her first lead role since joining Universal Ballet in 2023 as a soloist after working with the Hungarian National Ballet for seven years.

"When I auditioned for the role, I thought a lot about what aspects of Juliet I should emphasize," said Lee. "(Considering Juliet's age in the play is 14,) I thought I would focus on showing her (innocent and daring) characteristics."

Moon said the three dancers each have their distinct interpretations of Juliet, emphasizing the importance of their acting skills in the drama ballet piece.

"Romeo and Juliet" will be staged five times at the Seoul Arts Center's Opera Theater from Friday to Sunday.

In addition, Universal Ballet is scheduled to perform its original ballet piece "The Ballerina," choreographed by its artistic director Liu Bingxian, as part of the Ballet Festival Korea on May 31 and June 1.