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BWW Review: K ARTS BALLET Sets A New Standard for Excellence

Ms. Soo Bin Lee and Mr. Seung Hyun Lee of K Arts Ballet
Odette and Siegfried Pas de Deux from "Swan Lake"
Photograph attributed to © VAM

The maxim "Go big or go home" holds. That's one thing that can be said for Korea National University of Arts' "K Arts; Rising Stars of Korea Gala": they dance big; Bolshoi big. The leg extensions were never below 9 o'clock and more often than not floated past 12 o'clock; the pirouettes were never fewer than two and frequently zoomed from three to six; the grand jetés soared with clean splits every single time; and the manner always roared "I LOVE TO DANCE AND I LOVE YOU TOO"! In fact, were I to find fault with July 12th's presentation I would start there. Though danced with panache, there was a distinct lack of variety on display. But then that is the nature of galas; the pieces are presented to illustrate wow factor over substance. In that regard these performers dazzled. Maestro Jelko Yuresha - whom I profiled for Broadway World and was lucky to see during intermission - put it best: "The dancers are great because the details are great but I am not a fan of their Balanchine-esque performance style. They keep looking out at the audience. But what marvelous dancers they are. Even when their bodies are not perfect the way that they move makes you think that they are."

It is true that the dancers had a marked propensity for playing to the audience and for being a touch over the top in their characterizations - particularly the women - but they also had a level of deep rapport with one another that was heart warming to witness. When they looked at each other you could feel that they were really seeing and cared for the other person. This level of comradeship and affectionate regard amongst peers is something one rarely sees so openly onstage. There were numerous virtues about this company of rising stars that one only sees in the best of dancers. Many of these performers - almost all of them have won numerous awards at major international ballet competitions - already dance at the corps de ballet and soloist level of established ballet companies. Indeed, more than a few of them have already been contracted by leading ballet companies around the world. The age range for these wunderkinds is from 17 to 22 years old and yet they all managed to dance with such earnestness that even when I did not approve of their artistic choices I could not help but to cheer for them. *Note; I stole that line from the acclaimed ballerina Maina Gielgud who along with Maestro Yuresha was one of the many ballet stars in attendance at this splendid fete.

The Company of K Arts Ballet in "I Feel Pretty"
Choreographed by Ju Hyun Jo
Photographed by Youngmo Choe

There was much cheering to be done across the board. Let's start with the fact that the performing space of Symphony Space was three times too small for these dancers; within a single bound they all found themselves more than halfway across the stage. Despite this deficit of space, somehow they all managed to reorient so that the integrity of the performance never suffered. The men were almost across the board flawless partners. (Whoever trained them should be poached by ABT.) The women were all technical wizards; why do two pirouettes en pointe when you can do four? Each featured excerpt included a full performance of pas de deux, variations, and coda. There were a number of flashy contemporary pieces included in the program as well. These were of the show stopping entertainment variety, which while hardly a crime and always spectacularly performed - bravo to the soloist in the pink dress from "I Feel Pretty" and to the whizz bang trickster Mr. Jin Sol Eum whose solo turn in "But now I'm Back" was astounding, particularly during his leaps and turns - left much to be desired in terms of enlightening choreography. But then this was a gala concert with all of the tired war-horse showpieces on tap. This included pas de deux from "Diana and Acteon", "Swan Lake" pas de deux for Odile and Siegfried, and the almost inappropriately difficult Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Aside from a rarely scene bauble from Petipa's ouerve, all of this choreography was of the knock them out with your best tricks variety.

Mr. Byul Yun in particular delivered on the promise of executing dazzling tricks during the "Diana and Actaeon" pas de deux. Watching him dance, one would have thought that we were in an opera house, such was his booming presence. Double cabrioles, pirouettes that accelerated and then slowed down to stop on a dime, corkscrew turns, and split leaps that snapped and suspended in the air; is it any wonder that he elicited spontaneous bursts of applause? Petipa's "The Cavalry Halt Pas de Deux of Maria and Pierre" - an adorable vision of two youths in the woods that could have inspired Frederick Ashton's "La fille mal Gardée" - was completely won over by Ms. Eunhye Lee's sunny performance. Her heavenly line - solid turns, balances, and sky-high extensions - sang with a sweetness that appropriately enough reminded one of Lise.

Not everything was so perfectly wedded in terms of style. If you've ever wondered what Odile would look like as a Russian femme fatale, then Ms. Soo Bin Lee's rendering of the evil swan who stared the audience down at every turn offered that and more. It wasn't a "bad" performance - those 32 fouettés with double pirouettes looked like they could have kept spinning all night long - but it lacked nuance and came off as mannered. Her partner - the wonderful Mr. Seung Hyun Lee - was in another ballet entirely, rather Ms. Lee was in a spy thriller and he was in "Swan Lake". Taking in his poetic soul - he managed to alter the speed of his six pirouettes so that they perfectly filled out the music all the while communicating his love for "Odette" - proved that some of these dancers are already on their way to becoming true artists. Another wonderful artist, though she is most decidedly not a Balanchine ballerina, was Ms. Hohyun Kang. She had the unenviable task of bringing "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" to life. Her partner Mr. Daehan Na - a wonderful soloist who has not quite figured out that "ballet is woman" - offered little in the way of support. Despite this, Ms. Kang managed to keep the audience firmly in her pocket. I wish she had been assigned "La Cigarette" from Lifar's "Suite en Blanc" instead. In the entire company she was the one with the true "ballerina" quality. It is almost impossible to define; when you see it, you know it and Ms. Kang has it.

I could continue writing about these incredibly talented dancers all night. Suffice it to say that they are all truly rising stars.

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