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Korean National Ballet's dancer-choreographer brings fresh perspective to 'Don Quixote'

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 9, 2023 - 14:00

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Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice "Don Quixote" (KNB)

The classic ballet “Don Quixote” has been re-choreographed in the hands of the Korean National Ballet's emerging choreographer.

Dancer-choreographer Song Jung-bin’s adaptation of “Don Quixote” will kick off Wednesday at the Seoul Arts Center's Opera Theater in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul. The show will run until Sunday.

“It started with the question, ‘Why isn’t Don Quixote the main character in the ballet piece of his own name?’” said Song during a press interview at the Seoul Arts Center, on April 5. “I mainly focused on transforming Don Quixote into a more dynamic character, and refining the story to flow more naturally in the eyes of today's audience.”

Song joined the KNB in 2008 as a dancer and began his career as a choreographer in 2016 through the “KNB Movement Series,” a program run by the KNB since 2015 to discover talented new choreographers.

Song Jung-bin speaks at a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap) Song Jung-bin speaks at a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Based on the novel “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes, the three-act ballet piece was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1869. Unlike the novel, the ballet centers on the romance between Kitri and Basilio, a young barber.

While the general plot remains the same in Song's reinterpretation, Don Quixote -- who only appears as a cameo in the original -- has been given a larger role.

Old Don Quixote quickly changes into his younger self -- taking off his beard and boots, and putting on ballet shoes in less than a minute -- in the "Dream Scene" in Act 2. Dancers Lee Jae-woo and Ku Hyeon-mo will perform as Don Quixote.

“They say anything is possible in a dream. Don Quixote is too old to dance properly, so he only does mimes (in the original version). But in this production, he returns to his youthful days in his dream and dances the pas de deux (duet) with Dulcinea.”

In the original work, Don Quixote mistakes Kitri for Dulcinea, his ideal model of female perfection, so one dancer takes on both the roles of Kitri and Dulcinea. In Song's version, the characters are played by different dancers to reduce the possibility of confusion. In addition, Song changed the gypsy camp scene into a traveling theater troupe to give a more festive mood, while still setting the scene for Don Quixote to charge at the windmill.

Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice "Don Quixote" (KNB)
Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice Dancers of the Korean National Ballet practice "Don Quixote" (KNB)

While there are some major and minor changes to the characters and plot, the choreographer said the piece is still a “classic” and faithfully captures the essence of the original work.

“My opinion is that classics should (remain) as classics. The Spanish-style dance and colorful costumes are still there. The famous scenes that many people expect to see in ‘Don Quixote’ such as Kitri’s variation and grand pas de deux from the wedding scene are taken as they are,” said Song.

“I think maintaining the essence of classical choreography while reflecting on contemporary changes is KNB’s unique style and strength.”

Meanwhile, Song’s full-length debut ballet piece, “Le Corsaire” (The Pirate, 2020) has been invited to perform at the 2023 International May Festival in Wiesbaden, Germany. Established in the late 19th century, the festival is one of the most distinguished international theater festivals.