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Benois de la Danse winner Kang Mi-sun reflects on 21-year career in KoreaBy Hwang Dong-hee
Published : June 28, 2023 - 14:08
It has been a week since Kang Mi-sun won the top prize at the Benois de la Danse, yet she said the surreal feeling of her win has yet to fully sink in.
“I still find it hard to believe that I received such a huge honor,” said Kang during a press conference held to mark her win at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul on Tuesday.
The principal dancer at the Seoul-based Universal Ballet shared the best female dance award with China’s Qiu Yunting at the awards ceremony held at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on June 20.
Kang was honored with the award for her role as a grieving widow who bids farewell to her husband in "Mirinaegil,” an original piece choreographed by Universal Ballet Artistic Director Bingxian Liu, which premiered at the National Theater of Korea in March.
The piece is part of the company’s creative production, “Korea Emotion,” which combines elements of Korean dance with ballet movements, embodying the distinctively Korean sentiment of “jeong.”
The ballerina expressed her confidence in executing traditional Korean dance movements.
"I learned Korean dance for six years when I first started ballet at 8. The dance studio also had traditional Korean dance programs along with Western ballet. My instructor once suggested that I pursue Korean dance but I chose ballet because I found it more enjoyable.”
“So I felt confident in performing works that incorporate Korean dance movements like ‘Chunhyang' or ‘Shim Chung,’” added Kang.
Universal Ballet General Director Julia Moon also pointed out that Kang’s win was more meaningful because it was achieved by a Korean creative ballet.
"I believe this win could serve as a significant source of pride for ballet dancers based in Korea," Moon said.
Also attending the press conference were Liu and Ryu Ji-yeon, a former soloist of the Mariinsky Ballet and currently a Ballet Misteress at Universal Ballet. Ryu served as a jury member at this year's Benois de la Danse.
The Benois de la Danse competition evaluates performances of works that were staged for the first time by the dancer. Kang had been preparing for the piece "Mirinaegil" with Liu since early 2021. However, due to the birth of her first child, she was unable to perform until last year when she finally had the opportunity to take to the stage with the piece. The timing of her performance turned out to be "incredibly fortunate," explained Ryu and Liu.
Kang has been with Universal Ballet for 21 years. After graduating Sunhwa Arts High School and training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington for about 1 1/2 years, she joined the company as an apprentice in 2002. She steadily rose through the ranks, from a corps de ballet member, demi-soloist, soloist, senior soloist and a principal dancer in 2012.
Moon remarked that Kang "probably knows all of the ballet company's repertoire" because she began as a group dance member and took on various roles throughout her career.
Athough Kang had considered opportunities with international ballet companies, she remained committed to Universal Ballet because it was her childhood dream.
"I thought I could not be the best in the world if I'm not the best here. I thought I could go work abroad only after being recognized by everyone here, but it took 21 years," she said with a laugh.
"I never imagined I would continue dancing with the same ballet company for such a long time. I tend to find areas that need improvement and work to fill in the gap. Time passed quickly while focusing on those gaps.”
Kang is scheduled to perform in the upcoming production of “Don Quixote” slated for October.
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