The Korea Herald


Seoul Metropolitan Ballet begins inaugural season with contemporary focus

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Feb. 20, 2024 - 17:52

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Dancers and choreographers for the 2024 season of Seoul Metropolitan Ballet pose for a group photo (Yonhap) Dancers and choreographers for the 2024 season of Seoul Metropolitan Ballet pose for a group photo (Yonhap)

The Seoul Metropolitan Ballet, centering its artistic vision on contemporary ballet, has been officially inaugurated, announced the Seoul City and Sejong Center for the Performing Arts at a press conference held on Tuesday.

This marks the establishment of the third public ballet company in Korea in 48 years, after the Korean National Ballet in 1962 and the Gwangju City Ballet in 1976.

Diverging from traditional ballet companies that predominantly focus on classical repertoire, Seoul Metropolitan Ballet intends to showcase contemporary ballet works.

"Both the Korean National Ballet and Universal Ballet are centered around classical ballet, so we deemed it challenging for us to venture into classical ballet. The global trend (in ballet) is currently split between classical and contemporary ballet, with a 5 to 5 ratio," said Ahn Ho-sang, CEO of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.

"There are many contemporary repertoires created over the past 100 years, but only a fraction of them have been introduced to the Korean audience. Our goal is to introduce a diverse repertoire and broaden the spectrum of ballet in Korea," he noted.

Sejong Center initiated preparations for the city ballet company in September 2023.

While the ultimate goal is to establish it as an independent foundation, akin to the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Sejong Center plans to oversee the operations in the initial stages, leveraging its production capabilities.

The allocated budget, including production and personnel costs for the first year, totals 26 billion won ($19 million), slightly lower than the budgets of other organizations under the Sejong Center, such as the Seoul Metropolitan Chorus and Seoul Metropolitan Musical Theatre, according to Ahn.

The ballet company will operate a production system without a director or permanent dancers. Each performance will be a customized production, starring dancers selected specifically that season's cast.

A total of 129 candidates applied to audition for this season, and five dancers -- Kim So-hye, Kim Hee-hyun, Nam Yun-seung, Park Hyo-seon, and Won Jin-ho -- have been selected as the 2024 season's dancers who will star in all performances for this year.

Seoul Metropolitan Ballet will present three productions this year -- a triple bill in April, a full-length performance in August and a double bill in October.

The official inaugural performance, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," choreographed and directed by Joo Jae-man, will take place from August 23 to 25.

Joo is a Ballet Master and artist in residence at Complexions Contemporary Ballet, based in New York City.

The performance will include 30 dancers, incorporating Schumann's music and a new composition by Philip Daniel, who will also participate in the performance as a pianist.

“We all imagine the future. I try to tell a story about intricate and unexpected human relationships, exploring themes of love, longing, happiness, sadness and other moments,” said Joo through a pre-recorded video.

Prior to the official debut, a triple bill titled "The Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Ahn Sung-soo, Yoo Hwe-wung and Lee Lu-da, will be presented as a prelude from April 26 to 28.

Ahn said his piece "Rose," which is set to Stravinsky's music, serves as an ode to the land and its vitality. This work had its premiere in collaboration with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company in 2018. Yoo's "No More" addresses social issues and offers hope to the younger generation who have become accustomed to giving up their dreams. Lee's "Bolero 24" depicts vivid contrasts such as day and night, light and darkness. The piece premiered in 2023 at the Ballet Festival Korea under the title "Black Toe Dance."

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks at a press conference held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks at a press conference held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

"Korea is already a cultural powerhouse, but true cultural greatness should also be acknowledged in pure arts like ballet,” said Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon.

“We have outstanding dancers who are doing well in world-renowned ballet companies. However, there was a lack of domestic recognition and insufficient public support. The city is committed to expanding the spectrum of ballet, focusing on contemporary ballet performances," added Oh.