The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Ballet choreographer brings Korean romance to stage

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 15, 2024 - 16:01

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"Sonagi" (Beyond Ballet)

A new ballet piece inspired by a Korean bestselling novel will premiere at Seoul Arts Center’s Jayu Theater this Tuesday and Wednesday.

The latest creation by choreographer Yang Young-eun of Beyond Ballet, “Chrysanthemum Scent," is the third installment in Yang's "Dancing Literature" series, drawing inspiration from Kim Ha-in's bestselling melodrama romance, which was also adapted into the 2003 film “Scene of Love” and the hit drama series, “Autumn in My Heart," (2000) starring Song Hye-kyo and Song Seung-heon.

The tragic love story, set between the 1980s and 2000s and following the romance between Mi-joo and Seung-woo, is brought to the stage by principal dancer Lee Dong-tak and demi-soloist Suh Hae-won of the Universal Ballet.

“This is a story I've wanted to do for a long time. I remember I cried a lot when reading this book during my time in the UK,” said Yang in a recent interview with The Korea Herald. “As I read it, I was deeply moved by this kind of devoted love and how the emotions can be expressed in such a profound way.”

Yang Young-eun (Beyond Ballet) Yang Young-eun (Beyond Ballet)

The ballerina-turned-choreographer went to the UK at the age of 14 to obtain professional ballet training, but due to an injury, she redirected her passion toward studying dance teaching and education, later developing further insights into dance studies and receiving her Ph.D.

While studying, Yang was greatly influenced by Sir Kenneth MacMillan's ballets, which are known for their use of literature as inspiration for creating ballet productions such as Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Chekhov's "Three Sisters" and Prevost's "Manon Lescaut," exploring themes to such an extent as extreme desires and psychological turmoil.

Yang said she naturally built her artistic vision to create ballets based on Korean literature.

“During my studies, I often found great comfort in reading Korean books. I used to borrow them from the local Korean town library and stay up into the night. Going through this period fueled my dream to create ballets infused with Korean literary sentiments.”

“Chrysanthemum Scent" will be performed as a double bill comprising two different productions, each lasting 30 minutes, with Korea Ballet Stars’ “Metro, Boulot, Dodo” as part of the 14th Korea Ballet Festival’s selected works.

Adapting a full-length novel into a 30-minute ballet was not an easy task -- with the first installment being a poem and the second a short story. Yang said making tough choices about what to include was necessary.

So Yang focused on key scenes that left a lasting impact on her: the first kiss, the acceptance of love and a heart-wrenching scene of despair.

“These scenes were essential to me and serve as the emotional backbone of the performance,” she said. "Other sequences were added in between to depict the characters' first meeting as college students in the '80s, their conflicting feelings, their conflicting feelings, their reconnection, marriage and parting. I focused on conveying the psychological depth of these moments and the characters’ emotional journey."

"Seoul Night, In the Dream" (Beyond Ballet)

Reflecting on the previous installments of the series, Yang shared insights into her creative process.

The first installment, "Seoul Night, In the Dream," was inspired by poet Yoo Hee-kyoung’s “In the Dream.” Yang came across the poem on the radio and was captivated, leading her to explore Yoo’s other works.

"The poem is about wandering around in search of one's lover. I kept imagining the story behind the poem, why the person would be wandering, and what kind of story it could be. So, by adding what I had imagined, 'Seoul Night, In the Dream' was created."

"Sonagi" (Beyond Ballet)

The second installment, "Sonagi," is based on the Korean classic "The Cloudburst" by Hwang Soon-Won, which portrays a heart-rending tale of first love.

“Expressing the gentle yet aching moments of young love through ballet was challenging. The story is so famous that everyone knows it, so we focused on capturing some of the iconic scenes and imagery.”

Yang highlighted the unique power of ballet for storytelling, emphasizing its ability to convey emotions in ways words cannot.

“Sometimes words fail to capture the depth of one's feelings, and the body’s expressions can communicate them more profoundly. I think pointe shoes, in particular, play a significant role, enhancing the body lines and shapes to depict beauty, pain and despair, making ballet an exceptionally expressive genre,” she said.