Las Vegas Sun

April 30, 2017

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Dancers blend and bond in Vegas

Old friends from South Korea and Nevada Ballet Theatre get ready to team up onstage

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Sam Morris

Dancers from South Korea’s Seoul Ballet Theatre rehearse Tuesday for “East Meets West,” the mixed repertory program today and Saturday with the Nevada Ballet Theatre at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall.

Click to enlarge photo

Dancers from the Seoul Ballet Theatre, foreground, rehearse in Summerlin as Nevada Ballet Theatre ballet mistress Clarice Rathers, left rear, and principal dancer Kyudong Kwak watch. Eight dancers from each company will be featured in the repertory program.

If You Go

  • What:“East Meets West”: Nevada Ballet Theatre and Seoul Ballet Theatre
  • Where:UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall
  • When:8 tonight, 2 p.m. Saturday
  • Tickets:$29 to $72; 895-2787, www.nevadaballet.com

A recipe for jeté lag: Last week eight dancers from Nevada Ballet Theatre flew 6,000 miles from Las Vegas to Seoul, South Korea, to rehearse and perform two shows with the Seoul Ballet Theatre. And this week eight dancers from the Seoul company traveled to Las Vegas to perform the mixed repertory program here.

That’s 12,000 miles for a few steps onstage. More like 24,000 miles, if you count the return trips.

This international pas de deux was the first time Nevada Ballet Theatre has participated in an exchange of dancers on two continents. The companies will reunite tonight and Saturday in “East-West,” a mixed repertory program at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. The centerpiece of the program, “Inner Moves,” choreographed by James Jeon, co-founder and artistic director of Seoul Ballet Theatre, features the 16 world-traveled dancers from both troupes.

The two companies split the rest of the program. Seoul Ballet’s dancers will perform “Remembering of You,” which Jeon choreographed to commemorate Roy Tobias and set to music by Johannes Brahms and Fritz Kreisler. Nevada Ballet will use most of its corps of 26 dancers to perform “Class,” choreographed by Bruce Steivel and set to music by Knudage Riisager.

The two ballet companies have had a relationship since 2000. When he created his first ballet for Nevada Ballet Theatre in 2001, Jeon became the first choreographer in Korea to be commissioned by an American company. He was commissioned by Nevada Ballet Theatre to create “Inner Moves,” which the company performed in 2002 and again in 2005.

Jeon is married to Seoul Ballet general director In-hee Kim; Nevada Ballet principal dancers Kyudong Kwak and Yoomi Lee, Korean natives, also are married.

Old friends

The American and Korean dancers were strangers before their intercontinental adventure began. But on Tuesday afternoon, as the fresh-off-the-plane Koreans floated sleepily into Nevada Ballet’s sunny Summerlin rehearsal space, they greeted their U.S. counterparts as old friends. But ballet is a highly disciplined art form, and time was tight, so after a few minutes of hugs and grins and jokes, the 16 dancers went right into a run-through rehearsal of “Inner Moves,” with several of the dancers visibly concentrating and moving their lips as they counted out the beats to themselves.

“Inner Moves” combines traditional Western ballet with traditionally Korean dance movements. “Western ballet has more up movements, when I wanted down, down, down. Down to earth,” Jeon said when Nevada Ballet premiered the work in 2002. “Asian music and dance are completely different from Western dance in spirit, rhythm and harmony. In ‘Inner Moves,’ dancers showcase contrasting personalities and, through their movement, a new form of dance is born.”

The reciprocal visits were a first for the two ballet companies — and the first time many of the U.S. and Korean dancers had the opportunity to visit another country.

“I was nervous because it was an entirely different culture and a different language,” says Nevada Ballet soloist David Ligon, sporting a shopping find from Seoul — a silver ring emblazoned with a crimson and black stone. “And I don’t like to fly.”

The 12-hour flight from Las Vegas to Seoul was especially difficult for the ballet dancers, who aren’t accustomed to sitting still in cramped quarters. Ligon says the dancers spent much of their time on the flight standing and stretching in the aisles near the restroom.

Language no barrier

In preparation for the trip, the Nevada Ballet gang not only learned its half of the choreography, but read up on South Korea using Google and guidebooks, and made a point of learning a few key phrases, which charmed the Korean dancers.

“We were all excited to be able to say hello in Korean,” says soloist Alissa Dale, adding that the Americans said hello so much it became a running joke. Ligon says the Nevadans also learned “some fun words” from their Korean counterparts, and had fun nicknaming each other. After rehearsing five hours a day, the dancers visited neighborhoods (“We must have walked 12 or 15 miles,” Dale says) and sampled Korean food, impressing their hosts with their adventurousness and appetite.

Surprisingly, language was never a problem: Nevada Ballet’s Kwak and Lee were on hand to translate, and the Korean dancers knew quite a bit of English.

“But we’re all dancers, we all know the same language,” Dale says. “All the dance terminology is French, and around the world, everyone counts in English. It’s universal.”

Dale says it was thrilling to see “Inner Moves” come together when the 16 dancers first merged in rehearsal. “The open spaces that we had left for (the Korean dancers) were suddenly filled.”

And the reviews were good: In the Korea Times newspaper, Han Sang-hee praised the collaboration between the two ballet companies. “It was apparent that Jeon put effort into melting the two cultures into one harmonious piece, and his work certainly paid off. The costumes were simple, yet the choreography included pulling, pushing, leaping and even stomping ... In traditional ballet, the tip of the toe usually touches the ground first; however, dancers used their heels, just like Korean traditional dance.”

After the final performance, all the dancers went from barre to bar, as the Koreans invited their guests to celebrate with a karaoke party.

“The whole Korean ballet company was there. Everyone,” marvels Dale, adding that dancers from both companies enthusiastically harmonized on Western pop songs, three to a microphone.

“It was like a bonding thing,” says Ligon, confessing that he “butchered” Whitney Houston’s “Run to You.” The dancers also sang along to the classics “Barbie Girl,” “Dancing Queen” — and that hymn to international harmony, the Pussycat Dolls hit “Don’t Cha.”

Joe Brown can be reached at 259-8801 or at [email protected]

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