An Interview with Julia Moon, General Director of Universal Ballet of Korea
June 23, 2004
I had the great privilege of interviewing Julia Moon, the general director of the Universal Ballet of Korea. She was a ballet dancer for many years and is now directing the administrative side of Universal Ballet's work. She radiated poise and an unassuming command of the space. Since she is herself a product of Universal Ballet's ongoing development as a dance company, and since the part is often an indicator of the whole, her elegant and graceful presence just being herself was enough, by itself, to recommend that you buy tickets to Universal Ballet's upcoming Lincoln Center season on July 30 and 31, 2004.
Julia Moon, General Director of the Universal Ballet of Korea
Photo courtesy of Julia Moon
Robert Abrams: How did you start dancing?
Julia Moon: Like every other girl, my mom put me in ballet class and piano class. I stayed with ballet. I was born in Washington, DC. My parents sent me to Korea to join the Little Angels of Korea, a touring group that performed Korean folk dance, singing and played a musical instrument called the kayagum. I continued dancing in high school and studied ballet in Seoul, with the Royal Ballet in London, and with Marika Besobrasova at L'Academie de Danse Classique de Princess Grace de Monaco. I was with The Washington Ballet for a few years and joined Universal Ballet in 1984.
RA: Who inspires you?
JM: Oleg [Vinogradov] is always inspiring to work with. He is a great master in his field. I am constantly learning from him.
RA: How does he inspire you?
JM: He has a well of knowledge and information that he draws from. He is a choreographer, a painter and a historian. He is never still. He is always trying to create things anew, looking for that added element. He recreates a work even if it is an old masterpiece. With all his knowledge and mastery, he has always is been very respectful of my opinions. He has the space and confidence to hear what other people are saying. It has been an honor to work with him. Our company would have not come this far, to perform at the State Theatre without him. [Oleg Vinogradov, who had been the Artistic Director of the Kirov Ballet for nearly 25 years, became the artistic director of Universal Ballet in 1998.]
RA: Who else inspires you?
JM: My coach, Geta Constantinescu, a Romanian teacher. She is a wonderful coach. She taught me how to act, to breathe, how to be real, as well as technique. She was a friend, mother and teacher, not just in the studio but in life too. I owe her so much. Adrienne Dellas, my teacher and founding artistic director of the company, was also an inspiration. She inspired me and all my colleagues at that time to become ballerinas. Back then in Korea, not going to university was unheard of. Although in the West it is common to forfeit college to become a professional dancer, in Korea it was a huge challenge. The social climate in Korea is that one must have a university degree in order to succeed or marry well. Even now, parents are still reluctant to let their children skip university to become professional dancers. Adrienne inspired us in a time and a place where you just didn't go this route to become a professional dancer. That group of dancers that Adrienne taught became the nucleus of the company.
RA: Where are you and the company now?
JM: I stopped dancing two years ago, and now I am focusing my energy on directing the company. This is a very exciting time for us because the company is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Part of the 20th anniversary celebration is this tour to the United States, which will be our 4th trip to the US. We first performed in the US in 1998 with Swan Lake including a run at City Center in New York. In 2001 we performed La Bayadere and Shim Chung, an original full length ballet about the devotion and love of filial piety created by Adrienne Dellas, which we presented in New York as well as in DC and LA. The work we are presenting on this tour is Romeo and Juliet choreographed by Oleg Vinogradov and performed by Universal Ballet's 70 member company and a 60 piece symphony orchestra. Oleg Vinogradov first created Romeo & Juliet in 1965. Romeo & Juliet, was restaged and performed by us for the 2002 World Cup celebration in Korea, and in 2003 in Paris, where it was well received. Although it has been performed in Russia, Europe and Asia, it will be seen by US audiences for the first time. This production is very different from the Lavrovsky version and others such as the MacMillan or Cranko versions.
RA: How is this production different?
JM: Excluding pantomime sections and putting greater emphasis on choreographic elements, Mr. Vinogradov's production displays love in all its guises through contrast of characters and imagery with dynamic group dancing. Mr. Vinogradov has done extensive research to capture the feeling, the fashions and the images of 16th century Italy, incorporating them into his work. He also takes note of the tenor of the era in which he is working, so the production contains thoughts and philosophy from both periods. One of the great innovations in Oleg Vinogradov's production has been the addition of an epilogue where the Romeos and Juliets of today (young men and women in modern dress) light candles at the grave of the two young lovers and, in a beautiful adagio, lift their spirits to convey artistically that there are still ways to rescue hope, even out of tragedy.
RA: Could you talk some more about Universal Ballet's founding influences?
JM: Adrienne Dellas, an American teacher, came to Korea in 1976 to teach in the ballet department of the Sun Hwa Arts School. She was always referring to Vaganova training system and the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg. Adrienne drew on this system when she taught us. Roy Tobias, a founding member of the New York City Ballet, joined the Universal Ballet and brought a Balanchine influence. In 1992, Universal Ballet started to work with Russian teachers from the Kirov Ballet. We focus mainly on this Russian tradition. This tradition is a very strong backbone for both classical ballet and more contemporary works. With this foundation, a Universal Ballet production of a Balanchine ballet, for example, will not look the same as a New York City Ballet production of the same ballet. It will be beautiful in its own way.
RA: Universal Ballet is grounded in what is known as the St. Petersburg style of ballet. What are the signature features of St. Petersburg style ballet that audiences should watch for?
JM: The St. Petersburg style is very elegant and classical. It is all about the use of the upper body: the coordination of torso, hands, arms, head and eyes. The use of the back is important as well. The St. Petersburg style is somewhat different from the Bolshoi style in that the St. Petersburg style is more refined and academic.
RA: Could you give me an example to describe that difference?
JM: The Bolshoi style is more dynamic, more free, whereas the St. Petersburg style shows more classicism. I would have to show you.
RA: I wouldn't ask you to put on a demonstration here, although it does demonstrate the difficulty of translating dance into text. What do your dancers do to stay healthy?
JM: Our dancers stay in shape by working from 11 am to 6 pm. They have ballet class every morning for an hour and a half. This class is like a daily vitamin for ballet dancers. It is a must. It is important for me that the dancers are there every day in class working and fine-tuning their bodies, which are their instruments. Later in the day they have rehearsal of the repertory. There is also a health clinic that we work closely with that provides physical therapy, professional advice if a dancer is injured, and a work out room with special exercises. Some dancers do yoga. Of course diet is very important. What dancers do to stay healthy is very individual.
RA: What is Universal Ballet's next challenge?
JM: Striving to be the best, to get to a certain level, to always have our eyes on the goal. It is also just as difficult to maintain what you have achieved. It is a continuing challenge to maintain what we have built and at the same time create something new. The first challenge: raise the level of ballet in Korea to an international level—ballet in Korea was underdeveloped, but now we are at an international level. Our young students are winning medals in international ballet competitions, and we are acknowledged by the international dance community. Now our challenge is to develop that further. Dancers in the company want to do more contemporary works. We want to add to our classical foundation and do works by contemporary European choreographers. We want to expand our repertory from our Russian base and create new ballets and new works within the company by developing new young choreographers and new original works. This is always a challenge.
RA: Has Universal Ballet worked with schools?
JM: We just started doing lecture demonstrations in schools. There are so many people who don't know about ballet in Korea. We have to educate people about the beauty of ballet with performances at schools, and field trips by schools to the company. For instance, we take the students backstage to try on costumes. We want them to have real experiences of what a ballet company is like. Ballet is not just for a certain group of people; it is there for everyone. For the past 20 years we have struggled to create a ballet company worth watching. We also have to develop a strong support system around the company: an audience, general appreciation of ballet. That is when ballet will take root in Korea: when appreciation of ballet exists in the general public. It is pointless to have beautiful ballet without an audience. I fell in love with ballet all over again when I stopped dancing. When I was dancing I was mentally aware of the need to develop an audience, but when I stopped dancing it was a shock to realize how many people have never seen a ballet. It was only after I stopped dancing that the need to develop a broader audience really sunk in. I realized what I can do for future generations of dancers is to create that audience for them. Now we have a foundation. The next twenty years will be very important for the culture of ballet to take root in Korea.
RA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JM: I am very pleased that the company is coming back to New York. To come to the New York State Theatre is always a great privilege and honor. This ballet, Romeo and Juliet, is very appropriate for the time we are living in. I hope we can move people with the message that Romeo and Juliet is giving: to remind people that the things we have in common are greater than our differences. We need to work for a world of peace. The way to get there is long and hard. For me personally, I have spent so much time here, coming to New York is like coming home.
To purchase tickets, call toll free 1-866-9800 or fax the New York State Theatre at 212-870-5693, or by mail at Universal Ballet c/o New York State Theatre, 20 Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023. Beginning July 6, 2004, tickets will be on sale at the Box Office and through Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100. For more information please call 212-870-5570 or 1-866-397-9800.
Universal Ballet will also be performing in Los Angeles at the Kodak Theatre on August 6-8 (call 323-308-6363 for tickets), and in the San Francisco Bay Area at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley on August 13-15 (call 510-642-9988 for tickets).
For more information about Universal Ballet go to:
www.universalballet.co.kr/english/index.asp or www.snowyworld.com/events/events.html for ticket information.