A Whole Lotta Seoul

"Urin cheonsaengyeonbuniya" ("We’re a match made in heaven" in Korean)


Onstage and backstage, cross-cultural camaraderie abounds.

"We’re dancing in the same language," says James Jeon, co-founder of Korea’s Seoul Ballet Theatre. "It’s — what’s the word? — full of enjoyment."

We’re aware of the artistic symbiosis between Las Vegas and Seoul — that’s "East Meets West," in which the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Seoul Ballet Theatre team this weekend on the Artemus Ham Hall stage at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — but can only imagine the personal bonds forged in the wings. So after shattering the language barrier — which is simple, just smile in Korean — we’ll do just that:

NBT dancer: "What you just did out there was incredible!"

SBT dancer: "Kamsa hamnida!" ("Thank you!")

NBT dancer: "I only hope I can do it that well."

SBT dancer: "Heem-nay-say-yo." ("You can do it!")


After East hosted West last week when the two troupes performed in Seoul, the cross-continental party relocates here for a three-pronged program:

"The Class" spotlights local dancers enacting former artistic director Bruce Steivel’s piece depicting a ballet class, with music by Knudage Riisager; then the Seoul performers appear alone in the premiere of Jeon’s "Remembering of You," a tribute to dancer/teacher Roy Tobias, set to a score by Johannes Brahms and Fritz Kreisler; and the companies combine for the finale, Jeon’s "Inner Moves," his collaboration with contemporary composer Moon Seok Chang.


NBT dancer: "What do you want to do after the show?"

SBT dancer: "Pae-go-paa-yo." ("I am hungry.")

NBT dancer: "I know a place that makes the best chili."

SBT dancer: "Maeb-jee aan-gay hae-joo-say-yo." ("Do not make it spicy.")

NBT dancer: "No jalapenos and Tabasco sauce — gotcha."


"Our dancers are very Westernized, but there are differences, our body types," Jeon says in an interview from South Korea’s capital. "Americans are much more taller and we are, how shall I say, a little more small. And we have different style of movements, like the arabesque is much different with Nevada Ballet. But we try to make it together because we’re dancing the same ballet, one combination, one style."

They’re cementing that style with "Inner Moves," which Jeon created for the Nevada Ballet in 2001, triggering a standing ovation and critical kudos.

"The American public loves that piece, but in Korea we never performed it," Jeon says. "It expresses an Eastern, Oriental sense, a yin-and-yang, elements like fire and earth. It’s spiritual and comes from inside. It talks about life."


NBT dancer: "I hear you do a dead-on Sally Field impersonation."

SBT dancer: "Taang-shee-nerl cho-aa haam-nee-daa." ("I like you!") "Chin-jja cho-aa haam-nee-daa." ("I truly like you!")

NBT dancer: "Close enough."


The program’s most personal piece is "Remembering of You," Jeon’s salute to Tobias, a cherished mentor. The late ballet icon and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet went to Korea in 1988 and helped establish the art form there, serving as artistic director of the Seoul Ballet Theatre and the Universal Ballet.

"When he passed away, it was so painful for him," Jeon recalls of the 2006 death of Tobias, who suffered a chronic condition that made it difficult for him to eat. "I saw everything and I was very, very hurt for him. This piece, I wanted to give my love, to say, ‘Thank you, this is for you.’ "


NBT dancer: "A toast: May this be only one of many collaborations between us."

SBT dancer: "Gombae!" ("Cheers!")

NBT dancer: "So how’s the chili?"

SBT dancer: "Maa-shee-saw-yo." ("It is delicious!") "Hwaa-jaang-shee-ree aw-dee-yay-yo?" ("Where is the restroom?")

NBT dancer: "Feeling the effects, huh? It did have a bit of a kick."


"East Meets West" amounts to a choreographed gift exchange between cultures, Nevada Ballet’s turn on the Seoul stage being particularly precious.

"In Korea, it is very rare to do this," Jeon says. "Usually, we invite other companies to show us their repertoire, but here we dance together, so it’s much more meaningful, more like friendship."


SBT dancer: "Yogi kyesanso chom kacho-oseyo." ("Please bring me the check.")

NBT dancer: "That’s really generous of you! So, how do you unwind after a performance?"

SBT dancer: "Matsaji seobiseureul batkko sipseumnida." ("I like to have massage service.")

NBT dancer: "Now you’re talking my language."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0256.

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