Universal Ballet

April 26, 2000

Adrienne Dellas’s Shim Chung with principals Julia H. J. Moon and Jae-Keun Park.
Photo courtesy Universal Ballet of Korea

Universal Ballet

Civic Opera House
Chicago, Illinois

April 26?30, 2000

Reviewed by Clive Barnes

South Korea?s Universal Ballet seems to get more universal year by year?it is certainly a great one for traveling. Already since its foundation in 1984, it has put seventeen international tours under its belt, and is now on its second North American trip, with the repertory of Adrienne Dellas?s Korean folklorist ballet, Shim Chung, which I had already seen two years ago at New York?s City Center, and a new production of The Sleeping Beauty by the company?s artistic director, Oleg Vinogradov. This also marked the first time Vinogradov?s staging of the 1890 Petipa/Tchaikovsky classic had been seen in the United States.

With lush scenery by Simon Pastukh and opulent costumes by Galina Solovyeva, this Korean Sleeping Beauty looks rich enough in all conscience, yet there are certain telltale signs that it has been conceived primarily for touring. There are?and this is a grave lack both visually and even more so dramatically?no transformation scenes. Surely the absence of transformation scenes in The Sleeping Beauty is like Siegfried and Roy?s magic act in Las Vegas without tigers. Somewhat toothless!

But the entire production is intended to involve little if any flown scenery?it could presumably be played in a cinema or a gymnasium. It is also surprisingly short. The traditional Prologue has been removed, and the Christening of Aurora, the Faeries? Blessing and Carabosse?s Curse are all played out in dumb show to the Overture, so the ballet opens with Act I and Aurora?s 16th birthday.

Act II, the Hunting Scene, more or less starts with Prince Florimund performing a classical solo, seemingly for the entertainment of his guests, and then briskly moves on to an undramatic and slightly truncated version of the Vision Scene, with an oddly enlarged female corps de ballet. Then with little more ado, a desultory sword fight is staged between Florimund and a minimally engaged Carabosse; we are back at Act I for the Awakening.

The last act also has its share of surprises in that the six Fairy Variations from the Prologue are slipped in here after the Bluebirds, and followed by the pre-Lloyd Webber Cats, and Little Red Riding Hood with her greedily attendant Wolf. A rather strange, unbalancing idea. The staging of the choreography, attributed to Konstantin Sergeyev?s version of Petipa, is by the company?s experienced Kirov ballet mistress and repetiteur, Natalia Spitsyna, and it is based in general on the “pre-Stepanov,” authentic old Kirov production.

The dancing of the ensemble was quite exceptional?this troupe has a cohesion and symmetry that can rank with the finest. At the performance I caught?on the final Sunday?Aurora and Florimund were danced by regular guest artists from American Ballet Theatre, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky, who had been with the company the entire tour.

The always-brilliant Dvorovenko was much softer as Aurora, and more charming, than might have been guessed from, say, her Odette/Odile with ABT, but Belotserkovsky looked a shade tired, although he partnered admirably and looked quietly radiant. As the Bluebirds, Yoo-Jin Jung and partner Jong-Hoon Kim were commendably high-flown, and Hye-Kyung Lim made a graciously eloquent Lilac Fairy.

As this was the last performance in Chicago, the troupe offered three encores after the end: Vinogradov?s Barber Adagio, an Adam and Eve duet smoothly danced by Tatiana Ariskina and Dae-Won Lee, Zakharov?s familiar “Gopak” from Taras Bulba, offered with brisk enthusiasm by Min-Young Cho, and finally, a delicate performance of The Dying Swan by the company?s general director and leading ballerina, Julia H. Moon. The encores were fine, but a fuller version of The Sleeping Beauty would have filled out the time more appropriately.