(The Swan Lake poster)
I was just passing by the Sejong Arts Center in the Gwanghwamun area one weekend when I spotted this poster of what looked like a familiar pose: the dance of the four swans in Swan Lake! That sequence which is almost comedic, rather than balletic, is a favorite. I had to watch this again! And when I took a closer look, the word Mariinsky Theater stood out! Formerly known in its Soviet name as Kirov Ballet, it is definitely one of the best in the world. And watching them dance is a chance of a lifetime. I don't have to go to St. Petersburg!
(The Sejong Arts Center from my bus window)
So, a few days before the performance, I decided to go for it. I went there and ran up the huge, giant steps of the Sejong Arts Center complex, up to the ticket box. While most seats in front were very pricey at KRW270,000, I got a seat at the higher level where most seats were almost sold out; the ones selling at KRW50,000, the cheapest! I guess I wasn't the only one in Seoul who was grabbing the chance of a lifetime! We didn't have to fly to St. Petersburg to watch the best classical ballet dancers in the world! Yehey!
The ballet dancers from Mariinsky Theater were only going to dance for three nights, and I went ahead with the Sunday performance at 6PM. Monday and Tuesday were work nights, and I wasn't sure if I would have the time. So, on the rainy and windy Sunday afternoon, I took the Blue Bus 402 from Hannam-dong to Gwanghwamun. The ride only took about 25 minutes, and I got off right in front of the Sejong Arts Center! I didn't have to use my umbrella! (This is what I like about Seoul. Its transport system is so convenient and efficient.)
(The crowd in the lobby before the doors opened)
And when the doors opened, and I tracked down my seat.
When the lights dimmed at 6PM, the first flute played opening a few bars of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's masterpiece. But after a minute of music, the lights were turned on again and the music stopped! And a Korean lady announcer stood in front of the audience (not on the stage) and introduced the ballet and the sponsor. Waat-dah-eff! Then another guy talked for a minute, perhaps representing the sponsor. I didn't understand what they were saying, but to do this when everyone thought that this was it?! They could have made those introductions and their blah-blah-blahs right before any music. Hmm...
(The ensemble being showered with applause
after the performance.)
Unfortunately, that was NOT the only interruption. In the middle of Act 1, in our level, the usher let in latecomers! Maybe about 20 people who filed in one by one right in front of us, blocking our view! Shouldn't the doors have been closed when the show started, and any latecomer should not be let in? Is it only Sejong Arts Center who does this? Or perhaps, they only did this to our level as we had the cheapest seats. Any explanation, Sejong Arts Center?
The last time I watched ballet was in CGV, the movie theater, where Natalie Portman danced to an Oscar award for her role in the Black Swan, the movie. My ticket then was only KRW9,000, and not KRW50,000. Ha-ha-ha!
But tonight, this was the real thing. This is THE Swan Lake, an actual performance and not a film, where Natalie could do another take if she slipped. Here, at the stage of the Sejong Arts Center, where everyone seated paid to watch, no dancer can afford to make any mistake or slip or, God forbid(!), fall!
More than a thousand pairs of eyes (or pairs of rented opera glasses, too!) scrutinized every detail, every movement, every leap, turn, twist and landing of the dancers. Each movement seemed to move to every note of Tchaikovsky's music being played by the symphony orchestra a few feet below the stage.
There were three acts: Act 1 lasted 70 minutes, Act 2 was 35 minutes, and Act 3 was 20 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission in between acts. But with all the dancing and energy on stage, one would hardly notice the passing of time.
My attention was only distracted when those latecomers came in, and when one Asian-looking expat girl drew out her cellphone and read her Facebook messages. The light coming from her phone distracted the people seated behind her. I guess some people have no idea as to the etiquette they need to observe with regard to this kind of performances, and to think there was an instruction to turn off all cellphones during the performance.
(Oxana Skorik and Vladimir Shklyarov lead the Jester, and the white and black swans in acknowledging the ovation)
Seated next to me was a couple who were originally from Ukraine, and they told me it was impossible to get tickets when watching performances at St. Petersburg in Russia, where the Mariinsky Theater is based. They said they felt very lucky that they were able to watch it here in Seoul while on a trip to Korea. Tanya, the Ukrainian lady, told me she had goosebumps while watching. I wasn't surprise she had, as the execution of the dancing, the emotions of the movements plus the extravagant, colorful costumes were all able to tell the story of a prince, who had a crossbow as a present from his doting mom, and just went out to test his shooting skills on some flightless birds on the lake. Well, he wasn't really able to test his skills in shooting. Instead, he was tested on his love for the woman, who became a swan because of a sorcerer's spell. I am not exactly sure which one he was going for - the woman or the swan? But I'd guess it depended on his appetite. Or his crossbow. Or his skills.
And speaking of skills, these dancers really brought their A-game to Seoul. Even an untrained pair of eyes (with or without opera glasses) can tell their years and years of training in perfecting their skills and their art. Gosh, watching Oxana Skorik, the lead dancer playing Odette and Odile, turn 30-plus times on her toes just made me dizzy. And watching Vladimir Shklyarov leap, spin on air and land on his left knee made me imagine how many hours he spends trying to perfect those techniques! And with a few Russian phrases Tanya taught me: "Ektra bula petravska! Postravyayo!" If I got it right, it should mean, "It was very good! Congratulations!"
(The audience couldn't get enough of Vladimir and Oxana)
And when the whole ensemble curtsied, bowed and acknowledged the ovation and applause, Tanya turned to me and summed it up: "This is what they worked hard for." I agreed with her.
I may not know all their names and faces, nor their language, but tonight, watching the dancers of the Mariinsky Theater just made me imagine the sacrifices, the injuries and the years of merciless training each of them had to go through in order to present their kind of artistry this Sunday night in Seoul.
(Fans posing in front of the Swan Lake
poster at the lobby)
poster at the lobby)
When the performance ended at about 8:45PM, my senses were overwhelmingly full, but my tummy was empty. I had to grab dinner nearby before I headed home, and luckily, there was a familiar fast food restaurant nearby.
And while munching down two pieces of chicken, I summed up my evening, which began with Swan Lake with all those white and black swans in tutus daintily dancing on their toes to Tchaikovsky's immortal compositions and culturally educating me in the process with an art form I could only watch and listen with awe; and ending up in a fast food restaurant table presented with another flightless bird, fried this time and clothed with bread crumbs, ready to be enjoyed to mark the end of a memorable Sunday evening.
(The dance of four swans must be the most difficult sequence. If one makes a tiny mistake, all of them fall down.)