New prima ballerina at American Ballet Theatre
Korean soloist Seo Hee attains rank of principal dancer
By Do Je-hae
There was always something special about ballerina Seo Hee, who joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in 2006. Even when she was still member of the corps de ballet in 2009, the company gave her a lead role in “Romeo and Juliet” and “La Sylphide.”
As a soloist, she has been one of the most active ballerinas at the elite U.S. troupe this season, taking the lead roles in “La Bayadere,” “Onegin” and “Giselle,” pairing with David Hallberg of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Following the ABT’s official announcement of her appointment as a principal last week, she now joins the ranks of star dancers like Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera and Polina Semionova, renowned principal of the Berlin State Opera Ballet who will join the ABT in September.
There are 17 principals at the ABT, and Seo is the only Asian and first Korean dancer in the top rank of one of the world’s foremost ballet troupes since its founding in 1937. There is one Korean dancer in the 62-member corps de ballet.
“Beyond her ballet-friendly physique, she has a point of view and sensitivity that leads her towards roles like “La Sylphide” and Juliet,” said ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie in a feature about Seo in Pointe magazine shortly before the dancer’s breakthrough 2009 season.
The story also commented on the qualities that have propelled her into the coveted ABT limelight.
“The plasticity of her body is reminiscent of a young Natalia Makarova, with all movement emanating from a supple spine and technique that spellbinds with its combination of tensile strength, lightness and fluidity.”
Dazzled by her performances, Mckenzie promoted Seo to soloist in the summer of 2010. It took only two years for him to decide Seo was fit to be a principal dancer in his company.
“Seo has an incredible talent, not just in dancing but also acting. I have never doubted that someday she would become a principal dancer at ABT,” Universal Ballet Director Julia Moon was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.
The new prima ballerina will perform in a production of “Giselle” from July 18 to 22 at Seoul Arts Center.
“Giselle,” premiered in Paris in 1841, was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. It is considered one of the great Romantic ballets with its tale of a beautiful young peasant girl named Giselle who fights to save her noble lover Albracht.
The 26-year-old will also teach at Universal Ballet’s summer academy for young professional dancers.
Seo was born in Seoul, and began her ballet training in her hometown at the Sun-hwa Arts Middle School. She was awarded a three-year full scholarship to continue her training at the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, D.C. In 2003, Seo won a scholarship to train at the John Cranko Ballet Academy in Stuttgart. She was the recipient of the 2003 Prix de Lausanne Award and the 2003 Grand Prix at the Youth American Grand Prix in New York.
Seo joined the ABT Studio Company in 2004. She joined the main company as an apprentice in May 2005, became a member of the corps de ballet in March 2006 and was promoted to Soloist in August 2010.
Her repertoire with the company includes Polyhymnia in “Apollo,” Nikiya and Gamzatti in “La Bayadere,” the title role and Zulma in “Giselle,” Olympia in “Lady of the Camellias,” Natalia in Alexei Ratmansky’s “On the Dnieper,” Tatiana in “Onegin,” Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” the Lilac Fairy, the Fairy of Sincerity and Princess Florine in “The Sleeping Beauty,” the pas de trois, the Polish Princess and a big swan in “Swan Lake” and the Sylph in “La Sylphide” among others.