Dancing around the world with YaeGee Park
YaeGee Park, a Korean soloist dancer started dancing ballet when she was a kid among other art disciplines. She attended Korean National Ballet Academy and SunHwa Art School. Although she is more focused on the classical style, she has being recognized by Forsythe itself for her take in In the middle somewhat elevated. In 2012 she joined the CND; she has danced the role of Kitri, main female character in Don Quijote Suite by José Carlos Martínez, where she also shared the stage with the actual director of the Company Joaquín De Luz.
At the beginning of your career you studied at various ballet schools; do you remember the moment you decide you wanted to become a proffessional dancer?
My parents gave me the opportunity to learn many things, such us dance, piano, violin, art, figure skating… Except TaeKwonDo. Among them, ballet was the most fun and enjoyable for me. I joined the Korean National Ballet Academy and SunHwa Art School to focus in ballet; I learned from Margarita Kulik (Marinski Ballet’s star) in the National University of Arts of Korea. After graduating at university I came to Spain.
When I was a child I danced on stage with the Korean National Ballet and Universal Ballet. I had the opportunity to watch the ballerinas very closely, and learned about how they prepare before a show or how rehearsals are like in the studios. I danced next to them and I dreamed about becoming a ballerina like them. It was a valuable experience.
Even thought you are a classical dancer, you had the opportunity to dance contemporary ballets as Inspiration with Dance Company, Work, with the Dance Theatre or pieces by Forsythe at the Compañía Nacional de Danza. Which style do you resemble yourself most to?
I learned a bit of contemporary dance in Korea, but I didn’t know about Forsythe or any other choreographers. In Korea we said a phrase “frog in the well” meaning I stay and think in a small place. When I auditioned for the Compañía Nacional de Danza (Spain) in 2012 I learned and performed three ballet pieces at the semi finals. At that time, I had no idea what pieces they were or who created them. I was so excited, it was so much fun to learn new things. Later I found out those ballet pieces were Scarlatti by Jose Carlos Martinez, Herman Schmerman by William Forsythe and Walking Mad by Johan Inger. They are wonderful pieces.
In Korea, classic ballet companies and modern dance companies are separated, so back at the time I had to choose whether I wanted to become a modern or a classic ballet dancer. I like to dance both genres, and the CND makes it possible. I feel lucky to be able to dance what I want.
Is it true that Forsythe itself send you a personal message in which he stated you were one of his favourite dancers in In the middle somewhat elevated ?
Yes, he did! I was off for a long time because of an injury. Then Joaquín De Luz became the director of CND, so I had to do the audition again. I couldn’t wear pointe shoes, and I had to choose one ballet piece to dance in the audition. Reluctantly, I chose a modern one. I danced Enemy in the figure by Forsythe, specifically the male dancer’s solo part. It’s called Tony’s solo. I recorded and uploaded the video on my social media.
He had contacted me previously after watching a video of my performance of In the middle somewhat elevated, but after seeing my take on his Enemy in the Figure, he offered me to work with him. It was a surprise, I couldn’t believe it! I thought: “this is a miracle”. I was grateful and honored at the same time. Unfortunately my body wasn’t ready to dance… I had had two surgeries by then.
The surgery and recovery period were very painful and difficult. But when I was low, I could only think about doing Forsythe’s ballet again, it helped me a lot. I hope that someday I will wear pointe shoes again and dance Forsythe’s pieces. Once again, what I feel is that life is for those who are prepared take chances.
Which other dance genres do you like?
I generally like all kinds of dances. If I had to choose one, I might say flamenco. When I was young, I liked to learn “character dance”. Among them, the Spanish dance caught my attention. Our Company shares the building with the Spanish National Ballet, and I like to watch them dance through the window. They are truly amazing, they make me excited.
Alvaro Madrigal, a dance colleague from the Company who is from Seville has taken me to the Feria de Abril (Seville Fair) 3 times. And Anthony Pina, another dancer, made me a flamenco dress that he designed himself. My Spanish is not good enough yet to talk fluently, but I was able to feel the true Spanish culture while I danced sevillanas (Spanish folklorical dance) with them all day in Seville. I’d say flamenco is similar to Korean traditional dance; it feels like something is alive inside the body. It has the power of a “soul”. Given the opportunity I would love to learn more flamenco.
Being a proffessional dancer takes many sacrifices. What is the hardest challenge you’ve ever faced? Wasit hard to leave your country, culture, family and friends?
Even if I sacrificed some things, I don’t regret it because I love to dance. I am lucky to be able to do what I like. I live in Spain and I work at the CND; we do both national and international tours around the world. I go to Korea every summer on vacation to meet my family; it is true that sometimes I miss my them. However it’s not too hard because I have friends here who are like family to me. And I also like Spanish food, nice weather and people around me.
In 2012 you joined our Company under the diretorship of Jose Carlos Martínez. Two years later you were promoted to a soloist dancer. What did it mean to you?
First of all, I’d like to thank Jose Carlos Martinez. I tried to quit ballet before joining the CND, and I came to Spain from Korea only for the audition, thinking it will be my last one. If I didn’t get it my plan was to find another job. Thankfully he chose me and since then I’ve never gave up on my dream. As soon as I entered CND he gave me lots of opportunities and taught me many things. During my first season at the Company, I was able to dance on stage a Pas de deux and a solo. I learned a lot at his classes and also with his coreographies, Delibes suite, Sonatas, La favorita, Don Quijote…
What has changed since you became a soloist?
First of all, I was happy that I was promoted. Now I feel more responsible and I practice much more. To me, CND is like a school. I am constantly learning from various choreographers, pieces and dancers. As much as I get from them, I want to give to others later.
Besides, you are the only Korean dancer at the Company. What differences do you find when dancing with other partenaires from other parts of the world?
Last year was the 70º anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Korea and Spain. They prepared for cultural exchange through various performances but it was canceled because of the Covid. There were other Korean dancers when I joined to CND who helped me when I arrived here. I worked with HeeYoon Choi and SehYun Kim. At that time, we were three Koreans, but now I’m the only one. We went to Korea with Johan Inger’s ballet Carmen in 2017. (Seoul, Jinju, Daejeon)
I was happy to dance in my hometown. Family, friends and teachers watched the show, and it was nice to be able to introduce Korea to the dancers and staff of the Company. We wore a “Hanbok”, which is a Korean traditional clothing and visited the palace Gyeongbokgung. We also had Korean BBQ and kimchi. Those two weeks flew by. I look forward to the next opportunity where we can go back to to Korea.
During your stay at the CND you have danced many pieces. What has been your favourite moment at the Company?
I performed countless pieces in the CND, both classic and contemporary works. One of the most memorable performances is Don Quijote, by Jose Carlos Martinez.
The reason why Don Quijote is my favourite is because I danced my dream role in that show: I made my debut as the main character “Kitri” in a full length ballet with a guest dancer Joaquin de Luz, who is now my director. I was honored and grateful to have the opportunity to dance with him. We danced the premier; it’s a day I will never forget.
Another special moment was when I danced In the middle somewhat elevated by William Forsythe at the Teatro Real in Madrid. This ballet taught me what my advantages and disadvantages were, and it helped me grow as a performer. Actually I have a funny story that happened on stage, that I will share for the first time ever, because it’s my “Birthday interview”. Back at the time it was very serious, but now I can say it with laughter. 8 years ago, I was performing Who Cares by George Balanchine in the Teatro de la Zarzuela. I had so many pirouettes (turns) in my solo variation, and that day everything was going better than expected .In the last part of my “Solo variation” Hairpins started falling out one by one while I was turning. In the end my hair was completely loose. So when I bowed to the audience I fluttered my hair. At that time, I was baffled and amazed.
Currently you have a new artistic director, Joaquín De Luz. What would you say he brings new to the Company?
Unfortunately, I was injured when he came to the Company. I’d like to thank him for waiting for me and trusting my abilities. Due to that I haven’t had the chance to work much with him yet, but the little I did I deeply enjoy it. I learn a lot about his passion for this art. I respect him and I’d like to become a long running dancer like him. I am trying to get my body healed so I can follow him wherever he takes us.
Who would be a choreographer you’d like to work with?
Forsythe of course, he is my favorite choreographer. I’ve danced many of his works such as In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, Herman Schmerman, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, Artifact Suite and Enemy In The Figure. It would be nice if I had the opportunity to learn more of his works. Nevertheless I am willing to learn any kind of dance; it is interesting to be able to experience various dance styles.
How would you like to celebrate your birthday?
I will eat Korean food with my friends in Spain. I am going to eat seaweed soup, which is a birthday tradition Korea. And I will pray for my injury to get better soon so I can dance with my family at the CND. Thank you for the chance to make this lovely birthday interview.
Thank you for celebrating my 31st birthday with me. Thanks to my CND family.
YAEGEE PARK – SOLOIST DANCER CND
Interview by: Sandra Cadenas