Ballet Festival Korea aims to showcase much more than dance

The Korean National Ballet performs "The Taming of the Shrew" by renowned choreographer John Cranko. [KNB]

It’s not difficult for large ballet companies like the state-run Korean National Ballet (KNB) or the Universal Ballet Company (UBC) to secure top theaters and attract enough audience members to ensure a successful production. On the other hand, despite having a repertoire of high quality, smaller dance troupes struggle to survive as filling seats is no easy feat.

The Ballet Festival Korea was created in 2011 to provide an equal chance to the country’s ballet troupes, regardless of their size and provide an opportunity to show off their quality works at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul.

The annual festival, which is now in its 11th year, attempts to restart the decade by becoming a festival that “creates a platform to discuss various social issues through observing choreographic context.”

This year’s edition, which runs from June 15 to 30, features varied programs, be it a ballet premiere, thematic exhibition or public-talk with iconic dancer or choreographer.

Choreographer Ryu Hoi-woong's "No News" [RYU HOI-WOONG LIBERTY HALL]

A total of 12 ballet works will be presented by 16 troupes including the KNB, UBC, Gwangju City Ballet, as well as Wise Ballet, Dance Company with Ju Hyun Jo, KYG Dance Company, Luda Lee Black Toe, JHI Ballet Creative and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, among others.

“Most of the works this year focus on how to express various social issues through dance, such as Covid-19, environmental issues as well as tragic accidents like the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014,” said Park In-ja, head of the organizing committee and the artistic director of the Ballet Festival Korea. “Under this year’s slogan, ‘Blended experiences and emotions,’ we tried to incorporate the current status quo and social concerns in the works that will be staged.”

The festival will launch with Korean National Ballet’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The work is by renowned choreographer John Cranko based on Shakespeare’s work of the same title. However, when it premiered in Korea in 2015 by the KNB, it was criticized by local audience members, as part of its choreography was deemed to be disparaging of the disabled.

“We reported the controversy to the John Cranko foundation and the foundation took it into consideration and changed the problematic choreography and will be staging the revised version for the first time during the festival,” said an official from the KNB.

The performance will be staged at the Opera Theater of the Seoul Arts Center from June 15 to 20. Park Seul-ki, Kim Li-hoe and Shin Seung-won will alternate the role of Katherina while Kim Ki-wan, Lee Jae-woo and Park Jong-seok alternate the role of her husband Petruchio.

Universal Ballet Theater's "Triple Bill" [UBC]

The UBC will be presenting a new work at the upcoming festival titled “Triple Bill.” It’s a combination of two new works and one existing work that will be recreated.

“The three series of works will express the original emotions of humans in different ways using Korean and Western styles,” said Brian Yoo, artistic director of the company. “The first work expresses our hope to gain freedom after passing through the current difficult and desperate situation. The second work is about love, and the tangled emotions around it, while the final work deals with the unique feeling of attachment in Korean people known as jeong.”

The performance will be staged at the Opera Theater from June 18 to 20.

Wise Ballet's ″Utopia″ [WISE BALLET]

Three troupes will share a stage and show off a part of their repertoire. Gwangju City Ballet will stage “Act 3: Wedding Reception” from choreographer Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda,” while Wise Ballet stages its upgraded version of 30-minute-long “Utopia,” and Dance Company with Ju Hyun Jo stages “D-Holic,” which features various styles of ballet from classical to contemporary. The three troupes’ performance will be staged on June 29 and 30 at the CJ Towol Theater.


According to Jo Ju-hyun, artistic director of Dance Company with Ju Hyun Jo and the choreographer behind “D-Holic,” the work was inspired by the enthusiasm of young people in night clubs.

“It is about the language and emotional energy of the MZ generation,” she said. “The MZ generation ballet dancers perform the work while thinking about how the generation’s unique genes and the classical genre of ballet can be mixed together.”

At the arts center’s Jayu Theater, six individual choreographers’ works that have been selected through a competition will be staged. Works presented here especially touch on social issues ranging from the environment to human rights.

Choreographer Lee Lu-da, who will be presenting her new work “Dystopia” on June 19 and 20, said her work “expresses an unfortunate world, a world that is on the verge of destruction.”

Choreographer Lee Lu-da's "Dystopia" [OCK SANG-HOON]

“We started the work with a sense of crisis that our reality is a dystopia,” Lee said. “The environmental and human rights issues are serious. For the work, I tried to create all the props including costumes from recycled materials.”

For more information about the upcoming festival, visit