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[Herald Interview] Making the jump from corps de ballet to swan

In bold move, Korean National Ballet casts An Su-yeon, 21, as Odette, Odile in 'Swan Lake'

March 26, 2024 - 18:29 By Hwang Dong-hee
Ballerina An Su-yeon (Courtesy of the dancer)

A new swan is scheduled to grace the stage, as the Korean National Ballet presents “Swan Lake” at the LG Arts Center in Seoul from Wednesday to Sunday.

On Friday, ballerina An Su-yeon, a member of the corps de ballet, will take center stage, making her debut as the iconic Odette and Odile.

It's a highly unusual and bold move to cast a dancer in the corps de ballet, the lowest in the ballet company's ranking system, to take the lead role in “Swan Lake.”

Such casting has occurred only once before since 2009, according to the KNB. Principals and soloists in the company are typically given lead roles. (The KNB has four ranks: corps de ballet, demi soloist, soloist and principal.)

Soloist Cho Yeon-jae will perform the dual role of Odette/Odile on Wednesday and Saturday, while soloist Sim Hyun-hee will take the stage in the dual role on Thursday and Sunday.

Ballerina An Su-yeon and ballerino Heo Seo-myeong rehearses for "Swan Lake." (KNB)

“I was initially thrilled to be chosen as the lead in the classic ballet masterpiece ‘Swan Lake,’” An said in an interview on Friday. “At the same time, I also feel great pressure whether I can truly pull it off. It’s both an honor and an exhilarating opportunity to showcase what I’ve been dreaming of.”

An being tapped came unexpectedly, as the spot opened up due to a sudden casting change. She discovered her role unceremoniously while alone in the practice room.

“It was early in the morning (before the group practice). I was alone in the practice room, and a staff member was changing the casting board. I took a glance without thinking and saw my name listed for Odette,” An recalled. "My heart was pounding."

This is the first lead role for the 21-year-old who joined KNB at 18. Last year, she performed as the Spanish dancer in the year-end production of "The Nutcracker,” which was her first major role with the company. She said it was a comeback performance after a six-month break due to an ankle injury.

“I’d never had such a long break from dancing except for a three-week vacation. Initially, it was a shock to have to stop dancing. So I was determined to come back stronger. I worked on losing weight to return in good shape."

It was her stellar performance as the Spanish dancer that opened another door to the role of the swan.

Ballerina An Su-yeon (Courtesy of the dancer)

Kang Sue-jin, the artistic director and CEO of KNB, introduced An as "a dancer with impeccable technique."

"(An) performed exceptionally well as the Spanish Dancer. Also, her physique and upper body line fit well with the swan," an official at KNB quoted Kang as saying.

The double role of Odette and Odile presents a unique challenge, requiring the dancer to portray two opposing characters with contrasting charms -- the innocent white swan Odette and sensual black swan Odile.

An expressed confidence in portraying the black swan, but she said her heart lies with the white swan.

"The director told me that Odile suits me better. I also feel more confident in performing Odile because I am assured in my technique," An said.

"But personally, I am drawn to Odette. She requires more delicate expressiveness with a touch of melancholy, which I think I need more practice with. So, I'm putting in extra effort to rehearse the scenes with my partner.”

"Ultimately, I aspire to become a dancer who is capable of flawlessly embodying any role I’m given,” she said firmly.