Ballet Stars
Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

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The Washington Ballet, newly helmed by former American Ballet Theatre star Julie Kent, continues to attract top talent. Former Dance Theatre of Harlem member Ashley Murphy joined the company last August (prior to Kent's arrival). Brittany Stone, previously a Boston Ballet corps member, recently came on board. Now Eun Won Lee, a former principal dancer with Korean National Ballet, will join the company.

Although Lee's name might not be familiar to Western audiences, she's a product of rigorous training at the Korean National University of Arts. Lee earned numerous artistic distinctions during her tenure at Korean National Ballet, including The Korea Ballet Association’s Prima Ballerina Award. Her competition background is equally notable and includes a Junior Bronze Medal from the Varna International Ballet Competition.

Hye Ju Go, Seung Won Shin and Eun Won Lee in Korean National Ballet's Swan Lake (photo by Sunkyung Reina Jang)

The Washington Ballet has historically performed an eclectic mix of work by of-the-moment choreographers (like Trey McIntyre, Edwaard Liang, David Dawson and Nicolo Fonte), Balanchine ballets and smaller-scale classics (for example, one-act ballets by Antony Tudor and Jerome Robbins). Kent's season announcement, which includes work by William Forsythe and Twyla Tharp, will also introduce choreography by Justin Peck, Frederick Ashton and Alexei Ratmansky to the company. It will be interesting to see if Kent's ABT touch prioritizes classics, and how the members of the non-hierarchical company will be cast in upcoming productions. Dancers used to principal roles, like Murphy and Lee, may be pushed in new directions, while previously lower-ranked dancers like Stone may have new opportunities.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

 

The sixth Helsinki International Ballet Competition, held this June in Finland, was something of a guy’s show. The most notable of the 70 competitors, who performed over the course of seven evenings in the beautiful Finnish National Opera House, were all men: authoritative, silky Brooklyn Mack, 23, of the United States, who was the Senior Silver medalist; fiercely masculine Jeffrey Cirio, 18, also of the United States, who took home the Junior Gold; and scissors-sharp Xiaoyu He, 21, of China, winner of the Grand Prix.

 

Some of the more intriguing women in the competition—Korean National Ballet Company’s lyrical Seul Ki Park, and the sleek, serene Byelorussian Nadzeya Filipava—did not win medals. Perhaps ballerina moonlight-energy doesn’t fit so well with the flash-boom-bang of competition craft.

 

Nevertheless, the international exposure that young dancers gain in competition is invaluable—particularly at the Helsinki contest. “The city is well-situated between the East and the West,” says Doris Laine-Almi, the former Finnish National Ballet artistic director, who founded HIBC in 1984 to complement the other Inter­national Theatre Institute Competitions in Varna, Jackson and Moscow. “And everyone speaks English!” adds Junior Silver medalist Lonnie Weeks, of Texas Ballet Theater, who is a veteran of the competition scene. “That makes it much easier here.”

 

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