Hyo-Hyung Kang ⓒ KNB

Hyo-Hyung Kang: Why music drives me

Interview by Alessandro Bizzotto was publisehd in our Issue 4/2019 

A Soloist at the Korean National Ballet, Hyo-Hyung Kang choreographed her first ballet three seasons ago, and the success was immediate. Alessandro Bizzotto spoke with her to find out how did it go, why she loves music so much and what way she was helped by two legendary ballerinas – Marcia Haydée and Sue Jin Kang

Graduated from the Korea National University of Arts in 2010, Hyo-Hyung Kang has always been a promising artist in her own country – just before her graduation, she won the Golden Prize at the Dong-A Dance Competition, and after joining the Korean National Ballet she was soon promoted to Soloist. Yet there were still some stones in her leaf bag.

Three seasons ago she choreographed her first ballet, a ten-minute-long creation named “Into the Pulse”. It was an immediate success, that led her even to Moscow as a Benois de la Danse nominee.

Did you attend all the years of the ballet school in Korea?

I studied ballet in Korea at the Yewon School, at the Seoul Arts High School and then at the Korea National University of Arts.

Which is the choreography or the ballet that inspired you the most and that made you want to try to choreograph yourself?

I tend to receive inspiration from the works of a variety of choreographers rather than from the creations of a single one. When I was younger, I found Jiří Kylián’s works very inspiring but, as I grew up, I drew greater inspiration from those choreographies that were bursting out with energy and with freely expanding movements: the works by Ohad Naharin, Alonzo King and Andonis Foniadakis, just to make a few examples. Another huge inspiration came when I saw “Rosas danst Rosas” by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. It was shocking to discover that her minimalism was full of meanings and to see that tremendous energy under the surface of restricted movements. It made me realize that complicated and challenging movements are not the only way to express something. It was a moment of epiphany as for what I should give to the audience: I felt that, as a choreographer, my role was to impress feelings upon the audience.

Which roles do you still dream of as a dancer?

As a dancer, I want to try more modern creations. I’m more interested in them, and I think my strength lies in neo-classical and modern works, rather than in classical ones. I’d like to dance more works by William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor or Crystal Pite.

The Korean National Ballet is now directed by a super star of ballet, Sue Jin Kang. What way has she helped you to get attention and consideration as a choreographer?

Sue Jin Kang promoted a project called “KNB Movement Series” in order to foster new choreographers and, as my debut, I choreographed “Into the Pulse” during the first edition of the Series. Sue Jin Kang noticed my talent as a choreographer through “Into the Pulse”, I guess, and recommended me for an invitation to a performance called “Next Generation” at the Stuttgart Ballet. Since then, she continued to lay the foundation for me to stand on the international stage, including the gala stage of the Benois de la Danse. Also, after watching “Into the Pulse” which is only ten minutes long, she asked me to choreograph a full-length one-hour ballet. That’s how “Heo Nan Seol Heon – Su Wol Kyung Hwa” came to be. Since its premiere in Seoul, it was staged overseas, in countries such as Columbia and Canada. Our Artistic Director gives unsparing support to talent, opens up opportunities for them to perform on bigger stages throughout her international network and has helped me to learn from such experiences. Thanks to her way of giving opportunities generously, but in a step-by-step manner, I was also able to steadily build my skills as a choreographer.

Hyo-Hyung Kang as the canary in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ ⓒ BAKi

Has the nomination to the Benois de la Danse two seasons ago opened new doors for you in the choreography world?

Being nominated as choreographer for the Benois de la Danse was an amazing career-defining moment – I felt immensely honored. I still remember Marcia Haydée watching a gala performance of “Into the Pulse” and telling me I am “a very gifted choreographer”. I was then invited to the Festival of Choreographers by the Santiago Ballet in Chile, whose director is Marcia Haydée. So, I must say that the nomination definitely opened new doors for me.

How did it go in Santiago?

That year the Festival of Choreographers had a special title, “Tres Mundos”, which means “Three Worlds”: on stage, “Serenade” by George Balanchine representing America, “MC 14, 22” by Angelin Preljocaj representing Europe and my ballet “Shape of Panthers”, a creation set to African percussion instruments representing the movements of panthers in a kind of strong and exciting way. It received rousing applause and cheers from the audience – I remember I felt so happy after that show!

You meet Marcia Haydée over there too, right? She and Sue Jin have always had a very close professional relationship… How did it go with her?

Marcia Haydée was really friendly: she welcomed us so warmly! I was simply delighted and felt incredibly honored to be invited by such a legendary ballerina. She loved my work, particularly the signature movements of the hands… as if they were panther claws.

Hyo-Hyung Kang as the russian doll in ‘The Nutcracker’ ⓒ BAKi

What’s your relationship with music as a choreographer? Does it inspire you a lot? Or do you think to a story or to a concept first, and then to the right music?

As a choreographer, my first source of inspiration is music. If I have an idea or a particular inspiration, I might be led to choose a particular kind of music, yet music and music alone is what makes me choreograph. While looking for a theme for a new ballet, first of all I spend days just listening to music. When I find the music that clicks with me, infinite inspiration emerges inside my head and my body cannot resist dancing. To me, music is so important –it highly affects me, that’s why I can say that finding the right music represents the eighty percent of my work as a choreographer. This is the reason why I have a reputation as a choreographer with an ear for music as well!

How do you choose dancers for your choreographies?

It all depends on the style of the ballet. I can tell you I choose dancers according to what my creation needs… the ones that correspond to the images I have in mind.

Are you working on any new ballet?

I’m working on a new full-length creation, a two-act ballet called “Hoi Rang”. It is about a woman called Rang, who disguises herself as a man and joins the army to fight in a war on behalf of her elderly father whom she dearly loves. She overcomes adversities, distinguishes herself and marries Jung, her superior in the army. She is different from the classical repertoire’s damsel-in-distress type of heroine; giving life to an adventurous and brave woman who overcomes many hardships is refreshing and fun. In addition, the show features a spectacular and dynamic group dance performed by male dancers.

‘Into the Pulse’ by Hyo-Hyung Kang ⓒ BAKi (3)

Have you ever thought of re-staging a big ballet of the classical repertoire as well?

Well, I haven’t considered re-staging a big ballet – classical ballets are already great as they are today. But I am thinking about re-staging stories from other genres like movies, such as “Aladdin”, or about creating a ballet based on the opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” or on musicals such as “Jekyll and Hyde”. It would be great to create a new full-length ballet… with new perspectives, I can say.

What gives you motivation in the morning?

I always listen to music when I get up in the morning. As I said earlier, nothing gives me motivation as music does. I always look for a music that makes me want to dance in a different way, every single day. Furthermore, I can tell you the music I hear today can hit me in a completely different spot tomorrow… and generate new movements. Every day I look forward to creating something new on the spur of the moment.