Meet Kimin Kim – star of the Mariinsky Ballet, avid fan of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Joining Mordents for a quick chat, the young artist shared memories of his early career days and move to Russia, and discussed what it takes to create a showstopping performance.
Mordents Magazine: Hello Kimin, how are you? What are you doing these days?
Kimin Kim: We at the Mariinsky have so many shows right now. I had a pretty tough schedule last month, and I also had to prepare for my debut in Paquita. It was difficult for me to prepare for a new role in such a short time, especially given that I danced to other shows as well, but now I’m really happy that I made it through!
MM: You engaged in a lot of sports activities as a child, including football, skiing, and taekwondo. Have these activities prepared you in any way for the grueling artistic life of a ballet dancer – and how?
KK: Being a ballet dancer requires a lot of different qualities from a person. And it’s not only about the physique – if you want to share the emotions with the audience you not only want to have strong technique, you also want to have musicality, the beauty of lines, acting skills, and many more.
I believe doing all these versatile activities in my childhood has helped me in developing technique and coordination so that I didn’t have to worry so much about it afterwards and could concentrate on the other aspects of the art of ballet.
MM: In one of your previous interviews, you mention that you came to ballet “accidentally”. How did that happen – and what lighted the spark that made you one of the stars of Mariinsky today?
KK: I started ballet due to my mother’s recommendation. Dancing was interesting for me right from the start, but I felt the true desire to seriously keep going and the aim to become a professional dancer after I saw “Sleeping Beauty”. Even though I was tiny, I still was in tears after watching the show and that’s what made me think ballet is a magical art – it even made a little boy cry. So after this, I decided I also want to learn how to be able to give such incredible emotions to other people.
MM: You started discovering the joy of ballet together with your older brother, Kiwan Kim, who is the Principal Dancer at Korean National Ballet today. What was it like to have a permanent partner and even mentor, during those early stages of practicing positions and growing as an artist?
KK: Kiwan is my great support and he’s always given me his love. We are very close friends, so even when I was having difficult periods in my life, an injury, for example, Kiwan was always by my side so I could overcome these obstacles. We have been talking about ballet and watching ballet videos together all the time, we also practiced together. Now, unfortunately, we can’t practice together anymore because we live in different countries but we still keep sending rehearsal or performance videos to each other and help with whatever we can and we speak on the phone daily. I am actually a really lucky person because I happen to have the best brother in the world. And I’m also trying to be the best brother for him.
MM: Moving to St. Petersburg at 19 surely must have been an interesting transition, even with all the constant traveling you must have experienced prior to that – what was one of the biggest surprises to you when moving to Russia?
KK: The most fantastic thing when I moved is seeing Mariinsky theatre. Before moving to Russia I’ve only seen Mariinsky performances on videos and I loved them with all my heart. But when I saw all of that live, I understood right away why this is a place where true art is created because so many legendary people like Nureyev, Barishnikov, Makarova, etc. have worked at the Mariinsky. When I first came to the theatre I really felt that indescribable aura.
MM: Becoming the first principal of the Mariinsky Ballet to be born outside Russia in 2015 must carry a lot of weight along with the honor of the role. How did you deal with all the pressure this position carries?
KK: I think I’m a lucky person to have a lot of self-criticism inside me. So I was busy practicing in a ballet studio while the pressure of holding the “position” didn’t really matter – I just wanted to be consistently doing my best. I always had a bigger wish to be dancing more roles better than becoming a principal so I would say it was harder for me when I had to prepare a debut in a new ballet than when I was named principal. My colleagues at the Mariinsky supported me along the way and were really kind to me and I’m thankful to them for making it easy for me and almost don’t feel any pressure at all.
MM: Between the athletic requirements and the artistic side of ballet, which would you say is more important for producing a “showstopping” performance? Have you noticed if audiences around the world have different expectations in this regard?
KK: I think if we choose – it’s, of course, artistic side for me. Athleticism is also important but it should be a tool for expressing emotions – an artistry’s instrument. The ballet technique must help and support acting and not the other way around.
MM: Winning the prestigious Benois de la Danse in 2016 must have been one of the crowning achievements of your career. What would be some other goals you’d like to achieve in the future?
KK: Ballet is interesting because there’re always live performances – I can dance «Don Quixote» today, repeat in 3 days, in 3 months. Thankfully early on in my career, I was able to dance in a lot of shows, classical and even contemporary repertoire but I have continuously wanted to keep improving each time I perform a certain role in order for the audience to get more joy from seeing the ballet. Art is truly a beautiful phenomenon – after watching it people can change, their souls can feel something unique. And trying to be a part of it expressing my most sincere emotions and contributing everything I can to every show I do on stage has been and will always stay my main goal.
MM: Recently, you held a recital to commemorate and celebrate the 10th anniversary of your joining the Mariinsky Ballet. “An Artistic Evening with Kimin Kim,” your second recital at the dance troupe, was the closing performance of the XXIX Music Festival Stars of the White Nights. How did you approach the selection of repertoire, set to music that ranged from modern pieces, all the way to Bach’s instrumental works?
KK: For my artistic evening I had intentionally picked many different styles of choreography set on the music of the legendary musicians, for example, Mozart, Bach, and Tchaikovsky. I wanted the audience to feel all sorts of different feelings during the performance. It turned out to be an interesting selection of repertoire because there were a lot of pieces to dance but of course, it was really hard for me. I did the full 2nd act of «La Bayadere», Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, «Le Parc» Pas de Deux, a piece called «Sadness» and then the 3rd act of «Legend of Love» in one evening. It was that difficult that during «Legend of Love» my muscles started to have serious cramps and I had to change the combination of steps. But I had to do everything because throughout these 10 years I’ve been working at the Mariinsky I’ve received so much love and support from Saint-Petersburg’s audience so I really had to show them how much I appreciate it and how big is my gratitude. I was really happy everything ended up going well!
MM: Adding onto the previous question: you often express a deep appreciation of the music that is at the core of ballet itself. What have been some of your favorite music works you’ve been listening to recently?
KK: I love symphonic music and it is a huge part of my life. Ballet can not exist without music! My recent favorite piece of music has been Brahms’ 1st Violin Sonata – you can listen to it in any mood, there’s sadness, happiness, etc. and I want my life to be the same, to contain different emotions. I think it’s really important to all people but especially for the artists.
MM: Basilio in Don Quixote, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Solor in The Bayadere, Ferkhad in The Legend of Love, Schurale… What has been your favorite role of your career so far?
KK: Whenever there’s an interview I’m often asked this question and I have to say it’s the most difficult one for me! In this aspect, I’m very greedy. Not in life but in ballet for sure – I simply can’t pick!