An Interview with Sue Jin Kang

by Mary Ellen Hunt

March 26, 2003 -- Stuttgart Ballet Principal Sue Jin Kang is one of the company’s creatures. An inheritor of the John Cranko legacy, she is known for her dramatic portrayals in his "Onegin," "Romeo and Juliet," and "The Taming of the Shrew," as well as Marguerite in John Neumeier’s "Lady of the Camellias," all roles that were first made famous by the great Stuttgart ballerina Marcia Haydée. It might be said, arguably, that, of the reigning Stuttgart ballerinas, Kang is the one who has most confidently stepped into Haydée’s shoes.

The gracious and articulate Kang took a few minutes from her busy schedule, as the company was in the midst of a two month, ten city tour of America, to chat by phone with me from her hotel in Davis, California.

Kang, who is Korean by birth, has spent almost all of her professional career with the Stuttgart. She joined the company in 1986 at the age of 19, a year after winning the Prix de Lausanne. Already technically proficient, she settled easily into classical and neo-classical roles, of which Juliet was the first big one. While still in the corps, Kang made her debut as Juliet in 1993, a role that she still loves to play, though she says it has changed with her through the years. With the benefit of Marcia Haydee’s coaching she quickly took on more dramatic roles, and rose to the rank of principal by 1997. Among her favorites are Juliet, and Tatiana in" Onegin," roles known for the highly charged emotional content.

Of the late choreographer, and Stuttgart’s visionary director from 1961 to 1973, John Cranko, she asserts simply, “He is a genius.”

“In Cranko’s ballets, the steps and the music come together, but you have to have more than that. To do Cranko, you must always have feeling,” she says.

Kang has found inspiration and deepened her dramatic abilities through these kinds of roles, winning critical acclaim and, in 1999, the dance world's prestigious Benois prize.

Even so, Kang sees herself as more neo-classical, although like the other members of the versatile and internationally diverse Stuttgart Ballet, she does everything, from Petipa to Bejart.

I asked if there are any roles she would like to do that she hasn’t already tackled and she laughed.

“I’m very lucky. Almost everything I’ve wanted to do, I’ve done,” she admits. “Although I am interested in Neumeier’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ That would be a really interesting role. Very difficult, but it interests me.”

The company began its US tour in mid-March, just as the US and its allies launched a war against Iraq, to the dismay of many Europeans. When asked how she feels about touring, Kang notes that it’s a bit awkward this time, but the tour was never really in question.

“Our director, Reid [Anderson], said he didn’t want to cancel this tour and I can understand. Maybe if you’re that scared...,” Kang paused thoughtfully, “It may seem strange that we dance while people are dying, but in another sense, sometimes it sounds funny, but I hope that for a few hours we can help people to be happy. Life must go on.”

“In Europe, Korea, I think here also, and wherever we go, many people have told me that it helps their soul. When they watch a performance, perhaps they may not even like what they see, but people still say, thank you, and they are so much happier that they came. It’s very important in life to continue to have art. The soul is what's important.”

The Stuttgart Ballet continues their tour of the US: March 25-29 in Berkeley, CA; April 1-2 in Tucson, AZ; April 5-6 in San Diego, CA; April 8-9 in Minneapolis, MN; April 11-12 in St. Louis, MO; April 15-16 in Iowa City; IA, April 18-19 in Midland, MI; April 23-26 in New York, NY.

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