LUCKY FOR LAS VEGAS
By: Hal de Becker
Ballet dancers are frequently world travelers, especially the good ones who are always and everywhere in high demand.
In 1998 two such dancers, Yoomi Lee and Kyudong Kwak, were invited to appear with Nevada Ballet Theatre by Bruce Steivel, the company’s then esteemed artistic director. They came, saw, conquered and, fortunately for the Las Vegas dance community, decided to stay.
After ten years as Principal Dancers with NBT they left the company and, in 2009, founded Kwak Ballet Academy and Las Vegas Ballet Company. Their goals were then as now to provide superior ballet training for all ages and to give youngsters the opportunity to perform in a real youth company in classics such as Swan Lake, Giselle and The Nutcracker, among others.
Yoomi and Kyudong were born in South Korea where their dance talents were recognized early. Each had the opportunity to study in America at the Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington D.C. and with renowned Russian and Asian teachers in Korea.
Later, as professional dancers, they met, married and for a decade toured throughout Europe, Asia and the USA performing leading roles with Korea’s famed Universal Ballet and Seoul Ballet Theatre and as Guest Artists with other troupes.
It was during that time that Kyudong won the gold medal at the Korean Dance Festival and was a guest soloist at Russia’s Kirov (now St. Petersburg) Ballet. Yoomi was later to be featured in a Ballet Gala at the Kennedy Center.
Even during those busy years they found time to have a son, Samuel, who is also a dancer.
Their recent production of The Nutcracker with the traditional story and dance sequences was tastefully focused on the younger members of the youth company as much as the older ones. Yoomi explained that, “As older teenagers move on with their lives and careers it’s important for us to prepare the younger ones to replace them.”
She added, “Dancing in the great classical ballets is really a wonderful way to inspire an appreciation of art in children because there’s also music and acting, and the colorful costumes and sets that are like paintings.”
There were five performances at Summerlin Performing Arts Center and some of the outstanding youngsters in the cast that I saw included Katherine Cadelaria as Snow Queen; Grace Jarimillo and Alehssia Reinhart as Clara and Fritz; Yerin Baek the Dew Drop Fairy; Jesus Nanci a Spanish dancer and Drosselmeyer; Summer Reese in the Russian; Stephanie Bell as Mother; and many more.
The adorable wee tots portraying tiny White Mice and Angels are always among my favorites. It may have been John Barrymore who said, “I hate acting with little children. They always steal the scene.”
The ballet’s two ‘stars’ were Yoomi and Kyudong as Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. With their charm and good looks they were as handsome a couple as ever. Her fouette turns and pure lines, and his high leaps and double tours clearly demonstrated that time had not tempered their techniques.
Among their other attributes, Yoomi possessed a grace and elegant femininity that made everything look easy and Kyudong’s performance as caring father and gracious host in the Act I party scene was a gem of silent acting.
Yes, Las Vegas is lucky to have these two consummate, talented and experienced artists.