Universal Ballet

The Love of Chunhyang

Universal Ballet Premiere The Goyang Aram Nuri Arts Center on May 4, 2007
Libretto Bo Hi Pak
Choreography Bingxian Liu
Music Peter I. Tchaikovsky
Arranged for Universal Ballet Fumiyo Motoyama
Set Design Jingyu Choi
Costume Design Jeongwoo Lee
Lighting Design Nakchoen Kang
Video Design Suho Jang
Composition 3 scenes and 2 acts
Running Time 2 hours 5 minutes

Origins of the Chunhyang Story

The tale of Chunhyang is one of Korea’s the most popular stories passed down in the form of pansori, a Korean epic storytelling tradition. The story is a tale of the love between Chunhyang, the daughter of a gisaeng (dancer/entertainer, similar to a geisha) and Mongryong, son of a local aristocrat. When Mongryong has to go away, the new governor tries to force Chunhyang to be his concubine. When she refuses, he threatens to kill her, and she is saved by Mongryong when he returns just in time.

A very Korean story in a very Western art form

The story of Chunhyang is one that contains sentiments well known to the Korean people, with core values present since the time of the country’s ancient culture. Like the ballet Shim Chung - A Legend from the Far East, created by Universal Ballet in 1986, The Love of Chunhyang also introduces core elements of Korean thought and culture to the world through the medium of classical ballet, a language many people can understand. The Love of Chunhyang is a story of a love that remains faithful despite the pain and uncertainty of separation caused by duty to country, and of marital fidelity, even under the threat of death.

Features of the production

The cast of characters in The Love of Chunhyang is structured in the manner of a classical ballet, with a pair of principal roles, a number of soloist roles, and men’s and ladies corps de ballet dances. But in other attributes, the production is more contemporary. The choreography uses contemporary movement language, and the costumes are a combination of traditional and contemporary lines. The dancing of the male corps de ballet in the exam and commission part of the ballet lends a wonderful opportunity to show off the capability of a strong male corps de ballet, an element that is largely absent from the 19th century repertory of classical ballet works. The ladies corps in winter and in the Kisaeng sections, while executing contemporary movements, demonstrates the grace of movement that only ballet dancers can achieve. Of course, as with any major love story, Chunhyang and Mongryong’s most memorable dancing is in their love pas de deux, first when they meet in Act I, and again when they are reunited at the end of Act II.


Production History

The Love of Chunhyang is Universal Ballet’s second original full length Korean work, following Shim Chung, which was first created in 1986. The ballet is organized in two acts. Some of the concepts of the ballet are inspired by the version of the Korean National Dance Company’s production of Chunhyang in Dance, created in 2001 by Jung-hye Bae, then Artistic Director of the KNDC. Universal Ballet invited Ms. Bae to collaborate in creating their 2007 version of the production, and it was produced using her staging combined with choreography by Bingxian Liu. In later versions of the ballet, new staging was done by Bingxian Liu, and some new elements have been introduced, though some portions of the 2007 version still remain.

Universal Ballet’s first version of The Love of Chunhyang in 2007 was followed by a new adaption in 2009, both co-produced with the Goyang Cultural Foundation. The ballet was reworked as part of Universal Ballets 30th Anniversary season in 2014, revived again with new costumes and scenery in 2018 and now is a pillar of the company’s repertory, a work that can serve to introduce Korean culture around the world. As Madame Butterfly gives opera audiences a glimpse of Japan, and Turandot a short look at China, The Love of Chunhyang can give western ballet lovers the chance to take a look at Korean culture, communicated in a medium that they understand well. 

Universal Ballet Artistic Director Bingxian Liu choreographed The Love of Chunhyang supervised the creative team. Many of the adaptations he chose for the 2018 version pursue a more contemporary style for the production, in the sets and costume designs and in the choreography. 

Jingyu Choi’s set designs use a hybrid blend of portals and projections by Suho Jang to bring us from place to place in the southern Korean village. The costume designer, Jeongwoo Lee, who also designed the costumes for the previous versions, has used silhouettes that maintain a Korean feeling while accenting the lines of the body and the movements of the choreography. The score is assembled from the body of P.l. Tchaikovsky’s works, including portions of the Manfred Symphony, the Tempest, orchestral suites and other works.

The Love of Chunhyang was first presented overseas early in 2015, at the invitation of the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman. Following this, it was performed at the Teatro Mayor de Julio Maria Santo Domingo in Colombia in 2018.