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Feel pulse of Black Sea via dance

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By Lee Hyo-won

The Black Sea, cradled between southeastern Europe and Asia, is framed by Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia. For Koreans, this batch of countries remains rather veiled with exoticism and mystery, much like the dark color of the inland sea. This summer, various events in the heart of Seoul invite locals to explore the colorful arts and culture of the Black Sea region.
Black Sea Cultural Festival

The Black Sea Cultural Festival will take place beginning Thursday through Sunday at the National Theater of Korea, near Mt. Nam, downtown Seoul. The event will showcase the arts and traditions of Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine through dance performances, exhibition and lectures.

''In this age of globalization, bilateral cultural exchange and openness are most vital,'' Jo Dae-shik, director-general for cultural affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told reporters last week about organizing the event. ''We hope to promote public interest and knowledge about the Black Sea region. It is an important area in international relations between Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and we expect the festival to contribute to establishing stronger ties with the region.''

Traditional dance performances are among the highlights of the festival. From the country reputed for its rose festivals and premium yogurt, Bulgaria, comes the Philip Koutev National Folklore Ensemble. It is named after the esteemed Bulgarian composer Koutev, who was known for reinterpreting the conventional folk song to artistic ends while retaining the traditional style and form. The dance company is known for preserving and showcasing traditional vocal and musical techniques, dance repertoires and costumes. It will take the stage at 8 p.m., Friday.

Georgia, the country of longevity and wine, presents its folk dance ensemble Lashari, which will perform on Saturday at 5 p.m. Launched in 1989, it has established a reputation by constantly evolving over the years, by giving a contemporary spin to folk dances and has toured all over the world.

Also slated to perform that day is the P. Virksy National Folk Dance Ensemble travelling far from ''the bread basket of Europe,'' Ukraine. It was founded in 1937 by dancers Pablo Virsky and Mykola Bolotov and became known for its innovative approach to traditional forms and stellar technique. As much as it is Ukraine's representative troupe, it boasts the best in all aspects of performance, from sets and costumes by the best designers and music by top-tier artists. It performed for soldiers at the front during World War II and has toured over 60 countries as Ukraine's cultural ambassadors for peace.

From Turkey, which among other things is known for its Nobel prizewinning author Orhan Pamuk, comes Gulcin Yahya Kacar. The musical ensemble will offer festival-goers a special treat on Sunday at 3 p.m. by giving a collaborative performance with Korea's Sookmyung Gayageum Orchestra. Projects like the Korea-ASEAN Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble showed the exciting possibility of crossing different folk traditions, and the concert is expected to present dynamic interplays between the Turkish ''oud'' (pear-shaped stringed instrument) and Korean ''gayageum'' (12-string zither).

The opening gala show on Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. will present snippets of the Bulgarian, Ukranian, Georgian and Turkish performances.

Meanwhile, festival-goers will have a chance to literally taste the culture of the Black Sea region. Zelen, the one and only Bulgarian restaurant in Korea, will serve home-style Bulgarian dishes and yogurt drinks. Turkey's famous coffee and desserts and Georgia's fine wine will also be served. A lecture on the Black Sea region's culture and history will take place at 3 p.m., Saturday.
Admission to all programs, except the food section, is free of charge. Children must be aged seven and up to attend the live performances. Visit www.blackseafestival.com for more information.

Bolshoi Ballet in Korea

Russia, which nestles the Black Sea to the east, is celebrated, among other things, for its gravity-defying ballet dancers. The Bolshoi Ballet will join hands with the Korean National Ballet Company (KNBC) to stage ''Raymonda'' in September.

Choreographed by Marius Petipa to music by Alexander Glazunov, the ballet will wear a new modern color through a reinterpretation by Yury Grigorovich. It will showcase eclectic techniques and dynamic sequences inspired by Spanish and Hungarian traditions. The performance is garnering attention among local ballet lovers particularly since it will be the first time that the full three-act production is being staged.

Principal dancers of the Bolshoi and the KNBC will alternate lead roles from Sept. 25 to 30 at the Opera Theater, Seoul Arts Center. Call (02) 587-6181.

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