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Hee Seo

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Hee Seo
Hee Seo, American Ballet Theatre, The Moor's Pavane, November 8, 2013.jpg
Seo curtain call for The Moor's Pavane on 8 November 2013[1]
Born (1986-03-13) March 13, 1986 (age 31)[2]
Seoul, South Korea[2][3]
Residence Manhattan, New York City, United States[4]
Occupation Principal dancer
Years active 2004–present
Home town Seoul, South Korea
Current group American Ballet Theatre
Korean name
Hanja [5]
Revised Romanization Seo Hui
McCune–Reischauer Sŏ Hŭi

Hee Seo (Hangul; Hanja; born 13 March 1986) is a South Korean principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States.[6] She became the company's first Korean ballerina to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history and is one of only three principal dancers in the company who have worked their way up the ranks from the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. She is also one of the youngest dancers in ABT history to be promoted to principal at the age of twenty-six. The New York Times has described her style and dancing to "exude an unhurried purity that sums up all that is lovely about ballet" and by Vogue as "unspeakably lissome".[3][7] Several critics have noted her style as "lyrical and open" and she has been critically acclaimed for her "humility" and "unique feminine strength".[4][8]

Seo began training in Russian ballet at the age of twelve; a relatively late start for a ballet dancer. Seo has stated on numerous occasions that she did not have aspirations of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Her teachers identified her skills and talents early on and within a short period of time she was offered full scholarships to study abroad at prestigious ballet schools. She gained further notice by winning a scholarship at the 2003 Prix de Lausanne as well as the Grand Prix at the 2003 Youth America Grand Prix.

She was rapidly promoted from the ABT Studio Company and joined the full company in May 2005. She was again quickly promoted into the corps de ballet in March 2006 and then to soloist in August 2010 before finally being named as principal dancer in July 2012 by Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of ABT. During her time at ABT, she has performed numerous lead roles in classical and contemporary ballet.

Early life[edit]

Seo was born in Seoul, South Korea.[2][3][9] Her mother, aunt, and grandmother all studied fine arts and she, along with her two older and younger brothers, studied piano and took swimming lessons.[2][10] Seo has stated that one of the reasons she has a strong relationship with her mother was because she did not have a sister.[10]

In middle school, Seo was the student class president and was offered the opportunity to attend an entrance competition for the Sunhwa Arts School.[2] She had been dancing for six months but had not received any formal ballet training.[2] She entered into the competition and was awarded a scholarship to attend the Sunhwa.[2] Initially her parents were against her leaving due to her young age but were persuaded otherwise by one of her teachers.[2] Seo enrolled for one year before leaving to study ballet in a professional training program in the United States.[2]

Training and career[edit]

Photograph of Seo with her arms out during the curtain call for Romeo and Juliet on 19 June 2015
Seo curtain call for Romeo and Juliet, 19 June 2015[11]

Seo began her formal dance training at age twelve; a relatively late start for a ballet dancer.[2][3][12] Jillian Laub from movmnt has described Seo as having "the perfect body for ballet".[13] At thirteen, she was invited to attend and awarded a full three-year scholarship to study under Alla Sizova at the Kirov Academy of Ballet (formerly the Universal Ballet Academy) in Washington DC.[3][4] Seo has often stated Sizova was a major influence and mentor in her life.[2] Jacqueline Akhmedova was also one of her teachers and helped train her for competitions.[13] Akhmedova said, "Seo [was] the best student she has ever had".[13]

Seo won the 2003 Prix de Lausanne Award in Switzerland and was offered a scholarship by Reid Anderson to attend the John Cranko Schule.[8][14][15] That same year, Seo won the Grand Prix at the 2003 Youth America Grand Prix.[3][8][16] John Meehan asked her to join the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company in the following year where she stayed until joining American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in May 2005.[3][4][9]

In the beginning, Seo's transition to the ABT company was difficult.[9] She had trained under the Russian syllabus at Cranko and needed to make the transition to the "American style".[4] Seo noted that "the ABT style is to leave the dancers alone. Individual character matters here, and dance that lacks originality cannot survive".[17] She was able to adapt with the assistance of her mentors who also at the time helped her overcome a serious back injury.[4] In March 2006, she was promoted to the rank of corps de ballet.[18] She gained significant attention in 2009 when she performed the female lead in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, and On the Dnieper.[4][19] She debuted as Juliet on her twenty-third birthday which she has said was "one of [her] favorites".[8][17] Cory Stearns, at the time a newly promoted member of the corps de ballet, partnered her as the other titular character of Romeo.[20]

She became a soloist in August 2010 and principal dancer in July 2012.[3][21][22] She was the first Korean ballerina to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history and, at age 26, one of the company's youngest dancers to be so promoted.[3][23] Her promotion drew further attention as Seo was one of only three principal dancers in the company to have been promoted from the ABT Studio Company.[3][24] Julia Moon, the Ballet Director of Universal Ballet, said that "Seo has an incredible talent, not just in dancing but also acting. I have never doubted that someday she would become a principal dancer at ABT".[15] Seo has been noted for her "lyrical and open" style and "unique feminine strength" by several critics including The New York Times, Dance Magazine, and KoreAm.[4][8]

Seo's debut performance as Principal dancer in 2012 was as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.[25] Seo has said that Swan Lake was her most challenging ballet.[24][26] The iconic classic ballet is notoriously difficult and demanding.[27][26] The lead ballerina performs the contrasting roles of Odette, the White Swan, and Odile, the Black Swan.[24][26] In an interview with Pointe magazine, Seo said that she "prefers the mental and physical challenge of full-length ballets over repertory works".[24] In particular, Swan Lake "is physically and mentally exhausting, but so beautiful."[20]

In 2014, Seo had the opportunity to dance several full-length roles in her second year as principal, when three of ABT's senior principal ballerinas announced their retirement, placing Seo in line for several leading roles.[24] She commonly partners with Roberto Bolle.[28] In the 2016 ABT season, nearly ten years from Seo's lead role debuted, she along with the also promoted Principal dancer Cory Stearns, reprised their roles as Romeo and Juliet as first cast at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.[29][20] Seo has said, "when I dance with Cory, I feel like I’m going back to those years".[20] Seo also reprised her role as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.[30] Alastair Macauley of The New York Times on Seo's performance, "she has most revealed the distinctiveness, elegance and authority of an important ballerina".[30]

Seo models for Bloch and wears their pointe shoes.[9] In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Seo stated that she "carries three to six new pairs a day and alternates them in class and rehearsals to break them in" and that she "can go through a pair a day once the shoes become too soft to support her feet".[9][31]

Her performances are sponsored by Pamela and David B. Ford.[19] Seo resides in Manhattan in New York City.[4]

Roles and repertoire at ABT[edit]

A photograph of Seo and Jared Matthews with their arms extended during the curtain call for Don Quixote on 17 May 2014
Seo and Jared Matthews curtain call for Don Quixote, 17 May 2014[32]

Full length ballets[edit]

Title Role Choreographer Ref(s)
Apollo Polyhymnia George Balanchine [notes 1]
La Bayadère Nikiya, Gamzatti, the Lead D'Jampe and Shade Natalia Makarova, after Marius Petipa [notes 2]
Cinderella (Ashton) Cinderella Frederick Ashton [notes 3]
Cinderella (Prokofiev) Twig James Kudelka [18]
Coppélia Prayer Nicholas Sergeyev [notes 4]
Don Quixote Mercedes and flower girl Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky [notes 5]
Gaîté Parisienne The Glove Seller Léonide Massine [notes 6]
Giselle Giselle and Zulma Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa [notes 7]
Jardin aux Lilas Caroline Antony Tudor [notes 8]
The Lady of the Camellias Olympia John Neumeier [notes 9]
The Moor's Pavane The Moor's Wife Jose Limon [notes 10]
A Month in the Country Natalia Petrovna Frederick Ashton [18]
The Nutcracker Clara, the Princess and Nutcracker's Sister Alexei Ratmansky [18]
On the Dnieper Natalia Alexei Ratmansky [notes 11]
Onegin Tatiana John Cranko [18]
Romeo and Juliet Juliet Kenneth MacMillan [19]
The Sleeping Beauty Princess Aurora, the Lilac Fairy, the Fairy of Sincerity and Princess Florine Marius_Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky [notes 12]
Swan Lake Odette-Odile, the pas de trois, the Polish Princess and a big swan Kevin McKenzie, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov [notes 13]
La Sylphide The Sylph August Bournonville [18]
Les Sylphides The Prelude Michel Fokine [notes 14]
Sylvia Ceres Frederick Ashton [notes 15]

Other ballets and repertoire[edit]

Title Choreographer Ref(s)
Ballo della Regina George Balanchine [18]
Birthday Offering Frederick Ashton [18]
The Brahms-Haydn Variations Twyla Tharp [18]
Chamber Symphony Alexei Ratmansk [18]
Dark Elegies Antony Tudor [18]
Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes Mark Morris [18]
Duets Merce Cunningham [18]
From Here On Out Benjamin Millepied [18]
The Leaves Are Fading Antony Tudor [18]
Overgrown Path Jiří Kylián [18]
Raymonda Divertissements Marius Petipa [18]
Seven Sonatas Alexei Ratmansky [18]
Thaïs Pas de Deux Frederick Ashton [18]
Thirteen Diversions Christopher Wheeldon [18]
With a Chance of Rain Liam Scarlett [18]


  1. ^ "APOLLO". American Ballet Theatre. 
  2. ^ "La Bayadère". American Ballet Theatre. 
  3. ^ "Cinderella". American Ballet Theatre. 
  4. ^ "Coppélia". American Ballet Theatre. 
  5. ^ "Don Quixote". American Ballet Theatre. 
  6. ^ "Gaîté Parisienne". American Ballet Theatre. 
  7. ^ "Giselle". American Ballet Theatre. 
  8. ^ "Jardin aux Lilas". American Ballet Theatre. 
  9. ^ "The Lady of the Camellias". American Ballet Theatre. 
  10. ^ "The Lady of the Camellias". American Ballet Theatre. 
  11. ^ "On the Dnieper". American Ballet Theatre. 
  12. ^ "The Sleeping Beauty". American Ballet Theatre. 
  13. ^ "Swan Lake". American Ballet Theatre. 
  14. ^ "Les Sylphides". American Ballet Theatre. 
  15. ^ "Sylvia". American Ballet Theatre. 


  1. ^ "Fall Season 2013". Kent G. Becker. 9 November 2013. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kourlas, Gia (7 July 2009). "Hee Seo: The American Ballet Theatre corps member makes her debut in Romeo and Juliet". Time Out New York. New York City, United States: Time Out New York. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kourlas, Gia (3 May 2013). "A Fresh Perch on the Career Ladder". The New York Times. New York City, United States. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kim, James S. (11 March 2015). "South Korean Ballerina Hee Seo Dazzles in 'The Sleeping Beauty'". KoreAm. Gardena, California, United States. Archived from the original on 12 November 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "서희 등 한국 발레 꿈나무들 세계 유명무용단 줄줄이 입단" [Seo Hee and other promising young Korean ballerinas joining world-famous dance companies]. Simin Ilbo. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Jennings, Luke (2007-02-18). "One step closer to perfection: The best of Balanchine lights up London – but Stravinsky in Birmingham must not be missed". The Observer. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  7. ^ Inglese, Elizabeth (23 October 2014). "Clinique, Lanvin, and Piaget Host the American Ballet Theatre's Fall Gala". Vogue. New York, New York. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Poon, Kina (1 May 2013). "The Sublime Hee Seo". Dance Magazine. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Suh, Seunghee (12 May 2015). "A Ballerina on Tour, Burning Through Pointe Shoes". The Wall Street Journal. New York City, United States. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Lee, Claire (1 August 2013). "A Dancer Makes the Right Moves". The Wall Street Journal. New York City, United States. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  11. ^ "2015 MET Season". Kent G. Becker. 19 June 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  12. ^ Keith Colins (22 May 2013). "BEYOND THE STAGE: Hee Seo-The American Ballet Theatre's newest Principal Dancer". Arts In Color. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  13. ^ a b c Laub, Jillian (19 Mar 2007). "Hee Seo – Seoul Ballerina". New York, New York: movmnt magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  14. ^ "Hee Seo". Prix de Lausanne. 2003. Retrieved 2016-03-01. 
  15. ^ a b Do, Je-hae (8 July 2012). "New prima ballerina at American Ballet Theatre". The Korea Times. Seoul, South Korea. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  16. ^ "YAGP 2003 New York City Finals". Youth America Grand Prix. 2003. Retrieved 2016-03-01. 
  17. ^ a b "Korean Ballerina Emerges from ABT Chorus Line". The Chosun Ilbo. Seoul, South Korea. 20 Feb 2009. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "ABT: Dancers Hee Seo". American Ballet Theatre. 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c "Romeo and Juliet". American Ballet Theatre. 2007. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c d Wolf Trap (1 July 2016). "Q&A: Hee Seo, Juliet of American Ballet Theatre's Romeo and Juliet". Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Retrieved 2016-09-13. 
  21. ^ Gottlieb, Robert (10 July 2012). "Dancing With the Stars: American Ballet Theater Shines With Talent at Every Level". The New York Observer. New York City, United States. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  22. ^ "Seo Hee Becomes 1st Korean Soloist in American Ballet Theater". The Chosun Ilbo. Seoul, South Korea. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  23. ^ Ory, Deborah (13 Feb 2014). "Hee Seo.." NYC Dance Project. New York City, United States. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  24. ^ a b c d e Carman, Joseph (1 June 2015). "ABT's Homegrown Ballerinas". Pointe. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  25. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (2014). Britannica Book of the Year 2014. Encyclopædia Britannica. ISBN 1625131712. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  26. ^ a b c Georgiou, Danielle (23 May 2014). "Swan Lake, The Dancer's Dream and Nightmare, comes to Texas Ballet Theater". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  27. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (26 January 2017). "Ballerina thrills as both Odette and Odile". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-09-16. 
  28. ^ Anne McNally (7 July 2016). "Anne McNally's Social Circuit Diary: June 2016 and More". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2016-08-05. 
  29. ^ Sarah L. Kaufman (8 July 2016). "Dancing Juliet: The power, stillness and pain of one of ballet's greatest heroines". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-09-13. 
  30. ^ a b Alastair Macauley (30 June 2016). "Review: A 'Sleeping Beauty' Revival Rich in Details and Reward". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-09-13. 
  31. ^ Ciccarelli, Stephanie (8 July 2015). "3 Things Actors Can Learn From Ballet Dancers". Backstage. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  32. ^ "Hee Seo Curtain Calls". Kent G. Becker. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 

External links[edit]