Chinese dancer emerges as Korea's best-known filial daughter

KOREA - Ballerina Fang Meng-ying arrived in Seoul from China at the age of 17, all by herself, not knowing many people in the foreign city. Leaving the Beijing Capital International Airport, she avoided looking into her parents' eyes, knowing she'd burst into tears if she did.

"I think that's one of the reasons why I can really relate to Shim Chung, especially when she agonizes as she decides to leave her blind father," said Fang in an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. The 23-year-old is ahead of her debut as the filial Korean daughter in Universal Ballet Company's original repertoire "Shimchung."

"I was told later that my parents cried a lot at the airport after I left. I really feel for Shim Chung when she leaves her father in the ballet. I am completely immersed in the character," Fang said, speaking through an interpreter.

Fang is the first non-Korean dancer to play the famous role since the ballet premiered in Seoul in 1986. Based on the classic Korean folktale, the piece tells the story of a young woman named Shim Chung who volunteers to sacrifice herself to the sea god in a desperate attempt to restore the sight of her blind, impoverished father.

"There are a lot of folktales in China that are also about filial duty," Fang said.

"One of them is the famous story of Hua Mulan, who takes her aged father's place in the army and fights for many years against his enemies. So it wasn't too difficult for me to understand the story of Shim Chung. I think she is a very strong young woman with a great sense of responsibility."

Fang, a graduate of the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy, joined the Universal Ballet in Korea in 2007 ? at the age of 17. She met Brian Yoo, UBC's artistic director, in 2006, while competing in Prix de Lausanne, an international dance competition held annually in Lausanne, Switzerland. He offered her a position as a corps de ballet member at UBC, which she accepted. Her parents weren't fond of the idea of sending their only child overseas, but eventually supported her decision.

"I think the concept of filial duty is rather universal," Fang said, adding that she missed her parents the most when she comes home from a long day of work, and realises there is no one in the apartment. "In China, I learned that children are any parent's first priority, and a child's first duty is to serve his or her parents. I don't think the concept is too different here in Korea."

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