Korea's Park Sae-eun won the first prize at the Prix de Lausanne, a prestigious dance competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sunday. With 18-year-old Park taking the top place at last year's International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, the U.S., she has become the first Korean dancer to win two of the world's four major ballet competitions (Lausanne, Jackson, Varna in Bulgaria and Moscow in Russia).
Park, ranked second among 12 semi-finalists at Lausanne, took the stage in the final round to deliver a powerful performance as Gamzatti from "La Bayadère" and the Peasant from "Giselle."
Lausanne is a prominent stage for the teenage dancer. Park started dancing at the age of 10 after envying a neighbor who was taking dance lessons. Eight years later, she has achieved her dream. "I didn't expect much because I was in bad physical shape," Park said. "I'm really excited now."
Practicing ballet can be very painful, and last month Park was reduced to tears in an exercise room at the School of Dance of the Korean National University of Arts. The severe pain in her pelvis drove Park to seek help from the same clinic where top figure skater Kim Yu-na is receiving physical therapy.
Yet the pain remained unabated right up to the moment Park left for Switzerland. Ahead of the quarterfinals, Park called her mother Choi Hye-young in tears, saying she was racked with pain. With the dancer suffering from the flu, a migraine and her pelvic problem, the organizing committee at Lausanne suggested Park give up. Nevertheless, she demanded to join the competition, took her turn and advanced to the quarterfinals as the last dancer.
Rising to second place among seven boys and five girls in the finals, Park overcame the pain to pull off a tremendous performance. "I was satisfied with my performance of Gamzatti from 'La Bayadère'," she said. "I danced well despite my poor condition." She managed to beat out the top ranked Japanese competitor and win the first prize.
Park's small oval face and graceful, long limbs belie her determined and tenacious character. After graduating from Yewon School in Seoul, she entered Seoul Arts High School in 2005 and took the gold prize at the Dong-a Dance Festival, a first for a first-year high school student. Her trainers and colleagues have praised her commitment and her form, noting particularly her excellent spins and beautiful proportions.
Koreans have a history of sucess at Lausanne. In 1985, Kang Sue-jin became the first Asian prize winner in the Prix de Lausanne, and Kim Yu-jin took the top spot two years ago. With Kim Chae-lee, a 17-year-old from Sunhwa Arts High School taking third, Korea brought home two out of six trophies at the latest competition. "Park has become a star dancer, draw attention from all around the world," said dance critic Jang Kwng-ryul.
Park's mother Choi had previously hoped her daughter would give up dancing and get married by 25, but on Monday she had changed her mind. "I only said that because I felt sorry to know that she was dancing with so much pain," Choi said. "Of course I hope Park will continue pursuing her dream as long as her health allows it."
Choi packed steamed ginseng essence for Park to take to Lausanne, and suffered some sleepless nights praying as Park advanced to each stage. Her efforts paid off on Sunday. On Monday, Park changed a mood indicator on her mini-homepage (http://www.cyworld.com/sesoon89), from "painful" to "happy."