The daughter-in-law of vehement anti-communist South Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon is scheduled to make her debut Friday night in Leningrad with the famed Kirov Ballet company. The performance may represent the most visible effort to date by the Rev. Moon and his Unification Church to use the international dance community to extend his religious and political influence.
Moon's interest in the arts goes back at least two decades, but Friday's scheduled performance by Korean-American Julia Hoon Sook Moon promises to be a major turning point in the artistic and political fortunes of the controversial religious leader, his church and the dancer herself.
Moon, who plans to attend his daughter-in-law's performances on Friday and Sunday, has called the event an "important moment" in his personal quest to improve relations with the Soviet Union.
Moon and the church are taking other steps in this direction:
* Officials of the Unification Church have directed the unheralded career of Julia Moon. They have paid some of the world's top dancers to coach and perform with her since 1984, when she was chosen to marry Moon's dead son, who, according to church doctrine, could not enter heaven unmarried.
* Within months of the marriage, Moon founded the Universal Ballet Company in Seoul, where his daughter-in-law is now principal ballerina.
* Two years ago, Moon and Julia Moon's father, Bo Hi Pak, a longtime friend and top aide to the religious leader, established the Universal Ballet Foundation in Washington. From its complex in Washington, the foundation functions as a kind of central casting office for the Seoul dance company, and there are plans to establish a ballet school.
* Moon and Pak are renovating the Manhattan Center Opera House in New York as a theater for future performances of the Universal Ballet Company.
* And, along with the Universal Ballet in Seoul, Pak and Moon run the Little Angels Children's Folk Ballet, which was also founded by Moon more than 30 years ago. The group began touring the United States in the early 1960s, and Pak used its performances to make contacts with influential Americans such as former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman.
Relatively little is known about the internal operations of Moon's dance interests in Korea, the United States and, now, the Soviet Union. It is also unclear exactly how the various dance pursuits fit within Moon's broader political and religious goals of establishing a worldwide, unified church and state with himself as its spiritual and governmental head.
But a congressional subcommittee that investigated the Korean influence-buying scandal of the mid-1970s concluded that "Moon made it clear that the Little Angels (Children's Folk Ballet) . . . and other seemingly philanthropic projects were, in reality, geared to his ambitious and carefully thought-out plans for winning control and influence over other political and secular institutions."
And now, with Julia Moon and the Kirov, Moon is looking beyond his traditional North American and Asian bases of influence to the newly opening Soviet Bloc.
To announce Julia Moon's debut a group called the World Media Assn. took out a full-page ad in the Dec. 3 New York Times featuring a picture of Moon and a recent question-answer interview that he gave to a Soviet journalist. Moon called the performance a landmark in his daughter-in-law's career and "an important moment in the development of my personal contact with the Soviet Union."
"I want to assure the people of the Soviet Union that Rev. Moon is your friend," he said. "My movement in 130 countries is your friend as well."
Julia Moon, 24, virtually unknown outside a narrow circle within the dance world, is scheduled to make her Kirov debut Friday in "Giselle," which is to ballet what "Hamlet" is to theater. She's unknown to Andris Liepa, the Bolshoi Ballet star who will dance opposite her as a Kirov guest. She's unknown to Kirov artistic director Oleg Vinogradov, who invited her to perform without ever meeting her.
And she's unknown to her husband, already dead when the Rev. Moon performed the marriage ceremony in 1984 with the ballerina and his son, who had been killed at age 17 in a car accident.
Until the announcement of her Kirov debut, few had ever heard the name Julia Hoon Sook Pak Moon--except those who have coached and partnered her. But the dancer--American in speech and manner and reserved to the point of shyness, according to those who have worked with her--has since childhood quietly dedicated herself to the study of ballet.
Julia Moon grew up largely in MacLean, Va., just outside Washington. It is there and in New York that her father oversees affairs of the Unification Church.
She began her ballet training in Korea at the Sun Hwa Art School, then in London at the Royal Ballet School. She went to Monaco to learn from the Russian teacher Marika Besobrasova, then became a company member at the Washington Ballet.
She has been partnered by such internationally known danseurs as Fernando Bujones, Kevin McKenzie, Ross Stretton, the late Patrick Bissell and Gregory Osborne.
Osborne spoke positively about Moon, mentioning "her serene quality." He said that he danced "Giselle" with her and that her "best moments come in the second act."
Julia Moon would not be interviewed, despite repeated requests. But talks with those who have worked and performed with her indicate that five years ago everything in her life and career changed.
"The company was on an Asian tour," recalled Mary Day, who had accepted her into the Washington Ballet two years earlier in 1982. "Hoon Sook received a phone call from Korea, summoning her there for a family emergency . . . to marry Rev. Moon's 17-year-old son . . . who had just been killed in an auto crash.
"We were nonplussed at what happened," said Day, recounting the church tenets as explained to her by the new bride: one must be married to ascend to heaven. "Hoon Sook returned to us briefly, and then left again for Korea."
"Julia is very modest," said Roy Tobias by phone from Seoul, where he serves as Universal Ballet's artistic director, "and lacks confidence in herself. The Kirov invitation, though, is just part of a whole series of exchanges that her father, Dr. Pak, is trying to negotiate now. If all goes as planned, we'll be having members of the Kirov as guest artists in February."
Last summer, according to Pak's spokeswoman Caroline Betancourt, Pak sent a video of his daughter's dancing to Vinogradov when the Kirov played in New York. The Kirov director visited Seoul last October, and the two met for the first time and finalized plans for the Kirov's Korean tour in 1991. Vinogradov also approved Julia Moon's appearance as a guest dancer in Leningrad.
It was in New York last summer that Liepa, Moon's partner-to-be at the Kirov, met Vinogradov. "We discussed my coming to Leningrad," Liepa said by phone from Moscow, where his mother lives. "When he asked if I would like to do 'Giselle' with a Korean ballerina, I agreed."
The blond dancer, son of the late Maris Liepa, is under contract with American Ballet Theatre. He said he still has not met Moon but "was told (by those at ABT who knew her) that she is a very nice person and a beautiful girl."
Skeptical observers in the dance world find the prospect of Julia Moon dancing at the Kirov bizarre, especially in this major role.
"Completely mystifying," said Georgina Parkinson, ABT ballet mistress, who had been hired in 1986 to coach Moon and others at the Universal Ballet Company in Seoul.
"I went there many times and simply cannot imagine how this whole thing came about. Julia is lovely, positively lovely. She's had the benefit of everything money could buy, in the way of training. But I don't think she could ever become a dancer for the world market."
Nor does ballet mistress Gloria Fokine, who was also employed by the small troupe and paid $20,000 for three months' work. "In any major company she would be a member of the corps de ballet," said the Cuban-born niece of choreographer Michel Fokine. "Maybe prima ballerina in (the boondocks of) Vladivostok. Her line is OK, but she doesn't have a strong technique and leaves a lot to be desired in the acting department."
Parkinson, who has also staged "Les Sylphides" in Seoul ("for a very nice fee") is among several others imported from ABT to enhance Universal Ballet. In fact, most of Moon's stellar partners listed in her biography appeared with the Universal Ballet Company. None would reveal fees but Parkinson said that "it takes big bait to go all the way to Korea."
"Most people are agog at the physical beauty (of the Universal Ballet's facility)," Fokine said. "The theater itself is fabulous--a fortune must have gone into it. In fact, the whole complex--which includes several school buildings (for art, music and dance integrated with academics) and lush gardens is quite something. All that white marble, it's dazzling."
Fokine was disturbed, however, by the atmosphere at the Seoul facility--which, to her, reflected the cult nature long ascribed to Moon's Unification Church.
She did not accept further teaching offers in Seoul "because it was just too scary, and I'm talking about a mind-control cult . . . where brainwashing is accomplished through a regimen of little sleep and skimpy diets. Before each performance someone at the loudspeaker calls the company to prayer. They all congregate, hold hands and pray."
Except for the outsiders, Fokine said that most of the teachers are "Moonies."
Moon encourages his followers to call him "Father" and heed his directives "no matter what." Fokine also said that "most of this is kept quiet to the point of denial. They've even taken the Rev. Moon's name out of the program."
The church rejects its reputation as a cult. But currently the Supreme Court is hearing a damages trial against the Unification Church for allegedly having used trickery and brainwashing to recruit two young members.
The church has amassed great wealth through double tithing of its members and enormous profits from its real estate and media holdings--the Pak-overseen News World Communications, a holding company that owns the Washington Times, Noticias del Mundo (which was sold in Los Angeles) and other newspapers. In 1985, the French newspaper Le Monde estimated the church's worldwide annual profits at about $700 million.
The church has a worldwide membership of 2 million to 3 million and a budget estimated by church officials at between $50 million and $100 million in the United States. Church officials say there are 55,000 members in the States.
In 1984, Moon served an 11-month prison sentence in the United States for income tax evasion.
Neither Moon nor Pak was available for comment to The Times.
"I can't seem to locate any of them," said Caroline Betancourt, their public relations officer at Universal Artists Management. And they are elusive through other channels. A secretary in Pak's New York office said she "has worked here for four months without ever seeing or speaking on the phone to him."
One who did comment on the relationship between the church and the dance academy was Jeffrey Benson, spokesman for the Universal Ballet Foundation. He denied any connection. "No church doctrines are taught here," he said. "We are not affiliated. Our only goal is to train dancers for the highest artistic attainment."