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Tiny unicyclists and dancers for North Korea’s founder

Published on April 11, 2018

Eleven tiny unicyclists circled in front of a Pyongyang theatre Wednesday to celebrate North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung.

The five- and six-year-olds — boys in red caps and leotards, with white shirts and tights, and girls in sequinned yellow dresses — confidently rode their cycles round and round, waving the emblem of the April Spring Friendship Art Festival.

The week-long event, the 31st of its kind, is part of the annual commemorations of the anniversary of the birth of the North’s founder Kim Il Sung, who remains the country’s Eternal President despite dying in 1994.

It features concerts, dance performances and acrobatics, and is one of the rituals with which North Korean authorities inculcate and reinforce loyalty to the ruling dynasty.

Small girls in colourful dresses spun and danced, youths waved flags, acrobats leapt and an all-female marching band played as more than 200 foreign performers — mostly from former Soviet bloc states — walked into the venue.

The 106th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15 is “the most auspicious holiday of Korean people and the world’s progressive people”, culture minister Pak Chun Nam told the opening ceremony.

Korea’s people were “advancing towards a brighter future”, he added, “under the wise leadership of Comrade Kim Jong Un”.

The third member of the family to rule the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known, Kim Jong Un has overseen rapid strides in the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The UN Security Council has imposed multiple sets of sanctions as a result.

Pyongyang remains isolated despite a recent and rapid diplomatic rapprochement on the peninsula — a summit between North and South will be held later this month, ahead of planned talks between Kim and US President Donald Trump, and Kim visited Beijing two weeks ago to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

By far the biggest contingent of foreign artists at the festival came from the North’s longstanding backer Russia, followed by Belarus, but there was also a smattering of westerners from France, Spain and Portugal.

A concert by a North Korean orchestra opened with The Song of General Kim Il Sung, with English and Russian subtitles displayed on either side of the stage:

“Who is the partisan whose deeds are unsurpassed / Who is the patriot whose fame shall ever last / So dear to all our hearts is our General’s glorious name / Our own beloved Kim Il Sung of undying fame.”

As his portrait was projected on the backdrop, the audience erupted into applause.

Spanish flamenco dancer Yolanda Gavino, the prima ballerina of a group from Madrid, told AFP her troupe of 10 was “delighted” to be at the festival.

“The treatment is marvellous, we’re very happy and satisfied,” she said.

Asked about performing at a festival in honour of Kim Il Sung, she said, “I don’t know”, adding: “We came after the invitation of the embassy. We’ve been invited this year to take part (in the festival), and we’re delighted to come here from Spain”.