During BUTS on Saturday night (Don Q, to be specific), I thought: I am here tonight, and I am watching this, and the dancers are these dancers who are here tonight.
That’s worth recalling, from time to time, when I angst over why I even have a blog like this. #minorexistentialcrisis
This is another TL;DR post. Don’t know when Age of Innocence will be back in theatres.
I thought I had a picture of costumes, but they had an even worse case of vertigo than the usual shots (the picture leaned to the side as if it’d had too much to drink…just finding an occasion to slip in a tiny bad pun when the spirit strikes).
A website kindly named some of the music involved, which is a godsend. Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, Movements 2, 4 + Poet Acts, then the End Title for Thomas Newman’s Little Children. But I can’t quite hear the pas de deux for Chihiro and Kenya in these. Will have to check.
So happy. Stage bathed in cobalt blue lighting.
The stage is utterly empty at first. But don’t turn your back, because at 0:22 of the music above, the ladies enter the stage. We’re on the BUTS stage, so unlike the theatre performance where they ran out through the black slats of a backdrop used to hide the dancers for Opus 25, the ladies enter from one side and occupy the (audience’s) right side of the stage. The men rush in next, and occupy the left side of the stage.
Tis the women who dance first – for instance: hands horizontal to mask their faces; quick feet; a dart-sharp foot kicking backwards. Their skirts accentuate the gorgeous moves and even the slightest move look elegant and luxurious. The rows of men dance next: gracious, noble – bowing, almost as if doffing hats.
Then the ladies line up on the right side of the stage and the gentlemen on the left: nice to meet you – the curtseys, the bows, the meeting in the middle, which is something similar to what you see above: alternate men and women emerge from the rows to meet the person diagonally across from them, where their hands meet briefly and they make these gentle decorous arabesques before entering the other person’s row, and then, because they do not breach the lines, they cross back to join their original rows. That, I think, is the flurry of music you hear between the 1 and 2 minute mark above. Once each couple has had the chance to meet their partner from the diagonal and return to position, the rows turn to face us, and the dancers take turns to break out of these rows, leaning out on one bended knee, with one arm straight out grabbing at the air. Arithmetic progression. (I hope I’m remembering this at the right part.)
The dancers pair up. There’s a very subtle blink-and-you’ll-miss-it step I love, which is when the men stand behind the women (holding their forearms) and the women, feet already apart in second position, separate their feet a little further with a little jarring hopping movement, then immediately leap up en pointe in second. Like the little hop-slide landing in another work (is it Ma Cong’s Incomparable Beauty?), this sticks out because it’s not the immediate elegant ascent into pointe that we’ve been waiting for.
Little sorties of fluttery arms, ladies leaning out to the side, ladies holding the hands of the gentlemen and swinging a leg back up in arabesque — pairwork when holding hands, rather than supporting waists, looks very different and more difficult since the points of contact are so minimal. Such pairwork has a pretzel look because parties are separated by a greater distance, and twist through a larger distance, so each move looks even larger, like flipping prata in the air. The women, so gloriously feminine and dignified in their long elegant skirts; the men, responsible for lifting them, never faltering.
I’m going to paste this old page from last year’s Age of Innocence so you can see what I call the iconic row with the square arms, as it defies written description on my part. You can also see that there are newcomers for the women: Minegishi Kana, Akira, Suzuki Mai.
Once more, everyone lines up, and decorously bows to one another, foot at the ankle – a perfect little gesture. Everyone lines up, one behind another, taking turns to fall out of line to one side with square arms, re-enter the row and come out from the other side while reaching straight up into the air, then re-enter the row proper – but when everyone is done, the row falls out and starts to queue up as seen above in the iconic diagonal row above. Right after that, they disassemble like jigsaw pieces breaking up, and the men remain in a diagonal while the ladies do low little split jumps and pendulum kicks – a leg kicking up forward (battement?), a leg kicking back up in arabesque, slipping between the men so their backs are to us, lifting a leg in arabesque – slipping back out to face us, and, while leaning out delicately on pointe, lifting a leg in high side arabesque. All so quick, so genteel, so lavishly beautiful, with a great swishing of the soft skirts.
At last we get to some part that I think I wrote about before: folk in pairs, one behind another, and the men stepping out on bended knee in a lunge, to push out the women who drift out, float back in, and then lean against the men while being held by their arm (underarm?). A pretty pattern unfolding like the seams of a fan; though it always makes me feel as if the women are, in a way, dependent on, and beholden to, the men. (I think we listen to 4:24 to 4:49, not sure.)
That brings us to a minor waltz section — the ladies clinging to the men and remaining static, while the men turn 360 degrees and the ladies’ feet drag along the ground. — after which the couples separate and the men and women are back to the groupings they were at the very start, the gulf between them opens again. This is the land of the warrior women I mentioned before: two rows of women, where each lady moves in a sort of ellipse relative to the lady in front or behind her, so that the rows appear to be shifting; one arm wickedly high and sharp, the other out to the side – one thinks of cellos and strings. Class, poise. May Yen Cheah always stands out in this part, fearless and strong. (Listen to, I think, 4:51.)
The men bow to the women, in such a courtly fashion, and they hold their arms open to the women. The rows meet again – great lifts to the sky, and down again, and the briefest of embraces, after which they separate, the men with their arms raised.
Here’s the next piece of music, I think: Philip Glass’ Poet Acts. Listen to it – it does have these broad sweeping notes that sound positive rather than miserable (compared to the music for Nazer’s and Li Jie’s pas de deux, which sounds positively miserable).
Chihiro enters from the (audience’s) left, and Kenya from the right, slowly, deliberately. Ah, they do their slow, careful stretching moves. At some point, Chihiro floats daintily downstage towards the audience, on her toes, straight as an arrow (I think it’s only in the closing that she repeats this move with flickering arms). Lithe, delicate dancing.
In case it wasn’t clear from the earlier review, Kenya has become a really very strong contemporary dancer, who is absolutely in a class of his own. In contemporary, he has essentially become what he is in classical, by drawing on his strengths in classical and funnelling a spirit and energy into his contemporary dancing. This is no mean feat – we are talking not just about technique, but also dancing.
And partnering. Theirs is, I suppose, the story about the arranged marriage that becomes a strong, loving relationship (based on something heard at One @ The Ballet). There’s the trust and reliance (and gorgeous choreography) in Chihiro lying on Kenya’s bent back, stretching out one leg parallel to the ground, then rolling back across his back to land on the ground; or when she clutches his waist sideways as she lies on his back, her legs tucked up to her chest – or that terrifyingly beautiful and heart-stopping moment where she runs to him and he catches her in a split-second and seats her on his shoulder.
But there are also the other subtle moments – when she touches his arm lightly, as if to speak to him; and when, she is desolate in a corner, he draws her arm and then her hand close to him, as if to envelope her in his love for her.
At the end, they part ways, but there seems to be a renewed bond and understanding between them.
Here’s the next piece of music. A longtime crowd favourite in the theatre, this part naturally blows the audience away. The male quartet led by (I think) Kensuke leaping in and spinning and sliding to a stop, arms raised in a triumphant V. The others are Etienne Ferrere, Huo Liang and Shan Del Vecchio.
The men take turns coming out in pairs to the frenetic beat, propelled by pure adrenaline: Huo Liang and Etienne Ferrere in rigorous pairwork; then when the stage empties, Kensuke launches himself into a triple or so pirouette in the air (perhaps this is from 1:13?), followed by Shan Del Vecchio in the same, their form elongated by a hand raised high above the head. Kensuke and Shan carry out the majority of the impossible spins in the air, while Huo Liang’s and Etienne Ferrere’s portion seems to contain the fast-paced, high jumps and the seemingly endless pirouettes on land. One impressive pirouette I do like, which is performed by all 4 in rapid succession, involving spinning round and round and ending with a hand on the knee of a bent leg that’s raised to waist-height – which looks strong, dramatic, and quite masculine, and could have been the intended effect.
The quartet is always extremely popular with the audience, as it is a sort of breath of fresh air after the intensely formal first section and the delicate pas de deux to the strains of string instruments.
The next pas de deux starts in a different way from the usual: 4 to 5 women, and stand at the corners of an invisible square, with Li Jie in the middle. There’s minimal dancing – they are the introduction, and as Li Jie retreats out of the square, the ladies leave, as well; and Nazer enters the picture.
The 2016 version might have appeared to be about a couple who seemed to love each other and yet in a troubled, tense relationship – the lady seemed to be desperately longing to get away or seemed to coldly reject the gentleman at times, while the gentleman appeared mildly overbearing or controlling, or crushing her with the weight of his love.
In this version, interestingly, this is a couple that is that is deeply passionate about each other — or two people who think they want to be together, but whose relationship is fractured and fraught beneath the surface. I don’t have the music for it, but in the “Videos” section of Singapore Dance Theatre’s facebook page, there’s an 11 May 2013 video that opens with Serenade and closes with Chen Peng’s and Rosa Park’s version of this dance, and you can hear the music — heavy with a sort of agony. You can see how Rosa lifts her eyes to the heavens as she is enveloped in Chen Peng’s embrace before he takes her leg and whips her head-over-heels, light as a feather, and seats her onto his back.
You know what–here’s the video I put in the earlier post – please listen from 2:38.
Are not the couple played by Nazer and Li Jie in love? Not in their glances, but in their exertions – he holds her and swings her out so her legs sweep in an arc across the ground; he lifts her slightly so she can swing her legs out into long elegant splits – simulations of skirts; she leans on him for demure arabesques; he lifts her high in the air while she throws her arms up, one leg lifted in passe (toe at knee). Even when they are apart, she goes to him and leans against his back, holding onto his arms — I do so love you, don’t I. Incredibly, she drapes herself over his shoulder and he carries her on his shoulder without holding on to her. Gorgeous shapes from Nazer and Li Jie — the façade of the relationship.
Ah, in sweep the ladies who are on the men’s shoulder blades, arms out as if bearing a cross, and holding up their flowing skirts in their hands, while the men hold their wrists. Giant beautiful creatures who remind me of the ladies with candles on their heads for Saint Lucy’s Day, and also of giant puppets being steered about the stage. May Yen Cheah paired with Miura Takeaki, Nanase with Kenya, Elaine with Kensuke, and Suzuki Mai with Jason Carter. This dance makes one enraptured and forget the choreography, other than that everything is fabulous and heart-stoppingly beautiful. Sweeping skirts when the ladies are lifted in the air, or when their arabesques are at their highest; pretzel turns made while holding hands.
All this while, Li Jie and Nazer are marching up and down the sides of the stage, alternately clutching their elbows and holding up their bent arms to form a rectangular frame. So at least they remain in the picture, doing something, but they’re not distracting us from the main action.
When the four couples exit, Li Jie and Nazer throw themselves back into the heart of the passionate, yet ultimately empty, relationship. Eventually, Li Jie retreats to a corner while Nazer has his solo in the bright white light, but even so, she returns to him and throws herself at him lightly, and he catches her and instead of holding her in an embrace or lifting her into a grand flying pose, he holds her up while her body is curled back in agony, like a crab claw. That is not exactly the emblem of happiness…But there they are, together again, kneeling on the ground facing each other, unhappily tracing patterns on the ground with their hands – this is what they think love looks like, and they’re tied together in this, right to the very end, where he throws her up, and she twists in the air and he catches her and she lies, draped back over his arm.
The audience rather liked this, as they had in 2016. It’s easy to see why: it’s an intense and visually-arresting pas de deux: the one-hand support for a long side arabesque; the arched, leaning body with hands clasped above; the delightful curled crab-claw lift; the fiendishly difficult portion where he takes her leg and hauls her onto his back (she, too, pushing off the ground with all her might) before he grabs her by the waist to swing her down; the endless turns he does during a moment away from her while she retreats and remains distant and cold in a corner – one of those moments in the pas de deux when it’s clear that they’re falling apart on the inside.
Goosebumps! So much passion and effort, and yet the fireworks have gone cold (cribbing a little from a Jay Chou song title).
Li Jie and Nazer have worked long and hard on their partnering over these few years, and the effort shows.
Here’s the music for the last segment. I can’t find a version with a different preview picture, because it’s from a movie. Peach and golden tones for stage lights. I love the music. So striking, so bright, like a choir of bells on a clear breeze. It lightens the mood, and eases and settles the spirit, especially after the earlier pas de deux.
I think this is where different ladies enter, one at a time, to dance. I’ve random memories of Suzuki Mai with the pendulum pirouette, where the leg swings forward and back while one turns; May Yen Cheah (I think) with a triple pirouette and a raised side pirouette; Elaine Heng as a violin and her arm a bow (is this when they are in a square and someone is dancing in the middle – or does that come later? I also recall the women with their arms about each other ala one of the Acts of Serenade, as they sweep across the stage.
Enter Chihiro! Tinkerbell floating in delicately on light toes, triumphant and joyous, with wispy wing-arms and fluttering fingertips. Enter Kenya! And at 1:28, Chihiro goes to the side to balance en pointe in a treacherously difficult lunge, while Kenya works his way through seemingly-endless pirouettes before making his way back to Chihiro to support her, which harks back to their pas de deux.
2:01 brings us to the entry of the couples. Decidedly more light-hearted than the rigorously formal opening sequence. The men dance in a stately fashion while the ladies, in their long skirts, do little pretty turns on their side. Eventually, everyone’s now paired off nicely. There’s this interesting moveI likr, that’s repeated later when the couples return, wherein the ladies are on one side of the gentlemen and then, holding on to the men’s hands/shoulders, swing round to the other side of the gentlemen, feet snapping together in the air. It’s just right in the middle of a series of rapid steps and turns and poses, but it’s at just the right point in the music.
When the couples disappear, we’re left with Li Jie and Nazer: Li Jie dancing with soft arms, and Nazer at 3:03 being left to perform his solo, consisting of tons of leaps and marvellous pirouettes while Li Jie remains motionless at the back. When they’re dancing together again, he lifts her slightly so she can do the little cycling motions in the air with her legs while he travels across the stage, and quick pirouettes, and the scorpion lift (where the lady is on her stomach and her back is curved and her legs are raised). It’s like a miniature repeat of the intense pas de deux from before, a little echo of it.
When everyone else returns to the stage, it’s for a quick rousing piece again, with little unique moments: ladies in a side plank until their gentlemen approach; the swing mentioned above; each man holding a lady’s hand and supporting her by the back as she does a great flying split in the air from his left to his right. And there’s the magic inward turn: wherein there’s a large space between the torsos as a result of how the ladies’ arms are being held by the men, so the ladies, one foot raised, rotate on their toe and curve their bodies between the large space between torsos, and do a sort of bent turn inwards, into that space. Something similar can be seen in Opus 25.
At 5:24, the music slows to modulated bells, and twilight falls over the couples. The women curtsey to their partners, and the men bow. The ladies bend their knees, and the men brush their hands over the ladies’ heads and before their faces, as if lowering a bridal veil; and the couples join hands and turn their backs to us, walking slowly towards the backdrop, into the sunset together, forever.
A gentle, touching moment that brings a lump to the throat and tears to the eyes, somehow.
A fitting end to an intense, richly-layered piece.
For other details/ comparison, here’s the review of the 2016 version:
If you’ve watched the earlier version(s), you’ll realise that some very tiny modifications were made at times, and probably approved by the choreographer, who was in town earlier to bring in 13th Heaven for Masterpiece in Motion. The modifications didn’t take anything away from the piece (I only recognised about 2 differences).
This is always the middle piece in an evening’s triple bill, and rightfully so.