R & J and reflections

In case anyone missed it in the Stuttgart post below, yes – I do hope to see R&J by Goh Choo San again. Here’s that video again, simply because it is so gorgeous. Such an elegant way to use up all that beautiful music.

There are other videos of SDT online. Some are official. I like seeing all, so I make little mention of the videos. They are all quite interesting. I won’t hold my breath for R&J being staged next year, but listen to that music and fall in love with the dancing — it all makes the heart sit in the throat, weeping.

I’ve spent more time than I should have, smothering the sentimental parts of me, believing it gives me a hide of a walnut (though I do like Nutcracker.. hmm). My daily life prefers pragmatism. But when I watch ballet (classical, neoclassical, contemporary), and when I listen to all that yearning music that I can enjoy since I don’t dance for a living, the sentimental side of me wakes up. Sometimes I see old videos and I think: do you know, I think I was a little bit in love with all that brilliance…I like to think that when I hear a piece of music in future, I’ll remember different versions. When all’s said and done, I remember, for instance, the 2 Princes Siegfried not wanting to dance with the 6 princesses (Maughan Jemesen, Xu Lei Ting, Beatrice, Kwok Min Yi, Marina, Akira).

On a totally different note…when I yarn on at length about someone’s dancing, sometimes it’s just that since I can’t always tell what is “good”, I also look at what speaks to me, or what stands out. Sometimes it’s odd if a dancer is supposed to be quite good but you can’t see a sort of style stand out – they just look like they are dancing correctly, accurately.

Conversely, I know folk who say, “Oh yes, she’s graceful, but she leaves me cold” – to which I always say indignantly, “Nooo… that amount of grace, that fabulous dancing, makes me feel something inside.” It stirs me because I can feel the music flowing through the dancers.

Yet I am aware that the acting element, the part that expands the character of the role that one is dancing, beyond just the dancing part and into the expressiveness — this is ultimately one of the linchpins on which everything turns. The major classical ballets seem to often be an exercise in acting. It’s that acting element (that great drama, pushing oneself out of one’s skin and into the character’s shoes) that ultimately melts, and wins, hearts.

That’s that, then — feeling something inside.

This video below – sometimes I go back and watch it, because it reminds me of that feeling when I totally, completely lost my heart. Watch Winds of Zephyrus — that’s exactly why I keep thinking about it. Watching Winds of Zephyrus repeatedly over the course of a number of One @ The Ballets made me really enjoy and appreciate it more with each viewing. Look at Nanase in the last piece, Chant — she’s not a First or Principal, but she was carrying this solo entirely, and this was in 2014. Before this, I never knew that solos could be danced by persons other than major leads, and that’s still part of why I enjoy watching the neoclassical and contemporary works. I was utterly sold. Actually, this video was filmed at one of the first One @ The Ballets I went to. If you wonder why I’m being so maudlin, it’s because Reasons I decided to delete an earlier paragraph on Passages being held at SOTA and alluding to the big, dark trees that you can see when you visit SOTA’s open-side toilets, and that entire area, and decided to talk about more cheerful matters to exorcise such thoughts 😦.

And now that I have stated Reasons, let’s go watch this video 🙂 What’s funny is that I keep remembering the girls leaping like dolphins in a circle, and I don’t think it’s in this video. Look at the ladies exiting at the start of Chant. Enchanting.

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Stuttgart Ballet – Romeo & Juliet, 2017 – includes spoilers and comparison with Goh Choo San’s R&J

Yes, spoilers, because Stuttgart is just so far away. Looking at the cast, I was deeply appreciative of the fact that Stuttgart Ballet flew out its names to dance here, and so many (all?) of their company, who filled the stage with colour and theatre.

The above is partly meant to avoid bombing people with an expletive right at the start.

 

“They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” – Philip Larkin, “This be the Verse”

This is essentially what you get out of the crypt scene (and hence it is the entire crux of the ballet), when Paris kneels sobbing and later lies dead on the ground, while Juliet lies in a false-death slumber, and Romeo enters to mourn her. (Yes, Paris appeared rather uppity and arrogant and he seemed to believe he was entitled to the hand of Juliet. But unlike Tybalt, he did not appear to treat her as property. He was just a typical man of the Capulet empire, brought up to believe he should embody their values, and that he would rightfully marry whoever seemed correctly Capulet, and have little Capulet children and do right by them, et cetera. Stiff upper lip, and et cetera. We will come to that later.)

A man of emotion, John Cranko appears to be, and his works therefore are filled to the hilt with dramatic action — and dramatic dancing, as seen in Onegin, where he was utterly inspired and brewed a long potent potion for each pas de deux; where the balls were solid works fit for royalty.

This is a Shakespearean work and it has more theatre to it; “pantomime”, said a friend, slightly disappointed, “was that acrobatics?” (Interestingly, Rosa Park mentioned once that John Cranko brings in an “eclectic range of dance forms” into his works, including acrobatics.)

What this R&J does, as a result of the theatre-work (I do not mean to say theatrics), is to be extremely thorough in its depiction of the Montagues and Capulets, and of life in Verona. From the first act right through to the funeral scene, you know immediately that there is a depth of history backing up the story – a long and deep well of understanding of how the city is built, and how it functions.

a) There is actual fighting between the Lords Montague and Capulet, with heavy broadswords; there is an actual dead body on either side (though, due to the light from the orchestral pit, you can see the dead Montague peel himself off the table when the scene changes). Sword-fighting, fruit flying; to our left, the Montagues in scarlet, and to our right, the Capulets in blue. Now we understand why, early in the opening, there was a spat between a Montague gypsy girl in red and a short-haired Capulet lady in blue skirts.

b) How the fighting stops: we have the riot police, folk in black armour. Then a tall, imposing man in sober black enters. Is he the lord of the city? No, he’s just the chap at the front of a procession who announces the Duke of Verona’s presence! More armoured people enter, carrying in the frail Duke of Verona on his chair. Louis Steins is an excellent actor. He was Mercutio on another night – I wonder what that was like. Here, he plays both an exceedingly frail Duke leaning heavily on his stick, and the very young and inexperienced Friar Laurence, who comes up with a hare-brained scheme.

c) The funeral scene, where the stage is all black and you only see, very slowly, candles in procession – singles, clusters, held by figures entirely in black.

I don’t count the Montague festival in this because it’s a bit — Bottom the Weaver-ish — Midsummer Night’s. Meaning that you can also sit down and imagine it from the Midsummer Night’s Dream text or a Globe Theatre version. It’s the heavy stuff that carries the weight; that makes you feel that the choreographer had, at the back of his mind, a long, haunting, bloodstained history.

 

Back to being thorough. When the Capulets throw a ball, everyone meets outside in their scarlet wrappers. The ladies lean backwards and stretch out their arms, hands pinching up their skirts. I suppose this is to show they are very proper and regal. They count their numbers and pair up before they go in. We are introduced to Paris when the ladies surround him the moment he appears, i.e. he is hot property. He leads everyone in. This was a long and slightly cryptic scene to me as the backdrop was all grey and dim (the outside of the Capulet mansion – must all line up before entering, very properly) – but it helped explain the subsequent scene, where Juliet runs out during the ball (yes, we’re not being chronological here) to meet her Romeo and we see them dancing outside…

I’m going to skip talking about Romeo and Juliet until later, and continue with the Capulets. (Chronology? What is that?) R&J dance sensuously outside the hall when she escapes from the rigours of her Capulet duties. If you look past the couple and through the doors of the dance hall, you can see the Capulets dancing very properly–rows upon rows. You can compare R&J with Paris’ little dance with Juliet: when she extends her leg forward parallel to the ground (no higher!), he extends his in an arabesque. So genteel. So aristocratic. So Pleasantville in black-and-white. But the dancing between R&J is all lifts and splits over arms, and endless giggling, and high arabesques kicked up. The audience is engaged because it gets 3 very different pas de deux (the first love, the balcony scene, and the angsty I-killed-your-brother one).

The R&J pas de deux is much more like the Montague dancing, the gypsy trio with their gentlemen. Rocio Aleman’s spirited vivacious gypsy was quite eye-catching, and a friend liked Morita Ami’s dancing (which was very neat and clear).

Yes, anyway – that takes us to the Montagues, who are less stick-up-their-wherevers, and more footloose and fancy-free. They revel in revelry, and wear animal masks and have dancers dressed as clowns (carnival dancers in white face-paint, and colourful striped tights). Noan Alves is a fabulous lead carnival dancer. In one fascinating scene, he is upside down on his crown (literally, as he wears a crown) with his legs in splits, hands supporting his lower back, while dancers turn his legs round and about.

The Montagues are so relaxed about life that Lord and Lady Montague don’t reappear after the first scene. And even in that scene, they are more chill about shaking hands with the Capulets – or at least, the Capulets are more hoity-toity and show their evident disregard for the Capulets. The Montagues’ reaction to everything seems to be lol, whut – including their response to the presence of their enemies, until all turns sinister.

 

It is in the building of the story that we see how very 周到 (zhou dao, or thoughtful, Google translate says – usually meant for details, etc) and thorough John Cranko is about the story. John Cranko is a master story-teller in this respect. I really do mean 周到 (zhou dao) and not 细心 (xi xin, which Google says means careful), though those are often used together (细心周到). He does not just give you the where, why, how, but also the wherefore and wheretofore.

Why would Friar Laurence come up with such a bad idea as to bring out the 24-hour youth serum poison for Juliet? Because he is a young and unworldly monk, a philosopher about life and death, who is not very in-touch with real life. We first see him on the grounds of his monastery (?), pondering a skull (death) in his left hand and a spray of flowers (life) in his right hand, then bringing them together and comparing them. He does not question, and he views his role as dispensing advice and providing safe harbour for young lovers (What is more pure than young love, etc). In a comical scene, he stops Romeo from dashing into the building after Juliet because he must first make the sign of the cross over Romeo and bless this rash youth. When Juliet runs to him for help and confesses to him (in a very gloriously unorthodox dance move where he stretches out his arms to form the arms of a cross and proceeds across the stage while she, lifted by wrapping her arms about one arm and .. kneeling on one of his bent thighs?… raises her clasped hands in prayer), it is not only she who has to bear a burden, but he too, as a man of the Word who must face his dilemma (which he gets over real fast) and offer her a (poisonous) solution, pun intended.

And you’re like – dude, you’re the problem here.

But is he? In the last Act, we see Juliet lying prone on her bed, and we think: if Romeo had not left her after sunrise, after confessing that he had killed her brother — if Romeo had not borne the guilt and then decided to run away, leaving her panicked and confused — ! Or, we remember her father refusing to listen when she begged him not to force her to marry Paris; we remember her mother (who, just yesterday, was almost driven mad by the death of her beloved Tybalt, to whom she clung protectively in Act 1 while a truce was being called; who, just yesterday, in a brilliant piece of staging, rent her clothes to reveal white mourning colours below, and climbed onto her firstborn’s stretcher to be borne away with him), now gloriously pleased that her daughter will remain the jewel of the crown, their collective pride and joy, by being married off, like another possession, to the Paris collection (minor pun intended).

We want to blame them (they do this, your parents)…

…and then we think of Tybalt and how he killed Mercutio and hence how Romeo lost his head (Romeo’s own fault) and killed Tybalt and with that same hand, destroyed their happiness; we see that the tipping point was when Tybalt entered the picture…

…or was it? Did not the feud begin a long time ago? It was nobody’s fault but that of two warring families’, that the entire next generation, a bunch of healthy, mostly-jolly youth, lie dead at the end of the story: Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo, Juliet.

What a plague.

This is an entire play, and the masterful handiwork of the choreographer and director and person who staged it (stage-master??) ensures that you see it fleshed out before you, this tragedy in slow motion that you cannot stop. It is the tragedy that you are invited to witness, and to understand – a tragedy that touches not only the leading couple, but also everyone else around them.

 

Now we get to talk about the characters. Romeo is the magnificent Jason Reilly, who (with his Juliet) remains sober through curtain call until he gives his bouquet to his Juliet. Never a stutter or a whimper: he is Romeo the reckless, feckless, amorous Lothario throwing pebbles at a Capulet lady’s window until he receives her fan, which wins him entry to the ball; the man who flirts with his gypsy lady friends and the Capulet ladies, chatting one up almost all through the first half of Juliet’s polite pas de deux with Paris and nearly changing the plot of the story, until he is unlucky enough to look up. Yet he is also Romeo, the man who finds himself falling in love with the lovely Juliet, a girl unlike the rest of the rabble-rousing Montagues and stiff-backed Capulets he knows — a girl who makes him question his own ways and wonder, in the middle of the balcony scene (a subversion of the Prince in Swan Lake wondering if this is really Odette), if he is really the right man for her. Should he be doing this, he who is not worthy of this innocent light of his life, et cetera?

Romeo, the love struck and lovelorn, who manages to swear off hanging too close to his female friends, who chooses to sit in a corner, nibbling his thumbnail and ignoring his friends. Romeo, in a great anguish and agony, wishing to cast off Juliet in all his guilt, while Juliet clings to him and they dance their final pas de deux together, where they suffer together over the horrible truth that could well tear them apart, yet can hardly bear to be separated. Yes, the story goes into that entire portion in detail through dance. Well, I expect that’s what is happening, because they are extremely distressed and he keeps trying to leave her.

Here’s some background on Jason Reilly, from the website: “Furthermore he has danced with internationally renowned female dancers like Alessandra Ferri, Evelyn Hart and Greta Hodgkinson. In the new production of A Streetcar named Desire (John Neumeier) in 2004 he danced the role of Stanley Kowalsky together with Alessandra Ferri. When Canadian star ballerina Evelyn Hart retired from her 30-year-long career and wished to dance the part of Juliet for one last time in April 2004, she asked Jason Reilly to be her Romeo. She also chose him as her dancing partner when she bid farewell to the stage in 2006.

Kang Hyo-Jung is a most enchanting, charming, delightful Juliet. The booklet says that she was promoted to principal after her debut as Juliet, and you can see why. Delightfully, gorgeously expressive.

Juliet’s still a girl, isn’t she – she leaps onto her nursemaid’s back while kicking her legs back excitedly – and she can barely contain her excitement when her mother enters, concealing a gift behind her back – and she doesn’t quite curtsey well enough for her mother’s satisfaction, so her mother pushes her affectionate hug aside and makes her repeat the curtsey –which encapsulates the Capulet spirit (stick up the).

But oh, she’s also a lady, and she will be the lady of the house, and she knows it. When Juliet’s nursemaid reaches for the dress to stop her from spoiling it by twirling its glorious shimmery golden cape about, she whips around as if to say: don’t touch it – don’t spoil it, and the nursemaid knows her place.

She is also the obedient daughter of the house, and hence she agrees to dance with Paris – it is so far away, this thing called marriage, and she will step into it as her right and duty. She knows very little about it, and so she will go with her parents’ desire. But they do love her, though they cannot bring themselves to say it (in the Capulet spirit) – her mother may lovingly regard her beautiful daughter and cup her hand about her face, but she will never express what she is thinking to Juliet, who asks her what she is thinking.

And it is her parents’ love that dictates that she must marry Paris, as that is the Right Thing to do.

You are taken by the hand through the cycle of Juliet’s life, and you can see why she behaves the way she does. Romeo is true love, an emotion that she has never been exposed to, or felt, in such high colour (and also true lust, more on that later) – and Paris, staid and proud, proper and aristocratic even in romance, is all that she now rejects, even if he is absolutely certain that he wants to stand by her forever and he ignores all the other ladies and he remains entirely true to her because he really doesn’t have much else to do here.

Kang Hyo-Jung is brilliant – we can see how Juliet’s innocent love and desire is warped to mad despair in the face of her unmoving, unmoved parents, and we are well-acquainted with how harsh real life is in Verona: she will have nowhere to go, for her husband has deserted her, and her parents will not listen, and now that she has tasted and lost true love, she cannot bear the thought of being tied to an illusion for the rest of her life (just watch how bored she gets dancing with Paris outside the dance hall – it’s hilarious – and she darts away from him as quickly as she can).

Juliet shrinks back from drinking the potion – and when she opens the bottle, you can almost see the cartoon-style skull floating out because she recoils so, from its odour. Yes, she rejects it not because it is a dreadful thing to pretend to be dead, but because it stinks. At last, after going through the 5 stages, she gets right back to denial (the part where you laugh and think it is fine) and then she drinks the potion and oh! you can see from how she claps her hands to her mouth and throat and from her wide, staring eyes, that it tastes like hell.

We can talk about the dances later. We have to talk about Mercutio, you see. We’ve not spoken of him – of how Adhonay Soares da Silva’s Mercutio won the hearts of the audience. Yes, there are the technical feats, a sequence of never ending pirouettes on an extended leg while occasionally posing with his chin on his fist and his elbow on his leg at the end of each pirouette. But it’s that infectious Harlequin smile and quirky cheerful dancing that win the heart. He is like one of those young dancers they talk about, and he rose to soloist very quickly, just two years after graduation. You can find his Prix de Lausanne 2013 video on youtube. Interestingly, you can also find a Prix de Lausanne 2013 video for Cesar Corrales, who brought the house down as Ali in ENB’s Le Corsaire, and whose dancing style is as charismatic as it is memorable.

You can also see a lovely video of Juliet dancing in 2002’s Prix de Lausanne.

Paris. Romeo Paris must die, as we all know, and everything in R&J leads us up to his moment in the crypt, sobbing by Juliet’s dead body, shoulders heaving; his youthful anger at Romeo breaking into this place of mourning – the ruthless, heartless Montague who killed Tybalt, the young lord of the Capulet empire. But Paris is dispatched with quickly, and Romeo realizes his blade has drawn blood again, and he is all the less worthy of Juliet than he thought himself to be in the balcony scene, and he is seized with despair. (At last, and at least, in death Romeo shall find absolution for all that he has done in the short space of a few days.)

Back to Paris – he dies, to the shock of the audience, because his death scene was comparatively short — everyone else took their time about it. A PG-13 (parental guidance with children aged 13 and below?) stab to the left side of the abdomen means death in this world, kids. Further, he dies with his eyes open (死不瞑目 – si bu ming mu), which shows you how 冤枉 (yuen wang) his death is.冤枉 (yuen wang) is supposed to mean “wronged”, according to google; it’s that feeling of emo angst TV characters get when they are wrongly accused of a crime and dragged off to be beheaded – they always shout that phrase. “Wronged” is polite hand-wringing compared to 冤枉, which involves breast-beating and .. dying with eyes open. We know this only because Juliet takes the time to shut his eyes for him out of pity, and we do feel pity for him, too, because he was caught in the cross-fire of misunderstandings.

Paris is Alexander Mc Gowan, who can actually be found on youtube doing dubstep dancing and other interestingly-edited videos (as KickinItGermanStyle). You can also watch Alicia Amatriain and Friedemann Vogel on youtube – she, a winsome light-footed Juliet and he, a youthful, energetic Romeo. They performed on the first night of R&J in Singapore, I think. And there’s Elisa Badenes Vazquez from Prix de Lausanne 2008 on youtube as well.

I digress.

Tybalt is Matteo Crockard-Villa, a Tybalt who is quite fond of his sister, but also seems to view her as another badge for the Capulets. A bit of a bully, and mostly bad temper that runs down to the point of his sword. He is sufficiently villainous that the audience on the 2nd floor applauded when he died(!)…

Lady Capulet is the last we must speak of – we’ve described her above, and Melinda Witham plays her magnificently. She must love her children – we are quite sure of that – but she has to hold in her towering grief and put a brave face on it all – until it all cracks when Juliet dies – no, not my other child as well – and she cradles Juliet. It’s a wonder of the storytelling that you don’t think too hard about whether anyone has been selfish. You can see perfectly clearly what being a Capulet has made Lady Capulet into, and how everyone’s choices have been shaped by the unflinching hand of circumstance and by their own human perspectives.

 

Yes, folks, so where does that take us now? Into comparison land! When the curtains parted for Stuttgart’s Romeo and Juliet, I was rather excited to see the playful dancing of the Montague fellows – leaping towards each other with legs tucked under, knocking shoulders together. Unorthodox, unconventional dancing for a classical work.

In the tragic last pas de deux, for instance, Romeo’s arms are outstretched upwards, as if pleading for forgiveness, while Juliet leans against him, arms trailing back gracefully, in great agony and angst, and Romeo bears her weight against him as he moves backwards. Is it not glorious?

What’s interesting is the use of music. A couple of Montague festival scenes include, and make full use of, strummy mandolin tunes. Think those were cut from the Singapore version.

There is also the music used for atmosphere, and for dramatic story-telling. The greatest and most obvious case in point is actually in the Balcony Scene, though we see it with the Montagues and the Capulets (Dance of the Knights). By this, I mean the contrast is greatest here.

Goh Choo San’s Romeo and Juliet is not a tale of Verona so much as it is a tale of two very young, star-crossed lovers. Romeo is not a Lothario, but a romantic youth first seen plucking petals from a flower or bearing a rose, I forget which – a boy in need of cheering up by the irrepressible Mercutio (Timothy Coleman) and Benvolio. His love with Juliet is a sweet teenage romance, and the tragedy is in the terrifying contrast with the absolute nightmare of friends dying, of murder, of life extinguished, and of Fate, that cryptic creature that winds the story together and answers the wheretofores and why where hows in SDT’s R&J.

The music below, in the SG version, takes us to a low balcony at twilight, for a simple meeting between two hearts that are irresistibly drawn to each other.

This is Juliet in full delicate bloom, and love in blossom, though the dark is rising. The music draws us to Juliet and her full heart. 2:02 takes us into the couple’s delicate unfolding love for each other. 2:08 to 2:19 – the music deepens, sweeps us away with its slightly melancholic, wistful notes, and we are carried away to 2:40 – the music alternately sweetly reminding us of their love and yet also of the tragic end that they are quietly, inexorably being ferried towards because of their unstoppable love. I can see Chihiro’s exquisite Juliet and Kenya’s earnest, eager Romeo, how he sweeps her along, an arm about her, the legs that press together, the volumes of dancing and choreography against the strains of the violins. I can (with my bad memory) see Rosa Park’s girlish Juliet, full of light and life; and (even without my bad memory) Chen Peng’s unforgettably emo!Romeo, drenched in his youthful adoration of Juliet, declaring his boundless love for her.

I don’t remember when in the music all this is, but here’s a clip of the advert from 2014, using clips from 2011. You can see Chen Peng and Rosa, and stills of dancers: Chihiro and William Wu Mi (in an embrace as Juliet mourns Romeo’s death); at 0:46, of Rosa Park with Heidi Zolker, Xu Lei Ting, and another dancer, as someone who looks like a young Nakamura Kenya watches from the background as a Capulet (as Rosa is Juliet, you can see Paris aka William Wu Mi, in the background as well).

You can feel Juliet’s joy and hope from 4:41 of the music above, and that gorgeous heartbreaking moment from 4:57 to 5:05, to 5:12. Mere seconds in music, and so stirring. The choreography is music made alive to the mind.

2:08 to 2:19 above, in the Stuttgart version, consists of Juliet on the balcony, finding Romeo and going down towards him. There isn’t any dancing at this part yet, I think. Their pas de deux involves Juliet in absolute ecstasy, lifted on his shoulder, literally swept away and on top of the world, while Romeo, punch-drunk on being in love for the first time, slowly comes to realise that this has never really been a fling and he doesn’t want it to be one – it is the real deal for him, and he is as intent on proving his love for Juliet as he is caught up in their entire romance, until he ends up being about as swept away as Juliet. It’s a more passionate romance, one for which he willingly and eagerly flees to the altar with Juliet for, to be unequivocably her man forever and a day.

Both interpretations are interesting, but I think Goh Choo San basically used the music for the dancing rather than the atmosphere. He took each lyric of the music and whipped something out of it, so that fragments, fleeting visions of the dancers, remain etched in my mind. Well, that’s also because the dancers left their stamp on it.

John Cranko took the entire soundtrack and then fashioned a story out of it, and with it.

Right, here we have the Dance of the Knights. Tellingly, in the Stuttgart version, the men dance first, in columns, then 3 Capulets (lead Lady and 2 others) enter to dance with them, and at last, the other ladies come in. There is minimal full-out dancing, and everyone dances in rows, proud and regal, and ladies moving around their partners, through columns of men. The interlude (the one that builds up to a minor repeat of the main theme) involves, I think, the 3 masked Montague guests / interlopers sliding into the crowd. At the very end, the men kneel and press their faces to the women’s hands, an oath of allegiance.

The Goh Choo San version has the Capulets, men and women equally matched, hand-in-hand, as an imposing group, waltzing in sideways, imperiously. They are a fierce family, their warring nature brought out in their bold dancing. Some of the disappointment from my friend was that there was minimal dancing in the Stuttgart version whenever the Capulets emerged as a group.

You know what? I discovered a video online of the SDT version, so I can save my breath. HURRAY. You can also see Chihiro with Kenya in Juliet’s Theme. This was for a press conference (you can hear the shutters clicking). So sweet and heartbreaking.

In case you’ve ever wondered what everyone looks like dancing. The glorious 1:05 is where they start the incredible sideways waltz: Lord and Lady Capulet played by Mohamed Noor Sarman (SDT ballet master) with May Yen Cheah; Zhao Jun as Tybalt and his partner played by Nanase; Maughan Jemesen and Kensuke; Lewis Gardner and Chua Bi Ru, Kwok Min Yi and Jake Burden; Jason Carter and Sun Hong Lei; Marina and Huo Liang; Nazer and Lisha Chin. I think Akira and Tanaka Nonoko are in the background. Earlier, you would have seen Romeo (Kenya) hanging out with Benvolio (Etienne Ferrere) and Mercutio (Timothy Coleman).

Hey, here’s the soundtrack. It’s been years, but the Prologue still gives me the chills, and it feels like I just heard it yesterday. Oh, wait – I did. You know what I mean! 🙂

 

Death! death. That which makes for a substantial difference between the two ballets.

Death does not dally for the SDT version. Mercutio does stagger about pretending to be fine, briefly – he parries with his sword, he tries to laugh it off, he sways and staggers and collapses. He never quite plays it for laughs, and it breaks the heart, his bravery, and it does not linger.

Mercutio in Stuttgart’s version gets a layered death scene – one layer of partial pretense that gets his friends laughing, then kissing girls heartily (you can imagine him thinking leastways I’ll die surrounded by beautiful ladies, though you also know, from his long, hungry kisses with one of the gypsy ladies, that he does not want to die), a flicker of half-anger at having to die so young, a life wasted by folly; and a toast which everyone returns, as they wish to show him their respect and to honour him for his courage in the face of death; and a last embrace with his friends, arms slung round their shoulders – dead – and now alive again, to the audience’s audible surprise – and then dead again. It brought tears to the eyes, especially the toast; but it was a little awkward too, because the audience laughed in parts (which Mercutio would have counted a success, I think) and was continually surprised by Mercutio’s clinging to life.

Juliet’s poisoning scene ended with her collapsing on the bed; then, after a long pause, getting up to lie down again properly; then, after another pause, reaching for the blue scarf of her house and draping it over herself.

Her bridesmaids came in and danced, and I’m afraid I thought it was the equivalent of Dumbo’s pink elephant dream – you know, visons one sees when one has drunk one’s poison of choice. . .

Romeo’s death scene was rather long as well: he stabbed himself, collapsed heavily on top of Juliet’s stomach (I wondered if this was how and why she would awaken, but no) and after a while, he bestirred himself and lay down properly beside her. After another bar of music, he reached for her and rolled her over into his embrace. After another while, he ran his fingers through her hair, raising long locks up and letting them slide through his fingers, just as he had that morning when they woke in her bed. At last, his arm dropped down by the side of the bed. I mean, crypt.

Juliet’s death: when she stopped to pick up Paris’ dagger, I fancied she might stab herself beside him and drag herself to Romeo’s body, but instead, she made her way to the crypt before stabbing herself and falling on top of him. A bar or so of music passed before she rose again, and staggered about him so that she could rest her chin on his head and cradle his head in her hands, just as he had once rested his head to be cradled by her lap, and pressed his warm head against her abdomen while she embraced him. At last, she rose and fell atop him, her body sprawled over his. It was scarcely elegant, but that was the idea, I think – that their death was horrid, hardly a thing of beauty.

 

There it ended, with the curtains going up for the couple, who both looked exactly as if someone had just died. Such is the emotion that is required, I think – I recall Rosa Park saying that playing Juliet made her feel sad after each performance.

The audience did not stop applauding for a long time after, and each time Mercutio had to take a bow (with Benvolio and Paris), the crowd cheered for him. Next to Romeo, I think he was given the most character.

That’s another interesting thing. I’ll always remember Goh Choo San’s Tybalt kicking out in anger and frustration – absolute rage and fury in his fists. Tybalt in Stuttgart Ballet’s version is angry but it’s in the threatening frame of his body and his actions, sometimes, more than in the choreography. Maybe I am missing something. But Stuttgart’s Tybalt did stand out whenever he entered a scene – appropriately ominous in his large, angry movements.

 

There we have it. ABT will be here in March next year, for Swan Lake. That will be interesting, assuming I can catch it.

 

 

 

Predictions for 2018 – Singapore Dance Theatre’s 30th Anniversary

I’m not going to wait for Passages 2017 to predict. If we think it, we can wing it. I’m glad I’m done with the Ballet Under the Stars 2017 reviews, though. To be honest, I was driven by the utter shame and horror that I had so readily forgotten so much of Masterpiece in Motion 2016.

Of course, I’ll probably hafta revise this after Passages, if I get to see Passages.

Classical Ballet – Longs

Hopes

1. Romeo and Juliet, also because it seems logical. No, who are we kidding? The music and choreography are spectacular.

2. Zero, zilch, nada. Of course I’d love to see Don Quixote again, but I’m not sure it’ll be up for the taking. What I do think is that if they put up Don Quixote – perhaps Beatrice Castaneda could be Cupid?

Likely to show, in order of likelihood

1. Romeo and Juliet. The last time they staged this was in 2014, and it seems almost too obvious if they stage it in 2018, but it’s by Goh Choo San, and it’s really good. I don’t know if there’s a preference to not open the year with a tragedy, though. I don’t think they’ll want to open with Coppelia again.

2. Nutcracker. Since it’s supposed to become a tradition, and it generates income. Though…economy…likely audience…Well, who’s to say? It’s got room for 3 casts, which might be good.

3. Giselle. Should you really sandwich the 30th Anniversary between two tragedies? Well, if they’re good…. If BUTS is once more held during the 7th month in Fort Canning, should it involve Giselle? Not for me to decide. Giselle is included solely by virtue of statistics, i.e. looking backwards over the last x years, we’ve not performed it that frequently. But it was last staged in 2013, so I’m also not sure if we want to have it up in both the 25th and the 30th Anniversary Years.

4. Sleeping Beauty. A little of my money is actually on Sleeping Beauty for end 2018 or early 2019, though there must be a capacity for it. They’ve just run through Act III, and you can see that either as a sign that they’re getting ready for it or that they’re putting it to bed for a while because the crowd has seen Act III and may not return for seconds next year.

Classical Ballet – Shorts

Hopes

1. Concerto Barocco

2. Theoretically, Serenade. In reality, anything is fine. Seriously. Oh – Bournonville is lovely, though. Yes, this goes second, and third goes to…

3. Allegro Brilliante, simply because I haven’t seen it for years. I’ve no terribly strong memory of Divertimento No. 15, which I keep thinking is Divertissimo No. 15.

 

Likely to show (I don’t know likelihood)

1. Allegro Brilliante – last seen in 2014, I believe. I’m not sure we have the capacity for Theme and Variations (last seen in 2014) or Serenade (last seen in 2015), though if we did, those would be absolute firecrackers. Almost definitely for sure, there will be a stuffing of Balanchines because a 30th Year will probably have, apart from new pieces, some old gems that we’ve managed to acquire. I’m putting some money on old gems in the Contemporary/ Neo-classical side.

2. Concerto Barroco – see above. But we last saw it in 2015, so I am not too sure.

3. Schubert Symphony – because it’s good, and it’s by Goh Choo San. But it’ll only have rested for a year, so I highly doubt, and I am putting very little money on this.

4. I’m not very familiar with this, so I’ll pass on it. I rather think there must be a lot of  works that we’re not familiar with, and which may be good to bring out into the light, together with new works. Paquita‘s great, but it’s had 2 very good years already.

 

Neo-classical/ Contemporary

Hopes

1. Rubies. It’s horribly difficult, etc. Is there anything that isn’t? But it’s excellent. It was last seen in 2015, though, which was rather recent.

2. Lambarena. I know, we’ve only just seen it (2015). But, like Rubies, it’s excellent, and a good piece of work to display.

3. Double Contrasts. It was just seen in 2015. Ooh, that was my favourite Ballet Under the Stars. Oh, not counting the 2014 Contemporary weekend.

3. In one corner together – Chant, Winds of Zephyrus, Opus 25, Bittersweet. Simply because I’d like to see them again. I think Bittersweet may actually be doable now, but then again, I’m not acquainted with reality. I doubt we’ll do Fives by Goh Choo San, since it was performed for the 25th Anniversary. I doubt we’ll have Opus 25, too.

Likely to show, in no order of likelihood

I’m thinking not only of works that were built on SDT, but also things from outside brought in from SDT. To showcase different things. Also, newish things that not everyone may have seen, especially if they’ve only seen these at small events. It is even possible that because of the Anniversary, there will not be two BUTS weekends, or not two massive ones anyway (maybe it’s hard to cut down to one weekend, because then going back up will be difficult e.g. in 2019, audiences may forget – but then the workload will be massive).

1. The new work by Shimazaki Toru, and/or Blue Snow by Shimazaki Toru. I doubt we’ll see Absence of Story – unless it’s at BUTS, but it’s quite a fragile and delicate work, and I notice we’re moving away from those at BUTS. The crowd needs to see works that are visible from the back of the park.

2. Works by the Kirichenko Twins that were performed on the Switzerland Tour

3. Another Energy by Timothy Harbour, perhaps for BUTS

4. Rubies, because. There’s no need for a reason to take your jewels out to the gala. I considered Four Temperaments, since we’ve just acquired it – perhaps to BUTS. I can’t predict the patterns now – some years, things of massive world-shaking impact were given a break (Age of Innocence, Organ Concerto), but in other years, they were allowed to repeat themselves (perhaps those where it was easier to re-stage them).

5. Something by Edwaard Liang – not 13th Heaven, since it’s just shown. Perhaps Winds, or one of the earlier ones. Both of these were created for SDT.

6. A piece by Val Caniparoli. O heavens, I’ve misspelt his name terribly for ages. As I have countless other unfortunate people 😦  I try to go back to correct, but sometimes the posts hang and refuse to let me change them. Honestly, I think we should bring out Lambarena, because it’s a lively work. But I suspect it will be Chant because sufficient time has passed, and it has that unique gamelan soundtrack.

We shan’t be showing Triptych, surely. It’s new, but we never do 2 years straight of the same work by him or Edwaard Liang or Nils Christe, I realise. Besides, it’s about war. Those are 2 reasons why I’m not putting Symphony in Three Movements in, though I rather think it’s quite a resoundingly astoundingly earth-shattering work worth showing for BUTS – and I think it has a fairly strong chance of re-appearing sometime soonish. It may turn up in 2019. It’s almost similar to Organ Concerto in costumes, and so on.

7. We haven’t shown anything by Natalie Weir this year. Either something new, or 4Seasons, which hates me. Maybe Bittersweet, for Passages – again, depending on doability.

8. New works + past pieces like Beginnings by Goh Choo San.

 

I know really very little. Let’s see how this goes.

 

 

BUTS 2017 Classical Weekend 2.3 – Don Quixote (Act III) and the Other Proposal

First off, congratulations and best wishes to Nakamura Kenya and Uchida Chihiro, who are actually marrying each other offstage on 20 September, according to the Chinese newspapers. Hurray! So happy for them.

Here’s a nice link to the article about them:

http://www.zaobao.com.sg/zlifestyle/culture/story20170810-785955

Let’s see..it talks about how he would so not propose on stage (yep) and the proposal was last year, on her birthday, during a 2 day 2 night cruise, and he kept hinting that he had a large present for her, which she thought might be a big bag…and he did produce a large white bag and read a letter to her about all her strengths, and how fortunate he was to have met her, and she thought it was just a thoughtful birthday card, but the bag turned out to be contain another bag, she had to keep unwrapping her gift until she reached a Tiffany’s box containing a ring, which she had completely not expected, and he got down on one knee and proposed, and she apparently said without hesitation, Yes, yes, please get up. And Kenya says that he didn’t expect her to reply so promptly, so he was very nervous– though, to be honest, he can’t think of any reason for her to reject his proposal (hahaha).

🙂 ❤ ❤

I suppose if I get round to talking about the rest of the article, I will also talk about the Chinese article about Chen Peng and Li Jie.

Now we’re in the right frame of mind to discuss the Don Quixote wedding! I can’t put up a larger picture as WordPress is hanging a little tonight, but names will reveal themselves eventually.

06 Don Q

 

 

I like the dance of the Villagers. It’s always entertaining and light, and everyone goes into it with zest and gusto. Ruth Austin is paired with Justin Zee, and they look quite delightful. There are quite a few new faces in this, and it’s nice to see them dancing.

There are no wedding guests, only Spanish Women – I think this is to cut the confusion and set the context that this is a dance set in Spain. It has occurred to me that there was a typo in the 2016 booklet – Nanase’s and Mai’s names were swapped.

Toreadors! When three marched in, my first thought was: Oh dear, we only have three?? But then another three entered the scene, much (march) to my relief. The Toreadors are runaway successes, bringing the house down with their hat-flinging and stomping and glorious moves. They raise the tempo and the mood in the house. In particular, Timothy Ng and Shan Del Vecchio are well-matched and stand out. Kensuke is an old hand at this; Miura Takeaki and Shi Yue are spirited in their turn as the matador and bull, with vigour and long lines, and a high leap from Miura Takeaki; and the sentimental heart is pleased to remember that Peter Allen was once a Village Man and is now a Toreador.

Nazer and Li Jie wear their roles as Espada and Mercedes easily, having grown into them. Nazer’s Espada is bold, in the arcs of his legs, and he waltzes in a balletic version of Spanish dancing, with the charisma and confidence of a man who has been Franz in Coppelia and has borne that weight of opening a show as the lead. Li Jie, similarly, is quite comfortable dancing as Mercedes.

Kitri’s Friends dance is between portions danced by the couples. Elaine and May Yen Cheah have great chemistry as the Friends.

The Spanish ladies dance the Wedding Guest dance, and they are good as ever. You can see the dance below.

I don’t want to end on a super-sober note, so I just wanted to say that on Saturday, as the music at 1:45 above began and Kitri and Basilio started dancing, I felt a strange ache in the heart and tears. Maybe because it’s such beautiful music, and I felt nostalgic. But also because, with all those soft golden lights casting a sunset glow on everyone, I felt that I had to remember this very moment, and all these people onstage (sorry if anyone was backstage suddenly and I missed anyone out): Peter Allen, Jeremie Gan, Nanase, Kensuke, Ma Ni, Timothy Ng, Huo Liang, Shi Yue Tony, Leane Lim, Sun Hong Lei, Ruth Austin; Akira, Mai, Jerry Wan, Justin Zee, Xu Lei Ting, Yeo Chan Yee, Shan Del Vecchio, Agetsuma Satoru, Beatrice Castaneda, Miura Takeaki, Minegishi Kana, Kwok Min Yi (Jason Carter had not appeared yet, as Gamache – subsequently he would appear and be brushed off by one of the Village folk and/or Toreadors).

When Kitri and Basilio appeared, a friend said: Oh! I forgot they were in it, too, because everyone was having so much fun. Which brings to mind the saying that a company is not strong if the curtain rises on the same two people again and again – which is why this evening of weddings was special. Efforts are always being made to ensure that more people get to try new and different things. Most Singaporeans haven’t seen Akira and Etienne in Sleeping Beauty, but at least a large audience has now seen them dance as Coppelia and Franz.

Chihiro, as Kitri, is a woman fabulously happy and in love. Big expressive arms, multiple corkscrew turns with one leg sliding down the other as she spins. When she closes her fan to reveal her face, one little girl laughs aloud because it’s a mischievous little peek at the audience; and you realise that when she opens her feet from fifth to second and back again, this is exactly like the movement of a fan sliding open and shut again. Full of life, and love – Kitri throwing herself into a spin with one leg extended to the horizontal, for Basilio to catch her.

Kenya is Basilio, entering to fanfare and golden lights. This time it is not just his precision that strikes the eye, but also the spirit with which he is dancing, for this picnic crowd. Needless to say, his jumps are higher than ever before, and sparkling – there was an audible gasp from the audience on Saturday night at one particular split-turn-leap in the air early in the performance, when he dances straight at, and for, his Kitri. Kenya is a joy to watch because he brings the entire dance to life, and he is simply so, so good. And Chihiro is, and always has been, a spirited and marvelous Kitri.

There was so much cheering after their pas de deux that I think everyone was thrown off for a moment on Friday night (and mildly so on Saturday night) and the loving couple were not sure what to do next, but when the cheering subsided, Sancho began his usual dance and invitation to everyone — the Friends, Gamache, even Basilio — to hold out an arm beside his outstretched arm and hop about a little like a duck, in an expression of unbridled joy and enjoyment, before everyone joined arms in rows of four about an invisible centre, to dance a Mayfair-esque dance and the lights went out.

Here are some photographs from an obliging someone seated at a nice location.

0 village dancers 2 gd

L-R: Sun Hong Lei, Reece Hudson; Ma Ni, Huo Liang; Leane Lim, Jerry Wan; Suzuki Mai, Jeremie Gan; Yeo Chan Yee, Agetsuma Satoru; Justin Zee, Ruth Austin.

0 village dancers 4 good pairs

Same folk as above.

 

1 toreadors

L – R: Shan Del Vecchio, Timothy Ng, Miura Takeaki, Peter Allen, Yorozu Kensuke, Shi Yue Tony

2 spanish ladies

L-R: Nanase, Akira, Kwok Min Yi, Minegishi Kana, Beatrice, Xu Lei Ting

I don’t have a good clear photo of the Friends bowing. But in the photo below, you can see Jason Carter in fuchsia as Gamache, and next to him is Elaine Heng, and on the other side, in the same costume as Elaine, is May Yen Cheah.

1 li jie nazer.jpg

Li Jie and Nazer

 

2 chihiro kenya 1

Chihiro and Kenya

I want to remember. That’s all. That is what this is for – for remembering.

 

 

BUTS 2017 Classical Weekend 2.2 – Sleeping Beauty (Act III)

Before we begin, a prize to Yorozu Kensuke for saving the day by picking a diamond off the stage after his first Bluebird solo on Saturday night. (Apart from a very exhilarating Bluebird performance with Princess Florine, Tanaka Nanase.) Details below.

The picture below shows Kenya with Chihiro. The Queen is played by Yatsushiro Marina.

05 Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty is a loooooooooong ballet. Who am I to speak – it must feel way longer for the dancers.

Interestingly (given the mood in Coppelia), Friday’s show was a little more cautious. By Saturday, Sleeping Beauty had gone into full swing.

The fairies are now danced by new faces. Kwok Min Yi (in white), partnered by Shi Yue (Tony), is the Fairy of Grace (formerly Maughan Jemesen). Beatrice Castaneda (in blue), partnered by Shan Del Vecchio, is the Fairy of Beauty (formerly Chua Bi Ru). She enters in a lifted split which she closes beautifully with a passe (knee to foot), before Shan sets her down. Minegishi Kana, in yellow and partnered by Miura Takeaki, is the Fairy of Abundance (formerly May Yen Cheah). Suzuki Mai (in green), partnered by Peter Allen, is the Fairy of Song (formerly Alison Carroll). Yeo Chan Yee (in pink), is partnered by Jason Carter, and is the Fairy of Energy (formerly Nanase), with pointing fingers.

Lilac Fairy is Elaine Heng, and Timothy Ng is her Cavelier.

There is a lot of dancing. Lilac Fairy has her Attendants. The Caveliers have a dance of endless jumps and turns. The 6 Fairies dance while the Attendants pose about Miura Takeaki and Shi Yue in clusters of three. Classic stuff – Caveliers assist in pirouettes and gorgeous poses and lifting the ladies high when they are bending backwards with one leg lifted high (impaled lifts, for which I need to use a nicer and less bloodthirsty term) and the stunning pose, where the Lilac Fairy and Fairy of Beauty are lifted by their Caveliers high in the air on their stomachs like guardians, their legs folded behind them; and the final snapshot moment, where the Fairies are turned very fast and then sit on their kneeling Caveliers’ thighs while the Lilac Attendants stand behind the Caveliers and use them as a support for the very high arabesques to the back (arabesque penche).

After the Lilac Attendants have their own dance, the Caveliers enter again – there’s this interesting dance where they leap sideways and hang in the air for a while and open their arms sharply as if a magnetic catch has been sprung, and then they land. Timothy Ng displays nice clean sharp lines for this.

Then the Lilac Attendants again! with arms about each other and sharp little kicks to the side and feet at ankles when they perform little jumps together. Perfectly in-sync and very neat. When the Fairies next enter, it’s in pairs: Kana and Kwok Min Yi are superbly fast; Beatrice and Suzuki Mai are sharp on their feet; Yeo Chan Yee as the bright Fairy of Energy enters alone; and then Elaine Heng enters as Lilac with the lovely arabesques. This is the dance that almost never ends, where everyone dances behind and Elaine and Yeo Chan Yee take turns leaning on the other to raise a bent leg behind in attitude while the person in front poses.

When the Court Women and Men are done dancing, Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund (not related to Princess Florine aka Ms Bluebird!) enter and all are pleased and you realise that oh yes, all this has happened without Aurora, which is a bit like how most of Act I is.

Then Diamond, Silver and Gold emerge, and you realise … we’ve only just begun. We’re welcoming the guests now. Reece Hudson in his element as Puss-in-Boots, greeting the Queen and King in grand style before remembering that his lady love, White Cat (Akira), is sitting on a silver platter in the background, waiting for him to lift her down. They are adorably cat-like. Nanase and Kensuke as the shining bluebirds. It feels like magic.

And part of that magic is caused by the lighting, which you suddenly realise is sort of glowing golden because of a mix of pinkish-purple, green and gold lights. The very colours they tell you to put on your face to reduce the redness, unevenness, et cetera flaws in your complexion. Suddenly, all that colourful makeup makes sense. ^_^b

Then all the guests exit by parading in one large circle around and walking out.

Hurray, Diamond, Gold and Silver are up next! Huo Liang is in fit fabulous form with his multiple turns in the air and turns on the left foot. Diamond’s dance is about strong kicks and quick port de bras, and May Yen Cheah is elegant and has quick dramatic hands that punctuate the port de bras and make Diamond’s dance punchy and lively.

Gold and Silver are in for their high leaps and double-quick turns – Etienne Ferrere and Huo Liang accomplished as ever; then the trio dance together – all I recall is high-speed complex choreography, with every turn and sharp arm movement of Diamond bringing out the 101 facets of a diamond. Diamond’s tiara is exceptionally large and sparkly (though apparently not as large and blinding as another that is in storage for multiple reasons, one being its blinding height and nature, and another being that men may have to raise their arms above Diamond’s head, and the tiara might catch).

It is in the exertion of the last act for the trio (ending with Huo Liang catching May Yen Cheah about the waist and holding her up to pose at high speed, which the audience loves) that one diamond finally gives up the ghost and is dislodged; and when the unsuspecting trio bow on Saturday, the diamond drops to the stage.

And only some of the Royals, and some audience members, notice as the diamond lies in wait like a ragged nail on a floorboard. One Royal pales the moment he realises what this means, but everyone is too far away from it to rescue anyone. Another Royal regally points this out to her partner, who cottons on…just as Puss in Boots and White Cat arrive.

This lends an extra zing of electricity to the proceedings, for those in the know.

The cats are always delightful, with their high pas de chats and playful patting about the ears. Children always enjoy the moments where the cats, backs to each other, wriggle their butts; and when White Cat extends a long luxurious leg which Puss attempts, twice, to tickle, for which he is slapped on the hand – the second time louder than the first. Puss in Boots sees the diamond fairly early on, and one imagines that if necessary, he would steer or determine the trajectory (he dances behind White Cat) to ensure that neither he nor White Cat step on the diamond. But there’s a terrifying moment where they pas de chat in a diagonal and appear to cross right in front of the diamond, which White Cat seems to see only nearer the end.

The exit for the cats is always popular – Puss in Boots gives an exaggerated bow, and of course White Cat has already exited before he’s done, so he chases after her.

The Bluebirds are up next, and they have some of the most high-intensity dancing, which means they’ll probably eventually run up against the diamond. Nanase is Princess Florine, holding up a delicate hand to her ear, as if to hear the flutes, and fingers fluttering like feathers of wings. You can tell when Princess Florine sees the diamond on the stage – it’s quite close-by when she goes down on one knee, hand to her ear; but she continues, unaffected.

Bluebird and Princess Florine are simply electrifying on Saturday night. They are right in the rhythm and thick of things. Their pairwork is nicely on the mark. This is an intricate dance – for instance, the lady might be posing in front of the gentleman, holding one of his hands, but the next moment, they have to quickly change the hand she’s holding so that she can turn a little and pose again. There’s flying – and such flying! on Saturday night – lifting Princess Florine high and proceeding on a diagonal.

Kensuke’s Bluebird’s first solo essentially comprises flying in with elastic jumps and unflagging energy. Kensuke is Bluebird – a strong, fearless, proud Bluebird full of positive energy, nailing his moves. Saturday’s show is spent in fear for him because we can’t tell from his expression that he’s seen the diamond on the floor, and no one knows if his route bypasses it.

Thankfully, when he’s done, he plucks it off the floor and exits like nothing’s happened.

Nanase is a light-footed Bluebird who gives the impression that she does have feathers and wings, and on Saturday, she (and Kensuke) give a particularly lively performance, skating lightly about the stage. It feels as if Bluebird and Princess Florine are roles given to dancers who are assuredly fabulous technicians with very high stamina and energy, because there’s so much to do which must be done perfectly.

Aurora, at last! It’s interesting to see that Li Jie is quite easily Princess Aurora, and she’s quite confident in this role: the backbends, the lifts, the light arrangement of flowers with her hands, the moments where she inscribes a long arabesque in the air and then Nazer releases her hand and she continues standing on her toe briefly before the next pose. I’ve always wondered what we do at the part of music before the scale – there are different versions. The answer is – lift Aurora while her leg is in attitude in front (bent, raised) and one arm is raised high above her head (beautiful hands) and another, to the side. Lift her, put her down, then she does a pirouette and a sort of port de bras to the side which finishes in the front. The last (the side port de bras) is not my favourite part of the music – it’s like a running scale with absolutely no accompaniment.

One of the highlights is the triple fish dive, where she pushes off Nazer’s arm and spins and he catches her about the waist in a fish dive before setting her down in the same pose as when she was lifted (see above). Li Jie and Nazer pull it off with enough tension in the movement so that it looks sharp and dramatic, and the fish dive looks very beautiful. Kudos to Nazer for sweeping Li Jie round very fast in the fish dive and setting her down so lightly and steadily on her toe that it looks like magic. All I can say is — he did his job well, and she looked good. A friend was rather impressed and ready to applaud.

The audience does applaud for the last fish dive, which is magnificent; and for Nazer’s solos, which are jaw-dropping. Li Jie’s solo is also well-executed: very fast attitudes and turns and little leaps. There’s also a slower solo (this is Sleeping Beauty, so we have the Prince dancing, then the Princess, then Prince, then Princess) which is slickly-performed and quite enchanting. You can see one version of it below.

When this is all over, everyone comes out for the coronation, and Aurora wisely takes off her tiara before Saturday’s coronation, and the crowns fit, and everyone is pleased.

 

OK, now we go to Don Q.

BUTS 2017 Classical Weekend 2.1 – Coppelia (Act III)

You can skip this and get to Coppelia below if you like 🙂

I thought I’d say this upfront quickly. Sometimes (maybe occasionally this year) I read about dancers and how they think about whether they were, or are, “fat/ chubby / plump”, or the wrong size (Maria Kochetkova was told she was “too short” to be a good ballerina – and no doubt people think about whether certain dancers are “too short”, or “too tall” or, heaven forbid, the “wrong colour”). It is somewhere in the culture and I’m not inside, and I’d be naïve if I thought it wasn’t a factor in casting or if I didn’t think about how dancers we watch on stage are those who reached this stage when so many already may have left or been dropped because they were told they didn’t “fit” the look (i.e. who am I to comment when I may, as an audience member, be complicit). But I, for one, don’t evaluate or appreciate a performance based on that*. So if you dance (whether or not as a professional), please do know there are folk who don’t evaluate things like that.

*That said, I do sit around hoping for chances for tall ladies to have partners to lift them, so that the tall ladies can also have a shot at the pas de deux in group and solo roles. But I must say obviously (or not obviously, as I don’t usually write down the relative heights of all the dancers and you won’t know unless you look closely at pictures or have seen the dancers) I don’t particularly think of anyone as a good dancer on the basis that he/ she is tall. One can have long lines without being of supersonic height.

 

Okay, now for Coppelia.

The backdrop for classical weekend.

classical weekend backdrop

The introduction to Act III of Coppelia is quite long, so in that time, the parts of the backdrop where red tassels hang over golden drapes began to glow a faint gold that slowly grew stronger.

04 Coppelia Act III

This begins with the Burgermeister, the rolling in of the bell by Jerry Wan followed by Agetsuma Satoru and Reece Hudson, the giving out of moneys to the couples, who enter three pairs at a time. Swanilda (Akira) and Franz (Etienne) enter last. Exits consist of the couples walking in a large arc behind and round the main couple before exiting.

We have the Hours. Hours dance very symmetrically, in three rows of four. Pretty little steps forward and port de bras and plie and then en pointe with graceful bent legs in attitude. To one side, and then to the other. The front row consists of, I think, Jessica Garside, Watanabe Tamana, Minegishi Kana and Beatrice Castaneda. The taller ladies like Yeo Chan Yee and Ruth Austin are at the back. It’s very neat classical dancing: foot at the ankle, a little kick, little jumps, larger jetes. As always, two of my favourite parts are when they’re in a circle and then rise one by one to do a pirouette before kneeling again; and towards the end when, standing in 3 rows at a diagonal in a corner of the stage, they do progressively lower bows and on one bended knee with one graceful hand before them, genuflecting.

What’s especially lovely is that the lighting changes towards the end with the mood of music, eventually mellowing into rose and gold pinks. I wanted to see the Hours again and now I have, I am sooo happy.

Here’s a quick word. Of the Hours, Felicia Er and Ma Xiao Yu are not artists with the Singapore Dance Theatre — I believe they are scholars in the SDT programme. But everyone matches up and all the Hours are worth watching. Some of the Hours looked a bit more raw in their first outing in Coppelia, but all the edges have worn smooth and everyone fits better, and that’s worth thinking about. Valerie Yeo (currently the only Apprentice with SDT) has rather high jumps; and a friend and I noticed Niki Wong because she dances with a sort of light step and joy. A friend also noted that Jessica Garside danced well. I like the Hours — well aware that many of the newer ones are the dancers who are, and will become, the backbone of the company, and it’s good to see them.

The Hours eventually line up in a diagonal and bow out to welcome Elaine Heng as Dawn. (On one night, the Burgermeister perfectly calmly picks up something that has dropped, and exits.)

Elaine Heng as Dawn, bright and cheery as the sun rising. You see Dawn in an entirely new light (sigh, pun partially intended) – the full articulation of legs and feet, in the lifting of a leg in any sort of arabesque, in the beating of legs in the air, the delightful leaps with the arm sharp and high in the air to the side, leading Dawn forward into the day. I say delightful because though the pink costume is long, it is no hindrance. You do not notice it draping here or swishing there, because you see only the absolute clarity of every move carried to its full intent and beat; the grace of a hand brushing down a leg in a slow bow; the steady foot pinned to the ground en pointe. Elaine’s Dawn dances with the morning birds and the light of hope. She makes Dawn so easy and interesting to watch.

A series of brilliant, clear pique turns and chaines to the corner brings Dawn to the corner where she can summon and draw Prayer out. I did not expect that they would cast Li Jie as Prayer, just as I had not expected Elaine to be Dawn — but this was as pleasant a surprise and as much of a revelation as Elaine’s Dawn.

Li Jie is the glowing ethereal Prayer, with soft arms (very different from the arms in contemporary weekend) and the perfect tilt of the head (effacement) as she prays. As with Dawn, you now see every single move with cut-glass clarity. Every articulated fluttering finger casts a gossamer veil as she bourrees in a circle to the back of the stage, ending in a half-promenade and a gracious arabesque. Her eyes follow her graceful hands as they flutter down from the highest point of an arc in the air, to the lowest point and back up on the other side, and her feet take tiny needle-point steps, finely enunciated.

Now we come to the treacherous arabesque penche, the tipping over and the leg behind going up as high as it can possibly go. Li Jie does a very high side arabesque, then the rotation of the torso and a lean forward (to the layman’s eye, anyway). This is difficult, just as it was in Rubies, but she manages to control it and pull it through. I think it might be easier if the side arabesque is not so high, I do not know. The arabesque penches get progressively higher. Then come more blissful arabesques and the arms that are crossed before the chest, and more tiny toothpick bourrees and gentle hands (Li Jie actually has one of the nicest hand postures I’ve seen).

Her Prayer brings instant applause. It reminded me of happened at One @ The Ballet when the Artistic Director said, “Let’s do [this part on the butterfly in Coppelia] with the music so it feels more real.” Li Jie was acting out Prayer through dance. Every step of the way, every finger and every foot became a full part of the entire meaning, existence and being of this character called Prayer. That’s something different to chew on.

Next, the Harvesters. Double turns, turning jumps, backward hops on bended knee while in arabesque.

The wedding couples enter. I enjoy watching them sweep in, and I do like their pale blue costumes (silken, richly embroidered in gold thread). The first pair enters, dances (if you must know, stretch out a left leg, open your arms and extend your left arm down in the same direction as your left leg, while facing your partner; then turn around and do the same, backs to each other). Then the second pair enters, so the first rinses and repeats the move with them. Then the third enters; and so on. This is a gracious couple dance: holding the ladies by the waists so they can arabesque and bend right over parallel to the ground, their arms in graceful fifth (hands over the head) like flower garlands; and that very delicate balancing act where both parties face the front but actually the hand hold is between opposing hands (ladies’ right, mens’ left) while the ladies arabesque devant (to the front). All the hallmarks are here: pairwork with hand-holding and waist holding; promenades; plies (bent knees) that rise to pointes with arabesques.

The brides have their own group dance, somewhat led by Kwok Min Yi (front and centre), who throws herself into the dance with large beautiful moves.

When the couples are reunited, the choreography shifts to more spectacular display: high impaled lifts; a charming little waltz with hands clasped at waists; the archer-pose where one arm points up and the other hand rests lightly on one’s shoulder; a lovely fish-dive.

Onwards to the happy Franz and Swanilda. From certain angles, you can see how Franz tilts his neck so that there’s space for Swanilda and her dress to sit on his shoulder. Akira and Etienne are the fairytale Swanilda and Franz – enchanting and affable. This first part has all the pairwork: the swallow lifts, the high lifts, the part where Swanilda does a quick half-turn and is supported by Franz at the small of her back so she can throw her arms up gracefully and pose, one leg lifted high before her.

Akira’s Swanilda has light graceful enchanting little moves. But she’s also sturdy and keeps smiling, unfazed, during the terrifying walk-round, where she is on her toe with one leg raised behind for what must be like an eternity for any ballerina, as Franz holds her hand and steadily walks round in a circle, as she turns. The trick to this seems to be that the gentleman must be a one quarter of a turn ahead of the turn, and Etienne does the walk very evenly and steadily with a strong arm; and then Swanilda has to change the position of her raised leg, I think (an attitude?) and he walks in a circle again; and then again! Both parties remain strong and steady; and at last, Etienne slides down on one knee so that Akira can slip into an arabesque penche (if I recall correctly — the very high arabesque leg stretching out behind) and finally lower her raised foot to the ground. They make what must feel like forever, look really fine and dandy.

Etienne’s solo is next. This might be the part where he progresses in a diagonal down the stage: steps, arabesques, leaps with the unfurling of legs, light as whipped cream. Akira’s solo after consists of a little hop en pointe, and neat graceful steps and spins –  choreography that is meant to remind us that Swanilda is a young girl, I think, and this is not the bravura bells and whistles of Swan Lake’s Odile.

The lights are now golden as the Hours enter to more March-like music, with great energy: throwing their arms open as they leap around in a great clockface-like circle on stage, pausing at points to turn and pose before going round again.

Franz is back, going round the stage with high leaps that draw applause from the audience, because he’s right on the mark. On Friday night, interestingly, partway through Etienne’s solo, everything fell right into place with a sort of click – you could feel the energy pick up a notch and you knew right away that the rest of the performance for Coppelia would be a breeze and go perfectly. Everything was in sync; the ship was sailing.

Swanilda’s next part is painful and difficult but it goes perfectly and you can never tell it must hurt: Akira, who is initially holding on to Etienne’s arm, releases it and hops backwards gracefully and steadily on one toe in time with the music, and then continues hopping backwards while she lowers her hand gracefully from above her head (to fall just before her). From the position of the shoe, you can see that she doesn’t hop on all her toes – only the first two or three. She makes it look so easy and light.

Etienne follows with jumps with beated legs and pirouettes, and with the energy on Friday night, you know the performance is all going to go smoothly. (It also does on Saturday night – I’m just saying that Friday felt special, I’m not sure why.) Akira then finishes this off with tons of spins in a circle at super-speed and again you remember she was the very light-footed speedy Cupid; and it ends with the iconic Coppelia pose: the couple facing opposite directions, Franz holding Swanilda upside-down about the waist.

Everyone floods the stage once more with their jolly Mazurka manner – jogging around with hands on waists, kicking their feet up behind, then forming rings about the happy couple and dancing (see picture above) while Franz lifts Swanilda high above the heads of the revellers.

 

Hurray, hurray, we’re done here.

I don’t think Coppelia will be staged again for a while, so it was nice for the audience to get to see it again one more time.

 

 

BUTS 2017 Contemporary Weekend 1.3 – Organ Concerto by Nils Christe

Long-awaited. It hasn’t been performed by Singapore Dance Theatre for years. I feel a bit apologetic that the posts have been a bit heavy-handed or long in the tooth, but I think I wouldn’t do it any other way.

03 Organ Concerto

Costumes.

organ con costume

The music. YouTube comment(s) claim you must hear the Maurice Duruflé (organist) version.

A giant darkened backdrop of organ pipes. With the opening notes (I think?), a group of men and women dash across the stage from our left to the right, the women disappearing offstage and the men dropping to the ground along the way. The men get to their feet; the women rush out, stopping along the way at whoever is their partner. The women are facing us, one hand clasped in their partners’ hands to their partners’ chests, and everyone bends their knees slowly, never breaking eye contact; then everyone is up and off, running offstage.

0:52 – droves of men running out, and disappearing into the curtains to the audience’s right, while the women follow and collapse to the ground at selected spots, then raise their bent arms to cover their faces, their fists at their foreheads; and knees drawn up. At the gentle strains of music at 1:08 or so, the men return to their ladies and look down. The women roll over and clutch the men’s legs, and each man, sliding an arm round his partner’s waist, helps her up.

This is Nils Christe, so the choreography is wild and utterly magical and out of this world. Hands are frequently balled up into fists and arms up over faces like two columns, with the fists at forehead-level – a strong gesture that is visually arresting (it cuffs your eyeballs to the images on the stage) – we will have to call it arms up. Feet are sometimes, unexpectedly, flat as a palette knife. Picture the women, arms held straight out before them and one leg parallel to the ground, the other foot en pointe, while they bounce on that toe, knee bent and supported at the waist by the men. It’s all extremely quick, matching the music’s tempo – flashes of film reel, extraordinarily beautiful. Everyone on toes in a discreet low arabesque, arms up; or arms thrown back or down fiercely even though their heads are lowered; or arms and hands raised high and at an angle, sharp as blades.

Everyone is in a fine temper and on a severe high for this. Listen to the music up to 5:24 and imagine folk leaping and jumping and lifting / being lifted to every beat.

Ladies held aloft and upside down, facing outwards like corpses, their legs up like planks and feet flat while the men walk around. Then down they go, legs in second position en pointe. Perhaps their arms are wings of bats in belfries. Women lifted about the waist with flat feet, arms up to cover their eyes. Set down, they bourre out. One move per heartbeat – the women turning round and making running movements towards the men and the men catching them about the waist; the women are captured in mid-run, a leg raised, hands pressed down on their thighs.

I think it’s this dance in which the men form a row in front facing the audience, and the women are in a row at the back – but the men break out of the row in bits and pieces, running to the back as the women run towards them, and the men lift them high overhead – the ladies with a leg raised in high arabesque to the back and the arms arced in a V or overhead, like birds of prey taking off from the tops of the organ pipes.

Huo Liang has his solo next, at machine-gun speed, with great kicks that make patterns in the air behind him. It’s good to see him taking on large solo roles. Don’t know if you remember that he used to partner Li Jie in 4 Seasons by Natalie Weir.

Then we have Yorozu Kensuke and Elaine Heng; and Beatrice Castaneda and Jason Carter. Part of the choreography is seen below at 0:52 to 1:17. You can see how fast the dancing has to be, and the arms-up move, and the hand pressing on thigh/knee move. Vigorous, speedy, emphatic. My favourite part is when the ladies jump in the air, their fists at their throats and their elbows straight out, as if they’re fixing their bow ties. Lush music and razor-sharp movements; swift feet from Elaine Heng and Beatrice, as always and as necessary for this dance: look at those spitfire turns in the video below.

Enter the crowd, after this, accompanied by soaring sonorous melodious music.  Folk clutching their shoulders, arms crossed; women falling to the ground and raising themselves by one hand and rolling over; thighs squarely parallel to the ground, pointe feet that fall flat, sharp; tiny fierce backward bourrées (which I keep spelling with one less ‘e’ but which I will not go backwards in time and cyberspace to correct as I have use the misspelt version too often). Graceful, but with attitude (actual attitude; not attitude as in ballet).

Now the stage is left to Kwok Min Yi and Shan Del Vecchio in a show-stopping pas de deux: gorgeous, lithe, frenetic. She is graceful, sweeping her leg out in an open arc on the ground. They were well-matched. There is a strange yearning, sweet note to this pas de deux. This part, as danced by them, is one of the hearts of the entire piece –even in its entertaining choreography which, I think, includes a slightly aerobics-like move of raising the arms up to the face while bending one knee and tapping the foot out with the other; and lowering the arms and repeating with the other knee and foot, so fast it’s almost like splashing water in one’s face while doing a side lunge.

I think the other folk flock in after this, fast as ever: holding ladies as they hop back; wrapping a hand quickly round the head and then more face-splashing; and one favourite – doing a backward swim with the arms while bouncing backwards (quick plies, I think, with feet facing forwards instead of turned out).

It’s a lot more graceful and fabulous to see than it looks when it’s written out – it’s done so fast that it unfolds like a frieze of unbelievably original images because one thing’s for sure: you aren’t going to see any other description like the above for any other neoclassical / contemporary choreographer, or in any hieroglyphics on any wall.

The next two couples to take on the stage: Etienne Ferrere and May Yen Cheah, Huo Liang and Nakahama Akira, superbly deft and efficient. Where else but in Organ Concerto, will you see such double-quick elbows up so that fists are behind the head while legs slide sharply open and shut into fifths? Or ladies with a knee bent and another leg stretched out to the side, as the gentlemen turn them through 180 degrees so their toes slide across the floor. I can’t recall if it’s this or the other double-pair dance where the ladies dances a few steps on their toes before they are swirled a little of the way so their toes drag across the floor instead; and dance a few more steps and then are swirled again.

Li Jie and Nazer are next: gorgeous mandarin ducks in water, the swan, the swallow – silky dancing, different from the strained pas de deux in Age of Innocence. Nazer raises Li Jie quickly so she can fiercely kick back; lifts her while her legs cycle across the water; carries her by the waist so she can throw her legs (crossed tightly at the ankle) in front of her, while she folds her arms up; supports her waist and back so she can be a graceful swallow in the air.

I do think there’s more frenzied group work after this – ladies skating by on their toes with the mens’ help, and lifted splits, and folk all falling to the ground, then rising back up for the plank-lift (seen earlier) i.e. ladies upside down and feet flat; ladies back down again from the dead lifts to dance more, before all exit, with the ladies held high, bent-backed in the air (the impaled lift).

Enter Etienne Ferrere, alone at last. A bird, a plane: the great barrel twist of the torso in the air with the legs rolling; the juicy whirling kicks and freewheeling arms, those slick splits; rolling his arms like a boxer against a weight and unfurling an arm into a fist, and reeling the arms back in, accompanied by very deft footwork.

I might have got the order all wrong, but we could be back with couples in raised lifts and more rapid-lightning dancing. The music doesn’t feel like it follows the dance – somehow I keep thinking 13:49 to 14:00 close the show. For sure the last minute or so of the youtube video above don’t seem to be the ending music. Kwok Min Yi and Shan Del Vecchio have another brief moment on stage alone; in a semi-waltz ; and the comical move of throwing their arms straight up and while the other is bent and has lowered his or her arms, all the while steadily progressing to the back of the stage. I can remember Friday’s parts of their dances very clearly, and Saturday’s less so, which is unfortunate, as I was really looking out for them on Saturday – the flair, fury, the fling.

Chihiro and Kenya next, to gentler music. A doomed love, a wistful wraith partnership. A plank lift that is transformed by one leg slowly drawing to passe and down into a long split. Listen to the gorgeous music – from 15:03 to 15:53, for instance, and so on until the portion at 16:05, because it will lead us by the hand to the gorgeous 16:22 to 16:41. In that phrase of music (16:22), you can see the muted light and shadows falling on the couple, Chihiro seeming to float in the shadows. The touch of her foot along her leg – so delicate and tender; Chihiro spread-eagled as a wisp on Kenya’s back as he carries and whirls her about. Chihiro’s feet sharp and clear as she drifts across the stage; the couple reunited kneeling on the ground, then rolling apart. You can visit Singapore Dance Theatre’s video page and look for the 21 August 2013 video for Chen Peng and Rosa Park dancing this pas de deux.

Then in comes the crowd for a jolly show number. Perhaps about 17:27? For 17:44 is where they kick in with the same throwing up and down of hands. If you visit the videos page of Singapore Dance Theatre and look for the 19 August 2013 video that shows couples, and go to 1:58 (after Val Caniparolli’s Lambarena), you will see this part of the dance. It gives another idea of how fast-paced the dance is, and you understand how very precisely the dance fits the music, like a sabre blade into its sleeve. All these steps you could never imagine yourself: people clasping their own hands and lifting those hands high above their heads and then bringing them down again like stones, all the while on bended plies as they march about, the music pounding overhead.

 

Now to the finale. It feels like Organ Concerto ends at about 13:49 to 14:00 of the music – it’s poignant and it repeats a motif of the music.

The last scene sees an empty stage and everyone running across again. Then a white bar of light, and Chihiro makes slow motion running moves across the stage from the audience’s left, her arms and legs in great exaggerated motions. When she is two-thirds of the way across the stage, Kenya starts to make his way out after her in slow motion as well.

From the audience’s right, the other pairs start to make their way out in slow motion, one in pursuit of the other. Akira always brushing her hand just where Huo Liang’s has been; and, strikingly, front and centre, Min Yi always reaching out for, and missing, Shan Del Vecchio’s hand. Kenya is the only one in the opposite direction from everyone.

Then, like clockwork, the men turn, and the ladies turn away. The men open their arms and their arms encircle the air about the ladies, as if they are embracing them without daring to touch them. The men turn their backs to us, and the ladies, facing us, have one hand clasped in the men’s hands to the men’s chests (I think), and everyone bends their knees slightly, and you can see the quivering emotion in some faces – Kwok Min Yi’s, May Yen Cheah’s.

Then everyone scatters and runs in opposite directions, men in one and ladies in another, I think – except for Chihiro, who runs to the left and Kenya, who turns to the right and, at last, catches her in mid-leap in the air, in a pure bright light – and then boom, the stage goes black.

 

On both the nights I went, there was spontaneous loud cheering and applause from the audience once the lights went out, as if the audience could not wait for curtain call.

As a very musically-inclined friend said, if you’re looking for a dance which best matches the music, this is it.

What’s there not to love? What’s there not to want to watch all over again, and again and again? Here’s what I’d totally love to see again, other than all of it:

1. The pas de deux between Kwok Min Yi and Shan Del Vecchio. So bold and startling and refreshing. Where has it been all our lives, this music and choreography brought to life by these dancers. It’s easy to say they have their own distinct contemporary style, but the funny thing is, they weren’t using it in this dance exactly – they just had this 默契, this connection, during their segment. It was as if they fed right off each other’s energy.

2. Anything with the lively dancing from all the couples and all its gloriously mad choreography.

3. The stunning ending.

 

Long I have longed to see Organ Concerto, and I so enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

 

BUTS 2017 Contemporary Weekend 1.2 – Age of Innocence

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.

Booklet:

02 Age of Innocence

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.

02 age of innocence list

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:

https://balletbelatedetcetera.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/masterpiece-in-motion-2016-part-2-age-of-innocence/

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUTS 2017 Contemporary Weekend 1.1 – Sticks and Stones

Oops. It was at Fort Canning Green, not Battle Box. Fort Canning Green — the place with the Gothic Gate, cluster of huge headstones in a corner (facing the frankly pretty good Port-a-loos), and the rows of headstones all round the sides.

BUTS cover 2017

The gorgeous pamphlet cover — also the poster — for Ballet Under the Stars (BUTS) 2017. That is Li Jie in a fantabulously beautiful leap. Though the classical poster was the focus, there was pleasantly good turnout for the contemporary nights.

Here’s the youtube video for the first weekend:

Edited the Archives to put up the Passages 2015 reviews, because I missed them out the last time, and because Sticks and Stones first (and last) showed in Passages 2015.

I love SDT’s contemporary and neoclassical ballet performances, but for me, it’s like an 8-bit (beat?) memory loading 18 TB. Here’s a pamphlet. No pictures of costumes, for obvious reasons. Black pants and the basket wires.

I am afeared you are in for a TL;DR, but there’s so much to say about the dancing and dancers!

01 Sticks and Stones

A line of stick-holders (little tubes on stands) waits at the back. (The stones are there too, in the shadows). The men enter from the right-hand side, sticks in hand, and line up in an inverse triangle, backs to us, Jason Carter at the tip of the triangle. They hold the sticks up before them, and three orange lights on either side of the stage illuminate the top half of the sticks so that they look like Pocky orange-flavoured sticks.

Part 1: The Quiet Tribe

The sticks sway – almost messily at first, but slowly, a discernible pattern emerges: alternate rows to the left and the right, like slow pendulums. The music starts, and builds up: a thrumming grasshopper beat. The music is pure percussion. Imagine something like this video below. I’m quite pleased because it really sounds quite like the soundtrack. But counting beats to this is fiendish.

Slow and steady, the predator in the forest and field – that’s the opening half. Everyone in a community, acting as one huddled primitive force. The humans, with their sticks.

After a while, the men huddle at the back and Huo Liang pops up above the crowd, peering out, supported on folks’ thighs, before he drops back down. All turn, and they crouch, pressing one clawed hand down before them — primitive, primal. Still crouched, they stretch an arm out to the (audience’s) left, retract it; turn (to the audience’s) right; turn to face a diagonal, backs half to us, gently rise up and down on their toes, their heels thudding gently on the ground in a communal tribal heartbeat.

It’s amazing what one can do with these long bamboo sticks: lean the sticks out at an angle; hold the sticks up and slowly sink down while the hands climb down the sticks rapidly; and hold back the sticks as everyone snarls to the right.

The subtlest of movements – a leg* that bends in at the hip and knee, then slowly opens out at the hip, bent at the knee, in a slow brushing movement. The formation falls out, forms another shape – a diamond? and the hands rush down the stick, fingers flickering as if playing a piano – and the formation spreads out across the stage again.

*An example of disappearing memory is that I used to think this was the audience’s right but now I think it might be left. Whatever memory I have is used to remember “bike chain” so I can google the Belle and Sebastian song I liked in school.

A deliberate, careful use of energy, stored up, pent up – exploding, but more like ripples of a thunderstorm over a pond as the men crouch about the sticks, lie down and stretch a right leg out and raise it a little off the ground just by pushing off the ground with the toes of that foot in full turnout — all the while, conscious to keep the sticks in the same pattern, whether upright or leaning down in succession.

Up they go again – here are the sticks flat across their shoulders like the poles of samsui women; here the sticks go poking about the ground as if they are diggers. Men holding the poles and sliding straight down to the ground in splits,  or else huddling in a group to the left of the stage (audience) while a few of them (Nazer, Kensuke, etc) leap up onto the others’ backs to peer out.

Let’s say you read the summary above and you signed up for raw cutting-edge visceral clawing, brutal and red. You might say Well, what’s this all about? What it’s all about is a curious sophistication and order and structure in this first half, which immediately distinguishes it from an easy Lord of the Flies reading. Frankly, when I first saw it, I felt a little thrown off-balance, because, like that meme says, “Expectation: Reality”. I thought I would be in for a rash (rash is the word, great unsettled throwing down of sticks / large spots of scarlet colour) of motion, and yet here we were, stuck in the middle with this careful, not-even-intimidating display. But perhaps that’s what matters – I don’t have a proper choreographer’s mind, so it is necessary that what I imagine the work to be is not what I see. One should always be surprised. And it takes an incredible amount of energy it takes to even make such controlled movements.

Here’s another comment: the lights give it that overall murky jungle atmosphere and helps humans with no contemporary mind make up their stories for their memories. And it helps – casting shadows, hiding the stick-holders and stones, focusing our eyes on the specific dancers. But if you see it in full light of the studio, it’s actually shockingly mesmerizing, and you feel the full strength of the choreography, rather than the subtle heat of jungle twilight. I suppose it’s the latter effect we are going for.

Huddled and gazing out, safe in their circle – then the men who have clambered out slide down fast and everyone now holds out their sticks to the (audience’s) right, making little circles in the mud, sifting it.

Now look closely, because I like how the sticks are used in this next part of the dance. The men hold them out such that the tips of the sticks meet in a vertex, a point facing (the audience’s) right – everybody working in unison together to achieve one goal. Then the sticks unfold in a careful pattern, and the men form a circle with their sticks upright. The domino effect: lunging in succession, leaning the sticks forward; leaning back; pushing sticks into the circle to form a little wigwam.

Patterns, patterns: breaking out into line formation with sticks across their shoulders, arms going up in succession. Lining up in a straight row on the (audience’s) far right, to poke at the soil with their sticks and lift them – the timing is impeccable and so controlled, in staggered steps – Jason Carter leading the pack in lifting his stick first, then the man behind him, and so on. A thousand arms, in slow motion.

Each man’s eyes follows the tip of the stick, or of the stick before his, to ensure that there’s an exact distance between each stick as its tip inscribes an arc from the dancer’s left (audience’s right) to his right, and then he quickly and inobtrusively takes his place in a line as the front dancer (Jason) restarts the process of swinging the stick in a full arc and the dancer behind picks up his stick and so on, so that the audience is swept up in this and doesn’t notice the chaps at the back falling into line; so that it looks like magic. They do this three times until they’ve made their way to the end of the stage.

Nazer falls out of the line first, without the stick (his is with Shan Del Vecchio) – a deviation from the norm, perhaps preparing the mind for what’s next. Slow, controlled, powerful moves – falling to the ground, rising again and stretching.

Finally, the line folds into itself, with Jason Carter making his way into the centre while Kensuke holds Kenya’s stick (see picture above) and Kenya falls into the centre of a semi-circle, bent double, while the men lower their sticks and rest the tips on his back.

Part 2: Into the Woods

And oh goodness, oh good, the music changes from grasshoppers cutting grass and praying mantises with their lovable front paws (in the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep♪) to bamboo drum beats (how is that any easier to count to!). Look at the video below! ‘Tis a number of drummers, and it’s quite fascinating.

Now we enter the realm of the solos. I had to make up some images along the way. No offence meant. Parts of it sound like this, especially at the beginning:

The men fall back and slot the poles into the stick-holders at the back. They are now the backdrop and they lean the poles in and out rhythmically as Kenya emerges. Smooth and strong, and steady. The one-legged one-arm reach, torso stretched almost horizontal and one leg extended – and when the beat throws out a sudden surprising double-count (0:33?), just when Kenya, back to us, is frozen on one leg, arms clutched close, he shoots out two snake-like arms and you can almost imagine the hiss in the music. The seemingly endless spin with clasped hands overhead (I think) follows, and the clean clear strong leaps.

When Nakamura Kenya first performed this, it was one of the first few contemporary solos I remembered him in (not a group as in Zephyrus, and not a pas de deux as in Shadow’s Edge). What’s interesting is that his voice for contemporary has sort of matured and grown. Imagine shadow-boxing – the agility, the deftness. A hand fitting into a glove and finding its own strength.

Kenya is the crouching tiger by the water, swiping up sprays of water, clawing at the air, kicking up water as he splashes into the river. When he vanishes back into the forest of bamboo poles, Justin Zee breaks out into the light.

Justin is, simply put, really good to watch. He is the bird of paradise in the forest – he treads through the grass, he kicks out a leg lyrically and holds it there for a great fraction of a second; he leans forward, facing us and kicks a bent back leg right up, like a giant question mark, like a tail feather. Arms whirling and twisting like fan-tail feathers, every breath and every expression rolling out of his fingertips and toes before he ducks back into the crowd.

Shan Del Vecchio and Reece Hudson next. Hakuna matata. The wild and wriggly, crazy moves of folk shaking out their limbs – imagine bathroom singing converted to bedroom dancing, but hugely energetic – great opening legs, hops on one leg while wriggling extended limbs. Thirsty creatures of the forest cupping water to their lips. This is good casting: Shan Del Vecchio has a remarkable sharp, dapper, contemporary style and Reece Hudson is quite an eye-catching revelation in this, throwing himself into it with a fair amount of abandon – rubbery limbs flailing. The serious pantomime clowns.

When they complete their lengthy routine, Nazer, Justin Zee and Miura Takeaki step out to do a routine that’s a little more toned down than the one before that — some synchronized movements, including rolling on the ground. Unexpectedly, they end up in a corner on the (audience’s) right under a big white beam, mimicking various expressions – great mirth, demonstrated by laughing with huge false smiles; great angst, by tucking their foreheads into their hands; more silent fake laughter as they clutch their stomachs and sway from side to side. It reminded me of those paintings by a Chinese artist that you sometimes see in the galleries, of the people with those big, fake smiles. It also brought to mind that Chinese phrase, 喜怒哀乐 – four emotions (happiness, rage, sorrow, joy). Except without the rage.

As they retreat into the darkness, Peter Allen and Yorozu Kensuke, Reece Hudson and Etienne Ferrere come out into a light on the (audience’s) left for a pairwork segment: lifts by the waist while the chap being held kicks his legs round in an arc; those ‘hits’ on the jaw or side of the face to make the other person turn – a harsher version of the head-turn seen in male-female pas de deux where one puts one’s hand on top of the crouching partner’s head and turns the wrist as if fixing a bottle cap, and the partner turns, seen in one of Edwaard Liang’s works, I think.

This is an all-male ensemble, and it’s much appreciated because we get to see them dancing in solos and pairs much more than in a standard full-length classical, and it’s nice to see how everyone’s grown with time. There’s a different flavour to the pairwork.

All the other men flood the stage then, in pairs, to do some of the same – lifts, jumps, and turning the other partner. Kenya and Nazer; Shan and Shi Yue Tony, for instance. I think.

When they exit, they leave Shi Yue behind them, in a superb solo. Twisting turns on a leg; that amazing running kick-up where his hand touches his foot as his long leg* kicks up to 160 degrees. Collapsing to the ground, twitching and writhing, his head and feet rising, falling back again – rousing himself up by hand to heart with a twitch upwards. The dance of a crazed, slightly feral creature, shaking his head about, and falling emphatically to the ground; but Shi Yue never loses his elegance and grace, and that’s what leaves a lasting impression in the memory. It is always a pleasure to watch someone take on solos that stick in the mind.

*Shi Yue is one of the tallest men in the company.

Huo Liang leaps out to join him from the (audience’s) right, and together, they enter those kicks and leaps with the curved backs, those high jumps. Huo Liang has worked tirelessly – I remember him from 2013’s Nutcracker, so it’s been a few years – and he is now one of the go-to people for the leaps and jumps and the unstoppable corkscrew spins. Huo Liang has a distinctive shape in his jumps and leaps – you can see that his eye and his line travels far beyond the corners of the stage. Shi Yue’s version is, interestingly, more rounded and feral – you know what I’ve said before about how he dances.

Crazed – that’s the word that could apply to the choreography in Jason Carter’s solo. Mincing feet that follow an incredibly quick beat, but he’s bent almost double, his back curved. When he’s upright, sometimes he seems to be following his arm or his hand wherever it leads him, as if it has a manic life of its own. It’s an almost comical nonsensical dance, but it’s deeply entertaining, how he manages to depict this instead of making it mere arm motions. Here he is staring out at us madly while his feet quickly skedaddle to the side. The duck-walk, the crazy man with the twitching legs, the man who falls to a plank suddenly while his feet quickly pound about in a pattern, cross-over and back again, on the ground, who writhes about, then is back up again, curved back bent as a snail’s, looking down at his hands which lie open as if he is reading a book.

The other men enter, pounding the ground as he does, mincing up and down with their eyes on their book-hands – I’m reminded of “World Order”, the Japanese performing group.

When everyone clears the stage, Shan Del Vecchio and Miura Takeaki enter with their poles; the latter taking the part previously played so compactly and tightly by Stefaan Morrow. This is the flying fish edition: the one where the men hang on to the poles and kick out sideways in a breathtaking blink; where the men suddenly let go of the poles for a fraction of a breath before grabbing them again. An exercise in dexterity and speed. Same comments for Shan Del Vecchio as above. Miura Takeaki dances his part lightly, with small moves capturing the sound – and his kicks in the air are deft.

Reece Hudson’s up next, in an inspired performance that has the eye glued to him. It feels as if he has found a magic ingredient, that quality that sets him apart from everyone else, and he has mined it perfectly in this. We talked about this before – in last year’s choreographic workshop and Passages. It’s a weird and wacky solo, curiously inventive  in choreography at moments, such as the broken-knee walk, where he seems to be walking ordinarily from our left to right – but then he clutches at the backs of his knees as they suddenly give; or when he appears to be fighting an invisible enemy – wide-eyed, staring. Every wriggly line and move is expressive without being over-wrought.

When the other chaps enter, there’s a fairly comical bit – those hand-swiping, jiving movements reminiscent of the minor hip-hop moves in Swipe. Where are the stones? Men lie down and rock from side to side in time with the beat, putting their hands and arms up squarely to meet – fingertip to fingertip. It’s the little things, like how they get up, that disappear through the cracks in the mind – but they do, at least, manage to collect their stones somewhere – I’ve only ever noticed it happening after they rush in from the back, so I’ve always thought it comes in then. But who knows – there could be a box of stones somewhere at the side. They do set the stones down gently at times when on the ground – but otherwise, the stone is clutched in one hand as they punch the air and writhe, throw their torsos about in the air, fling their heads, and kick about. Kenya is nifty and nimble, and Peter Allen puts up a spirited show throughout the performance.

Right at the very end, they rush up in a line, put down their stones loudly, and, almost bent-double exit slowly backwards into the darkness.

 

 

That was long, because I had occasion to remember things. The other dances should be relatively shorter, as the ticker-tape grows short.

If I had to rewatch any part again – in no order of priority:

(a) Kenya suddenly throwing out his arms + Justin Zee’s solo

(b) Shi Yue’s solo

(c) Reece Hudson’s riveting solo.

(d) Jason Carter’s solo, followed by the men as a group after that.

(e) The opening half, sticks and all – especially the domino effect and the slow-mo movement of sticks across the stage, eyes following the tips of the sticks.

I think that although this work requires superb concentration and has its merits, the payoff is actually quite low – the audience each time seems mildly baffled, perhaps having seen that Reality did not meet its Expectation. But I do appreciate the ridiculous amount of effort required to keep count to nothing but beats – so hats off to the dancers, and to the original dancers as well, who had to put up with changes in choreography and all manners of things that should rightly terrify the performer.

Two more non-classical works to go.