SDT in the Spotlight

For the curious, Singapore Dance Theatre has video interviews with some of the dancers.

So far –  Chihiro, Chua Bi Ru, Nakahama Akira, Etienne, Yeo Chan Yee, May Yen Cheah.

http://www.singaporedancetheatre.com/spotlight/

Hurray.

 

 

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Singapore Dance Theatre’s Season 2019 is OFFICIAL — Pride & Passion

Here lies the previous update on 2019 — there have been changes.

So it’s out for sure, and you can visit the page below. The home page of Singapore Dance Theatre has a larger version of the header picture in its full glory – Timothy Ng and Kwok Min Yi.

http://www.singaporedancetheatre.com/performance-season-2019/

Don Q (pictured: Uchida Chihiro and Nakamura Kenya) – 7 to 10 March, thus avoiding Semperoper Dresden (performing William Forsythe’s “Impressing the Czar”) by a weekend.

Peter and Blue Go Around the World – 30 May to 2 Jun 2019 – for the kids.

Ballet Under the Stars – (pictured: Chihiro)

5 to 7 Jul (Contemporary Weekend)Evening Voices by Timothy Rushton, Linea Adora by Timothy Harbour for SDT’s 30th Anniversary, and SYNC by Nils Christe. Okay, these are recent and decent works – the main change being Evening Voices instead of Another Energy, Unexpected B, Symphony in Three Movements and Winds of Zephyrus. The BUTS line-up has been massively overhauled. We won’t speculate. When we say that “mathematically X should show”, we refer to the number of years a ballgown can sit in the wardrobe before it is brought out to dazzle the crowd again; though if a work is new and smashes the windows with its brilliance, we try to guess again (loads of times, wrongly!) — Evening Voices, Linea Adora, Sync look good for another night out, though. I suppose some stuff can sit it out for a bit longer, and then there are costs to be settled. As it is, 5 to 7 Jul is a handsome line-up and fits the Contemporary Weekend title.

12 to 14 Jul (Classical Weekend) – Act II of Giselle (surely not the entire…? I do like the Willis, and this is quite enjoyable, though); Swan Lake’s pas de trois, and White and Black Swan (albeit we will see these again at the end of the year, so perhaps there will be alternating Swans?); and Act II of The Nutcracker aka the Land of Sweets and et cetera – aka a chance for the audience to see many different dancers…

 

Masterpiece in Motion (pictured: Elaine Heng and Chua Bi Ru) — 16 and 17 Aug 2019: Balanchine’s Serenade and Theme and Variations, and Fives. No changes here.

Passages 2019 (pictured: Etienne Ferrere and Nakahama Akira) — 1 to 3 Nov 2019: A work by Lucas Jervies, Natalie Weir’s Bittersweet, Shimazaki Toru’s Blue Snow, and (a change) Swipe by Val Caniparoli.

Swan Lake (pictured: Chihiro) — 5 to 8 Dec 2019.

 

I will mark out my calendars and wait. In any other year, I would be delighted at the timing – for this one, I’m actually wondering about the timing. Oh well *shrugs* whatever.

Ticket prices have inched up again – Cat 1 is now $80 (with Sistic fees, $84) – to begin with, there’s a lot to pay for to create and put up any performance, and it isn’t easy, and then there’s the live music. You know that feeling of walking in (as an audience) to hear the orchestra tuning up for a ballet … I first heard it so many years ago, and it was brilliant.

Happily, there’s a laudable programme called Adopt An Audience, which is about ‘making the arts accessible to everyone, including the low-income, underprivileged, and disabled in our society. Our hope is to share our greatest joy for dance with those who may not have the privilege of attending a dance performance by their own means‘ – and that is very, very important.

More on live music: There’s also a partnership with the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – the SDT website says: ‘Singapore’s first and only fully-independent professional symphony orchestra, the MFO was founded to be a platform to showcase the growing pool of professional orchestral musicians in Singapore’. In a way, their intentions are compatible – to give a space for artists to perform professionally. That’s a reason for the costs and there’s an SDT-MFO Orchestra Fund for the performances. That’s good, too.

 

Sleeping Beauty 2018 (Singapore Dance Theatre) – Cast

I realise I had slipped in a little information about the cast into random posts and I myself could not find what I’d written – oh, here.

Publicly-available information, i.e. Instagram, and some engineering informs us that:

a) Chihiro and Kenya take the night performances; Akira and Etienne take the matinees;

b) Li Jie is Lilac for the nights; (based on the previous performance) Elaine Heng is Lilac for the matinees.

Anything else shall remain a pleasant surprise during the performances unless it is on Instagram…

Casting for Don Quixote 2019, like 4D numbers, remains part of a future we cannot predict…

 

 

On Li Jie leaving Singapore Dance Theatre

Say it isn’t so.

Below we see the announcement, from her Instagram. More thoughts below that – in the meantime, please do look at all the beautiful pictures below.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

Dear all, it is with a sad but grateful heart that I would like to announce that I have decided to take my final bow with SDT in the upcoming production of “The Sleeping Beauty” where I will be dancing the role of the Lilac Fairy. I am so thankful and grateful for all the encouragement and support shown to me ever since I first stepped into SDT 8 years ago, and knowing that I have received your acknowledgement as a dancer has been my greatest motivation in these few years. For those who have written me cards and given me gifts, even though I may not know some of you, I want to let you know that you have moved me and given me strength more than you know. To those whom I have crossed paths in Singapore, this is a big thank you to you. And most importantly to Janek, Mat Noor, my dance partners and also all my colleagues past and present, your role in my growth as a Dancer and a person cannot be stated enough. You all will always have my love and remain in my memories forever. Much love, Li Jie 💕💕💕💕💕💕💕💕

A post shared by Jie Li (@li_jie_jenny) on

This is not the farewell post. There will be one subsequently. It may repeat some of the things below because there can only be so many original thoughts in this world.

Just some hours before Li Jie’s announcement on Instagram, I was thinking about her nuanced, complex, layered, rich interpretation of Giselle – and getting goosebumps from the memory of the contrast between the warm, open-hearted, simple village girl who thought she was having the best day of her life with a man she could actually think of marrying (Hilarion does not count); and the spirit that rose out of her grave, who poured out whatever she had to say to her Albrecht through dance, for she could no longer speak.

Was saying to a friend a few days ago, when chewing over things: All dancers are unique, but – honestly, where are you going to get another Li Jie? All dancers are special and, in particular, for Li Jie, there’s a quality of movement and a feeling, and look that cannot be easily found or replicated for instance, for Shadow’s Edge, if each arm movement was a sentence, her hands punctuated it perfectly and completed it.

On a lighter note, I suddenly recalled this evening that at the end of one of her BUTS performances, her friends in the audience (seated in front of me), duly impressed, waved their hands in the air in the shape of the number 6 with the thumb and pinky sticking up and said to one another happily, “六六六六六六六六六” (aka liu, or “6” in Mandarin). Google says that Quora says that ‘it sounds … like “溜(liu)” which in most part of China means “good/skillful at doing something”. Hence, in video games, when someone types 666, it’s a compliment to the player, saying the player is very skillful and good at playing games‘. It was an extremely cute and appropriate reaction. 😀 I also remember that the gentlemen slumped on either side of me (I believe) brightened visibly when she appeared onstage during Nutcracker 2017 and one clapped enthusiastically…

 

We have enjoyed, how we have enjoyed, her performances. We wish her all the very best!

Interview with Timothy Ng by Maisha Reza

Ballet Dancer

 

While we’re sitting here waiting for time to pass, the above is an excellent interview from Sept 2018 with Timothy Ng of Singapore Dance Theatre – in which he articulates what he thinks about gender stereotypes regarding boys and men being dancers, and his own experiences with dance. It’s truly worth a read. (Many thanks to a friend who sent the link to me a while back!)

Interesting to read that he studied at Ms Sylvia McCully’s. Back in the day, hers was the only school I knew of (the dancers performed at National Day, and some of my piano exams were in the same building). To this day, you can see the school, but I very rarely see folk going in and out, even though the lights are on and there are pictures in the window – thus it has always had a sense of mystery about it (there’s that Joan Aiken feeling now, in the italicized words, mmmmmm :)). As I grew older, the kids in ballet attire in the building tended to head for Crestar instead.

The other teacher I knew about was Ms Sandra Ho 🙂

In the meantime, lookit this Vaganova documentary on youtube. The youtube settings allow auto-translation to English. This is courtesy of a ballet forum.

Also, I need to fix the giant white spaces in my previous posts, good gravy.

 

 

2019 – the future, boldly

I can’t remember when I usually roll the carpet out for predictions (after BUTS or Masterpiece in Motion, I believe), but this time I felt I needed to wait until Passages, and then lo! a friend kindly shared with me the line-up in Dance Europe (which excludes Passages).

Here it is (presumably, always subject to change):

Opening: Don Q(!); For families (read: kids): Peter and Blue Go Around the World; BUTS – Another Energy, Unexpected B, Symphony in Three Movements + Winds of Zephyrus, Linea Adora, SYNC; Masterpiece in Motion – Serenade, Theme and Variations, Fives; Dec: Swan Lake.

A One @ The Ballet booklet also tells us that Passages will contain works by Lucas Jervies (an Australian choreographer and director who has just created Spartacus for Australian Ballet, omg) and Ezikiel Oliveria (amongst other things, the founder of FiveLines, a contemporary dance initiative, and whose works on youtube look mouthwatering), Shimazaki Toru’s Blue Snow (which I had expected and hoped for), and Bittersweet by Natalie Weir (which I have longed for year after year until I sort of gave up).

The entire schedule is dated for much earlier months than the usual – BUTS in early July, Masterpiece in early August.

Despite knowing the future, speculation is always fun. I.e. what I thought would be back, versus what is actually on the list.

 

Classical

Other than perhaps Romeo and Juliet, I hadn’t really given it enough thought. I did think that Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante would be back, and that we might bring back Concerto Barocco – but perhaps Concerto needs another year or so before it comes back? I did consider Serenade as well, but didn’t expect it completely –and it will be interesting to see it with changes to the cast.

Don Q! We must chew on that, because casting will…I don’t usually comment openly on this.

Swan Lake! I am also fascinated by that thought.

The big classical bonanzas are works of high drama, so we must sit on our hands and wait.

 

Non-classical

I did think Timothy Harbour’s Linea Adora might return simply because it is 1) new; 2) acclaimed; 3) really a worthy BUTS piece of incredible light, sound and action; but not his Another Energy – unless it is having a run at BUTS since it has only previously aired at Passages which is a considerably smaller audience – and it is very much a piece that would look fabulous for BUTS.

I had considered something from Val Caniparoli like Chant or Triptych returning (I think we’ve not seen any piece of his this year, which is a break in patterns). At the same time, we are adding new choreographers to our repertoire and freeing up some of the previous ones to return another time. New dimensions, new looks.

I would have thought that Nil Christe’s ZIN! would be back, as it’s a very BUTS-y piece and totally lovable; and most certainly Timothy Rushton’s Evening Voices for Masterpiece in Motion, which usually plays to a larger theatre.

Mathematically, it makes sense for Nil Christe’s Symphony in Three Movements to return because by 2019, it would have been three years since it aired (has it been that long?), which is a long enough wait (too long for something as trailblazing as Symphony) – but I didn’t consider it simply because it still felt fresh in the mind. On the other hand, though Val Caniparoli’s Triptych feels like a world away, it might be back only in the year after.

Obviously I am over the moon (if surprised) that Nil Christe’s SYNC is on the list – also happy that the following are back: Goh Choo San’s Fives (zomg excitement), Edwaard Liang’s Winds of Zephyrus (イェイ! \o/), and Natalie Weir’s Bittersweet (it would be interesting to see a new cast for this – or two casts, but let’s not be greedy – it is really hard work all round).

I’ve always been curious about Goh Choo San’s Birds of Paradise and multiple other works I’ve not seen before, but all in good time.

J-DRAMA talk (completely not ballet-related at all)

Where have I been for the last one hour?

Discovering that Maeda Atsuko (formerly-AKB48) married Katsuji Ryo – hurray! Hurray! I have a great fondness for Katsuji Ryo, having vaguely seen him in every other drama (almost like watching Kaname Jun, possibly one of the hardest-working Japanese actors ever, and also everybody’s police sergeant/ boss / boyfriend, hence in the major sub-cast of tons of dramas). Obviously, I was a fan of AKB48 back in the day, so that’s great too.

Also, that Goriki Ayame (rather a good actress of a different sort from the usual mould, and an ex-Seventeen model who can dance really well) is dating the 18th richest guy in Japan, the chap who has signed on to the Elon Musk SpaceX expedition.

Also, that I may want to watch Survival Wedding, which has Haru (hurray – an ex-Seventeen model from back in the day) and Yoshizawa Ryo (of Kamen Rider Fourze fame, albeit he was Kamen Rider Meteor).

These are whispers from my youth, so it’s all very pleasant swimming about in this. I do get fascinated by things — the meteoric rise of Yoshizawa Ryo, for instance (why he, and not so many?) — one always ponders, and then one watches snippets of Survival Wedding.

Hey, how prescient! I added a ‘jdrama’ under my Categories a long time ago. Oh – I was probably discussing Otona Joshi, back then.

 

Ballet Under the Stars 2018 (Weekend 2: Goh Choo San’s / Choo-San Goh’s works) – Schubert Symphony, Unknown Territory, Fives

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was little, I’d read about Madam Goh Soo Khim, and her brother, Goh Choo San, and Singapore Dance Theatre. There also used to be interviews with the principal dancers, full page ones with huge photographs. We knew about Tasha Wong and Jeffrey Tan and I still remember almost like it was yesterday when they wrote about the then-new principal dancer, Xia Haiying.

This being the 30th Anniversary year – it made total sense that there was a BUTS weekend devoted to some really powerful stuff. The Artistic Director of SDT frequently notes that Goh Choo San paved the way for Asian (I honestly don’t know if he means specifically northern (?) asian) choreographers such as Edwaard Liang, Ma Cong, etc   – the trailblazer for such choreographers to make their way in Europe and America.

The weekend’s shows were meant to be like 3 chapters of a book – classical, neoclassical, contemporary –  I believe.

Pictures from the SDT album can be found here.

The trailer:

 

 

 

 

 

1. Schubert Symphony

Previously, we had shared that this work was created when the choreographer, Goh Choo San, said that making classical works was easy and Mr Schergen (after a few years) admitted that he then challenged Goh Choo San (his best friend whom he saw as his brother) to make a classical ballet. Recently, he said that indeed it was done very very fast, and “I could hardly write the notation fast enough”.

04 Schubert Symphony

The last picture above shows dead lifts up – the ladies do not plie and push off to assist. Ouch!

This was first performed in 2015 at BUTS. Back then, the leads were Li Jie and Jake Burden. Next we saw it at Masterpiece in Motion in 2016, with Li Jie and Nakamura Kenya. Reading past reviews helps with comparisons (even if comparisons are odious) and also saves me from repeating some things.

Revisiting the music, below. The music begins to an empty stage. The dancers come out and prepare for 1:14 and an instant flood of soft romantic light that, well, brings to mind the scene in the picture below.

 

 

This opens with Paris Fashion Week –  smiling ladies, radiant  and resplendent in their glittering sequin-flower embroidered bodices, their soft swishy bell-skirts (“he hated tutus”) in blush rose-pinks, cream tea, lilac, powder-pink.

Schubert Symphony, on nth watching, is clearly a no-holds-barred bombastic unabashedly in-your-face classical piece (or neo-classical, if you want to call it that). Did you order classical with your sides? Here it is! Ladies raising their legs in tiny fast kicks to the sides and lowering them at every beat in the music, and turning their hands like pretty flower petals in the wind; Mai and Marina zipping across the stage in a bar of music; pointe-pointe-pointe work. see the first part of the clip above. Mr Schergen will have you know likes to highlight that the group dancers, soloists and principals all do exactly the same thing in this piece, which means that you will recognise that the dancers in it are all quality.

The choreography is intense, lucid, brilliant – the delightful twists of hands, the long lifted legs, the tight little bourres, the wide clean leaps. Let’s not forget the pair work: the men lifting the ladies onto their shoulders while the ladies cross their legs and hold their arms up in beautiful port de bras; the men lifting the ladies by the waists and crossing the stage while the ladies raise one elongated leg pointing straight up to the ceiling, a move that requires stability and strength and which has improved over the years; the dead lifts where the women don’t even plie to push off the ground – they are simply lifted straight off the ground with one leg in 90 degree arabesque and both arms arched above their heads.

It was all so enchanting that only halfway through the first part on Friday night did I remember that it was raining, and water was sloughing off my umbrella and running down my picnic mat and soaking into my clothes.

Ma Ni stepped into Maughan Jemesen’s solo role. Her graceful, pretty dancing style is perfect for this and she nailed the soloist parts without hesitation or any show of nerves in the shows I caught. I’m so happy to that she’s got the chance to shine in this role – yes, I have a soft spot for all the dancers, in a way, and it pleaseth me.

May Yen Cheah’s solo dance is as the skirt-sweeping blossom in the field with the leg lifts and arabesques, and the pirouettes in centre; watching her on Saturday, I was suddenly acutely aware of how happy I was to be watching her dance. It reminded me of, I think, the time when she made First Artist and we were so pleased.

Elaine Heng’s solo: measured, graceful jetes in a circle – her composure is an asset, and is part of her voice when she dances. On Saturday night it appeared that her arms were her life force and they propelled her so that every move was energetic and full, and strength radiated from every limb.

Love Bi Ru and Ma Ni’s synchronised, well-matched dancing – I do like the move that goes plie-plie-point – the bent knee that is emphasised and then powers up into a pointe just elevates the moment; and their very neat spins with one extended leg perpendicular to the other, which could so easily look awkward but just sweeps by easily.

For the men’s portion: Wide jetes across the stage, three at a time, either side; jetes combined with turns in the air, jumps. They are confident, charismatic. The part that always has me holding my breath is when the men line up to do great reaching leaps at diagonals. This dance is usually delegated to some of the tallest men in the company, and when they take turns to leap across each other’s paths, I always expect feel as if someone is going to dash the nose of someone else – but of course they never ever do.

If you have gentlemen, you should introduce the belle to them, of course – “Li Jie and 6 men” follows next. One bit of choreography worth mentioning: the men take turns to lift her up high as she leaps up in a split, raising a graceful hand high and gazing up; and as she is lowered by her partner, a man behind the couple leaps into the air before taking the place of her partner. This happens very rapidly over a number of partners so that your eye is always drawn upwards, and the lines are long and elegant. It was suddenly evident that the choreography in this dance brings out the best in Li Jie’s movement quality and she brings to the dance the grace and beauty of the moves superbly, as well.

At the end of this piece, Li Jie is lifted by four men (see picture in previous previews) and the two men behind raise their arms grandly and gaze up at her, as if to say: ta-daaa. In this production, everyone was totally on beat and had the requisite chemistry, such that when she was lifted, she appeared to be flying, and it underscored the beauty and grandeur of the scene – and you knew then that it had achieved exactly the vision and impact that the choreographer had intended. On both nights that I saw it, folk in the audience exclaimed, Wow.

 

Kenya dances a fair bit in this, of course. He not only spins and does beated legs in the air, he also introduces Basilio-esque turns on the spot with an extended leg, he does multiple marvellous turns in the air,  he pirouettes, he converts a landing on plie-arabesque into staggered hops backwards, and continues in a neverending sequence of moves which eventually ends with him landing and kneeling with one knee raised and one arm extended up in a gentlemanly gesture. As always, being Kenya, it looks like a walk in the park and cake for tea, ending with a pinky finger raised; and the audience applauded (wet claps all round on rainy Friday).

The ending is a group celebration, of course,* and I like how lively it is, and – in particular – one move that appears to beckon to us to join in the dancing – half an invite and half a dare – the arms in an ‘L’ shape and one foot tapping upwards at the ankle discreetly as the dancers proceed backwards, almost as if they are polka-ing or square-dancing and inviting us into the square.

*I took 30 seconds to parse through a collection of recent memories and pick out something that didn’t end with everyone on stage. I think Nils Christe’s Symphony in Three Movements (2016) ends with a couple. Boy, I love that , it’s a masterpiece – and hey, it also showed with Schubert Symphony.

If you see one of the earlier reviews and pick between the lines with a fish bone, you can see that I felt it was very methodical, broken down into very clear and systematic parts. Not all of Goh Choo San’s pieces look this way – Fives (apparently a signature work of Washington Ballet’s) carries a fair bit of that, I think. I like how multiple viewings have now given me the freedom to revel in the spirit of the piece.

 

2. Unknown Territory

05 Unknown Territory

From One @ The Ballet: This is supposed to be about a wedding ceremony, but the choreographer didn’t want people to think of it as a purely traditional Chinese ceremony, hence it takes place in a “fictional place”, and it has Indonesian and Chinese dance influences. In this tribe in an unknown territory, everyone has gone through the same marriage ceremony through the years. Apart from the betrothed couple, we have six married couples who had already performed this ceremony successfully, and when the women dance, the dance was passed by their mothers, who had danced it as taught by their mothers, and so on through the generations, and in this way, they were touching their ancestors. The betrothed couple has never met or spoken to each other before this day, and when they meet, that is the first time they have ever touched. At the end of the ceremony and hence the end of this very dance, the bride is taken to her room by the others, and the bridegroom is sent by the elders to perform a task of extreme bravery (“e.g. killing a white tiger or a large bear”), before he can say, “This is my wife,” as a man. If he returns, they are married – he has proven his worth; the other outcome being that he has died performing the task and does not return.

There’s a book on Goh Choo San which describes how he choreographs differently for women and men, so I suppose if you are asking if the story above looks very traditional, it does – do remember the era in which it was crafted and that this is a story.

I wonder if exotic sounds almost like I’m bordering on Orientalism (the ‘mystic East’, etc) – I can’t think of a word to replace it – but that’s not what is intended, and it simply means that this looks unique and bears elements of traditional Asian dances. Another way of looking at it, together with the description above, is that it bears the marks of mythical folklore. It carries all the signs and symbols: the ritual at sunrise, the face-paint, the washing with water, the mystical, secretive nature of the ceremony – just these 7 couples have been invited. Just for fun, you can mentally contrast it with Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, seen twice in recent years – at Masterpiece in Motion (2016) and Ballet Under the Stars (2017) – Contemporary Weekend. I need to chew on that. Yes, it’s totally different, but.

 

In the darkness, Chihiro stands at the back, wrapped up entirely in a brocade banner of scarlet entwined with gold, flanked by May Yen Cheah and Ruth Austin.

The women enter from our left and get into position, bodies angled to face Chihiro; and the men from our right, also at a diagonal, looking at Chihiro.

How do you not get goosebumps watching the women (in their gorgeous dark blue-legged unitards topped with gold and licked by scarlet flames; wearing headpieces of gold and scarlet wire whorls) tilt their bodies back at a plane, feet apart and knees bent in plie second position, their right feet en pointe, their left flat on the ground, their wrists planted on the crowns of their heads like deer antlers, their fingers flexed and flaring, their elbows pointed outwards to form a diamond shape? Kwok Min Yi is centre, leaning back proudly, ready for the ceremony.

And the men! From the pictures, you can see that they’re wearing dark blue briefs and red wires and their own skins. They are the very picture of scary strength, still as temple idols, one arm down and one hand up in a praying position on the crowns of their heads, their elbow sticking up. If the ladies’ hands form deer antlers, they form the unicorns’ horns.

It appeals to something in one, the placement of the hands on the head: almost ceremonial headgear, and yet also serving to make each person look larger and more powerful — much as animals duelling try to look larger than they really are. This makes the presence of the dancers more imposing and immediately impresses upon us how very grand this ceremony is. I don’t know if it was intentional, but how very clever.

The sky is a dark morning blue, and a large red-yellow sun hovers just above the horizon. The lights are a hot early morning burnt sienna, casting just enough shadow for us to recognise it as a time when the lamps haven’t been blown out yet. Hey, that’s just the colour scheme for the ladies’ leotards! Coincidence? I think not…

These are the blessings from the married couples. How I wish you could hear the music, and its Asian influences, the hollow drums and flutes, and the gamelan.

The women and men take turns to move and strike poses. The stirrings of the wind in the trees, the beats as the women, backs to us, drop their hands in unison and go up en pointe in second position, legs bent, arms up in L-shapes; then they drop into another position and freeze. It’s the men’s turn, and they pose in a lunge, facing the women. The women turn to face the men, hands up fierce and sharp as bull-horns, elbows pointed; then the men lean their torsos left, turning their heads to the women, sliding a left arm out, palm upwards, in an invitation. You can see it in the SDT album.

The pace picks up. Nanase slips out of the group of women, and rests her chin in the air above a man’s palm, moving her head sinuously while continuously bourreing furiously; when she returns to the flock, one or two other girls (Sun Hong Lei, then Beatrice Castaneda and Yeo Chan Yee) take turns to dart out to dance with partners before rejoining the women.

The women pose like models with a raised hand, the other hand resting on a bent knee; the men drop down to the ground; the women are Greek vases, the men beat the stage with their hands. At the most climactic moment, the women stand with their backs to us in the partial darkness, like triumphant goddesses, their arms up in an L-shape, palms facing the ceiling – and then they clap three times in time with the music; they resume this position, and then they clap again. It is almost chilling. They are ladies, they have borne children, they have seen it all – they are worthy of passing on the traditions, of blessing the bride. More than anyone else, they possess knowledge.

The mind’s eye sees Tanaka Nanase’s proud, knowing posture. (I have only one pair of eyes – everyone definitely lent to the atmosphere.) Hats off also to the amazing choice of lip colour for Nanase —  plum / dark blue/  black, which was absolutely fitting and striking.

The men and women merge together – the women bent over and holding the men about the waists, travelling en pointe backwards as the men advance from one side of the stage to the other; the women leaning back and spreading their arms as the men hold them up; women holding the men by the waist while they bourre, and turning their hands about the men’s waists, and seeming to pat them on the butt (yes, the kids in the audience giggled).

The women are vines, dryads en pointe, swaying from side to side, one arm lifted; the men are the supplicants, their supports, bent double, feet spread apart, torsos swaying. Eventually, the women run to the back and surround the bride and her two companions, bowing their heads, dancing about her. The overwhelming image is of the legendary powerful bird-like creature of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology (I cribbed from Wiki because it’s difficult to explain – I just know of it, not about it), the Garuda – and  if you google wayang kulit (traditional shadow-puppetry), you will see the bent elbows, raised angular arms and flat palms echoed in the choreography.

Everyone has fallen back into their two groups, into the same position as at the opening. The drum beats pick up – the women and men repeat some of the moves, but at a faster pace, so quickly that at the part where the girls dash out to dance quickly with a partner, they give the appearance of undulating, flickering flames (Nanase, in particular, comes to mind because she is the first to dash out again, lowering her chin above her partner’s upturned palm, her feet quivering on the ground).

Not all of this is a repeat of the opening, though: the men strike the ground with their palms, the ladies rush to a corner, arms outstretched; and at the very last, everyone reunites to surround the bride and companions, then at last they retreat in a circle, legs bent, bent at the waist in a deep bow, outstretched arms by their ears, clapping their hands – clap, clap, clap. It’s not applause – it is a summoning of good fortune, a reminder that this is a grand and solemn occasion.

Wedding ceremonies are not all fun and games, after all. I’ve often thought that the sheer length and requirements of such affairs are a test of a couple’s endurance, patience, and will to get married.

 

Now the men sit on the ground, and the ladies stand by their husbands to watch.

The bride’s two companions (May Yen Cheah and Ruth Austin) advance towards us, Chihiro, her crown glittering and her eyes downcast, shuffling between them. The ladies’s costumes are slightly different from the other ladies’: bright sky-blue whorls over their bodies. The bride wears a glittering gold crown.

Who are the two companions? At One @ The Ballet, Mr Schergen said: shall I share this? Beatrice says yes, as the ballerinas nodded vigorously. I hope it’s okay to say this, because it adds a layer and dimension to the work that is important.

The companions are known as the Sphinxes. They are the women whose betrothed never returned from the task, and because their betrothed died performing the tasks, they know how important it is for the ceremony to be carried out correctly. 😥 You can see it in their faces, which bring one close to tears: May Yen Cheah’s stoic, calm face bearing the Sphinx’s wisdom, clarity and knowledge that the ceremony must succeed; and Ruth Austin wearing the mask of the Sphinx’s secret sorrow.

The companions perform a simple purification and blessing ritual: they cross their arms across their chest and they lean back; they hover their hands over her body, from head to toe, as if blessing her. They form shapes with their arms around and before Chihiro. They retreat, and bourre around her, and lean back, arms straight back as arrows, then strike the archer’s pose – one arm stretched forward, one hand pressed to the shoulder, as if drawing back a bow.

At last, they take the ends of the brocade banner around Chihiro and unwrap her, round and round and round. 2 men of the tribe genuflect before Chihiro, then 2 women, and 2 men, and so on until they all form a ring about her, blessing her feet.

Chihiro is wearing a white full-body leotard with distinct red whirls across the torso. The Sphinxes raise the great ribbon, which looks like the bridal chamber bow or the red ribbon of a ceremony, and bring it to the front of the stage and then to the back, behind Chihiro, as if to shower the blessings from the ribbon over every inch and corner of the proceedings, in a ceaseless prayer of good fortune that covers every eventuality. The ceremony is so ceremonial  – so mystical, and mythical, and gloriously enigmatic.

Chihiro leads the ladies in a dance. Remember, this is a dance that has been passed down – steeped in tradition, a reminder of the path that Chihiro will step upon in her transition from a fiancee to a married woman. I am so pleased that there is a (grainy) clip of it as performed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on youtube, the better to share the intoxicating music and choreography with you.

 

 

Possibly my favourite moments of this portion of the dance is seen early on: the women perched, kneeling on the men’s broad shoulder blades, and stretching their arms out. Look at how the ladies sway their shoulders and swirl their arms like the feathers of a bird of paradise, and make delicate little motions with their hands as if they’re washing them in the river, or patting powder on their faces.

While Chihiro and most of the ladies dance in the foreground, we see a trust fall performed in the background: Minegishi Kana and Yeo Chan Yee take turns to be raised up and drop straight down upon a waiting mat of the men’s arms, over and over again.

Incredibly, eventually when they all part, we see the groom, Kenya, standing at the back of the stage, and Chihiro right in front, an invisible line between them.

Incredibly, I say, because when did Kenya get there? I watched it twice and I had to replay the video above to see the exact moment. It is magic – it is so clever.

Kenya’s arms are folded in an X across his chest, and he holds in either hand a great warpaint brush with heavy tassels hanging from it. He swirls the brushes with a rhythmic swishing and flicking of his wrists as he walks forward, arms still crossed. Chihiro takes the brushes from him as she was taught to, and with each brush she slowly draws paint upon his cheeks, one brushstroke upwards for each cheek.

The Sphinxes exit. Perhaps what is to follow is too painful for them. Perhaps it is feared their presence will have an impact (we are talking about the rituals of a mythical tribe, and superstition plays a strong role in that).

The pas de deux that follows between Chihiro and Kenya is intriguing and seems to symbolise the bond that is supposed to form between the husband and wife. He offers his hand to her for the first time, she appears to consider whether to take it, and at last when she touches it, that bond is sealed.

When I watched it, I thought the choreography and dancing on the female character’s part to be surprisingly coy, that of the role of the blushing wife, feminine in touch, retiring in nature, shy. I don’t want to say that there is a hint of obeisance, but the dance leans in that direction (whether heavily or not, you may decide). On watching the youtube version, I realise now that this is intentional. Perhaps this depicts the charm of this bride.

The groom, on the other hand, is bold and solid. Kenya is the man who will bear the weight of his wife upon his back and shoulders. Theirs is a relationship of dependence and trust: sshe lies across his lap and moves backwards on tiptoes as he proceeds across the stage, checking for danger; she makes a pretzel loop round his body by clutching her ankle tightly and wrapping her torso about his, while he, carrying her as one might wear a one-shouldered animal skin, manfully ploughs on, and manages to look graceful as he does so.

The sound of a gong in the distance sees him looking round and swinging her up. He continues bent-backed, unfazed, as she perches upon his back, a dainty hand raised to her chin, before he swings her down strongly. There are different roles for different genders indeed, in this tribe. There’s that curious coy quality again – perhaps her moves are meant to depict being womanly, rather than the child she was when she was still cocooned tightly – perhaps it is as if she has just been born, and now has been unbound and must also grow up and be reborn as a wife.

By his side, she mirrors his movements, and then at last she accepts both his hands.

Now it is time for the groom and his best men to dance. (This has just brought to mind the current-day practice — based on Cantonese customs but now widely practised by Chinese Singaporean marriages as a kind of fad that will soon solidify into tradition itself — of requiring the groom and his best men to perform some forfeits and haggle for money before the groom is allowed to see the bride.) This is a dance that highlights the pure essence of their masculinity – men leaping strongly over the curled-up groom in perfect strong chiselled shapes, jumping planks, poses on one leg while the other leg is raised in classical form and then held by the foot.

The video below doesn’t quite show it, but when the men lie down in supplication at the women’s feet, the women sway and lean backwards, then forwards – and we look now upon their wisp-like arms, swaying in the wind like the branches of the Tree of Life. Beatrice Castañeda channels the spirit and soul of the moment beautifully in this, and Minegishi Kana’s moves are graceful and sleek.

The couples run about the centre of the stage, then they separate, then they meet again, forming a column in the middle of the stage, and they embrace their partners. They slowly drift into two groups; Chihiro at the head of one to our left, and Kenya in the group to the right, and the bride and groom slowly advance towards one another, as if pushed forward by the cluster of elders behind each of them. On Saturday night, this was accompanied by the Doppler effect of sirens from the city in the background.

I believe at this point they embrace, and are surrounded by a knot formed by the dancers – and then one by one the dancers split away from that knot and treat us to a dizzying, dazzling display of solos –  perhaps a portent of what is to come next – we are a warrior tribe and this is to be your quest. 

Kwok Min Yi has a special contemporary dance quality in the use of her arms, in how there’s a little beat in the timing when she knocks her head backwards with the heel of her hand, and she throws her arms out, and then seats herself upon the ground, gazing outwards at us proudly or else casting her eyes downwards.

Reece Hudson bursts out with fluid, energetic, almost desperate strength. Minegishi Kana, who has a particular adaptability to both classical and contemporary works, looks stunning in that moment when she pauses, resting her weight on her metatarsals (!) and looks right out at us knowingly, over her shoulder, a curved hand raised in offering.

What’s interesting and new now is seeing Sun Hong Lei in a contemporary solo, and the assured contemporary lilt to her dancing. I like the fierce, elegant warrior choreography for this, to the sound of drumbeats: alternately leaning back with leg kicking out, throwing back the head, arms angled so one hand is to the opposing shoulder and the opposing arm thrown back; and bending over and kicking back with arms angled; and finally lying down in the centre under the watchful eye and arm of Kwok Min Yi (you may see the pictures).

Jeremie Gan springs out in a show of tribal strength, great leaps and shapes. Tanaka Nanase’s dancing is strong and bold – I love the moment where she is poised at the side of the stage, arms thrown out downwards, palms outwards, every hand and foot sharp and fierce as a dart. She and Miura Takeaki circle their portion of the stage like warring birds – dynamic and determined. Yeo Chan Yee is smooth and slick, in her high split-kicks, dispatching Reece with one to his chin in a show of nuanced violence. This is not a celebratory waltz by wedding guests.

Our two Sphinxes re-emerge with the red banner: Blood must be shed. As the ceremony began, so it must end.

The bride and groom advance before the banner, each holding on to the banner with one raised arm. When they halt, the Sphinxes wrap the banner round them – and then they split the banner. What was bound is now separated once more. The dancers surround each of them as they slowly part. Chihiro is raised up by Shan, tilted backwards, and you can see the sudden yearning of the bride to be with her groom. The Sphinxes push Kenya away, onwards towards his task, and he unravels out of the banner, one end draped over his shoulder and the other end in the hands of the Sphinxes.

We come now to that final scene in that glorious album of pictures: Chihiro seated and held high above the crowd, arms raised in longing and farewell, still wrapped in the red ribbon of fate that binds her to her groom; and she and the coterie of elders slowly retreats. Kenya, as the groom, retreats as well. It is a grand and terrible, terrible moment —

— and at the very last moment, Kenya disappears into the curtains and yanks the ribbon, and the Sphinxes release it, so we are left with the image of the ribbon breaking free and shooting into the curtains.

This is a mesmerising work of absolute quality. I would love to see it again. It was the hot favourite of the night, obviously. Listen to that enchanting music again. Imagine the drums, the gongs, the gamelan, the zithers. It transported us out of the night and into another world completely.

(For a moment, as I watched the bride perched on the groom’s shoulder blades, I briefly entertained the thought of someone else, say, Li Jie, dancing it – how it might look – I’m curious.)

Curtain call!

05.3 Unknown curtain 3

(Left to right: Tanaka Nanase with Miura Takeaki; Minegishi Kana with Reece Hudson though he is blocked by May Yen Cheah; Kwok Min Yi with Jeremie Gan; the principal couple of Uchida Chihiro and Nakamura Kenya; Beatrice Castaneda with Justin Zee; Ruth Austin; Yeo Chan Yee and Huo Liang; Sun Hong Lei and Shan Del Vecchio)

05.2 Unknown curtain 2

05.1 unknown curtain call 1

 

3. Fives

06 FIVES.jpg

This is the music used for Fives, a segment of which you can see in the clip above. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the third portion (Pastorale and Rustic Dances) is not included.

Mr Janek Schergen was saying that this is the work that most people identify with Goh Choo San, and one that is indicative of him as a choreographer and as a person; and that it was made very early on and refined later; and that it is fast-paced, mercurial, and idiosyncratic of the kind of movement he liked to choreograph with.

Red lights in an inverted arc in the backdrop. There’s an avant-garde feel to it: dancers wear full red sleeveless unitards that run to the ankles, and they dance to the sound of silence. Yes, they do, for a moment. This dance is very geometric and clean, methodical and stripped-down — the purity of movement, the lines, the feet. Everything is laid bare and you cannot hide, it seems to be saying. It’s very thought-through — it shows us the mechanisms of a movement without meaning to be mechanical.

I found it very moving, said a new friend on the first evening, we having bonded under a shared umbrella.

It opens to female dancers entering one by one at diagonals into the stage – Tamana, Chihiro, Akira, Beatrice, et cetera – those to our left with their backs to us, those to our right facing us. We will see that eventually there are five trios, two ladies matched by height to one man each. May Yen Cheah and Tanaka Nanase bourre in an complete the group, then Li Jie and Kwok Min Yi meet in the centre and kick their legs up – proud, bold moves to set the tone.

In the absolute silence that follows, they dance in what will be a characteristic style of the work: it is all very classical and yet very modern at the same time: bent plie knees yet leaning back at the same time; rondes on the ground, feet drawing circles, bourres – yet there is a distinctly modern angle in how they hold their arms at times, hands pointing back rather than in traditional arches. It takes some marvellous skill and timing to do all this in the silence.

The gorgeous triumphant music starts up, and the lights change, forming a V in the background. Proud long lines, arms spread open, beautiful attitudes (bent legs) – and then a hand perched on the head, fingers pointing to the ceiling. We recognise the classic pirouettes en pointe – but there are also leaps with arched backs. The legs are there, but the torso bends and the back relaxes in a distinctly modern look.

Silence falls again – unfazed, the dancers work through it at an invisible signal, then pick up again with a return of the music. To be honest, the silent dancing was discomfiting at first as I really like having some background music as some context or to fill up the scenery. But its visible absence also allows you to appreciate the work as it is, the tension in each line, the strength and solidness of each dancer, the purity of the work. Mmmm. Avant-garde.

Now we have strings and white lights, and romantic music. Agetsuma Satoru enters; a lady exits; and so on and so forth, men entering and ladies leaving like pearls falling off a string and new beads added on, subtly, gently as raindrops rolling off an umbrella – invisible to the bystander, until you look again and see that we have five men and five ladies: Satoru and Jessica Garside, Etienne Ferrere and May Yen Cheah, Timothy Ng and Tanaka Nanase, Kensuke and Beatrice, Miura Takeaki and Chihiro.

This is the second Act – more modern but still delightfully graceful movements: dry-land swimming; rolling upon the ground feet-over-head; Satoru takes on quite a chunk of the stage with his controlled pirouettes that are completely on the mark sans stiffness; women entering, sweeping the air gracefully with their arms, parting curtains with flattened hands in wide swathes.

Lithe pairwork that is breathtakingly quick and complicated – ladies stretch their arms behind them to form a loop with their partners’ arms, and then lean forward to open an incredible long back arabesque penche straight up within that loop; women who were one moment in a high arabesque are, the next, seen crawling across their partner’s shoulder blades and climbing down the men’s right legs, clinging on almost upside-down like geckos – and then they gently lie down; ladies cling to the men by wrapping their hands about one ankle, and then are swung round the men’s torsos from front to back – one moment they are swallows upon the men’s shoulders, legs in a swallow’s tail, and the next moment they are crosses, arms held out. It is complex, intricate piecework – and it is mathematical, almost orderly, something that resounds towards the end of the Third Act, which is almost upon us.

Act 3 – to Fugue, which youtube helpfully tells us starts at 18:24 – is bright, vibrant, stirring. Listen to it! I used to watch an old advert for SDT on youtube and wonder what music it featured, and this is it.

Kwok Min Yi opens it, lone in the centre, with dagger-sharp feet and arms, and a bright confident smile, and a gallant head lift. This 2013 video shows this opening (albeit with Rosa Park). Li Jie swings in next, spinning in, eagle wings and proud shapes; then Chihiro, and the trio dance, perfectly-matched in temperament and look.

Everyone floods the stage for the finale, a triumph of symphony and celebration. Each gentleman is paired with two ladies – the ladies are paired by height. A few moments that ask to be mentioned: Agetsuma Satoru shooting in (in the studio, blazing in like an exuberant cannonball), with incredible height and power, then whizzing into a confident series of multiple spins; the men and their soldierly lines; Sun Hong Lei’s solo, in which she bourres in profile while turning to look at us over one shoulder, holding out one open palm and flexed fingers (the show me the money move), then the other shoulder – she looks classy, and her solo allows her to stretch her long limbs to full use with superb flexion and a fierce strength, and immense perfect splits in her jetes; there is an artistry and flair to Minegishi Kana’s dancing; Tanaka Nanase displays warrior steel – notably, her dancing always reflects the emotions she has absorbed from the music.

A part of the third Act is seen here.

One of my favourite parts to this final Act is seen there, wherein the men march in from both corners of the stage, pause, whirl their arms in a bow, lean over, and repeat the process – it is a courtly, grand gesture. This grandeur is echoed in the moment when the men lift the women – clutching the ladies’ calves close to their chests – while the women point their arms diagonally in parallel salutes and their hands flattened, like the long arms of flag poles angled towards the sun.

The third Act is very much a work of geometry of trios working in unison and synchrony, and triumph and glory in time with the music, finishing in a final pose for the trios with one lady seated on the ground, holding on to one hand of the man, while the other lady is in a long elegant arabesque leaning upon him. Look again at the BUTS trailer at the very beginning to get a beguiling taste of what this Act is like.

I found the casting for this very interesting – a mix of the more experienced dancers, and a few others who have been in other large works, and are being aired a little more – but that’s the joy of contemporary works, for they allow more people to shine.

Up close and on subsequent reflection, Fives is indeed very moving and extraordinary, in its swiftness and its elongated lines, its use of the arms lifting invisible veils, and couple-work. It’s a very methodical, clean work of unparalleled power and teamwork, and precision, but there’s a spirit and soul burning within it. Sometimes I feel Goh Choo San’s works are exactly that, precise. The pruning shears are careful – there are no overblown blooms in the garden. It is not too spare, but it knows what it wants to accomplish with the music. For Fives, dancing is not merely music made visible, since there is dancing in utter silence – rather, dancing is distilled into the essence of the movement.

The third movement of Fives is who he is as a choreographer, the artistic director had said.

 

I like all three enough to want to see them again. I’ve waited really long to see Unknown Territory and Fives and I’d like to see the both of them again, and steep myself in them. To the future! in the next post – i.e. Season 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

Passages 2018, Part 3 – Shadow’s Edge (Ma Cong)

Marvellous photos for Passages 2018 are up on Singapore Dance Theatre’s facebook page.

 

On to Shadow’s Edge.

To the tune of infinite relief, this has been reviewed previously for Intermezzo 2014 and BUTS (Classical) 2016. It is more classical in look than the earlier two works – the pointe shoes, the classical port de bras (those arms! see picture below), the leaps.

02 Shadow's Edge

Changes to the roles, which you may skip if you so wish: Akira steps in as Alison Carroll has left; May Yen Cheah gives a new voice to the part danced by Maughan Jemesen with Kenya; Kensuke, who had actually danced this in 2015 in Malaysia with Rosa Park, I think, takes on the lead role (formerly danced by Chen Peng) and pairs with Chihiro (who danced Rosa’s part in BUTS 2016); Takeaki Miura takes Zhao Jun’s role (2 words more on this later); in a sleight-of-hand body-swap, Jason Carter dances Nazer’s role (a pas de deux with Li Jie), and thusly his portion is taken on by Timothy Ng.

 

We know the opening to consist of a lady (Chihiro) lifted by two men (Jason Carter, Huo Liang) and lying horizontal her raised leg trembling. This raised leg has always been a topic of contention amongst the shifting, murmuring audience (both the silent doubters whose body language betrays it, and the more vocal ones whispering): is it intentional? and as the young ladies correctly concluded, Yes, it is.

Chihiro alights at last, upon Huo Liang’s curved back and Jason walks her round. Kensuke takes over to partner her – he is deft, reliable and strong as always: lifts as she gently walks in the air above the ground; tilting her in a sundial turn, her body the shadow of a sundial needle; locking her over his shoulder in a backwards lift.

I ambitiously imagined myself trying to piece together the acts of this dance – but as always, it defies such actions. Shadow’s Edge can be thought of as a Netflix drama, summed up in the tagline Action is happening. Something is always going on somewhere.

–  and yet there were moments where there was a strangely gentle, soft, blurred look to the performance. Surely it wasn’t just nostalgia (for which I permitted myself a wet eye or two). Perhaps, after the contemporary look of the preceding pieces, it looked more classical, more Romantic.

There were so many moments when I thought – oh yes, this happens here! or Where is that pas de deux? Here are some of the little snapshots of moments I’d like to remember:

1. The men and their solid showing  – the pas de chats in the air, the awesome star leaps as they turn in the air, their shaking of hands in rage and stop-in-the-name-of-love sudden hand motions, their boundless energy, the cannon-kicks, where they throw out their arms and then their legs parallel to the ground.

2. The ladies and their precise footwork. One fascinating move for couple-work sees them in front of their partners, putting their hands behind their partner’s shoulders while making large sweeping circles (rond de jambes) on the ground with their feet as they advance forward.

3. The triumphant entry of the victorious queens Elaine Heng and Chua Bi Ru, lifted high on up by two gentlemen – each supporting one arm of the royalty. Elaine enters first, cycling her legs through the air; and then Bi Ru, and they are set down and greet each other royally, with a bending of knees and swaying of their bodies, and the brightest of smiles. Bold yet gracious grandeur.

4.  Li Jie and Jason Carter’s first pas de deux – lush elegant splits and strong hand-holds and sharp feet. Suddenly one marvels at how Li Jie’s hands always naturally drape themselves so gracefully at every turn, like a punctuation point at the end of a sentence, highlighting each move. There’s a pleasant, easy music in their style.

5. The trio of Tanaka Nanase, May Yen Cheah and Nakahama Akira – their dancing is pitch-perfect —  paint strokes on a canvas, wide swipes of a palette knife — and they fit together easily. There’s a delightful little move, of them throwing their heads back and opening their palms by the sides of their throats like the collars of frill-necked lizards, or flowery Elizabethan ruffles; and another, where they make little shuddering hops forward, lacing their fingers and pressing their palms towards at us. Delicate paintbrush moves.

6. Akira and Etienne’s pas de deux. They have worked together a fair bit through classical pas de deux (Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty), and their experience and familiarity shows. Akira’s dancing is neat and clear as always, and she is a good addition to the cast.

By the way, pictures from Instagram tell us that Etienne and Akira will be Prince Charming (Philip? Florimund!) and Sleeping Beauty for December, which I do think is good as they’re established and experienced, they’ve already worked so hard on the pas de deux, they look glowingly good together, and I am looking forward to seeing their interpretations of the characters. Separately though, I was also looking forward to seeing Li Jie dance the lead role of Sleeping Beauty – the viewer gets greedy and it’s good for principals to dance lead roles – and yet I also note the casting of Giselle gave room for Li Jie to dance lead but not Etienne. (A long time ago I made a passing comment on how I suspect multiple casts — and having one’s own company doctors — increases longevity.) So many considerations, so little time!

7. Miura Takeaki’s solo, which is stable and decided, firm dancing. He has worked hard and grown a great deal for contemporary dancing, and his solos are patiently worked-through, the legs unfolding clear as arrows, the feet establishing their positions, sharp as darts.

8. Kensuke and Chihiro’s pas de deux: a subtle, engaging performance. There’s a part where she leaps and lands in a split upon the platform formed by his forearms, and the two young ballerina-girls in front of me turned to each other, jaws dropping, eyes wide. Separately, Kensuke has a characteristically solid solo, displaying his strong form and the excellent multiple turns that bring to mind Basilio from Don Quixote.

ETA: This seems a good spot to insert the following video from Kensuke’s dance instagram, from his rehearsals with Rosa in 2015.

 

 

 

9. One of my absolute favourite moments – the non-stop dancing suddenly segues into this gorgeous moment with choral music (see from 0:33):

 

 

 

It brings tears – it’s a voice straight out of one soul, speaking to another.

At the end of this segment, everyone kneels, heads bowed, except for our lead couple. Ladies press their foreheads on top of their folded hands on the ground. Chihiro circles in to the centre of the spotlight, and with a confirmatory glance from Kensuke, follows the other ladies. Kensuke, standing behind her, throws his head back and arms up and rages at the spotlight above.

10. Right after that we get spun straight into this music – and one of my favourite parts of this dance – which includes the contrasting pairs of the slick and speedy May Yen Cheah feeding energy into the routine and partnered by the efficient Kenya – they are the waste-no-time couple zipping through their routine; versus the smooth, varnished edges of Li Jie and Jason’s pairwork, which, despite its speed, retains a curiously elegant musical look to it. Jason’s dancing in the pas de deux is interestingly smooth, a layer atop the usual lines.

(Here’s an irrelevant comment – recently found out that JASON is the name of what wiki says is “an independent group of elite scientists which advises [the US government] on matters of science and technology, mostly of a sensitive nature.”)

 

 

At some point on Saturday night towards the close of the dance, as Huo Liang leapt into the air, flinging his high, arced arms open, I suddenly felt as if I could hear and feel him soar with the beat of the music, enveloped in it.

You can also see some of the dancing for this portion in the video below, particularly from 0:19. (It’s a 2014 video – Rosa Park and Chen Peng are seen in the opening, and Maughan Jemesen dances with Kenya, and in the triple-couple dance you can see Stefaan Morrow. Phew, that was a long time ago.)

 

 

At the very end, the group falls down in a ring about the lead couple, as Chihiro raised high up in Kensuke’s arms in the brilliant, cool white spotlight.

It felt strange but pleasant, watching Shadow’s Edge after so much time. I don’t necessarily think it’s the nostalgia that made it seem sentimental – it was the choral music, perhaps, that carried that note. It’s a work that buzzes with so much energy and life and yet – it felt also more …muted and soft at points. Or perhaps we have aged.

If I could revisit anything from Shadow’s Edge, it would be the entire thing because it’s actually unadulterated fun. But especially the choral part, which I have always, always adored.

 

On Saturday night, all the performances received the wild applause and cheers they deserved. I think that, barring the unexpected, Evening Voices might be aired quite soon, because it’s really very complex and thorough.

 

Happy Deepavali / Diwali, as the case may be! We celebrate the triumph of light overcoming darkness during the Festival of Lights.

 

On food, if you’re interested…

A minor delay in this review was caused by (amongst other things) a visit to Roxy Square. If you are in Singapore, you should go to Roxy Square to eat the original Katong laksa. Folk who have been in the East since the 50s and can remember where the sea used to run up to the land before land reclamation say that this is the real deal – Roxy Square Katong Laksa probably doesn’t use earthworms (from the beach, not the garden variety, for the brine) any longer, but it’s still eaten with a spoon, and the gravy definitely tastes like they squeezed coconut shavings for the milk (back in the ’90s, we still had home-made curries made with squeezed shredded coconut).

…but I had the famous wanton mee instead, with its smoky apparently home-roasted char siew and chewy egg noodles, served by a very polite uncle with kind eyes who bellows your queue number deafeningly as if it’s the lottery (“FORTY-FOUR! FOUR FOUR!…and the next number is…TEN! Next is…(suddenly speaks softly, causing us to convulse with laughter) eleven.”) He takes orders in a soft voice and repeats your number to you for fear you’ll forget it; and he then scribbles an objective description of you to avoid dispute (“c is for char bor [female in Hokkien], grey for your clothes“, he told me kindly once)…though today, “NUMBER 13!!” and “NUMBER 14!” both wore grey, thus causing confusion.

More on food in Roxy Square.

It’s surprisingly accessible, by bus from Kallang and Dakota MRT stations, and (working backwards) probably somewhere around Bugis and Orchard.

 

 

Passages 2018, Part 2 – Evening Voices (Tim Rushton)

01 Another Energy_Evening Voices

The picture shown is of Agetsuma Satoru and May Yen Cheah in their pas de deux. The dancers in Evening Voices wear long-sleeved leotards of grey in front and beige behind, and a ring of grey encircles their wrists. There is no pointe work involved.

The work was inspired by Vespers (All-Night Vigil) and the word that came to mind was elegiac, somehow. Evening Voices has got a very special and unique look to it. The mechanics of the pas de deux and pas de trois are quite magically and fearfully composed. Tim Rushton has been the Artistic Director of the Danish Dance Theatre for 17 years. The write-up in the pamphlet says, tellingly, that he uses his work “as a means to communicate human emotion” and that his work has been described as “emotionally-led”.

A truth to be told is that there’s apparently something called, self-explanatorily, “white tutu fatigue”, a version of the Europe-touring tradition known as “ABC” (aka “another bloody church”). From a distance, all of Passages 2018 may look all very linear and modern and not faintly dissimilar, but a close look reveals the shades of emotion washing gently through Evening Voices, and then the emotional surge that is Shadow’s Edge. We were essentially looking at a Masterpiece in Motion night.

 

 

This dance begins with Chihiro walking out into the darkness and taking position to the audience’s left, a little beyond the blurred, barely-visible fringes of an oval of light on the ground. A single light on her reveals her in side profile, arms drawn up – a contemplative pose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She starts shudderingly and faces us, and the music begins, a sole voice, as she makes little movements as if moulding soft clay into a small pot. She reaches out to sweep her right arm and then her left arm behind her, as if she is taking in the spectacle of the world around her; and Timothy Ng runs into join her, and as more voices join the chorus, more dances enter from the shadows, opening arms as if moulding ever-larger pots, inscribing paintings in the air with a wave of the arm.

The body movements are soft, a little classical in shape, moulded clay out of jars. (Yes, this thought arises from the grey of the leotards.)

Contemporary works are always studies in how to arrange the dancers to keep the stage alive to the eye: Chihiro in her corner in drawn, desolate movements – the other dancers in a group on the other side – and Shan Del Vecchio entering from the audience’s right, in a desolate solo of roiling rolling limbs moulding empty air into clay, one moment bending backwards elastically, impossibly (see image below), the next locked in a running position and rocking over to touch the ground and righting himself again with a sharp hist! – the herd stares at him, and he turns to look at them, and they clap their hands over their mouths, crouching low, eyes large. He remains distant, and no one reaches out to him– and he exits, as isolated as he was before.

Here, image, as promised.

 

 

 

 

 

I honestly hope no one minds that I insert these random 1000-word pictures. They really capture the spirit of the moment, the stunning dancing and choreography, et cetera.

The pair work for this group is quietly exquisite. Ladies shuffle through a gentle promenade, the ladies wrapping an arm about the men’s torsos as the men walk in a circle, and if you look carefully you can see how the ladies have to shift their arms; ladies lifted off the ground by the sheer power of clasping the hands of the gentlemen behind them, and beating their legs rapidly like birds’ wings – the mind’s eye sees Ma Ni’s strong legs and beautiful form; ladies hoisted upside down over the men’s shoulders in a fascinating cat lift –imagine a very large cat sprawled over the shoulder, its hands gripping the lower back of the man, body and legs straight as a plank – Jessica Garside, strong and graceful.

It is good to see more dancers being given more significant roles over this year – Ma Ni, Yeo Chan Yee, Jessica Garside, Timothy Ng, and Ivan Koh (once seen as one of the chaps in Serenade even before he was a company dancer), for instance.

Exit pairs, leaving Agetsuma Satoru on the stage, who held his own solidly during the BUTS weekends. May Yen Cheah joins him for this pas de deux, which opens simply but compellingly with a pendulum leg swinging forward and back while the torso turns, the dancers watching the point of their foot for as tortuously long as they can before they can plant their feet back on terra firma. May Yen Cheah’s expressions and dancing bring out the passion, the agony, the light in this piece, and she is stably supported by Satoru. (I will talk more about Satoru at the end of this post.)

This is a slow-burn romance to choral music. It has its tender moments: the careful interlocking of arms as she rolls gently onto and off his back; that moment she lies on the ground, her arms forming an open loop through which Satoru rolls his looped arms; while he holds her hand while, curled up on her side, she shuffles in a circle on the ground; she sprawled across the picnic mat formed by his thighs.

— and it has its unsettling moments: where she lies on the ground and he lifts her feet – and her entire body peels off the ground in a pretzel S-shape, leaving only her head, and her shoulders and arms to support her as he walks round in a circle, and their dependence on each other takes on a surreal, almost grotesque look; or when he lies at rest, at last, upon the curve formed by her legs, and a little pronounced playful kick of her leg and tilt of her body throw him up into an uncomfortable arched sitting position, his arms clawed and his head thrown back.

The other couples enter (men first, posing Herculean-style a little comically), framing a gentler reconciliation of the main couple. Perhaps because of this shift in tone, when the couples echo the pretzel turn above, it seems more tender, a prelude to a display of trust as the men hoist the ladies upon their shoulders in a Cleopatra-lift, the ladies sprawled sideways across their shoulders, one hand resting upon their knees and the other supporting the men’s lower back, while their heads are propped up by the men – to every casual eye, ladies of leisure at rest. If you are seated at the correct spot, you can see one brave tall gentleman keeping his partner across his shoulders for the length of a Satoru solo instead of letting her down gently, because the dancers will cross the stage with the Cleopatra-lift in a matter of seconds.

Everyone retreats at last, leaving the stage bare save Shan and Chihiro in a huddle at the back of the stage. Satoru sweeps out, winging down upon them.

If the mind needs a story, the story that takes form is of a star (Chihiro) that has fallen from the firmament and slowly moulded itself into a human form, and is reaching out to the waking world.

Thus begins a lyrical, poignant pas de trois to the sound of a chorus of male voices, over which a lone female voice soars. Small bright white lights illuminate the stage. This pas de trois is stunning and beautiful in its mechanics, and looks fresh and revolutionary. The pen gives up inscribing and stops in awe at the beauty.

We travel onwards from this discovery of Chihiro – the gentlemen sliding her between them, kneeling by her as if in awe and worship; testing the waters as Satoru pushes her and she falls into Shan’s waiting arms; supporting her outstretched arms as she pushes off the ground in arabesque – little hops, stretching the feet, learning to fly; Shan throwing her to Satoru, she twisting in the air, in Satoru’s arms.

They worship and mould, and confine, this precious star they have found — lifting her high above to the stars, Shan’s hands entwined with hers as if he is waltzing with her; Satoru kneeling and offering his back as the shelf on which she rests, while Shan turns her round and round; they raise her aloft as one might a pennant in the winds.

 

 

 

 

There’s an unanswered yearning in the push and the pull, the tugging and tension – caught between them as, her arms still in their grip, she travels across the ground on her knees; her feet beat out a struggling tattoo on the ground; she wriggles as if to break free from Shan’s embrace. Perhaps she should fly, and they keep her on the ground. Perhaps there is a struggle between the two men for her – witness Satoru’s anguished leap away when she is coiled across Shan’s thighs.

 

Shan eventually breaks from the trio and circles the stage, one arm across his stomach and the other arm up vertically. This is the signal for all the other dancers flee out of the wing, arms poised similarly, and stand in a line, starting from the gentlemen to our right. The voices have grown to a large chorus and the lights throw a sunset-like glow upon the dancers, who lean their heads upon their neighbour’s shoulder; then they line up expectantly as Chihiro faces them.

The dancers hold on to one another’s elbows, forming a link chain that undulates like a long snaking jump rope while she, too sways as a wisp of smoke rising out of the ground and then she now turns and at last seizes control, grasping one end of the jump rope and compelling it to freeze and lock into position, one arm at a time.

Now it is her turn to discover this whole new world. The dancers turn, kneel and form a double link chain with their arms – and when she opens the ends of the link and slides her head between them, the arms open and separate as if they formed a giant whale’s mouth.

Chihiro is the leader of the orchestra, stepping forward. The dancers behind are lilting trees in a river, moving their heads in a circle in one direction, then another, so that their heads are tilted off axis; putting a decisive hand on their neighbour’s head to right it back in line; sliding one hand along the horizontal axis of the other arm as if zip-locking a bag. Chihiro arcs her arms and legs through a decisive solo while the dancers follow pace behind. In a particularly stunning moment, she turns her back to us and everyone claps their hands lightly in an arc overhead, mimicking the fluttering of butterfly’s wings.

 

When Chihiro rejoins the line, it sways once more in a final sigh, and then Shan lifts her up high and she is passed down the line over the heads of the male dancers while the female dancers break away from the line and run away. Shan swings her down and clasps her and drags her across the stage. More couples enter, the ladies with arms frozen in the L-arm manner as the men draw them in –you can hear their feet sliding across the floor.

Bright lights blazing down now, for the final act, which is calligraphy in motion—the undulating shapes, the arabesques –and everyone looks generally seamless and works their hardest at their pas de deux. There are little whimsical moves that remind you that you’re watching Evening Voices, the little coloured pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that form content that recognisably belongs to this box of 2000 pieces and not any other box: little arms frozen in a stiff-mannequin manner and cocking heads to the side; kneeling dancers waving a pointed finger upwards to the ceiling; a full 180 bow on tip-toes from the waist, to almost rest a hand on the ground; the fluttering of butterfly hands in a moment of silence; looping their arms about their thighs and circling the loops (ala the earlier pas de deux); men rolling over on their backs and holding up their feet as little shelves for the ladies to sit on for the briefest of moments.

Amidst the rhythms and delightful shapes, little thoughts cross the harbour of the mind – Ma Ni’s beautiful charismatic dancing (you can see her bringing out her interpretation of the music in her moves!), how solid and clear Yeo Chan Yee and Jessica Garside’s dancing looks, how well the dancers all fit into this; how Shan’s dancing is what breathing looks like – it looks so natural; how May Yen Cheah’s dancing clearly connects with the music and tells us what it is saying, and is so characteristic – lithe turns, arms sweeping up invisible waves; how emotions seem to pour out of Chihiro, feelings that you can’t quite put words to.

Waves of motion until at the very last, each female dancer is swept up into the arms of a male dancer – one last body springing upwards in a backwards lift, and exiting, leaving Chihiro back where she was at the beginning, in mournful solitude, and the lights go out.

 

Spiritual – evocative – expressive, delicate, haunting, poignant, lyrical, tender, wrenching. These are words that you know will have crossed the human mind, watching this piece.

It is not enough to watch this once. It is not sufficient. I tried to consider what I’d like to see again, and I came back to all the parts, that made the sum. It is all fascinating and interesting, and it was a new look for SDT. I think it is a piece that can be shown again at BUTS, or (in particular, given its length) at Masterpiece in Motion. I am personally very happy to see many of the younger non-soloist dancers in it, because giving new and challenging things to folk helps everyone (including the audience) grow.

I will admit (in a small voice) to entertaining the same thoughts I had in Unknown Territory (the review of which is in draft) – curiosity about seeing a different version by someone else dancing Chihiro’s role (e.g. Bi Ru, who has a certain spark and incredible voice, and who visibly feels the music in her own way).

On Satoru – I think from the moment he sprang onto the stage he has been quite a shot of energy, strength, technique, rolled into a powerful bundle. At this year’s BUTS, he was put out front and centre a fair bit, for good reason – and as he takes on each role, we look forward to seeing him grow with each performance, and with each story – growing the story as well. There is an abundance of possibilities.

A moment of self-reflection: I wonder if trying to remember / recording the moves takes away from the spirit, the voice of the piece. Does it all become too pseudo-technical? I don’t know but that I hope that visualising it in the mind helps one to sense the emotions. I admit that, as I said — I know what will have crossed people’s minds as they watched the piece — but as to what I actually felt — I was intrigued by the beauty and the look, and — I want to see this again, because on another day, in another time, it will speak to me in a different way.

It was lovely seeing (and hearing) so many appreciative young members of the audience who watched open-mouthed, and who completely enjoyed it. Here’s to hoping they continue loving dance and loving to dance, too.