Link to an Interview with Ivan Koh from SDT

We do like interviews, and this evening stumbled upon this particular interview:

Ivan Koh for CLEO’s Most Eligible Bachelors

There’s still time to vote, so most definitely we had to run this up now. Congratulations on the nomination.

This is the very CLEO contest that was mentioned in passing in this review of Midnight Waltzes for BUTS 2018. I am tickled mildly pink.

The interview is really cool because it allows us to get to know Ivan better – random fascinating stuff like how he knows how to build furniture because his father was a carpenter, and how he makes music on the side – I do think this piece is incredible:

 

(Irrelevant comment: After years, I’ve finally sorted out the way some of the women’s mags work. Her World is the sort that hints at scandalous articles – tons of anonymous “This was happening in my house!!” articles — but it is still careful – cos it’s mainstream and politically-correct; CLEO has no such worries and is colourful; Women’s Weekly is the sort of all-round semi-glamorous read for women who also look to self-improve, because there are recipes and articles about taking care of your health i.e. it’s Health magazine without the picture on the front that makes you feel bad and the content in the middle that makes you feel guilty about not working out and eating clean 100% of the time. I must say they all do tend to do the round-up article where someone summarises the life of say, Hailee Steinfeld in an article — because they can’t possibly interview her, of course. Anyway, Women’s Weekly is actually my favourite of the lot, and the January “splurge or save” cosmetics/ skincare/hair care issue is my favourite Ranking Issue out there. But my favourite favourites are the Japanese women’s magazines – they are out-of-this-world incredibly informative.)

Advertisements

Archiving and Oh Dear

I’ve finally gone and done it – I’ve saved all the past posts that matter.

In the process I have found some typos (and missed out most of the rest since I had no time to re-read) some names typed faster than I should’ve, horrifyingly — and (because I don’t always re-read the posts) worse still, I’ve said things I wouldn’t say today which may have implied things I didn’t intend at all to suggest (one of the worst was fouettes for Swan Lake – I read through that paragraph proper and then I saw something totally not intended at all! I have gone back to correct it ToNight because Belated).

Oh dear.

 

 

Don Quixote (2019) by Singapore Dance Theatre – Part 2 (Acts 2 and 3)

First, we insert a link to the rousing Part 1 (Prologue and Act 1). Next, we rinse and repeat the cast lists, plot and the youtube link to the music, for convenience.

First intermission is over 🙂

20190311_231608

20190311_231550

20190311_231653

20190311_231618

 

 

 

 

As you buckle yourself in and sit tight for Act 2, the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra begins with a stirring interlude (54:27 — Molino) and the screen depicts Don Q and Sancho approaching the windmills. The music is striking, lively and has grown even louder — it makes the heart sing — but there are strangely moving undertones from the wind instruments (I think – listen to the layers that repeat until they fill the tune – 55:05 to 55:09, 55:20 to 55:22 — and then 55:58 to 56:07 and the tinge of grandeur mixed with melancholy). Listen to how the winds build up to the cymbals and then horns (56:32 – 56:44, just random anyhow naming of instruments) – this builds up so much anticipation for what’s next.

Gypsies / Windmill Scene

The curtain lifts to reveal a quiet stage at twilight, a windmill right smack centre in the background. The couple run in under the shelter of the shawl. The rain has stopped, and Basilio wraps the shawl around her – and then they decide to lay it on the ground for Kitri. This is one of my favourite pieces of music – tender plucking harp strings (1:02:24/33 leads us into the music – Carmencita). This is a tender polka with a Spanish touch, heads thrown back slightly, hands twisted. It is their dance of we’re together, at last — we see now that there is a loving urgency in how Min Yi catches Satoru’s hands lightly and tugs him along; and when she holds up her hand to invite him to dance, he runs straight to her. There’s a tenderness in how Kenya’s hands embrace Chihiro’s shoulders as she turns slowly, and it’s a gentle, loving waltz as she tucks one leg under and her arms inscribe the wonder of the music, and frame the face of her beloved as she leans back in his arms. The music soars as Basilio soars through the air, sweeping his legs in a clean energetic split that slices the air so perfectly the heart stops.You can sense the yearning that Kenya’s Basilio has for his Kitri – stay with me, stay by me, he says; and he holds Chihiro aloft like a pennant as she rests her hand to her cheek.

But there is that snap of a flame, in the dancing – that moment when she, looking away from him for a moment, extends a foot behind her and he catches her wrist and that ankle lightly, and they turn their heads sharply towards each other – and there’s that proud sharp gleam in Kitri’s eye, and then she pivots on her toe so that she’s facing him, though her wrist and ankle are still lightly in his grasp. It’s in that sharpness of the turn of the heads —  that fire, that boldness. It’s in how she leaps into his arms lovingly, trustingly, and practically floats in the air as he swings her round; it’s in that thrown lift in the air that occasionally results in the umbrella skirt floating over Basilio’s head.

At the end of the dance, she sits down on the magic carpet of a shawl and he pulls her over and spins it round, and they are in the centre of the stage now as he sits down and they fall into a great embrace of relief.

 

What do we have here? Gypsies emerging: King Yorozu Kensuke and his band of merry men (some of whom are generous with their facial hair make-up — the drifting eye acknowledges Justin Zee, Reece Hudson, Shan Del Vecchio) for Cast A; youthful Boy King Huo Liang (sporting a fetching new hairstyle and bandanna) and his troop of gypsy friends for Cast B. — and yes, that’s what the Gypsy King asks – what have we here now? Basilio and Kitri explain that they eloped and folk are searching for them.

They get a good rest while the Gypsy King dances his characteristic dance. For this, the music leaps across the soundtrack, trimming the fat, as it were, and takes us to lively music (Danza Gitana I at 1:20:50). A might leap opens this dance – the Gypsy King skimming the air, suspended.

Yorozu Kensuke (Cast A) exudes confidence and experience, and injects a flair into his performance, whether it be when his Gypsy King is frilling the fringes of the air by waving his hands in an arc, or when he is tossing his tambourine over to Basilio with a watch me air. He, too, has been accompanying Chihiro and Kenya’s Kitri and Basilio over the years, and his Gypsy King is a triumph of high-speed Basilio-style spins and grace, to applause from the audience. Furiously fiery with fire right up to his fingertips.

Huo Liang (Cast B) is a zealous boy King who throws his back into his dance earnestly, and who absolutely wows the crowd with a tuck-legged jump and a series of steady stable spins that include, incredibly, a moment where twice, mid-spin, he simply lifts his foot right off the ground and tucks it under, which requires a fair bit of control. (I know, right! when was the last time you did that?)

At a signal from their King, the gypsies join in the dancing, lightly touching the backs of their heels, clawing at the air, throwing themselves into turns. Newcomer Erivan Garioli is a leonine, smooth Gypsy (who shows / has shown his dramatic leanings in the village scenes); Miura Takeaki turns in a fine, compact performance as always (here we slip in a gentle — if late — note of congratulations to Miura Takeaki and Minegishi Kana on their wedding, because we are sentimental).

When the dance is over and all are feeling right jolly, enter Sancho and DonQ (the music makes a neckbreaking leap from no. 35 to, I guess, no. 37 Escena – teatro de marionetas atacado por don quijote, quien luego ataca el molino de viento). The couple immediately think that everyone else isn’t far behind, and quickly hide, while the gypsy boys mischievously try to scare Sancho by stamping their feet, and make fun of DonQ’s stiff, fuddy-duddy manner.

Gypsy King has vanished and now he reappears in his grand rich robes and settles his crown upon his head. DonQ recognises the universal symbol of royalty and genuflects. It’s time for the Misunderstanding of the Century – (1:27:46 – 1:28:16) Gypsy King thinks that DonQ is trying to break up Kitri and Basilio, so he points to the tent where an appropriately-placed lamp allows everyone to see a shadow play consisting of Basilio proposing to Kitri, Kitri agreeing, and the couple embracing; DonQ, the daydream believer, thinks that some unfortunate turn of events has befallen Dulcinea (or else is jealous), and uses his spear to smack the tent – and like they say in a Nancy Drew mystery, suddenly the flame in the lamp goes out! and the tent is plunged into darkness and it falls over as the couple scurry out.

The quick-witted Kitri distracts DonQ by convincing the knight that the windmill (?) is some great monster that is attacking her – or summat (google says he thinks the Moon is Dulcinea and the windmill attacketh her), and the couple race off as DonQ turns his attention to the windmill. This makes for strangely soulful music (1:28:17 – 1:28:22) that stays in the mind. Don Q goes off to the side behind some backdrop / prop bushes and the gypsy boys form a crowd, creating a huge hullabaloo, and at last Don Q emerges, flying high and wielding his sword against his newfound enemy while poor Sancho calls out to him to come back down.

Eventually, DonQ is defeated and falls slowly back down to the ground, and in a matter of seconds, he emerges, limping and tuckered out (up to 1:28:50, because they’re sparing with the music). Poor Don Q! (I spent half the shows trying to see if Chen Wei had a harness on before, during or after the event, but was unable to spot any, and the lighting was not at 100% anyway, because it was twilight. Kudos to DonQ, who must have guts of roller coaster steel…the tummy churns on his behalf.)

Poor DonQ! again. Quietly, subdued, he hobbles over to and lies down at the front of the stage (1:30:05 to 1:31:01) – the melancholy music we recognise from the pre-Prologue, undiluted by any bucolic mood. Please skip past 1:31:02’s Allegro. Imagine the curtain falling now, behind Don Quixote as Sancho hurries away and he sinks into a deep, blissful sleep. The eye sees a magical glimmer of blue beneath the curtain, and there is the faintest whisper of toe shoes.

Dryad Scene

For what a blissful sleep this is as the curtain rises to the sweetest notes (1:32:47 – El sueño de Dulcinea), and to a dreamscape: glittering crystals descended from the heavens, rows of Dryads in varying shades of blue-green and blue dresses, a humongous moon with actual shadows that glows down benignly upon this scene (1:33:00) – and Cupid in a tiny grey-blue tunic dress with a headband and a little ponytail of curls (thankfully not the blonde wig) – and the Dryad Queen in the world’s most fabulous golden tiara and golden-and-white tutu set – and (I think) DonQ’s Dulcinea, now played by the last girl he saw, aka Kitri, in scarlet-trimmed gold.

Live music is magical — it carries a dreamy, romantic, tulle-veil sound to it that youtube cannot convey (1:33:47 – 1:34:19); and also a majestic grandeur (1:34:30-1:34:43) that reminds you that you are in another world.

May Yen Cheah is our stately, other-worldly Dryad Queen for Cast A, giving ample time to each moment – oh the chills, when she stretches her wandering hand across the sky, tracing the passage of the moon. Bi Ru is (in the words of a friend) the buoyant Dryad Queen for Cast B, gracious and smiling, and carries herself like a smiling vision in a dream.

Imagine yourself as Don Quixote, weary knight who has overcome battles and is now entering the twilight phase of his life; who spends time between the leaves of his books and dreaming of grand romantic adventures and damsels, and the good ol’ travelling days. Now he wakes in this beautiful world with the most stirring bewitching soundtrack in the world, and shifting shimmering Dryads.

An abrupt shift in music gives us the cue that Cupid is on the move (1:35:17) – light lively music, as Cupid leads him – perhaps he wanders amidst the waves of Dryads as they fold inwards and settle in neat columns. Always good to see familiar faces like Yatsushiro Marina, Nanase Marina, Ma Ni; and folk like Ma Xiaoyu, Felicia Er and Reiko Tan who fit very well into the line-up; and the charismatic Esen Thang and graceful Yamauchi Sayaka. A side-note on the new additions to the company – Henriette Garcia, who has a precision to her line and steps, and Yayoi Matches, who has an elegant graceful presence.

The Dryad Queen takes Don Quixote by the hand and leads him further into the kingdom — little leaps while her arm arcs high above — the ghost of a past Dryad Queen floats into the mind unbidden.

When Don Quixote aspires and desires to have a word with Dulcinea-Kitri, Cupid also takes her turn flitting before DonQ, smiling beguilingly at him with her arms in floating see-saw (sorry, but that is it) motions, like fluttering feathery wings, blocking him from approaching Dulcinea-Kitri, and she and Dulcinea-Kitri float away backwards (1:36:58 – 1:37:11 and onwards until 1:37:…24?). Each of the casts of Cupid, Dryad Queen and Kitri fit together seamlessly and have chemistry that you never knew was necessary until now, and it makes the audience smile. Chihiro (for Cast A) plays a sweet dream of a Dulcinea, smiling sweetly at Don Quixote from a distance with a sparkle in her eye; Min Yi (for Cast B) is the vision who manages, in the flickering of her arms, to suggest a beckoning greeting to Don Quixote.

The Dryads take over the stage with their lovely arms and delicate kicks from the ankle to tide us over to the next – not the lengthy song no. 42, which has the ring of old-school musical Hollywood to it and –  but to the Dryad Queen‘s solo (1:42:49, i.e. no. 45 Souvenir Du Bal). May Yen Cheah (Cast A’s Dryad Queen) carries herself with dignity and experience, and there’s a significance and meaning to her dancing – the side leaps, the arched arms, the inscribed lines in the air with port de bras; Bi Ru (Cast B’s Dryad Queen — her second time) has a warm, natural grace and powers through her Italian fouettes solidly (1:44:18).

Next out is Cupid, a hot favourite with the crowd, for good reason, for this is an unforgiving Cupid solo (the music leaps backwards in time to no. 43, Amour, at 1:39:54). Nakahama Akira reprises her role as Cast A’s Cupid — flying, floating, so high are her little leg lifts and endlessly infinite are her skating spins, so light that she almost looks to be flying; and the music is relentlessly breathlessly quick on Friday night especially, but she whips through it and makes it look absolutely effortless; and there’s that little girl in the awestruck audience who stops and leans forward when Akira appears, and claps wildly with every inch of energy in her body when Cupid’s solo ends.

Hip hip hanky, here’s a snippet on instagram.

 

Beatrice Castañeda is Cast B’s Cupid (quietly much-anticipated and exactly as awesome as hoped for) – nimble, swift, speedy, always in control of every limb and movement — light as a feather, smiling brightly, feet in crystal pointe piercing the ground – a joyous, energetic Cupid who shares her delight with the audience and who, in both performances, blew the audience away — and again there is that one little girl (a different one, I think it’s the one who actually knows the music to the solos) seated behind who breathes, So cute.

I believe that it is now time for Dulcinea-Kitri’s solo (1:40:51 – song no. 44) while the audience watches, enraptured. Yes, the music jumps, but this makes for an entertaining Act 2 for which no Coke Zero was required at all. You may think the opening poses too slow and measured, but I think they show off the control and strength of our leading ladies, and have a gentle ladylike quality. If we are here for the bombastic moves, try that incredible moment where Dulcinea-Kitri hops delicately on the toes of one foot across the stage while unfolding her arms with perfect poise and calm and kicking the other foot out from about lower-mid-calf height all across the stage, maintaining her balance and gracious composure (1:41:44 – 1:42:01); followed by the gentle understated brilliance of little leaps and poses; and then the incredibly speedy spins in a circle as her legs eat up the breadth and width of the stage (1:42:31) – the little hops and the spins immediately draw loud applause for both our leading ladies from the impressed audience. Chihiro’s Dulcinea-Kitri is a light and sweet dream-vision, and carries herself with smiling, peaceful ease  – and has such spectacular arabesques and speed. Min Yi’s Dulcinea-Kitri dances to the watching Don Quixote, coaxing, reassuring – delicate attitudes, crystal-sharp clean lines, arms shooting out to the stars, neat articulation in her moves, and every single pose radiating energy throughout the entire stage.

Now the end draws to a close (1:44:44 – Coda) as the Dryads ready themselves and Cupid emerges again to take centre stage with two major Dryads (Minegishi Kana with her pert, neat moves and high arabesques; Suzuki Mai, with that romantic graceful line and soft grace). They begin the Dryad dance with a quick gentle bend of the head and a fluttering of hands (1:45:07) that is magically in-sync – a farewell dance of light shifting feet and energetic arabesques.

Then the Dryads (bourree-ing furiously but always looking marvellously unruffled) line up in a diagonal to emphasise the grand entrance of Dryad Queen (1:46:42)  – the music is sufficiently golden and grand as the Dryad Queen enters with a series of incredible successive leaps for joy – May Yen Cheah always a little ethereal while flying high; Chua Bi Ru effervescent, a joyous song. This is followed by an even more enthusiastic, blazing repetition of the same phrases of music (1:46:59) as Dulcinea-Kitri enters in on a high note — Chihiro light and sparkling; Min Yi’s leaps light and full of life. The light music after is for a spectacular show of quick action as Don Quixote sinks back down on the stage; and the music slows tenderly (1:47:31) as he starts to fall back to sleep to the lullaby of the Dryads’ bourree-ing feet while Dryad Queen, Cupid and Dulcinea-Kitri smile blissfully down at him..and then his lovely rustling actual Dulcinea in a long golden rustling gown and a Goddess of Mercy golden veil emerges to cast a sleeping spell over him.

A curtain falls behind Don Q, separating him from the dream scene, and Sancho re-appears as he wakes up, to help him away (1:47:52), to grand music.

 

Act 3

Tavern scene

The screen after intermission depicts DonQ and Sancho leaving the windmills behind as they advance on their adventure. What’s the music here? I’ve no idea.

A backdrop that cuts the stage off in half, and an open arched doorway at the back. A table to the audience’s right, and a ring of merry tavern-goers – and in run our happy hero and heroine through the doorway, having successfully escaped from DonQ and the search party – and they are the toast of the party. Espada and Mercedes are here too – surprise.

The song which I thought was from Act 1 is now here – for Kitri and Basilio to dance to – after Basilio has swigged from his glass and tossed it aside (56:45 – Song no. 27). This is the terrifying dance in which Basilio swoops into a series of spins before Kitri launches herself confidently into Basilio’s arms, looking immaculate and graceful throughout. A true test of courage and partnership; and Kenya’s Basilio makes us both impressed and momentarily ill (in a most pleasant way), as he totters a little as if he’s a tad drunk – before turning at the exact right split-second to catch Kitri and turn her upright into the right pose. I did go a little green around the gills each time Kenya did that, but it was a most amazing dramatic touch which I enjoyed highly, heart-in-throat notwithstanding – and, hand to heart (hand-to-throat?) which I wish everyone could have seen.

Basilio and Kitri retreat to a corner to rest while Espada steps up to the plate (1:06:44, Song No. 30). Espada starts out surrounded by a ring of admiring Spanish ladies, to spritz us with a little fire and remind us where this ballet is set; and he politely acknowledges them, without a single wandering eye. The dance is a smooth, suave Latin waltz-like dance – look at the smooth proud shoulder shrugs of Etienne’s Cast A charming, smiling Espada dancing to his Mercedes, and the twists in the wrists of our neighbourhood jolly good fellow Timothy Ng aka Cast B Espada. They both pull off the stuttering stamps of Espada, the raised arms forming boxes, the spins, with class.

Such class, in fact, that at the end when Espada ends up face-to-face with Kitri, Basilio senses that they are sharing a Moment that does not exist. Kenya’s Basilio is a little put-out, but is generally easy to reassure. Satoru’s Basilio, still the temperamental fellow he was in the earlier scenes (he who almost did not wish to dance when Kitri was dancing with DonQ; he who was in a right fine temper about almost smacking Lorenzo for interrupting their kissing until he saw who it was) enters a jealous sulk and nudges Kitri – hey, what was that all about? But Min Yi’s Kitri ignores him, adding fuel to the flames, and strolls away as he persists – and a tavern-goer (Shan Del Vecchio) good-naturedly stops Basilio in his tracks by offering him a drink to 息怒(xi1 nu4, quell his anger) and distracting him while Kitri pauses to chat to a random Spanish tavern-goer (Jason Carter).

In the meantime, a couple head out on a quick date but do a double-take and U-turn back into the tavern, saying that Lorenzo is headed here, searching for our happy couple (1:14:01 – Song No. 33). The couple quickly split and hide – Kitri creeps around behind the folk in the crowd to our left, while Basilio hides behind a fan held by a Cupid and they enter either a decorous false discussion (for one Basilio) or a slightly more involved episode (for another Basilio).

Lorenzo and Gamache enter – Gamache, wearing an air of hurry up and find me Kitri, peers into everyone’s faces. Lorenzo demands that the animated tavern-keeper (Esen Thang) inform him about whereabouts of his daughter and Basilio, but the tavern-keeper refuses. Lorenzo stamps his foot and snaps his fingers, Gamache follows suit, Basilio peeks out and watches with interest (1:14:36 or such similar music); Lorenzo repeats the gesture, as does Gamache, and cheeky Basilio joins in on the action by stamping his foot and snapping his fingers too – wait a second, says Lorenzo, and he and Gamache turn around, but Basilio plunges behind the fan once more.

Quickly, Espada attempts to sneak Kitri out – but by this time, Lorenzo has finished looking around and he catches sight of the escaping pair. Espada tries to pull her out (1:15:09), he and she waving cheerily to everyone (who waves back) – Lorenzo grabs her hand and tugs her back in (1:15:13) and this tug-of-war continues — Espada Timothy even blowing farewell kisses to the crowd on Sunday’s matinee as he pulls Kitri out — (1:15:17, 1:15:21) but eventually Lorenzo wins and tucks her hand into the crook of Gamache’s arm (up to 1:15:43) – now quick march to the altar!

We may recognise the music now as Gamache snottily leads the way – Kitri tugs on his arm once; he pauses, ignores, continues – a second tug to stop him does not make him brake – and so at the last, she lets him kiss her hands, presents both her hands to him as if she’s willing to marry him, nodding and smiling and mincing around him en pointe – but she pulls one hand away coquettishly – and as he leans forward, she pulls the other hand away and he topples over and falls (1:15:45 – 1:16:14).

Just when all seems well with Gamache vanquished, the music grows ominous (1:16:17) and in storms a hurt, angry Kenya-Basilio/ a stormy-faced, furious, jealous Satoru-Basilio, wrapped in a huge cloak, his right hand tucked in his armpit.

“Welcome back!” cries Kitri, but he ignores her open arms, and says Speak to the hand.

Look, he says – look at ye (indicating Kitri); look at him (indicating Gamache) – what is this, this hand-holding, this kissing (imitating the wild planting of wet slobbery kisses on his own arm)? Do you know how hurt I am?!! (One fist beats the passionate heart.)

Look here, he says to the stunned crowd as it draws close, and he whips his right hand out from under the cloak, here’s my shaving knife (click click – there’s the blade) – you have hurt my feeelings. Look at my knife! I am going to – stab myself right here in the armpit. (1:16:56)

–Everyone hides their faces in terror.

Basilio staggers a little on tiptoe for show in case anyone is still unconvinced — then he carefully uses his unencumbered right hand to unwrap the cloak, and lay it out on the ground just-so. Positioning himself carefully at the foot of the cloak, he takes the trouble to arch his back carefully and peer over his shoulder, to check that the cloak is long enough to hold him (triggering chuckles from the audience) and – for Satoru-Basilio, there’s even time to flash a large conspiratorial infectious smile at the audience which brings waves of laughter – before Basilio lays himself down comfortably on the cloak to die. (1:16:57 – 1:17:03; the rest of the music for No. 33, up to 1:19:19, fills up this scene — listen to e.g. the cheeky music from 1:17:20)

Now slowly the crowd dares to look up. Noooo, Basilio is dead, omg. Kitri kneels by his body and wails – oh! there’s the knife, which she pulls out by pressing one foot squarely on his body and tugging. Ew, the blood – she discards it – she cannot bear to look at it. A drink, somebody – any drink will do.

The tavern-keeper pops up and passes her a useful glass. What should she do with it? Not throw it into his face, surely. Kitri downs it promptly and immediately feels better (yes, that hit the spot, thanks!). (Do note that it is all mime so we insert the dialogue ourselves.)

 

Enter DonQ and Sancho – and as Sancho hurries past, Basilio can’t resist cheekily putting out a hand to trip Sancho up. Poor Sancho has no idea what hit him…

A drink might jolt some spirit(s) into the corpse, and Kitri holds a glass to his pale lips – and Basilio can’t resist heartily kissing her neck. Kitri looks quite surprised and blushingly pleased, blinking in delight (did I imagine that? — a hand drifts to her neck). She tests him with the glass again and Basilio plants more hearty smacks on her neck. Now Kitri’s sure: O good, he’s well and alive!

Now she must continue his charade. She jumps up to speak with her father; and just then, a highly-doubtful Gamache lifts Basilio’s leg and it remains suspended in the air, his toes beautifully pointed and his calf muscles drawn tight.

“Dying, my foot!” says Gamache, and he hurries to tell Lorenzo this– and Kitri, realising that her cheeky Basilio is having too much fun, quickly hides the leg with an open curtsey and a wide smile, and tries to shove the leg down. The leg has dropped by the time Lorenzo turns around, but Gamache is having none of this.

“Look,” he says to Lorenzo, as fussily as a small child demanding attention, “a dead man with his leg hanging in mid-air??” (Etienne’s Gamache eloquently draws his hand down his own lifted leg to demonstrate and raises an emphatic hand in annoyance.) “I ask you– is it natural?? He isn’t dead!”

But the leg is down. Well then, what better way to prove his point than for Gamache to whip out his sword in a childish fit of fury, lift it high in preparation to plunge it into the corpse– after all, since his rival is already dead, it won’t do any more harm than it would have –let’s see if you were right about him being dead!

The entire tavern, horrified, restrains him from further desecration of Basilio’s still-warm corpse, and Gamache sheathes his sword in a huff and stalks round the corpse and right in front of it — and is promptly confronted by an appalled DonQ, who reprimands him for his lack of respect towards the poor dead young man on the ground.

Thus ensues an argument in which Gamache fretfully fussily whips out his hanky and smacks DonQ on his metal breastplate with it –and Jason Carter’s hilarious Gamache stamps his foot,  pouts like a child and points– out!get out!

DonQ, who towers over Gamache, easily grabs him by the shoulders and shoves him away forcefully.

In the background, while all this is happening, Kitri is pretending to sob over the body, blinking tears away furiously and drawing her hands away from her face to emphasise the tears that she is brushing away. ..and Basilio cannot resist sending a ticklish wandering hand either tiptoeing up her cleavage or else grasping as if to exaggeratedly cup the air about her chest (all done with care and decorum by the respective Basilios), and Kitri smacks his hand away, but not without a little delight that her Basilio is back.

Kitri has a brainwave, the same one that inspired Basilio, and she implores her father to allow her to marry the dead man (~1:18:46). After all, it can’t be much harm when he’s dead. Her father’s understandably reluctant – from bride to a nobody to widow of a nobody? – there’s no comfort in that. Kitri enlists Don Quixote’s help to plead with her father. “没问题 (mei2 wen4 ti2 – no problem),” says Don Quixote, always the gentleman ready to leap to the damsel’s assistance, and he marches over to Lorenzo and uses the end of his spear to help the conversation (1:19:09).

Gamache, too, draws his sword to threaten Lorenzo; and he, Don Q and Lorenzo form the points of a formidable triangle. I once thought Gamache was falling in with DonQ and helping to persuade Lorenzo, but I now think Gamache might be saying Don’t to Lorenzo. Either way, Lorenzo is easily convinced by Don Q’s don’t-mess-with-me spear, and he consents to the wedding, at which point Basilio leaps up happily to reveal the deception and wraps Lorenzo up in his cloak (1:19:15).

This brings us to the joyous Coda (Song no. 34, 1:19:20) which sees the entire tavern (bar a slightly confused and disturbed Lorenzo and the lonely Gamache, upon whom a drink is pressed) celebrating in this floor-spinner which sees rows of dancers led by our two central couples, kneeling and snapping their fingers, jumping to clap their hands (1:19:30). Quite my favourite part to this is always when Mercedes then takes the stage by going down a diagonal (1:19:55), spinning her arms down in changes in port de bras; then Espada enters to another phrase of music; then Kitri leaping through the air, then Basilio taking flight in another of his magnificent jumps (1:20:13). Everyone dances and runs along in joyous rows while Kitri and Basilio watch from their perch atop a chair and table, then they hurry off into the wings to prepare for the wedding pas de deux while everyone continues dancing and finally disappears out through the tavern door, leaving the now happily-drunk Gamache to close the scene with happy leaps and beated legs and wriggling arms as if he’s flying, framed by the barmaid to our left, DonQuixote still as a statue to our right and Sancho by Don Quixote’s feet, gazing up at the scene before him.

 

The Wedding Scene

At last! We are now back in the village again, heavy ivy strewn upon the rooftops and wondrous garlands of lights and lanterns in the sky that rise up with the veil of a curtain (Marcha – 1:48:22). Listen to those wedding trumpets!

Mercedes and Espada, as always, lead the festivities with their light, fine dancing (1:48:59). Entrez the Friends as well. Enter Don Q and Sancho, guests to the wedding, and then the couple to be wedded, and Lorenzo, and the priest who marries the couple. There’s a lot of music in this Marcha that I attribute in my memory to a lot of dancing.

Next up is another of the loveliest bits of music, a prelude to the pas de deux: the 6 Classical Girls or Kitri’s Wedding Guests enter in little trios, skirts like flowers, with their little lifts of feet and the proud tilts of their heads and shoulders, hands on their hips (1:59:25 – 2:00:29)..

..and then, wait for it – now we have the beautiful wedded couple sailing in, Kitri lifted in high (2:00:30 – Variación clásica II). To the rush of the music, we have the entering lift, the promenade in arabesque, the pirouette – seemingly simple gestures that signal a trusting partnership – all this builds up to the grander gestures, the slow deliberate music as they approach each other, her face glowing with pride and joy (2:01:33 – 2:05:45, Entree); Kitri throwing herself into a spinning pirouette, her leg extended, and Basilio catching her; successive one-handed pirouettes.

You can sense the difference in how the characters relate to each other now, from how much trust they must have in each other to perform the pas de deux. You know, when you watch Chihiro and Kenya enter, that you are in the presence of something special; and there’s something exquisite about Chihiro’s refined technique, and the odd thought crosses the mind that somehow you believe that pointed feet are natural to her – that every move is as natural as breathing; and Kenya is in breath-taking graceful form that brings cheers from the audience, and together they bring the house down right from the moment near the end when the snare drum sounds and she is thrown up and lands in a fish dive, a leg tucked behind him and their arms thrown open (2:05:04 – 2:05:10 is the throwing upwards :o).

On their part, Min Yi and Satoru play the Spanish-style wedded couple at their best, and their steady partnership and combined determination make Act 3’s wedding pas de deux feel real. Min Yi’s Kitri is the graceful, shining bride, throwing herself into her Basilio’s arms with the confidence of someone who trusts her husband, and you can see they are conversing with each other through the dance: he throws himself into a marvellous turning leap in the air (to a whoa from the audience) and turns himself proudly with his arm held high as if to say: I am ready to dance with you; and she gazes at him with a shining pride and confidence. Min Yi holds herself steadily and easily throughout the dance – Kitri has a few unenviable moments where she stays en pointe after she has released Basilio’s hand, and there is never a tremor or uncertainty in her gaze and her laser-sharp poses. Satoru retains the Spanish flourishes in the lift of his shoulders, and Min Yi’s final whirling of the arms overhead in her fish dive carry the Spanish flavour of the ballet.

The couple disappear offstage, and Kitri’s Friend 1 (Elaine Heng for Cast A; Nakahama Akira for Cast B) enters (2:06:48, Variación de Quiteria? — I know this song comes later, but weirdly, I associate the music with particular dancers). Elaine Heng carries herself with incredible calm and poise, and injects character even in the proud lift of the hand, her clean leaps, high arabesques, and the joyous execution of her dance. Akira’s Friend is light and carries off her piece with added charisma – every leap high and pronounced, every port de bras beautifully graceful.

Next up is Basilio in his magnificent solo (2:07:46), which both Kenya and Satoru carry off with incredible panache. There’s an unmistakable richness and depth to Kenya’s dancing — somehow there’s an unmatched height and power in his leaps, and he always unleashes an ability to fill the space of every note with immeasurable movement. Now when Basilio spins in the corners, for a moment you may think you are mistaken when, in the middle of his speedy spins, one of his legs suddenly unfurls and he whips it back in attitude as he continues with his spins. That requires jaw-dropping control and technique, full-stop.

But when you watch Satoru’s version you realise you are not mistaken at all when he does the same, confidently unwrapping a leg and lifting it while turning. Satoru has energy in spades and burns up the stage, powering through the moves without turning a hair.

The delightful thrumming of harp strings brings us Kitri’s solo (2:08:46), which opens with Kitri, fan in hand, leaping lightly; and then as the music brightens with wind instruments, the slick sliding open-and-shut of the feet like a fan; and later, Kitri delicately pawing the ground with a foot. The foot on the ground can be played in so many ways – openly or even over-the-top flirtatious could be the card played with such a move, but not for our two leading ladies. Chihiro is girlish, almost cheeky, but there is also finesse in the petite movements of her feet and a certain classiness to her solo; and Min Yi’s Kitri has a fresh, youthful, tasteful take on it, and she dances straight to the audience, acknowledging us as guests as she takes the fan-feet movement to the centre of the stage and curtseys openly to us.

Kitri’s second Friend dances next  – Min Yi for Cast A and May Yen for Cast B (1:57:22 – Variación clásica I? again, I associate it with particular moves and dancers…). Min Yi’s Friend is evidently here to give her blessings with open arms, and she has very clear articulated moves and stable arabesques. May Yen Cheah dances as the light water lily floating on stage, with her delicate high arabesques and turns.

It took me a long time to understand why some of the dancers taking on lead roles were also taking on these soloist roles, given the demands of each role and given that there are so many possibilities for each soloist role as well. Watching Don Q drove home the point for me. It is not easy, making that leap from any other point in the line-up to the central role – it is not easy mentally or psychologically, bearing that weight on one’s shoulders and suddenly being in the limelight and having to fill the stage with your presence. Taking on the soloist roles in between perhaps helps to guide one along, fills the mental spaces in that huge leap, keeps the soul from deteriorating under that pressure, and also gives one the chance to have the experience in such major soloist roles and the confidence to fill larger shoes. Without that additional role to lean back on, there is only empty space in one’s psyche between one’s previous role in a ballet and one’s sudden meteoric rise to the centre. That’s all purely hypothesis, of course.

After Kitri’s second Friend completes her dance, Kitri strides out to silence, and then kick-starts the first of a series of dazzling, head-turning fouettes (Coda, 2:10:09 – 2:11:01). If this is the show-stopper you are looking for, it is here with all its bells and whistles and is worth the wait. Chihiro whips through the fouettes rapidly – single single double fouettes, countless to the finish but at last reckoning, it almost looks like forty-one fouettes, followed by Kenya’s turns (2:11:02) which are equally rapid and pack a punch, and the rafters ring with Bravos and cheers. We’re all rooting for Cast B too, and of course they’re more than ready for this – Min Yi steadily pulling out the countless fouettes beautifully without a hint of strain in her bright smile, perfectly calmly eating her way through them confidently and giving us that ease and assurance of knowing what this is all about – and when she is not even midway through, the Sunday matinee audience know they’re witnessing something exceptional – a successful debut – and they applaud all the way through to the finish of (if you’re counting) something like thirty fouettes and this is the magic touch, you know, because it’s a technical feat – and we are all so pleased. Satoru zips through his turns easily with his exuberant style and energy, and the audience is wildly appreciative as the wedded couple finish off with their triumphant pirouette and pose.

The music becomes unexpectedly grand and sober (Escena – 1:52:53) and a chap in full armour and a helmet turns up. Don Quixote, who recognises a rival when he sees one, immediately bristles and reaches for his spear and appears to challenge him to a duel – and the mysterious chap draws his sword and they clash for a few moments before DonQ, defeated, tumbles to the ground. He is helped up by the chap, who is unhelmeted by Lorenzo  (1:53:04 – 06) — revealing that the chap is Samson Carrasco, who is here to remind DonQ that he swore never to fight again, and to bring the old man home (1:53:10). DonQ recalls his vow, and they shake hands and Don Q obligingly returns home (1:53:35). Kitri embraces him and Basilio bids farewell to him as friends would.

Sancho launches into a hilarious little jig (1:54:07) which even the Friends join in, wrapping an arm about him and hopping on one foot about with arms spread like a carefree bird; Gamache too, and Lorenzo, are persuaded to join, and eventually the entire village joins arms to form a whirling star in the centre of the stage, dancing round and around, as Espada and Mercedes dance a little to the side of the stage to complete the tableau.

The curtain on the happy village falls and Samson Carrasco brings out a chair in front of the curtain by Samson Carrasco. Don Q emerges and his imaginary Lady Dulcinea helps him settle into the chair with a large book, and sinks back into his dream world, happy and at peace with the world.

 

Now for the moment that always gives me pause. Photographs. I must say that I kind of feel bad taking photographs though I always want to try to say this is them and such like things.

01 Costumes

Left to right: Dulcinea-Kitri’s Dryad Scene tutu; Basilio’s wedding tuxedo; Kitri’s wedding tutu; Gypsy’s costume; one of Kitri’s Friend’s Act 1 dresses; probably something from Romeo and Juliet (or Gypsy King’s robes?)

01 Costumes 2

Storyboard of costumes, seen outside theatre.

 

02 orchestra 1

02 orchestra 1.2

02 orchestra 1.3

The magnificent Metropolitan Festival Orchestra.

03 Cast A

Just ‘cos it gives me a thrill to see these.

03 Cast B

04 Villagers

Left to right: Reiko Tan (standing in); Reece Hudson; Ma Ni; Mizuno Reo; Leane Lim; Jasper Arran; Watanabe Tamana; Jeremie Gan; Yeo Chan Yee; Erivan Garioli (Satoru on other nights); Jessica Garside; Justin Zee

 

04. Villagers 2

Same as above, except with Sun Hong Lei on the far left (and is that Satoru behind Yeo Chan Yee – I think possibly so).

05 Friends Cast B

Cast B‘s Kitri’s Friends – Nakahama Akira and May Yen Cheah. I haven’t any good photos of Cast A’s so we shall have slightly more pics of all of Cast A later.

05 Toreadors Spanish Guests Cast A

Cast A‘s Toreadors and Spanish Guests: Suzuki Mai, Yatsushiro Marina, Tanaka Nanase, Ivan Koh, Timothy Ng, Huo Liang, Miura Takeaki, Beatrice Castañeda, Minegishi Kana (Nakahama Akira is Cupid, hence not seen here)

 

05 Toreadors Cast B 1

Cast B‘s Toreadors and Spanish Guests: Suzuki Mai, Yatsushiro Marina, Tanaka Nanase, Ivan Koh, Jason Carter, Yorozu Kensuke, Miura Takeaki, Henriette Garcia, Minegishi Kana (Beatrice Castañeda is Cupid, hence not seen here)

05 Toreadors Cast B 2

Another picture for Cast B. The Cast B pics just turned out better.

06 Gypsy King Cast B

Huo Liang as Gypsy King for Cast B.

07 Gamache Cast B

Cast B‘s Gamache – Etienne Ferrère

Left-to-right, ignoring depth perception etc: Samson Carrasco (Shan Del Vecchio); Suzuki Mai; Huo Liang as the Gypsy King; Yatsushiro Marina; Akira as Kitri’s Friend; Reece Hudson in blue; Tanaka Nanase; Ma Ni in a yellow skirt; Mizuno Reo (partially hidden); Ivan Koh; Jason Carter (partially-hidden), Gamache (Etienne); Kensuke; Watanabe Tamana; Jeremie Gan; May Yen Cheah as Kitri’s Friend; Miura Takeaki (partially-hidden); Erivan Garioli; Henriette Garcia; Jessica Garside (partially-hidden); Justin Zee; Elaine Heng as Dulcinea (the sleight-of-hand as Dryad Queen is Bi Ru so this role should be May Yen Cheah’s but May Yen is also a Friend); Minegishi Kana; Beatrice as Cupid.

06 Espada Pair Cast B

Cast B‘s luminous Mercedes (Chua Bi Ru) and Espada (Timothy Ng) cutting a fine figure onstage

08 All Cast A Kitri Basilio 1.1

Cast A – Always a lovely moment, when Chihiro gives Kenya a rose from her bouquet…

08 All Cast A Kitri Basilio 1.2

And another sweet moment, when Kenya takes the rose.

…and we can see the cast again – Shan Del Vecchio as Samson Carrasco; Kensuke as the indomitable Gypsy King; Elaine Heng with her bouquet as Kitri’s Friend; Reece Hudson; May Yen Cheah and Etienne looking sharp as the loyal Mercedes and Espada; behind Kenya we see Chen Wei as Don Quixote; Kitri; Mohamed Noor Sarman as Sancho; Mr Tsung Yeh, the conductor, under whose baton we have enjoyed a most melodious accompaniment to Don Quixote and had a triumphant Act 3; Miura Takeaki; Kwok Min Yi (Cast B’s Kitri) as Kitri’s Other Friend with another bouquet; Beatrice as a Spanish Guest; Jason Carter as Gamache; Chua Bi Ru as dream Dulcinea; Minegishi Kana as Spanish Guest; Erivan Garioli as the Priest, and Nakahama Akira as Cupid.

08 Cast A all

08 Cast A all 2

More pics of Cast A above, just because a friend kindly sent these over..

..and we also have Cast B – with Agetsuma Satoru (Basilio) and Kwok Min Yi (Kitri) in the centre.

09 Cast B All Cast

09 Cast B all 2

And that’s a wrap and we are done, and it has been two very long months (we do this just to rhyme because we can).

Any and all typos are my own. I had to go and correct some really egregious Sleeping Beauty typos, ermahgawd.

Onwards! maybe we’ll do a piece on Semperoper. But first, Netflix.

TV – Again! Riverdale

I’m now binge-watching Riverdale 🙂 I usually store the episodes and then whack them at one shot so that by the time I hit the big finale, it’s ready for me.

Other shows on the list – Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a fun watch when I’m with friends, and I do intend to check out Lucifer and Knock Down the House, and some animal documentaries because I love those (one of my all-time favourites is Life in the Undergrowth, I think, the David Attenborough insects one).

I love Riverdale – I read Archie comics as a kid  – and Season 3, Episode 4 is just brings tears to the eyes 😥

Don Quixote (2019) by Singapore Dance Theatre – Part 1 (Prologue and Act 1)

What is Singapore Dance Theatre’s Don Quixote? Only, possibly, one of the most enjoyable, lively, colourful ballets ever.

20190311_231708

Pictured: Uchida Chihiro and Nakamura Kenya

This time, the performance featured one of the previous casts (the impeccable, world-class Uchida Chihiro and Nakamura Kenya in Cast A) and, for Cast B, a new Kitri (Kwok Min Yi) and Basilio (Agetsuma Satoru) – both wildly funny and lively.

It goes without saying that watching Chihiro and Kenya in this third outing of theirs was delightfully easy – their technique is obviously world-class and they are such a joy to watch as the bright, breezy couple.

As it was Min Yi and Satoru’s absolute first time as the leads here, we have to say this right at the front so everyone knows – they powered through their roles effortlessly. And here’s something else we must say: Min Yi and Satoru are an example of the right combination for a ballet principal couple. Separately, their presence fills the stage, and they are bold and glorious — but together, they are actually even greater than the sum of the already-excellent solo parts, which I think to be the mark of an excellent couple – and then this spills over, again, into their solo moments. Satoru helps Min Yi fly, he lets her dazzle – he makes her look even brighter, more brilliant, stronger – and I may or may not have said this before, but sometimes the luck of dancing a lead role is having someone who makes you look magnificent; and Min Yi, in turn, magnifies Satoru’s qualities, adding to the charisma and charm of his personality. At a glance, you mightn’t necessarily know that throwing these two together would work — because predicting the future is difficult, and because, believe it or not, this was apparently their first time dancing together — but what a gamble, and what fireworks. Just see the picture below ❤

 

 

 

On previous occasions (2014 and 2016), I’d put up observations on the ballet, but no detailed recounting – it’s just so forested with fascinating action and populated with hilarious moments.

However (especially given the detailed reviews of other ballets), it felt like one would be doing the ballet, et cetera an immense disservice not to recognise the depth of detail and colour. That brought me back to the usual dilemma – if I record this, someone out there might say Then I don’t need a ticket the next time since it’s all up here; on the other hand, it can’t be too far off the version on youtube by Cynthia Harvey since she is the hand behind this production, so. (I’m too lazy to watch full-lengths on youtube, so this is for me. As always.)

Who cares about dilemmas! let’s get to the action.

Ta-da, the album of pictures from Singapore Dance Theatre’s facebook.

Here’s the synopsis! It gets better with time.

 

20190311_231653

20190311_231618

And here we have the cast, and the debuts very thoughtfully marked out.

20190311_231608

20190311_231550

(For the curious, the picture on the top left shows Yorozu Kensuke as the Gypsy King – Think left to right we have Reece Hudson, Huo Liang, Miura Takeaki, Kensuke, Peter Allen, Timothy Ng, Shan Del Vecchio – double-checked against the 2016 cast list; the top right shows Chihiro and Kenya, of course 🙂 )

 

Music, folks! Provided by the reliable Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (MFO) under the baton of Mr Tsung Yeh. Here we go. Poor Mr Minkus, illustrious and brilliant in his own right, and yet (apparently, according to Mr Schergen) playing second fiddle to Peter “Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Nutcracker” Tchaikovsky.

 

The Overture runs from the opening to around 4:01. The live music helps you to better imagine what the music might have meant: the ponderous opening (a theme of sorts for Mr Don Quixote) ends up with a kind of bucolic feel to it too, so you don’t feel as melancholy as you might have otherwise, and it fades away quite gently before picking up again at 0:57 with the glorious perky woodwinds whisking us into Spain – I love this part so much – oddly, this part and Act 1 sounded more mellow and refined than expected when first experienced live, but on Sat and Sun the music was quite sharp and red-blooded. 1:46 takes us to the Dryad’s theme, which in real life has a softer, more dream-like, almost hypnotic quality – like watching seawater wash in and out over your feet at the beach. By 2:05, the projector goes on and yes we get the words DON QUIXOTE projected on a screen, and then the vision of a knight on his plodding donkey with his faithful manservant by his side, trotting on from the right side of the screen to the left while the windmill waits vaguely ominously to the left.

 

Prologue aka Introducing the Main Characters

4:03/4 opens in Don Quixote’s library. It’s cleverly created by a backdrop that cuts off the first third of the stage so that the action is brought forward to the audience. The backdrop seems to have a kind of an optical illusion: books all along the walls, a curved ceiling that reflects the starry universe; only one doorway to our left and one giant cabinet in the centre, above which is a chamber large enough for one Dulcinea clad in gold drapery to wait behind a large net screen.

On this special day, to the sound of busy busy music, Don Quixote’s niece Antonina (Esen Thang; formerly Ruth Austin in 2014 and Yeo Chan Yee in 2016) is Marie Kondo-ing the cabinet. What on earth is Don Quixote doing with these old books and rags? Will he want this rag? she demands of DonQ’s nephew Samson Carrasco, played with great dramatic effect by Shan Del Vecchio (a role inhabited by Nazer Salgado, then Timothy Ng), who is anxious that DonQ doesn’t find out that his belongings are being cleaned out because obviously they still spark joy for him.

Shh, says Samson Carrasco, as the music grows deeper towards the end of the 4th minute  – for Don Q (played comically by Chen Wei, former First Artist), is on his way, and Antonina manages to stuff everything away just before DonQ enters (5:06), book in hand, wanders over to his favourite (only) plush chair to our left and plops himself in and runs his finger over a line or two before nodding off. Samson Carrasco checks that DonQ is really asleep by waving a hand before his eyes – but before the spring cleaning can continue, we are hit with more lively violins (6:06) as Sancho (Mohd Noor Sarman) stumbles in through the doorway, chasing a live chicken puppet that darts about quite realistically – followed by Yeo Chan Yee and Leane Lim (roles that I think folk like Lisha Chin and Ines Furuhashi-Huber once inhabited) having the time of their lives smacking him and trying to grab at the chicken that he’s clearly been trying to steal – while Shan tries desperately to hush everyone.

In the next moment, we have the irrepressible Basilio (Kenya/Satoru) peeking in through the doorway (6:21) and hailing someone in from outside to follow him – and Kitri (Chihiro/Min Yi) runs in through the doorway, and he lifts her high as she passes him, a light frothy lift of skirts and a high kick. Not your usual demure princess entrance. The first entrance of the couple is always a breath of fresh air to a daisy, a bolt of light — Chihiro as the girlish cheeky Kitri with her boyish smiling Basilio (Kenya); Min Yi as a bold Kitri with her well-matched cheerful Basilio (Satoru). More on the couples later.

The couple are hiding from her father, Lorenzo (Mr Janek Schergen), who enters next – and they dart round to the other side of the cabinet, hoping that it’s large enough to hide them. Sancho hides beside them, and comically, the trio take turns swapping positions, going round and round in their corner and peering out to see if the coast is clear yet.

Next up is Gamache (Jason Carter is prissy Gamache for Cast A with Chihiro; Etienne Ferrère is snooty Gamache for Cast B with Min Yi), who strides in, pulling his face at all the dust – and when he meets Lorenzo, he says – I am looking for a most beautiful young lady; and Antonina tries to shove her way forward, but Lorenzo pushes her aside and says, Do you have any money, and Gamache says Only a ton!

As Lorenzo considers this most attractive offer, reaching out to Gamache for a handshake, the couple try to creep out of their hiding place and to the doorway –we enter the 7th minute — and Don Quixote jerks awake (7:07) and everyone freezes. The lights dim. Don Q sees a vision above the cabinet (Chua Bi Ru/Elaine Heng) — Dulcinea of his dreams come to life, and he gives her his grandest ponderous bow with a theatrical wave of his hand. He believes that the beautiful Dulcinea of his dreams is alive and trapped – so he breaks Basilio and Kitri apart and reaches for the sword on the mantelpiece and waves the sword about wildly. This breaks the spell and scares the benign out of everyone. While Samson (Shan) and Sancho restrain Don Q, Basilio and Kitri run out – Lorenzo spots them and hurries after them – the village girls rush out after them.

We then have the scene described above – Don Q’s vow. But (right after Samson leaves), Don Q arms himself with the sword, gets his armour, knights Sancho, lets Sancho knight him, and then they happily pose and imagine themselves travelling round the world, he and the kneeling Sancho surveying the lay of land before them, the stars in the ceiling above them twinkling down upon them, to grand music (to me, the music runs from the grandeur of 8:10 to 8:35; but parts of the music are sliced out: does 9:41 insert itself into the scene? Did the post-Prologue curtains-down interlude enter before that? I don’t recall 11:45 to the end of the 12th minute).

In light of the above, I can’t confirm the music for the interlude. Oh dear!

 

Act 1

14:07 is the plaza in Barcelona — and here we are, in a light-filled stage and the joyous colourful introduction to the townspeople – Leane Lim and Jessica Garside kick off the action to our left; a happy trio of Yeo Chan Yee, Jeremie Gan and Justin Zee swirling in the corner; Ma Ni spinning neatly along a diagonal across the busy stage. Kitri’s friends arrive (14:24/28/32?) and happily greet the other folk i.e. instead of a handshake, a handclasp and raising the clasped hand. Loads of busy dancing by the village people all round the stage. Somewhere in this, two village children run in (Kainoe Soemardjan and Samuel Yuan, the latter last seen in Nutcracker as the naughty Franz – good to see him grow into a strapping young chap), chased by Kitri’s father Lorenzo, throwing apples at him – the smaller child leaps onto his back as he continues chasing the taller boy off the stage.

Loud music (4:19) (akin to trumpets) prepares us for the entry of Kitri, soaring high into the air straight off, with a giant split-leap and dancing about in the ring of admiring villagers.

For this entrance, Uchida Chihiro (Cast A) plays Kitri as a light, happy, free bird — as always, her moves are crystal-sharp, every step piercing the ground, every extension of the leg smooth and slick, and her experience in this role shows. Kwok Min Yi (Cast B) has chosen the bold, daring Kitri, full of life and vitality and colour. Every move radiates energy – you can see how her legs punch through the air, and her arms explode outwards; and you can’t tell that this is her debut in it – there’s no sign of nerves and her energy never flags. What a joy it is, to see two different Kitris  – and the village celebrates both.

After this is done, Kitri greets her friends and looks round for her Basilio (16:02). Should he not be here already? Who cares! back to the dancing, and while we’re at it, let’s romance the two admiring guys in the corner (Jasper Arran and Mizuno Reo, showing fine classical form; 16:42) with the tambourines, who obligingly clap along and flank Kitri as she swishes her skirts and flirts with them; Chihiro-Kitri cheerfully flitting along the stage with them; Min Yi-Kitri absolutely hilariously drawing them in with a cheeky daring smile and practically strutting in between them and looking very pleased. More dancing! this time, Kitri leaning down as if striking the ground with her fan, and posing boldly at the end. (I love it! exclaims the little girl behind me on Friday night.)

To the trilling of a woodwind instrument, in sails Basilio (17:19) with a proud, loud jump, armed with his guitar. Thus begins a comical little lovers’ interlude as he attempts to greet her with a kiss, but she sticks a fan up to keep out his eager kiss (’tis so speedy that Satoru plants his lips on the fan), pretending to be interested in another young man just to see how he feels about her, while he in turn pretends to chat with her friends, but they can’t help checking each other out and he tries to woo her with his guitar. At last he cannot stand seeing her chat up another chap and cuts into their conversation; and she deigns to bestow her attention on him – and she rests her hand upon his shoulder, this bulwark of hers, and flicks her fan open proudly, her leg sharp as the point of a star. With live music, we now know there is a smouldering romantic intent behind the slow strings in the 18th minute, a delicate tempo accompanying Kitri as she gets down on one knee and rolls herself in a luscious swirling back bend; you can see Min Yi’s Kitri luxuriating in her Basilio’s gaze (she’s the prettiest! exclaims a youngster).

Away with the guitar, Kitri says, asking for it and pretending to play with her friends, but he wraps her in an embrace and kisses her chastely behind a fan. This brings us into the percussionists (19:24), an increase in tempo and temperatures, culminating in Kitri tossing aside her fan and Basilio hurling his guitar away overhead, before they launch into a loud, triumphant, fast-paced dance (19:38), whirling about in a circle with delightful speedy footwork.

There’s that moment we all sorta like where the couple are surrounded by a ring of expectant villagers; and Kitri wriggles her leg out and Basilio tries to catch it and misses twice, and at the last, manages to catch her and turn her round quickly, and pull her in so that she stares into his eyes (Satoru’s Basilio pulling in Min Yi’s Kitri very near so they are staring nose-to-nose) and looks almost startled by the intimate moment (20:10-20:20, the triple bursts of music). I love it when the music descends gently into an almost loving sound, and slows a tad (20:37) – regardless of what the above youtube video tells you, it slows down! and they take their time to gracefully sweep their arms up and lift their eyes up to the light, and the stage lights cast a soft, lustrous sheen over them. At the end, they strike a fabulous proud pose.

I know now why I didn’t use to write up stuff on Don Quixote. It overflows and pops open the seams with colour and excitement, comic action and life – it’s like writing out a movie script. And at every turn you wish to interrupt with comments like–Kenya plays a boyish, good-natured, smiling Basilio whom you can’t help but root for, with his mischievous, spritely Chihiro-Kitri by his side, and there’s a tenderness and also a richness to their pas de deux.

Here’s another comment: You could see that Min Yi and Satoru had a bond borne of a strong determination to create, together, the very best work they could– and that painted an incredible and credible harmony between the two, and created the roots of a true partnership. They were determined to ham it up and add more than a little touch of the Spanish flavour to it (when I say Spanish, I mean it in the ballet-style version of “Spanish” character dances – no offence meant). Min Yi in the leg-wriggling dance plays the slightly coarse village girl — you can see it just from how she lands on the ground and throws up her hands –just as Satoru adds a little of the (ballet-style) Spanish flair in his manner when dancing, spinning like a Spanish fan on stage; and they time their final poses with a dramatic flourish.

 

Kitri runs to her friends to hang out — but Basilio wants her time, so she follows him (Laterrr, girls, Min Yi’s Kitri says, with a glance over her shoulder, sauntering behind Basilio) and then there is much enthusiastic kissing and necking – and of course, entrez cranky Lorenzo, who tears them apart. Basilio, either cranky or furious (depending on version), turns round to smack the chap who has so rudely interrupted, but upon seeing Lorenzo, he smiles and shakes Lorenzo’s hand and hides with Kitri’s friends. Lorenzo gives a figurative thumbs-down to Basilio, even smacking his hands together loudly in displeasure; Basilio asks Kitri to beg her father for his blessings (to stifled chuckles from the audience as Kitri leans against Lorenzo’s shoulder, tucks her hand in the crook of his arm and blinks up at him pleadingly). Together, they try and fail as Lorenzo peels Basilio off the ground and pushes him away.

Money will win her father’s heart, Kitri remembers – but Basilio’s pockets are empty. He’s a humble barber, he cheerfully informs Lorenzo (some of the dramatic music goes with these simple moments). He’s not short on comic brains, though – and he picks Lorenzo’s pocket, then claims he has money, drops the money back into Lorenzo’s hand, and triumphantly embraces Kitri, only to be pushed away again. Kitri’s friends try to hide the happy couple behind their skirts, walking demurely in front of them, but Lorenzo sees through their ploy and chases Basilio away – and he exits with Kitri’s friends (up to 23:17).

 

This clears the stage of any rivals, for lo! it is time for the Gamache to spring in, wearing  a loud pink-green-gold ensemble, white face paint, a marvellously huge black hat, and fantastical moustaches (23:24); and in case you didn’t see him, he flings his cloak up so that it floats up behind him like his own backdrop as he enters to his own OST (original soundtrack). In case you didn’t know he’s rich, he wriggles his bejewelled bedazzled fingers at us (23:34) and demonstrates the enviable size of his house (24:02).

Jason Carter as Cast A’s Gamache cranks up the ridiculous factor so far that it’s off the charts – he is the prissy, foppish Gamache who is tremendously full of himself. He revels in the attentions of the village girls and he does not dance so much as he prances floridly across the stage to laughter (24:18), pulls out his long sword as if it’s a guitar, and stops to animatedly serenade Kitri who sits in a corner, unimpressed. Each time he tries to greet her, even whipping off his hat, she turns away, elegantly and deliberately crossing her legs (24:31-38). I felt a little wave of nostalgia at their chemistry – remembered that they were once Cast B together, Jason’s Gamache and Chihiro’s Kitri.

Etienne as Cast B’s Gamache is a side-splitting delight. Arrogant and haughty, he dismisses the excited village girls (Tanaka Nanase and Yatsushiro Marina looking particularly disappointed) and he punctuates every phrase of his entrance music with a sharp self-satisfied nod over his shoulder, as if he’s admiring his own reflection and saying Yes, it’s me – bestowing the commoners with his presence.

Lorenzo lifts Kitri off the seat like she’s a doll (Min Yi buckles like a puppet) and tucks his arm through Gamache’s, and they have to walk on – Jason the clueless Gamache and Etienne the proud one, marching on — Kitri taps his hat twice, the second time he wonders if it could be raining – but at last she yanks her hand away, and poses like a streetfighter, brandishing her fan like it’s a sword, and knocking his hat off – perhaps Reece Hudson has a hand in tripping him up, and Kitri runs off, laughing at Gamache (24:48 – 25:02). A Spanish lady (Beatrice Castañeda) is on hand to pick up Gamache’s hat and try her luck with him, dusting off the hat, offering a smile – asking for a kiss, even – and one Gamache obliges once — but usually, Gamache dismisses her, ego still bruised from his fall.

(It was at the raining moment that I saw the lovely chemistry between Chihiro and Jason-Gamache, and then I remembered that oh yes, he had been her Gamache from 2014, and there was a curiously comforting familiarity about that.)

The village men and their tambourines spring out to dance in a diamond while a kid in the audience claps along. This is the jolly village dance that I’ve always liked. (For a moment, I remembered days gone by and something I don’t recall seeing this time – Reece Hudson and Peter Allen doing spinning turns in the air as village boys – was I mistaken?) We have Jasper Arran and Justin Zee zipping forward gracefully with their tambourines in hand – we have the village couples dancing as if they’ve springs in their heels and clapping along to the music – so glorious and joyous, and they sparkle with the live music – and there is a slight pang of ..nostalgia, perhaps from having seen it a few times (25:03 – 26:41). A friend notices Mizuno Reo immediately for his clean graceful form; and Ma Ni and Watanabe Tamana stand out for their light-footed cheerful dancing.

Next in – Mercedes (May Yen Cheah in Cast A; Chua Bi Ru reprising the role in Cast B, at 26:42). May Yen Cheah leaps in high and sharp, and shimmies her shoulders delightfully with her most alluring Mercedes smile, while Bi Ru leaps in as the strong, proud, sparkling Mercedes.

Mercedes summons the Toreadors in with a blaze of lights, and they march in, in trios, hats held before them, cloaks wrapped about them (26:58). This tune is shockingly addictive.

Make way for the triumphant entry of Espada (27:29; this is also the name of a set of villains-turned-frenemies from the manga Bleach), i.e. Mercedes’ boyfriend and the leader of the Toreadors. Etienne is the magnificent Espada for Cast A — charismatic, smiling, charming, fearless, whipping his head round sharply when he flings his hat off with a zing (27:37) (where it sometimes finds a home with a pleased Spanish lady in the background) – and he is clearly the head honcho of Toreador Inc., beckoning to his men to follow him . Timothy Ng makes his debut (hurrah) as the dignified Espada for Cast B –  smooth, gentlemanly, and very like the respected big brother of everyone in the neighbourhood, and drawing great applause from the audience on Saturday’s matinee. They fit very well with their respective Mercedeses: Cast A play it fun and fabulous with an easy rapport; Cast B look very fine together.

The Toreadors look very smart folding their cloaks inwards, rushing towards us, Espada at their head and the lights blazing down golden upon them. This grand entrance dance of theirs segues into Espada’s graceful solo (28:30), while his lady love looks on proudly and encouragingly as she fans herself. At an unexpectedly tender moment in the music, the Toreadors and Spanish ladies dance quietly in the background while Espada and Mercedes have a little moment together in the foreground (29:02)— light lovely quick steps and lifted legs from all. It’s sweet – and then before we get too used to the lovebird theme, it speeds up and wraps up with Mercedes swept back in an embrace.

More Toreador dancing to follow! The horns sound (31:35), and to the rolling of drums, the smaller of the village boys runs out to mime bull-fighting, and I always love it when Mercedes runs out to Espada, who catches her round the waist and swings her round so she floats gloriously. You can see generations of past Toreadors in Miura Takeaki and Ivan Koh mimicking the lean lines of the bull and the fighters – yet at the same time, there’s also a pleasant familiarity of the moves – Toreadors turning on the ground, or launching themselves into the air  – flying spindles that are planted solidly on terra firma in a diagonal; Toreadors stamping feet, churning up imaginary dust at their heels. All the action culminates in Espada grandly throwing his cloak on the ground at the feet of his beloved Mercedes and then you realise it’s all for her, of course — not just for us.

(Gamache soaks up Mercedes’ admiration and our applause, with a Thank you, thank you, which Mercedes ignores.)

Next, to music that I can’t locate at this hour as it is scattered across the soundtrack (try starting from 36:56), DonQ marches stiffly into the town square, Sancho by his side. Sancho tootles the horn to bring the attention of the entire populace to them, and everyone falls back, deafened (37:11). Gamache has had quite enough, and he whips out his spotless white hanky and attempts to stuff it into the horn to stop the sound. When that doesn’t help and Sancho simply stops because it pleaseth him to do so, Gamache flings the hanky aside in a huff (if Lorenzo is lucky, it lands up at his feet and he folds it up and uses it to wipe the table, o horrors) and demands of Sancho what the highlights the tall knight and his shabby sidekick are doing in town. Sancho indicates that they are looking for victuals and Gamache marches over to Lorenzo and says: There, see, that’s your job — and he practically shoves Lorenzo over to meet Sancho and Don Q, and arms himself with his sword.

For now that the nobleman has met the knight, they must needs cross swords, which brings to mind the Chinese saying, “不打不相识 ” (bu da bu xiang shi, which boils down to having to cross swords before one can become friends…frenemies…that’s the spirit of old sword fighting shows, I guess). Now that they’re done, the new guest gets to sit down and Gamache struts over to his seat beside him (up to 38:06). As always, Etienne’s Gamache and Chen Wei’s Don Q always mimic bumping into each other as they sit – twice – and then almost drawing swords again, before settling down; Jason Carter’s Gamache and Don Q have a more amicable relationship — even though it starts mildly rockily with Gamache pulling his chair away fussily, a drink rapidly puts him in high spirits, and soon he’s pouring a glass for DonQ, who is helping himself to some grapes. That corner with Gamache, DonQ, Lorenzo and Sancho is always bustling with action – Sancho eating an apple that he appears to have stolen – Lorenzo swiping it back; Sancho offering fruit to Don Q, who enjoys it juicily.

 

In the meantime, it’s time for Kitri’s Friends to dance (40:41). An absolutely beautiful dance – the inscribing of the long luscious legs with an elegant sweeping hand down the leg as the ladies kick out, their calf-length skirts swirling; the deliberate kicks upwards as their arms open in arcs; the perfect split-leaps that land lightly; swipe of the fans opening in perfect timing at the end of every phrase of music (e.g. 41:08) – and oh, that marvellous moment when they tap their fans delicately on an upraised open palm before whipping the fans open as they rise up into on delicate pointe in genteel arabesques! Elaine and Min Yi are reliable as always, and there’s a remarkable chemistry between them on Saturday night especially; and Akira and May Yen – performing this together for the first time – are superbly in sync and in control, mastering the terrifying speed with which the music whips them round (42:59?).

I’d forgotten, but Kitri’s friends have their own significant others for this dance (42:33?)- Yorozu Kensuke and Huo Liang, landing a light guiding hand as the ladies tiptoe across the stage, one of the girls always looking down prettily at her feet as she minces across – and there’s my favourite moment when they lift the ladies up by the waists and the ladies kick upwards gloriously, their skirts swishing frothily and extravagantly, to emphasise the grandeur of the swelling music (43:12-43:17?).

Then oh, the tootling of bugles (43:24) signals the entrance of Basilio, heralding the magnificent return of Kitri, who blazes high into the air, a spritz of energy, throwing her arms open in delight, kicking up high and sharp — look at Chihiro’s delicate twill arms and her fabulously clear, high leaps; and Min Yi’s sharp kicks are delightful little pops of colour and flavour, accentuating the spirit of the dance and the music. (The original description that came to mind was that her kicks are like those little pops of flavour when you bite into those fruit-flavoured pearls in juices from bubble tea shops.) The couple then move into a quick, joyful dance, with a hand on the hip, little speedy kicks out, to the sound of clapping from the crowd – and a swift ending, she resting her hand suddenly on him and flinging an arm up high in an exclamation point.

 

This next part is called “When Gamache and DonQ join the action”.

The music fades into the gentle, comical as Basilio produces a rose for Kitri – Gamache is displeased and tries to woo Kitri (while perhaps, on the sidelines, a Spanish man mocks his long moustaches and fussy air –ironically, if he’s Cast A’s Gamache) but Don Q firmly pushes Gamache aside and grandly greets Kitri like a gentleman would, and Kitri promptly ditches the rose. (Chihiro’s version is “Oh well, the gentleman knight is kissing my hand,” and she forgetfully drops the rose aside, to Basilio-Kenya’s chagrin; Min Yi-Kitri kind of tries to see if Basilio cares when she deliberately casts aside the rose, and Satoru-Basilio is frustrated by that in a petty, hot-headed sort of way) and Basilio interrupts them to remind Don Q to back off and mind his P’s and Q’s. Gamache rescues the rose and either showers it with care by tucking it away (Cast A); or else sniffs it and sneezes lustily, and proceeds to wipe his nose (Cast B). (I transcribe all this purely for myself…)

Basilio, reunited with Kitri, turns her in multiple pirouettes to a rousing drumroll which is missing from the soundtrack seen above (45:09).

The lights grow soft and warm, as the music turns melodious and loving (45:11/12), and the couple enter a tender, silk-spun candyfloss dream duet, with the lightest of side arabesques, and the finest of pirouettes, building momentum to proud wind instruments and the signature spinning of Kitri as she leans down in arabesque, arms outstretched, and the fish-dive lift where she tucks her leg in and you can see Min Yi’s Kitri almost swooning in Basilio’s arms as he swings her round. It’s so beautiful that when Basilio lands Kitri from a luxuriously high lift and down into a light arabesque beside Gamache on Friday, Gamache lifts his hat to Kitri; so beautiful that DonQ raises a glass to toast them at Saturday’s matinee; and that the heart seizes up in a sudden wave of near-tears on the Saturday matinee and makes its own bargains…what bargains?

Yeah, I think the fact that there’s the Spanish flavour gives us more to talk about.

Dance with me, says Gamache, bowing low, and Kitri turns to Basilio: Bring me my fan.

While Basilio does so (tap tap goes Kitri’s foot, hurry up), Don Q pushes aside Gamache and offers to dance instead, so when Basilio returns, he finds that everyone has paired up – Gamache with one of Kitri’s friends, Kitri in the centre with Don Q (he with the theatrical sweeping bow as he starts the dance), and – the other of Kitri’s friends is already pawing at Basilio’s arm and offering to dance with him. This is when we get remarkable variation from the Basilios as the three couples dance (46:53) — Saturday matinee’s Basilio is markedly unwilling to start dancing – but interestingly, during the dance, the couples angle away from their respective partners, and that’s when you can see that he and his Kitri are dancing towards each other, as if to acknowledge that there’s a bond between them; while Saturday night sees Basilio a little huffy still, and he sizes up his rival, Don Q, even as they dance. My favourite part of the dance is 47:48, when no one is dancing – the lights grow blue and still, and everyone freezes (even the folk in the backdrop – Lorenzo in a tiff with Jessica Garside and a couple of others over a jug of drink that the village teens have been sampling, perhaps), as Don Q falls into a reverie, and the gorgeous Dulcinea rustles out in her golden silks, visits him, and then fades back into the curtains.

Business as usual (48:21) as a huffy Basilio decides to ignore his Kitri and pretends to chat up his dancing partner. Kitri smacks him with the fan on the butt, but he pretends to chase her away, and she exacts her revenge by wandering off with Don Q – so Gamache whacks him and informs him (hey, you fool, maybe you’d like to know…) to keep an eye out, pointing persistently at Kitri (this always makes the audience laugh). Basilio hurries back to Kitri, and thus persists a dance where Gamache believes that Kitri is dancing to and for him – at the first arabesque, she passes him her fan – at another moment, a well-timed arabesque nearly puts his nose out – and Gamache follows the action round an invisible ring on the stage until he stumbles and Kitri’s friends wrap him up in a Toreador’s cloak to keep him out of the way.

Oh, the chills, when – to the marvellous drum roll — she holds Basilio’s hands and leaps gracefully forward, and she is whipped round in corkscrew pirouettes; and that final lift that is thrown up and lands in a magnificent fish dive. Never a note out of place. Satoru’s Basilio chooses to wave his hand in a flourish above his head and his Kitri matches this by placing her hands boldly at her waist in the finish, instead of throwing her arms wide open in the typical style (49:51).

As if that’s not tiring enough, we next test Basilio by making him dance with the Friends while Kitri goes offstage (49:55). This was never my favourite dance before, but perhaps it is the live music that puts it in a new light, for the instruments are light rather than overly-boisterous, and the music guides them into a dance of joyous bounding energy.

Edited to add: At some point in time, I forget when but I think it is now, we actually have music from “Act 2” on the soundtrack – 56:45 to 59:20, the couple dancing and at the end of the phrases of music, they stop to clap, and there’s a great swishing of skirts and wonderful leaping about. It’s loud and beautiful and lively. This might be the part where they dance close to the front of the stage, Kitri turning proudly and Basilio pausing in his snapping of fingers to hold a hand to her back and support her in her poses.

Now we have castanets from the orchestral pit as Basilio retires to a front corner of the stage and Kitri runs out, castanets in hand (50:39). This is where Chihiro is poised, glittering, smiling at her Basilio who cheers her from the corner as she darts forward – neat leaps and feet icicle-sharp. Always love that little Kitri pose where she stands on one toe and shoots a look over her shoulder, arms at an angle. This dance displays our fierce, bright Kitri making her way in a line of endless pirouettes down that diagonal row of dignified Toreadors wielding their cloaks, straight to her Basilio, and finishing with her proud arched pose at the end. You can see how Satoru and Min Yi give each other energy as his Basilio claps for her while she makes her way steadily down the line.

The next music (51:26) sounds like it’s from the end of the tavern moment in Act 3 – but no, it’s one of my absolute favourite moments from the lovable Kitri’s Friends as they lightly leap across the stage, feet lifting ankle-high, spinning round and around fanning themselves.  The Spanish couples are next, the girls throwing themselves up high in the lifts.

Loud music brings us (52:36) to the terrifying moment we’ve all been waiting for! The one-armed lifts…You play the soundtrack and the music goes on and on, but the music actually holds as the chaps at the wind instruments hold the note admirably long (52:46), just as Kenya and Satoru lift their Kitris (Chihiro and Min Yi, respectively) high in the air and then the music has to keep going while they keep up the lifts and then lower the ladies down and lead them into a triumphant split-leap in the air. And now a second one-armed lift (52:54) that is rather incredibly long – but the dancers never lose track of the timing and music, and pick up the pace and the steps right after. This brings loads of spontaneous applause.

Down!down! Etienne-Gamache says, furiously pointing to show exactly what he means, to laughter; while Jason-Gamache watches interestedly from his perch on his chair, as if to say: Well now, let’s see how long he can keep this up.

Oh, the triumph in the ending to this (53:11), both for the Cast A couple who have been non-stop perfect throughout, and for the debut couple who have pulled it off wickedly well. Kitri does not return for the applause this time, for entrez Sancho (53:13) who has been trying to smuggle out a chicken under his coat, chased by Lorenzo (I must say it’s great to see Artistic Director Mr Janek Schergen back in this role – he is absolutely priceless in it, let’s be frank) and when Lorenzo finally yanks the chicken back out from under Lorenzo’s armpit, he does so with such force that the arm holding the chicken flies back and whacks Gamache, who falls into Don Q’s arms –

– and, taking advantage of that madness, our lead couple rush out, and her best friend / the local den mother, Mercedes, gives her that lovely draping gold-embroidered black lace shawl of hers to guard against the cold nights – and, thus aided by Espada and Mercedes, the couple run off as the villagers and Spanish form protective rows, dancing and swirling happily (53:47), and essentially keeping Lorenzo and Gamache from giving chase, though eventually Don Q and Sancho manage to follow them, while Lorenzo sinks down into a chair, tired and defeated.

 

Thus ends our explosively exciting, exhilarating, exuberant Act 1.

This goes up now. At every turn when I’m writing this, I can see fragments in my head–Kenya’s loving smile at his Chihiro-Kitri as she casts a stunner of a glance over her shoulder; Satoru brimming with energy and Min Yi’s spirited Kitri. I can feel the fire and relive the magic.

Look, two videos.

This video shows snippets from a Chihiro-Kenya ❤ performance (Etienne as Espada, Bi Ru as Mercedes; Xu Lei Ting and May Yen Cheah as Kitri’s Friends):

 

And this one is a remarkable, insightful interview with Min Yi and Satoru (Cast B). There are snippets of the rehearsal for Act 1 and you can just see how lively and funny the whole production is:

Off to the Gypsies next! Whoop-dee-doo.

Between posts (manga)

There’s no draft of the Don Q post yet. …

But Netflix!!!!!! oh, that’s thriving. I did sorta browse through the pretty engaging Thai high school comedy Hormones, and now I’m in Noragami — good use of music, a light storyline for now. I do want to start on Blue Exorcist and Tokyo Ghoul. In particular, the former has a very specific kind of feeling to it. It’s been a while since the Full Metal Alchemist and D.Gray-Man era (Trinity Blood skirted the edges but it’s not as popular somehow — I think it doesn’t have the supposedly cutesy elements of D.Gray-Man which I didn’t find cute or funny; Trinity Blood plays to another kind of crowd that really takes the whole blood-sucking lace-wearing silver-cross-dangling stab stuff really seriously, which I am also fine with and remember quite fondly though I stopped after volume 5 or so). I’m not a D.Gray fan, but there’s an intensity and depth to it which Blue Exorcist promises.

I’m afraid I really think Tokyo Ghoul is my kind of thing and I prefer reading manga to watching anime. Hmmm. Netflix or …?

I stayed off all these for the longest time only because these things do sometimes affect the way I am.

But I miss them – and manga has shaped me quite nicely too.

 

 

Farewells for 2018 (Part 1)

I wasn’t going to forget about this. The draft has sat in the drive for a while. It’s a nostalgic mellow sorta night, so here we go. These farewell posts are always meant to say: you danced, and we watched you dance, and we won’t ever forget what a joy it was to watch you dance, and thank you.

1. Ruth Austin

Q: What do you think is the most beautiful aspect of ballet?

A: For me, the most beautiful aspect of ballet is the ability to tell a story by expressing emotions through movement. The combination of music and choreography, whether it be a delicate or powerful moment, has the ability to create a mood that impacts the audience.

– In the Wings, 2016

And indeed we will miss Ruth’s beautiful dancing and how it helped to sweep us up in the mood of a dance. There’s a grace in her breadth of movement, a dignity and elegance in her port de bras, a strength and energy in her steps that will be greatly missed from the stage. One can’t forget her amongst the graceful Dryads in Don Quixote, or as one of the lively girls in Balanchine’s Rubies, or in Paquita, or her light-footed dancing in Lilac Attendant; or leaping gracefully as one of the Hours in Coppelia, or sweeping through Serenade in her long blue-and-peach costume, as one of the 5 ladies in Act III.

It was a joy watching her gracious calm presence as one of the Phlegmatic models in The Four Temperaments – her dancing fleshed out the mood and essence of the dance in a manner that allowed it to connect with folk like me.

Don Quixote opens in less than a week; and we remember, so clearly, the curtains lifting, the music, and Ruth Austin crossing the stage. Nostalgiaaa…

 

2. Jerry Wan

Q: Quote or motto to live by?

A: Dance with your heart.

Every dancer is different. We all have different qualities and technique abilities, but as long as you’re dancing vulnerably with your heart, that is all that matters. We do not have to try to repeat or copy someone else’s achievements, but we owe it to ourselves to present our own hearts through our movements. Not just on stage, but in being diligent in improving through classes and training, in emoting and performing during rehearsals. Even if it’s moving one hand, if you use your heart, it will be beautiful.  We won’t dance professionally forever, our bodies will fade, but our hearts will always remain strong if we will it to be.

– In the Wings, 2016

The eye remembers Jerry Wan in mid-flight in a portrait for Edwaard Liang’s 13th Heaven, and watching him amidst the crowd whisking through the pair work, filling the golden-lit air with life and energy. There is always a certain characteristic spirit and grace and beauty in Jerry’s dancing; every shape and form is steeped with this sense that he is channelling a particular emotion and intent.

Unforgettable, Jerry as the impossibly droll eye-rolling butler in the Nutcracker, a performance that allowed you to glimpse the humour beneath the butler’s veneer of contempt; and also – I know it was not in the earlier review so I must write it: Jerry, having just joined SDT in 2016, more than holding his own in Symphony in Three Movements (Aug 2016) beside the experienced Huo Liang – strong and energetic, matching every beat with every glorious step and spirited leap.

 

We wish them all the best.

Nutcracker (过年) (guo nian) by the National Ballet of China – Jan 2019

Since the Nutcracker ballet is often used to herald the Christmas season, it is entirely fitting that China’s version centres around 过年 (guo4nian2), or the Lunar New Year (literally, crossing over to the next year, I suppose) — which is every bit as much about family togetherness and feasting, and which marks the start of the spring, a time for warmth, life and love. This version is a kind little tale about family, forgiveness, and generosity, and also very cleverly substitutes recognisable bits of Chinese culture into the picture. I kind of drooled when I saw the pamphlet, which is seen here on the cover of the brochure. Red-crowned cranes as snowflakes? A touch of genius. And look at the gorgeous crystal pine tree at the top, which reminds one of those mythical clouds that Chinese goddesses (and gods) float around on in pictures (come to think of it, if you see an illustration of Immortals or Chinese gods playing chess, they are probably under one such tree). I think it would have been fun to viewers who found these things familiar; and if they were not (and some were not completely familiar to me), they would still be quite intriguing.

00.1 cover

 

There are very interesting points to note about this version – for one, where many versions leave it to us to imagine whether or not the Land of Sweets was real (and in many cases it’s quite possible it was real), this one is perfectly clear-eyed about its view — the Porcelain Kingdom was fairly clearly part of a fevered dream fuelled by too much food and conflict, and it’s quite remarkable (and sometimes funny!) how cleverly this production made this absolutely clear.

There’s no substitute for the synopsis. I am so grateful for it.

00.9 synopsis

Here’s a short write-up about the National Ballet of China.

00.8 about national ballet china

Here’s a superb trailer with some highlights.

 

 

 

I don’t remember the ballet being this long, I said in horror to my friend. How on earth am I going to recount it, now?? and she said, It was loooooooong.

When first you enter, this is what you see – a gorgeous screen of red-crowned cranes, which represent good fortune and longevity (in the way that a dragon on a golden robe is the symbol of the emperor). It’s the sort of scene that makes one feel sort of warm and happy and glowy inside, and behold the traditional magical puffy heavenly cloud at the bottom right.

20190119_200208

Act 1, Scene 1

When the screen goes up, we see the backdrop you see below: a street in China, and fun festivities. There’s a stall selling brilliant red malt candy on sticks (far left), those fruits on a stick encased in chillingly sweet crimson crystallised malt sugar water (the internet tells me these are “toffee hawthorns”); there’re folk hanging about a kite stall (see centre) with kites of all sorts of shapes and types; and there’s a stall with gigantic fans (see right). As for the trio between the malt-candy stall and the kite-stall, I do think the girl in the centre of the trio has a headpiece that reminds me of something seen somewhere — reminscent of a headpiece to denote a young girl in a type of Chinese opera, perhaps? If one scrolls through the pictures at this link…. Yeah, I’m over-thinking it. The point is that it’s immense fun picking out all these random things.

00.2 opening scene n zodiac

The 12 you see above right in front play children in the show. More on what the above is about.

It’s a bustling street, filled with adults in winter coats floating by. A lady carrying a shopping bag minces in on her tippy-pointe-toes in superb red shoes – she drops her purse, it is picked up, the children wave at her, and she ignores them.

One of the kids, the one third from right in a (you can’t tell but it’s) green-and-white striped sweater, bursts out wearing a glittery forest-green mask that is meant to represent the Nian2 monster, a scary beast that looked… scary – one version goes that it was scary but no one had ever seen it; another version goes that basically everyone who described it made it out to be…really ugly and scary.

This boy with the Nian mask is Tuan Tuan (danced by corps de ballet member Teng Jiankai), this ballet’s version of the brother in Nutcracker who is jealous and steals / damages the Nutcracker. Teng Jiankai is well-cast as the lively, temperamental cousin.

An old man takes the mask away from him and chides him for scaring the other children, and then gets the children to sit in a circle round him so he can tell them the story of the Nian, and presumably all about how it had terrorised villagers, who had then scared it away with loud firecrackers and the colour red — Wiki says that folk thusly also scared it away with red “spring scrolls” too, i.e. 春联 (chun1lian2) – red scrolls that commonly have wishes for spring and good fortune on them written in Chinese calligraphy. Do note that the word for “Nian” is also the word for “year” – it is the same 年as that seen in 过年 (or Lunar New Year), for the beast was scared away round about the eve of the New Year.

After the tale has been told, the children don the masks of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, and dance. Here’s a bit about the Chinese zodiac – skip to ‘The Great Race’ for the story behind it. The dancers seem to be having a fun time fleshing out their character roles even though dancing with those masks with only peepholes for eyes should be terrible restrictive and do a number on their balancing. Each dancer gets a moment to shine. In particular, the girl in the Rabbit mask is superb with her luscious leg movements and little bourres, and her light and cheery dancing – it turns out she is young Yuan Yuan, the other main character of Act 1, and the cousin of Tuan Tuan. As Yuan Yuan, Zhan Xin-Lu has an eye-catching clarity to her lines, and she has a wide dramatic range not only in her expressions but also in her dancing. Even with a rabbit mask on, she stood out immediately – the articulation of her motion – for which I mean articulation as one might articulate and enunciate ones words – there’s a pleasure in seeing the move flow to completion.

The Tiger and Dragon boys do a small dance face-off – the Dragon dancer is quite outstanding and acrobatic – multiple turns and cartwheels, meant to demonstrate the Dragon’s characteristic brilliance, I expect; the Pig is a very lively dancer who earlier played the comic character amongst the children; the Monkey has cheeky mischievous arm poses; the Goat is a surprisingly smooth dancer; the Ox displays a series of strong, incredible fouettes; the girl who plays Snake is sinuous and quite a bit of partnering is involved in lifting and sliding and tilting her upside down, arms curved outwards to imitate the shape of a snake, so that she appears to be slithering about a little; the Rooster, perhaps like a bird pecking someone else, smacks the Dog (!).

At the end, they strike poses as the various animals, as seen above (right to left): the Rat in a typical whiskery pose; the Ox emphasising its horns; the Tiger throwing up his arms in a mighty roar; sweet harmless Rabbit; Dragon, in an absolutely ingenious pose; Snake and her snaking arms; Horse rearing back and kicking his fore legs up in the air (Horse was a suitably powerful dancer); Goat looking out at you in a very goat-like manner; Monkey posing cheekily; Rooster posing cockily; Dog as the quintessential household pet; and Pig (presumably the cheeky childhood cartoon pig).

Next (after a snowball-rolling interlude), we have a delightful dance of Spring Scrolls, to the Dance of the Dolls music, I believe. Ladies lithe and light, genteel and graceful, and men with lanterns. The dance ends with the ladies hoisted upon the men’s shoulders and opening the scrolls that have lots of wishes for good fortune writ large upon them.

The scene clears. Along trots a friend of the family aka Drosselmeyer (Herve Palito), who seeks and gets directions from a chap in red earmuffs and a grey suit on which is stitched the word “京” (jing1…for the capital Beijing?). We segue into 12:48 of the music below and, I think, the darkening music of 13:06 that fades delicately into 13:13 and takes us into the music of little violins as girls enter from both sides of the stage, carrying long sticks at the ends of which are strung strings of red lanterns carrying the word 福 (fu2, for good fortune).

And then the lights go out and we are left with a dark stage as the lanterns sway out and in. Magical. It’s so dark you can’t tell when men enter, also carrying lanterns that sway out and in. They change formations, giving the impression of rows of bobbing floating lanterns, and they exit.

 

That’s the intermission we needed to bring us to the party at Yuan Yuan’s house.

Act 1, Scene 2

We’re now in the house. Behold the furniture – the traditional wooden, no-cushion furniture atop non-traditional little wheels for ease of changing scenes – and the fabulous crane screen and more pine trees. That’s young Yuan Yuan in the centre with her Nutcracker.

00.3 dancing w dinner

Entrez Drosselmeyer (Herve Palito), whose hand Tuan Tuan grasps eagerly, the better to swirl him round and round like a short-putt, to the said guest’s bemusement. Next enter the other kids, friends of Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, and no longer wearing masks. The Nutcracker toy is produced, and she dances with it as seen above, raising it aloft. Young Yuan Yuan is outstanding, of course, with her lovely light dancing and superb high kicks, but special mention must be made of the young friend in orange, who played the masked Goat earlier – there is a fresh spring and added grace in her step.

Tuan Tuan is jealous, and to the fiery music from 17:23 onwards, he displays his immense childish displeasure by unleashing a flurry of punching fists, whirling nunchucks and incredible whip-fast spins that would make anyone else’s head fall off. Truly deserving of the applause he gets.

True to real life, all the adults couldn’t care less and are still happily drinking their tea and having grown-up conversation and leaving their children to their own devices.

Now we have the gift exchange between the grown-ups – Drosselmayer is introduced to the nunchucks, a crane painting is presented as a gift, and in exchange Drosselmayer is presented with a nice Chinese-style jacket. Yuan Yuan seems puzzled by what her Nutcracker does, so she asks Drosselmayer for an explanation, and then, suitably pleased, she dances with it while Tuan Tuan and his friends hatch a plan to play a prank on her.

Tuan Tuan and friends steal the Nutcracker and play with it – the girls run to the adults for assistance, and one of the mothers intervenes. Tuan Tuan simmers while, to the triumphant sound of trumpets, the kids get their presents for the new year (22:11) – a variety of toys. The guests leave (22:23) — having had only tea — which means they’re actually headed to their own houses for their family reunion. Tuan Tuan, still restless and unhappy, jealous and feeling overlooked (despite his damn fine nunchucks), runs out wearing the Nian mask to tease his cousin and generally express his pent-up frustration and be a general spoilsport (to the ominous sound of trumpets at 22:57), but his father takes the mask away and spanks him (you can actually hear appropriate spanking music if you listen to the early notes past the 23rd minute).

Grand rolling music next up, building up to that most important moment during Lunar New Year – dinner time! This is absolutely accurate – everyone carries out great plates of food and then, to what I think is the Grandfather Waltz at 23:33, everyone, in their seats and clasping a cup of drink in both hands, sort of sways counter-clockwise like a dizzy Susan, and then drinks; and then another round of cheers, and a third, and they spin in their seats, in a(n initially baffling) depiction of a jolly good meal that it brings to mind rolling in one’s seat after considerable feasting. But Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan continue bickering a little after that, and Tuan Tuan has an unexpected solo in which he continues holding a cup of drink.

The lights fade out – dinner is over – and the screen in the dining room appears to convert into a plain white screen on which family photos are projected – funny, touching digital photos of them making heart signs and posing with their family, and even a picture of Yuan Yuan holding the Nutcracker beside Tuan Tuan who’s wearing the Nian mask.

Act 1, Scene 3

Billowing white sheet-curtains take us into the dream sequence — after a heavy meal and an unsettling argument with her cousin, it’s time for her to enter a version of a  Chinese ghost movie.

We don’t see her yet – we see first the Nian monster wrapped in a fabulous glittery deep green cloak and sea foam-green boots, waving a Nutcracker in his hand. It’s midnight, and three..four…even more Nian monsters leap out, totalling 8, a lucky number. So the Nian believes in good fortune, too. Everyone’s in glittery green-brown with green tights, and they lift their leader, Master Nian, and his all-important Nutcracker up high.

Enter our Clara, aka young Yuan Yuan, in a pinkish nightgown, suitably terrified as she is waltzed about and lifted by the Nians while she struggles to get her beloved toy back. Light and ethereal, charismatic, beautiful dancing.

A huge wrapped boxed present is rolled out onto the stage and it’s lit up from within, and then to a large BANG! it opens and the Nutcracker is within and he is wearing a Nutcracker headmask as well. Yuan Yuan is so happy and there’s a lovely dream-like quality to this moment.

The gauzy bedroom curtains are whipped away and the backdrop shifts to a glittery glitzy deep-green whorl against a glittery purple background.The Nutcracker does a few impressive turns. He has quite fabulous form and remains impassive and expressionless, fearless when up against the Nian.

Just as it seems he will be overwhelmed by the Nian, a chap in a tiger mask arrives on the scene, followed by his army of tigers.

Yes, whaaat? But that’s a brilliant way of signalling that this is all a dream, and not that the witching hour has heralded some magical activity.

Why tigers? If you think about it…Tuan Tuan was the scary Nian whose argument with Yuan Yuan has obviously traumatised her as any fierce fight with a loved one would — but at the same time, he was also the Tiger, her beloved, if hot-tempered, cousin. So the Nian has come to life in her dreams, and at the same time, subconsciously her cousin is here as the brave tiger, protecting her. Brings a small tear to the cold heart, it does.

And adding to the hilarious outlandish dream-like quality, the Tigers now haul in a giant cannon in the shape of a bottle of beer. Directed by the Nutcracker, the Tigers fire the cannon, and pop! goes the cork, which knocks quite a few Nians flat, and the Tigers fill themselves a few celebratory glasses at the mouth of the cannon. This is absolutely bonkers — it pokes you in the ribs — yes, this is a dream— and winks at you.

Just in case it hasn’t been nuts enough, a rabbit-girl (the Zodiac animal that young Yuan Yuan had played earlier), appears and takes their glasses away.

Out leap the Nians, now armed to their claws with nunchucks. More rapid prolonged fighting ensues, each army taking turns to take casualties. At some point in time, parties wave flags; the rabbit appears again waving a red-cross flag, and tends to casualties. Yuan Yuan, caught in the melee, leaps upon a Nian’s back, perhaps in an effort to stop him. It is Yuan Yuan’s (Zhan Xin-lu) evocative agonised dancing that sweeps us up into the hopelessness and helplessness of her situation.

At last we reach the stand-off between Master Nian and Nutcracker, and just when we’ve reached the peak of destruction in the nightmare, we hit the glorious harp strings and 35:04 gives us not the Queen of Snowflakes, but an incredible Crane Queen (Lu Na, also Arabian), perched high atop what must be a …crane. She sails in like Mother Candy, high above the crowd in a long white dress, and there is peace again.

The tigers surround the Nutcracker and when the crowd of tigers parts, we see that they have unmasked him to be a human Nutcracker Prince (principal dancer Ma Xiaodong). Hurrah. Yuan Yuan is overjoyed to see him in the human form. She dances round and behind the Crane Queen, and disappears from sight – and round the other side of the Crane Queen, a grown-up Yuan Yuan (prima ballerina Zhang Jian) emerges, in a fantastic white dress. Look at the petal-like skirt, and that glorious tiara.

There you go! ❤  That’s them, below. (Taken from the pamphlet, of course.)

00.6 our leads

Below is another photo showing the leads from another performance.

00.7 other leads

The Crane Queen bids them farewell and gently floats away. If you look carefully and the skirts part a trifle, you can see young Yuan Yuan’s legs under her skirt as the probably 2.5-metre tall contraption is wheeled away.

Meanwhilst, our leads have lost no time swinging into breathtaking action – Yuan Yuan leaps up into our gentleman Nutcracker’s arms, freewheeling her legs into rapid cycling motions of delight and freedom.

Zhang Jian is elegant, with luscious, luxurious unfolding legs, and she has perfect expressive arms that are crystal-sharp and energetic at some points, and at others, soft and full of a delicate yearning emotion. Absolute steely strength and incredible poise.

Ma Xiaodong displays excellent masterly control in his turns, and his Nutcracker positively glows with love and devotion. Together, they are clearly at the pinnacle of their game.

Now to the music of snowflakes, the beautiful cranes enter, all of the graceful, long-limbed variety, with little fluffy tutus and tails. Long, lean lines, led by their leading Crane (Qiu Yunting – listed as “Yue Yunting” with the corps on the National Ballet of China page), who is light-footed and assured, gracious, lady-like, and reassuring to the couple as she welcomes them, and quietly leads them offstage.

The crane dance is cleverly choreographed to bring to mind waves of birds sweeping across the stage. In one moment, the long elegant reaching arms and folded hands of the ladies are reminiscent of spreading wings; and in the next, these same arms are the stretched necks of cranes, their legs lifted high in harmony. Large leaps to signify birds in flight; perfect little bourres depict birds floating into the field.

The leading Crane remains admirably in character throughout, lifting her eyes to the heaven. That is what this is, the crane dance  – a heavenly display of perfect execution married with stirring choreography – birds picking their way across a field of softly-falling confetti snow, and at last saluting a frosty moon (honesty drives me to admit that it is somewhat less spectacularly large than the moon seen in the brochure, but do we mind? not at all).

 

Act 2, Scene 1 – Porcelain Kingdom

I will skate through this – it was very enjoyable but I’m also very lazy.

After the intermission, the audience was greeted by the same crane curtain seen above. This is what it looked like when lit up from the front.

0 Screen w cranes

Then the stage lights went on and a spectacular fog misted out. Through the screen we saw lovely floating ladies dressed as porcelain vases (specifically, blue-and-white Ming vases wearing headpieces shaped like the slender necks and mouths of vases) drifting out. The screen and the mist were apparently meant to create a dream-like effect — another way in which the ballet signalled that it was all a dream. Notably, there was another screen behind the dancers, so they were dancing on a very small strip of stage.

Out soared our lead couple, the lady light-footed in her attitudes (a leg bent in arabesque behind) and spins, and the gentleman lifting her strongly in her arabesques. She was in a delicate cocktail crane-like dress with a little black tail and a red glint in her tunic, and she swooned backwards gently in his arms as seen in one of the pictures above.

At last the screen in front and behind lifted, to the glorious music of 51:33, and various groups of dancers appeared – including some folk dressed as the animals of the Zodiac, but sans masks; and a trio of couples that I shall term the “peony trio”, some of whom are seen below at the curtain call. You can see the delightful vase ladies behind them, and even further back, the Zodiac dancers wearing the animals’ faces on their tops. You can also see the full backdrop. Do note that this was but one of the backdrops for the Porcelain Kingdom. If you look at the top I think you can see perhaps the giant porcelain plates that descended during parts of the performance, including this opening scene.

03.2 wa wa 3

Here’s a better picture:

00.4 land of vases w wawa.jpg

Unexpectedly, a Nian leapt out from the curtains to the audience’s right, but he was dealt with quickly and he vanished off to the left. This was a little shocking but I thought it a superbly clever way of reminding us that this was a dream; for that is how dreams work, after all.

The giant porcelain plates rose up and disappeared.

Chocolate (Spanish Dance) was first up: women with pink fluttery fans and men carrying absolutely gigantic golden fans that they periodically opened and closed. This was a clever idea, for it brought to mind the Spanish mantillas and fans and Don Quixote, but with Chinese-style fans. A lively, speedy dance with its high arabesque penches, and very capable men wielding huge golden fans that appeared almost as long as (or even longer than) the men’s arm-spans. If you look back at the opening, you’ll see that this echoed the fan stall that Yuan Yuan would have seen earlier that day.

Coffee (Arabic dance) was a lady wrapped in a green veil, carried in high above the heads of four men who wore golden headpieces that reminded one of Buddha statues. The lady was carefully set down and the men manipulated the extremely long veil as  she wove in and out of it, and was swept in and out of it, until she danced her sinuous way out of the veil, which then formed the screen against which she danced in a belly-dancing costume. Exquisite hands and feet, and sleek arms in a Chinese-dance style. Finally, she danced her winding way back into the veil, and was lifted up in her silken cocoon and carried out. This was extremely popular with the audience, for the gorgeous, gracefully sinuous dancing, and the ingenious winding in-and-out-of the veil.

Tea (Chinese dance)this, I was looking forward to. I am quite fond of the SDT version that has silken Chinese ribbons whipping through the air — and I remember Jeffrey Tan’s version had actual bicycles on the stage — what would the Chinese make of this, given its chequered choreographic history? (I shall leave it to Google to explain that.) Answer: A pagoda / lantern pair. On reading another review, I think perhaps the “pagoda” dancer was actually the hawthorn malt-candy sweet mentioned previously, for her tunic and skirt were like red bubbles and her headdress consisted of a few red spheres on a stick, but I thought of Chinese pagodas instead, for some reason. The tone for this was a big shift from the earlier slower dance – great leaps and pert feet, strong stable spins, and a real chemistry between the dancers under the warm lights.

Trepak (Russian) was an intensely acrobatic dance involving break-dancing and cartwheeling. I think it might have been this dance in which there were men dressed like little children in the very traditional style, with fake shaven heads and tiny little tails on their heads, and small black tunics and billowy black trousers. I recall thinking this was an incredibly tough dance that tested their mettle and spirit. I deeply admired them for the back-breaking dancing (as I did for their wearing outfits which I am not a big fan of).

The Dance of the Mirlitons (Flute dance), now popularly the Shepherd and Shepherdess dance, told the story of a boy in white with a string tied to a butterfly kite (a girl) who twirled in when he reeled her in and whom he lifted high above his head in a simulation of his kite flying in the wind. A complex dance involving delicate pointe work (the kite hopping in with bent knees and crossed ankles; the kite floating on tiny bourres across the stage) and incredibly fast turns as he unwound his kite; a slightly romantic note as she held her string and they skated lightly together. Admittedly there was a possibly dark undertone if you saw it as a manipulative relationship — but towards the end, she broke free and he tripped and fell over; and then she returned to him free of the strings that had bound her, and he lifted her and carried her out delicately, turned sideways as one might hold a kite while she held herself stiffly, exactly like a kite might. A paean to the pastime of kite-flying, a story of a child and his kite that ended sweetly, as they continued being companions.
It’s nice how this harked back to the kite stall in the opening.

Next – Mother Ginger. The peony trio returned with their playful acrobatic dancing including their signature move of lifted the girls in splits and flat feet (you will see this at curtain call below). The couple to the far left fussed and the boy pretended to almost drop the girl, who then smacked him, and they ran off into the curtains, and the two remaining peony couples carried the rest of the show together — that is, thereafter, whenever the peony trio had to appear again, only 2 couples rolled out. I suspect that couple probably doubled up in other roles.

After the dance, a large golden ingot was rolled in. This was incredibly auspicious and had Chinese New Year written all over it — it was exactly the sort of stuff that traditional Chinese folk might be pleased at, and honestly, anything shiny and glittery is fun. It was very much a children’s show here – the dancers mimed that they could hear something inside, but could not open the ingot — and finally, the main chap from the peony trio (a gentleman with an infectious bright smile, as seen at curtain call) indicated that one must wiggle one’s butt to open it, and I think he did so (or the dancers followed suit) and then the ingot opened and a ton of tiny children dressed as ingots ran out, and there was also a little girl in red, the star of the lot. The aw shucks factor hit the roof – they were really adorable. That’s when one also remembered that the Nutcracker is also meant to be entertainment for the entire family.

Waltz of the Flowers (dance of porcelain vases). Large porcelain plates were lowered from the ceiling. Entrez the large decorative porcelain vases behind. This was serious business and I think this was hands down one of my favourite dances. Many of the dancers had also danced as cranes, and we had caught a glimpse of them right after the intermission, so it was pleasant watching them again.

I loved how the choreography made perfect use of the music, matching the crests and emotions of the music perfectly with when the couples swept in, the staggered timing of the ladies’ dancing, and pas de deux by the two main couples. The ladies were held aloft in incredible triumphant lifts and assisted in controlled arabesques.  Such sleek rondes in the air, swift bourres and perfect neat feet and arms. From the men, immensely deft dancing and incredible clean turns, and fast zipping leaps across round the stage.  The best of choreography and dancing offered on a porcelain platter. Magical perfection. I could watch this over and over again.

00.5 vases (male).jpg

Nutcracker pas de deux. The main couple reappeared for a heart-stopping performance. Now we shift into the present tense because I’m inconsistent like that.

The choreography and dancing are pure music. As Yuan Yuan, Zhang Jian forms strong luxurious shapes in her dancing, the luscious sweeping of her arms inscribing entire whole emotions. The choreography is light, speedy, incredibly athletic, and knocks the breath out of you: turns with a foot at the ankle extend into rondes; rondes morph into the Nutcracker catching Yuan Yuan and slipping her upside down; a leap into the Nutcracker’s arms slides into a sensuous leaning back into his arms; a dead lift of Yuan Yuan converts into Yuan Yuan sitting on the Nutcracker’s shoulder, before she slides down into an impeccable arabesque penche; the lightest of steps soars into a draping split and enveloping legs. Without pause, without hesitation. There are modern swallow lifts, there are fish dives, there are incredible Nutcracker leaps round and round in a circle, faster and faster, while he draws strength from their partnership and his lovely Yuan Yuan smiling at him in the corner.

Intoxicating. It is almost as if they are drawn together like magnets, as they swing from  strength to jaw-dropping strength with the finest grace and agility.

By the end you can hardly believe it when she rounds off into fouettes and he swings her into a waltz step, then spins her round like a short putt in a floating split, and then lifts her up in a one-arm lift for what feels like infinity.

This pas de deux calls for the deepest trust, ability and chemistry between the leads. It is exhausting — exceptionally so for Ma Xiaodong, who never falters and simply gives, gives, gives his all in every single moment of brute strength while looking absolutely flawlessly graceful and remaining every inch a Nutcracker and dancer.

Sheer breathtaking magic.

As we reach the close of the performance, apart from two of the peony trio couples reappearing, we have the most marvellous surprise – firecrackers on strings, or men dressed as firecrackers holding ropes, and kicking and cartwheeling and dancing round and about the ropes, light and merry and festive. This was a truly clever, jolly touch.

Various characters reappear – the Zodiac dancers skipping and jumping with their characteristic animal poses, the vases floating in with their gorgeous footwork – and then slowly, in the manner of a fading dream, the background shifts, vases vanishing and the backdrop of the earlier real-life scenes reappearing.

Everyone whisks away as we float out of dreamland and into reality.

At the very last, the firecrackers lift young Yuan Yuan, who is still clutching her toy nutcracker, and set her down gently, and mime Shhhh to one another lest they wake her up, and they run away quickly.

— so, was it a dream?…. 🙂

Act 2, Scene 2

Tuan Tuan runs in and young Yuan Yuan wakes up. Tuan Tuan is still jealous of her toy, and she hands the Nutcracker to him as a peace offering, and he’s delighted – but he passes it back to her as it is hers, and they have thusly made up, and order is restored. In case no one mentioned it earlier, Tuan and Yuan = tuan yuan, or reunion, which is what the Lunar New Year is all about – a reunion of the family, and peace and harmony.

The parents and grandparents enter. Everyone is back together as a family, and then it is midnight and the New Year has begun – there is the sound of firecrackers, and fireworks, and the lights above flicker as if there are real fireworks.

It’s beautiful, and to the closing music of the Nutcracker, we have the curtain call. The dancers dance a little even during the curtain call, as if the show has never really ended.

I missed taking photos of the firecrackers, who were the first to run out, but you can see them in the background of all the photos.

Here are the Zodiac from the Porcelain Kingdom, some of whom probably doubled up as Zodiac children in the opening.

01 zodiac run out.jpg

01.1 zodiac pose.jpg

I love these poses!!

01.2 zodiac wait.jpg

01.3 zodiac wait.jpg

If you look at the vases, you’ll see what I mean about them dancing at curtain call.

02.2 vase run out.jpg

 

02.3 vase dance.jpg

An example of the staggered timing seen in their dance – those on the left turned first, then those on the right.

Look at how graceful they are, and just look at those costumes!

02.4 vase dance.jpg

02.5 vase dance.jpg

This picture above shows them making a little delicate movement with their hands (rolling their arms up before drawing their arms into the right shape for bowing).

03. wa wa 1.jpg

The peony trio, with the characteristic splits and flat feet. During the dance, the ladies then get set down in attitude with such graceful arms. In this case, they were set down proper for bows.

03.2 wa wa 3

Next up…grandparents, parents and ingots. The father in brown looked like one of the chaps in Arabian, carrying the lady. An audience member noted that some of the chaps in Arabian were on the heavy side – the stronger sort, no doubt.

04.1 grandparens n ingots a.jpg

04.2 grandparents n ingots 2.jpg

04.3 grandparents n ingots 3.jpg

05.1 fan pagoda kite snake.jpg

One lady with a fan, the pagoda/malt-candy girl — you can see how cheery and lively her dance was from her pose — the amazing Kite (look at how gorgeous she is, caught in mid-bourre, floating from side to side in the breeze), and Arabian. I loooved this part of the curtain call.

05.2 crane fan dollhead.jpg

On the other side of the stage: the incredible, amazing Queen Crane who is so in character (go google her and you’ll see her as a wilful Kitri!); another lady with a fan, and one of the men as the shaven-headed chap.

06.1 kids n nutcracker.jpg

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan still pretending to bicker over the Nutcracker.

06.2 kids n nutcracker 2.jpg

06.3 clear kids n doll.jpg

Look at that sharp arabesque and the energy. She’s not Young Yuan Yuan for nothing!!

06.4 kids bow.jpg

 

Our leads, highly deserving of the applause they received – Zhang Jian and Ma Xiaodong.

07.1 leads.jpg

 

07.2 leads bow.jpg

 

07.4 flowers for all

07.5 another bow.jpg

Everyone gets flowers, everyone bows — and then, as a final touch and surprise, at the very end, Ma Xiaodong (the Nutcracker Prince) stepped forward and flung his bouquet into the audience, and someone caught it – I think it might have been the choreographer, I don’t know, but it was a marvellous little touch and he did it with such practised ease you could tell that that was the signature way to end off the show, and it really ended the show on a high note.

 

Lovely and magical. It was exactly what you’d want out of a Lunar New Year-themed ballet, and it was wonderful fun seeing Nutcracker interpreted in this fashion. I was quite in love with the cranes, the vases, the kite and the firecrackers, especially– and the pas de deux, which was truly an experience.

I thought I should add the cast where I could:

Peg-Top: Li Yang, Hou Xulei (I think these were two main male dancers in the opening scene – Li Yang is recognisable as one of the main Firecrackers as well), and subsequently, Guo Chongzheng

Children: Sun Xiaoqian, Xu Yan, Feng Mengying (not sure if this was a typo – website says Feng Qiujing and I think I recognise her), Sun Hai Feng, Guo Feng Hai (Bai, according to the website)

Silk dance (Arabian): Lu Na

Haws (?): … I can’t trace their names on the website, except for Coryphee Zhang Tiao

Kite: Xie Hua, Du Jichao

 

 

Hello a.k.a. new SDT folk (2019)

Yeah, it might be a good time to write this.

Exciting times ahead with new faces:

1. Artists – Henriette Garcia, Yayoi Matches

2. Apprentice – Erivan Garioli

3. Trainee – Esen Thang, last seen as the gracious Queen from Sleeping Beauty with quite marvellous acting skills

 

Exciting times ahead also, as we blaze on towards the season-opener, Don Quixote. It is a stunner of a production and I am trying to get as many interested lovelies as possible to trot down, because it is an absolute waste not to have eyeballs in the theatre for this.

除夕(chu2 xi1)

Or, the Eve of Lunar New Year.

On that note, it’s quite fitting that the National Ballet of China used the Nutcracker music not for celebrating Christmas, as is the tradition in the … in the…moving on, well, they used it for to celebrate Chinese/Lunar New Year, calling it 过年 (guo4 nian2) aka to Celebrate Chinese New Year.

‘Twas what one might call a colourful, dizzying spectacle, and there were some quite incredibly humorous moments. I’m quite looking forward to recounting it, now that some time has passed and I’ve sort of taken photos of the pamphlets – guess I’ll have to upload them to my computer now #slothmoth

Is it irreverent to now add that I’ve started watching “Sex Education” on Netflix, and I’m quite liking it (sigh, but it is shockingly X-rated in parts)? I do accumulate Netflix shows and never quite complete many of them. But boy do I love Derry Girls (was quite into the whole Northern Ireland thing as a kid, and we all loved the Corrs though they’re from the Republic of Ireland, not N.I.), Everything Sucks!, Stranger Things, and Terrace House (not the Hawaii season), and I do binge-watch Riverdale when enough episodes have piled up.

 

But CNY is all about Mahjong Titans online, of course–matching tiles and watching them vanish, hurrah.

Happy CNY 😀