Singapore Dance Theatre – Nutcracker 2017 (Snowflakes and all other dancing)

Cast list.

cast list 1

cast list 2

 

Act 1: Snowflakes

Snow King’s costume. ‘Tis a fine suit, innit.

costume snow king

 

Snowflakes – rather beautiful, as always. When it begins, you have the rows of snowflakes in two diagonal rows from the back corner to the (audience’s) right, and then the Icicles paired with Cavaliers bourre-ing en pointe and pointing forward, leading the way as the Snow King enters, bearing his Snow Queen aloft in a gorgeous swan position, arms and head back, legs high.

There are moves that the mind cannot comprehend, that are excellent. Snowflakes leap out backwards in lines of three,  arms extended back and forward, and making a jumping pirouette in the air, hands meeting in the middle and extending back out again – now they’re facing the correct direction and jete across the stage to the other side. Listen to 39:48/49 above, which is the music for snowflakes flitting out in trios.

Another move I can’t wrap my mind round is one that sounds very close to the music at 40:54 or so. Everyone is in trios, including Snow Queen flanked by two Icicles in the front i.e. the lead trio. The lead trio raise an arm straight up so their hand is high overhead, and then they plie (I think they do bend their right knees) and stretch out their left leg to the side, and then they spin on the plie leg, so their left foot inscribes a (part?) circle on the ground, and they are now facing the back (as they do so, one lowered arm extends back and the hand overhead stretches out? forward? like a swan’s wing), and they run off. It’s difficult to do it gracefully and in sync. I tried it out so that I could write it out above, but without a reflective surface. I have no idea whether I described it correctly.

There are delightful little moments, like everyone (lead trio in front) bourre-ing to the front, kicking out slightly to the side as they lift their feet. Snow Queen always looks down to the sides as she does so, then lifts her eyes to the audience with a glorious smile. Another fabulous part sees the Snowflakes in their trios, in a cross / Maypole formation,  a simulacrum of a four-pointed snowflake, and the snowflake whirls round lightly in the centre of the stage.

Kenya and Chihiro are the very assured Snow King and Queen, and you can see Kenya whisk himself round quickly to ensure he’s in the right place for Chihiro when she does a turn. Shan Del Vecchio and Peter Allen are back as Icicle Cavaliers – Shan Del Vecchio appears to be a steady partner for Nanase, and Peter Allen distinguishes himself especially in his demi-soloist role dancing with Shan and Kenya.

Essentially, all the Icicles and Cavaliers make watching this easy on the eye – it sails past. I like watching all three couples on stage.

Close to the end of the pas de deux, when you think the music is just about dying away, the Snow King supports Snow Queen by the waist while she is in splits, and he carries her a little way, then lands her and she pushes off again into splits, and so on, as if she’s gently flying. That needs good timing, especially because the music sounds like it’s about to end, and you just have to trust that the moves will eat up the music adequately. I’m seeing Li Jie and Nazer in my head at this point, an experienced Snow Couple.

At the end of the pas de deux, Snow King does a dead lift of the lovely Snow Queen (straight locked elbows, all the way up) off the stage. I was always of the impression that the take-off happens at a point between five-twelfths to six-thirteenths of the stage (I pressed the calculator for this – it’s around 0.43 really, but probably five-twelfths feels more accurate). But from Kenya and Chihiro’s performance, it seems it’s around the centre of the stage. Ouch! That is called parallax error.

My current absolute favourite part for their pas de deux is, however, when Snow Queen, left arm draped across her King’s shoulders, swings her left leg up and out like a graceful pendulum, and then pivots on her right toe so that the raised left leg is in attitude (raised arabesque) behind her, and her arm is still round the King’s shoulders so that they are quite close together, and then he walks 360 degrees while he continues pivoting her. Flawless and graceful.

At 43:33, should we hear a sort of low rumbling and see the three rows of 4 snowflakes flutter their hands like sudden snowfall?

Also, we must mention this other part (somewhere when the music speeds up — I can’t quite catch the point above, 44:18 to 44:29?) – where we have the lead trio especially, and their legs open from fifth to second, and they reach up and across with the opposing hand (right hand reaching for top left, left hand stretching out below) and glance at us over their shoulder. Like the points of stars. (I’m not sure I’ve the timing of the music right – 44:36 starts to lead up to the fall of snow at 44:39.)

 

Kwok Min Yi is a new Snow Queen – it’s always a pleasure to see someone take on a new role, and I admit I felt another lump in my throat because seeing someone move up from group to important soloist roles is always a joy, especially when the road has been filled with so much growth and so many new and interesting roles. Also, I didn’t expect this, because usually, Sugarplum has to double up as Snow Queen or Dewdrop or some sort.

It’s interesting – she dances like she’s having the time of her life, and in the part mentioned above about the points of stars, every arm and leg is a line in a crystal, and the hands and feet their points, each move made clearer and larger than life, both for feet opening and zipping together, and arms reaching wide, outwards.

Li Jie is the glorious, grand, unattainable Snow Queen. Chihiro is the gorgeous Snow Queen, royalty, Queen of the dancing Icicles. Kwok Min Yi is a fairy Snow Queen, from a little girl’s perspective.

 

Act  – Land of Sweets

When Fritz and Clara reach the Land of Sweets, Fritz kneels so that when the Toy Soldiers burst in, they eventually end up kneeling with him to welcome Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy. At first I was rather startled to see Fritz kneeling, and for so long, too.

The Soldiers are a solid piece of work, doing their turns in turn like cogs in a mechanism, well-tuned. It’s interesting to see, for the Akira-Sugarplum night, that Jerry Wan and Reece Hudson are of one particular line of dancing (the rounded, more fluid look) while Jason Carter belongs to the class of dancing that is more on lines and planes, and Yorozu Kensuke’s dancing is a mix of the two.

I love 51:32 of the music above. That’s a part I totally didn’t expect: all and sundry emerge in order of appearance to greet their guests, and boy, does it look and sound grand! I mean, when Spanish appear to the sound of those wind instruments, you feel your spirits lift. 52:10 to 52:22 signals a slight change, and where this part once involved three of Clara’s dolls, it now involves Harlequins, which I think fits better as they’re all grown dancers. Plus, the Harlequins, in their white costumes and their quizzical poses, are a breath of fresh air. 52:24 is familiar, but I can’t recall who they are…I keep seeing light steps to the side and to the centre again, and lifted legs. Is 52:36 the Shepherd and Shepherdess (S&S)? For sure, 52:50 is their portion, so hauntingly melodic; and the violins from 52:56 take us to the fade-out at 53:06, by which time Shepherd has hoisted Shepherdess up in the air so her white sleeves trail down as she leans back and lifts her arms up gracefully as if they are water sleeves.

Spanish

55:28 – good for getting people into the mood! Danced by always-dependable couples, and ending in a beautiful fish dive that is nowhere near as easy as it looks. A note that May Yen Cheah is always spritely as Spanish, with a sparkle in the eye. For the finale, the Spanish lady cocks her head back slightly and throws her hand up behind her ear, and May Yen Cheah does it so sharply and memorably. She is marvellously supported by Miura Takeaki, who makes sure the pas de deux is swift and on the mark.

Bi Ru + Kensuke are the joyous Spanish, Bi Ru bright and lively, with that proud lift of the leg in the entrance piece earlier, hands at the waist. Kensuke’s performance, summarised in 2 word, is “great lah“, which essentially means that it was a breeze to sit through, as his performances always are.

I fell ill just before the Chihiro performance,* so I left at the intermission, but from memory (of something I did see, which went well), Nanase and Jason were the delightfully efficient and sharp Spanish.

The 6 Spanish girls twirl and stride round, and there are the high proud kicks and 56:32 onwards brings us unexpectedly light-footed music for Spanish.

*Requiring shots – not liquor, though. I like to think that I’d have had the review up sooner but this just knocked the blues into me slightly.

 Harlequins

The music after that isn’t quite included in the dance, I think. I have no idea where the harlequins’ music comes from. If you do know, please let me know…

I’m following the sequence in the pamphlet as it’s the same as the performance, I expect? I can’t remember.

When the Harlequins file in, there’s utter silence, and then they leap into the air and the music starts. If I were a crowd I’d say they were a crowd-pleaser, but the audiences remained fairly quiet. I did think they were a more than welcome addition and rather hilariously mischievous, and their dance was well-executed. They ended in a pyramid, with Jeremie Gan balancing on the upper thighs of the other 2 boys, and improvising quickly where necessary. The bows were funny and well-received — whirly dramatic flourishes with their hands, then Jeremie Gan kicking and shoving Ivan Koh into rushing off stage, then all waving as they ran off, and Agetsuma Satoru blowing kisses lavishly at the audience – think he stood out a fair bit in lines and humour.

Chinese Flowers

Always love this, and the crowd does as well. Lookit those great red sashes whirling through the air! And the timing on this is precious – one girl has to run out further than the other to reach the same spot, and then when one pirouettes in a certain fashion, the other doesn’t seem to pirouette in time, and then you realise that’s because the latter needs to be at just the right point of the tight circle that they’re whirling in, at the right point in time.

Shepherd and Shepherdess

Last year, Bi Ru and Jason were the highly-energetic S&S, and this year Huo Liang and Bi Ru turn in a slightly more tempered performance.

I think one of the most fascinating parts is when he has swirled her round and they pose for a snapshot second when the Shepherd has swung the Shepherdess round and her left arm is about his shoulders and his right arm round her waist; their other arms are outstretched, and even in that single breath, the Shepherdess has to quickly slide one leg out in tendu so that in the next note, they can take off again.

Jason Carter and Suzuki Mai are a gentleman and gentlewoman S&S, light of foot and supremely gracious and genteel. I missed Etienne and Akira’s performance, but I’d seen one before and it was very lovely and sweet.

Arabian

Costumes. Nutcracker Prince, Flowers (there are also yellow and blue flowers, I think), and Arabian.

costumes soldier flower arabian

I unabashedly abandon Clara’s Dolls. They are pretty good, and I’m always partial to symmetrical logical dancing, e.g. when they are in a sort of circle and start turning? and then doing arabesques, in sequential and mirror order.

We’re here for Arabian, which, like the Soldiers, is an absolute dream that whizzes past delightfully. It is the song that never ends, which is fabulous for this audience member. Unfortunately, I was trapped between two extremely bored gentlemen on Friday night after the intermission. Though they had been kind enough to accompany their lady friends, their boredom seeped out of their pores. The gentleman to the right seemed scornful whenever male dancers appeared (see the Netflix subtitle for “scoffs”), politely clapped for female dancers, and applauded with great gusto at Sugarplum Li Jie and her Cavalier (one suspects reasons). The gentleman to the left sank down in his seat after a while and I suspect he dozed off, because he clapped only sporadically, and even had to prop himself up. And as Arabian is very long for people who don’t like ballet, it was a tad uncomfortable…but honestly, I just paid attention to what was onstage because I was getting my ticket’s worth, and more.

Arabian is full of intriguing moves: ladies extending one leg forward (supported at the ankle by their partner) and leaning, bent-backed, against their partners’ arms, then righting themselves and leaning over the extended leg, folding their hands delicately over their ankles; spins involving a handhold overhead and pushing off from the other hand hold, arms at 90 degrees, legs at 90 degrees until they are folded in for the pirouette – and now imagine 3 of these in rapid succession; ladies hoisted up onto the shoulders of their gentlemen and carried about. For Saturday’s matinee in particular, they did seem to exude an air of being Arabian princesses (happy, cool, or sultry, depending on the dancer).

Dewdrop and Flowers

costume dewdrop

At last! And we’re not even at Sugarplum. Li Jie’s Dewdrop is assured, giving us the sense that she can do this in her sleep; she is the Queen of the Flowers, after all. Nanase always turns the energy up a notch when she is soloist – a solid Dewdrop. From memory, Elaine’s Dewdrop is a clear, steady Dewdrop.

Dewdrops are picked for stamina, and they never ever let on that they are tired.

I have no ballet name for this move by the Flowers, who again move across the stage rapidly in trios, across a diagonal. It involves leaps to the side, one leg extended to the side and the other tucked under (not behind, but sideways). It’s difficult to look graceful doing this, but the Flowers always are, and are also coordinated.

Sugarplum and Cavalier

I’d watched Chihiro and Kenya once, and they were a couple in love, or at least – in every breath and every move, Kenya was a delighted and devoted Cavalier. This, unlike Snow King and Queen, requires everyone to be on a high and happy note.

This is Akira’s first Sugarplum for SDT – lovely port de bras, and a sure air, and likely a child’s dream of a Sugarplum fairy, in part because she is petite. She and Etienne (always the capable, reliable partner and dancer) were wildly popular – quite an adorable and sweet pair.

Li Jie had an air of confidence in this year’s Sugarplum, and I think it went a long way in her solid fouettes and then multiple speedy spins. It was a pleasure to see that beautiful final pose with Nazer, hands lifted to the light, and you could tell the audience loved that performance, too.

If you recall, there’s this little arm movement I’m not fond of, in this pas de deux. Interestingly, I no longer notice it – it is a small brushstroke leading to a larger, grander gesture, a sweeping of the arm upwards to the light.

 

I love the finale, when everyone enters one last time. Not much to say on it now, though.

 

At last. Pictures.

Etienne, bowing to Akira.

EF akira 0

Li Jie as Dewdrop, and Etienne and Akira.

EF akira 1

 

EF akira 3

 

Spanish from Akira’s performance

may yen cheah spanish

 

Li Jie and Nazer. For this performance, she handed him her entire bouquet instead of the now-customary single flower, and when he kept trying to return it, she made him keep it and in the end he bowed with it raised high and in hand. He is leaving SDT 😦

li jie nazer

li jie nazer 2

No better photos for this couple, I’m afraid. I could try to name everyone from left to right, but maybe another time.

 

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Singapore Dance Theatre – Nutcracker 2017 Part 1 (Before Snowflakes)

Nutcracker is back! — that family-friendly affair.

This year, the Mayor(s) stick(s) to his (their) wife.

If you wish to know the music and the chronology of events, please go to “Archives” and look for “Nutcracker 2016”. This round, I skip these as far as possible. I’ll type the word “review” here because Google and shameless.

esplanade banner

(Pictured in banner: Uchida Chihiro)

 

nutcracker pamphlet cover

The above shows Chihiro … as…the…Snow Queen? I don’t know what the costume is.

Cast lists are up and they show interesting stuff. Most folk are in the same roles, I think. Some of the previous year’s Claras are now dancing as Clara’s dolls. Fritz is back, and taller than all the Maries now — but still as entertaining and expressive a Fritz as ever. New roles – Harlequins, etc. Personally, I rather like the Harlequins and I hope their scene hangs around.

cast list 1

cast list 2

Act 1 – The Shops

When the show starts, we see the usual setting of the shops. Though the shopkeeper is called Mr Sung, his shop is not named after him. I suppose “Sung” is a pun on 商人 (shang ren, or businessman). Left to right, we see Mr Sung’s shop, the bank, the jewellery shop, the dress shop, and the candy shop, which I don’t recall being there before. It’s a good place for the kids to hang out. The jewellery shop window now has a selection of five necklaces, while the dress shop window has been jazzed up – it’s no longer merely a milliner’s, for there’s a grey suit on the left and a dress and hat on the right.

The opening has much of the same stuff as last year’s – the shopkeeper sweeping somebody’s feet by mistake, Mrs Nightingale (Clara’s mother, played by Ruth Austin) getting annoyed with what the butler has purchased and praising the maid (Leane Lim), Marie getting distracted by jewellery (and a necklace draped round her neck, which her mother makes her return), Marie noticing Drosselmayer’s nephew Kristian as he strides by, the ladies noticing the Russian ballerinas, the Russian ballerinas trying to get the soldiers’ attention, etc.

It’s interesting to see how different people adapt to the situations (see later: the party scene and the 2 Messrs. Nightingale, and the butlers). As the Banker and Mayor respectively, Shan Del Vecchio and Nazer Salgado approach each other as if they’re going to shake hands politely, then the Mayor has this oh, what the heck grin and throws his arms wide open, and Banker throws his arms open and they embrace and exchange European-style air kisses, haha. Whereas Banker Peter Allen and Mayor Jason Carter shake hands, like proper polite gentlemen.

As the street fills with people, including the Banker’s family, Banker Shan Del Vecchio peers out round the bank door like a cheeky child, spots his wife (Chua Bi Ru) near the dress shop, and creeps up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders to give her a pleasant surprise. She then points out the hat and dress and asks his opinion, and he seems quite favourable to the purchase (smart move #1 – say yes to the dress). Their kids come up with bags of sweets (unpaid for! shocking) from their raid of the candy store; and the Banker’s wife disapproves and so does he, and they accompany the kids to return the candy (smart move #2 – back up your wife). Banker Peter Allen hails his wife from afar, they wave to each other and he goes up to her, she clings to his arm, points to the dress. He is a man who knows how much these things cost, and he looks slightly doubtful about whether the dress will work (consistent in character — refer to party scene later) – but fortunately, they are interrupted by their kids and he tells the kids to return the candy, and he goes back to work.

Mr Nightingale has learnt his lesson from last year — he remembers the shocking cost of the necklace he presented his wife. What happens next was first most evident when Nakamura Kenya played Mr Nightingale. After greeting his family friend Drosselmayer, Mr Nightingale ignores Drosselmayer (who tried, in vain, to call him back) and heads for the Bank, where he consults the Banker on his bank balances before he emerges and makes a beeline for the jewellers’, where he tries to get the Ambassador to understand exactly which necklace he’d like. #financialprudence

A subsequent viewing(s) proved that both Messrs. Nightingale now exercise such laudable caution with their wallets and their next encounter with the Banker involves shaking his hand good-day and not disappearing into the Bank with him for a consultation on healthy finances.

Etienne Ferrere is, as always, a hoot as the slightly officious jeweler-Ambassador. Miura Takeaki is hilarious as an Ambassador who is snootily pleased with Mr Nightingale’s good, expensive tastes. Every nod, flick of the hand or shrug of the shoulder from these two jewellers is just right. The jeweller-Ambassador is also a savvy and charming businessman, having already persuaded Marie to consider one of his necklaces. You will also see Mrs Tang (Mrs Nightingale’s mother, played by Sun Honglei) hinting to Mr Tang (Mr Janek Schergen) that she should get a necklace, but he demurs.

The soldiers and the Russian ballerinas always draw stifled laughter from the audience – at how readily they are lured into the shop, how there’s always one unfortunate soldier left behind (e.g. Timothy Ng, head hanging dejectedly and in a sulky temper until he decides to plunge into the shop, too; or Justin Zee, whose soldier then remains #foreveralone as he has failed to scoop up a ballerina, until much later in the party), how there’s always one soldier who is almost fooled into giving all his money to a ballerina girl (Jason Carter, pointing at the bank from which they can get a loan, until Reece Hudson drags him away; Justin Zee, who has to be whisked away so fast he does a turn) or, on one night, one soldier who manages to have all the girls hanging on his arm (Yorozu Kensuke).

Other little new details: the Mayor’s wife (who runs the dress shop) locates a missing child and returns her to the Banker’s wife, who scolds her; Ma Ni, as Mrs Nightingale’s sister Mrs Ching on Nakahama Akira’s Sugarplum night, seems more intrigued than offended by the sight of the Russian ballerinas; and when the music builds up, one of the Russian ballerinas bumps into the Banker and this time, his knee is hurt. Interestingly, the build up to that musical moment is different from the very first time I saw it (Elaine Heng), because it’s a lot more bars of music. Previously, the ballerinas seemed taken with quite how handsome the Banker was, and now they just apologise and run off.

And the ending, of course, is different. It used to be the milliner / Mayor’s wife (Yatsushiro Marina) all by her lonesome self, suddenly remembering that she had forgotten to lock the door, and then going back to lock it before hurrying off. Even in 2013 – I remember the milliner leaving the stage last as the lights dimmed, and there was a sort of suggestion of a dusk and falling snow, in that solitary ending. Now the ending is a little merrier and busier –  just as the milliner is leaving the shop, the shopkeeper (Huo Liang / Miura Takeaki) and his wife pass the dress shop and his wife (Xu Lei Ting) tugs on his arm and wants to stop for a look, but they have a party to get to, and he persuades her to follow him instead.

Act 1 – The Party

This will be exceedingly long because I like remembering the details. They’re all lavishly funny.

Entrez Ruth Austin as Mrs Nightingale, the glamorous lady whose Christmas party is the Event of the Year. You just know that when the doors are flung open, she will be a model of absolute gorgeous calm, welcoming her guests into her house. How does she do it, everyone marvels when they see her breezing about company, setting everyone at ease. It’s not liquid courage, unlike last year’s liquor-lovin’ Mrs Nightingale, that’s for sure.

Hence, the opening, the pre-party, is important – it gives us a glimpse of the hard work behind the scenes. Mrs Nightingale, the proverbial swan who looks calm above water but who paddles hard beneath the surface, puts the finishing touches to everything and holds the household together. Without her, the correct groceries would not have been purchased; Marie would still be sitting with her feet up on the sofa, deep in her book (notice that Akira and Li Jie play more docile daughters than previously seen, to this motherly, fussing Mrs Nightingale), Fritz would still be slumped over in his chair, and Clara…she’s the model of perfection, so Mrs Nightingale has one less thing to worry about.

Without her, Mr Nightingale cannot even fix the failing button on his shirtsleeve, and she disappears up the stairs with him, heralding the entrance of the butler.

The butler! On some occasions, we have Peter Allen trotting in as a very young butler being as butler-ly as possible. He does not pick a quarrel or kick up a fuss – he may have a soft spot for the children, for when Fritz rearranges the dishes on the table, he merely tut-tuts and resets them in resignation.

Jerry Wan Jiajing plays a different butler, one who almost positively hates the job, the noise and the fuss. He’s peevish and irritable, and he even snaps at Young Master Fritz for messing with the food on the table, and directs Fritz to sit down. Evidently, he has a bone to pick with Mr Nightingale, and vice-versa – nothing he does is right on Saturday night – he’s tardy and needs to be chivvied into welcoming the guests, at which he rolls his eyes; he swings in late with a tray of glasses (a point against him in Mr Nightingale’s eyes, and this is probably made worse by the fact that Mr Nightingale ends up without a glass, because his delighted guests e.g. Mrs Sung and his wife cut in before him); he can’t even catch a nut from a nutcracker (unlike the other butler).

This sets the stage for explaining why Fritz is able to keep disrupting the party with his trumpet. ‘Tis the butler’s duty, after all, to keep the trumpet away, as we’ll see.

I love it when the Russian ballerinas enter. For Akira’s performances, Minegishi Kana, May Yen Cheah and Beatrice Castaneda float in like delicate nightingales on a wing, to light fluttery music. Always, the last 2 Russian ballerinas cling to the Ambassador’s arms right after they enter.

The Russian ballerinas are amongst the most under-appreciated performers of the night. The other performer who doesn’t usually get any applause is the Snow King, because right after his solo, the gorgeous snowflakes drift in, and no one wants to interrupt the performance.

I didn’t enjoy the Russian ballerinas’ dance as much previously, because it took me by surprise, especially with the music. But it’s like a pleasant entrée and I do enjoy it now, not least because it gives us room to watch each individual dancer take her turn.

Tanaka Nanase, Yeo Chan Yee and Kwok Min Yi are Chihiro’s proud Russian ballerinas, chins lifted high as they enter; and they turn in a brilliantly steady performance – look at Yeo Chan Yee’s clean landings from pirouettes, for instance. For Li Jie’s performances, Elaine Heng and Suzuki Mai and Ma Ni are the ballerinas –  Elaine Heng makes it look effortless as always, lovely lines; and Suzuki Mai has that graceful neat port de bras, and Ma Ni has a very pretty dancing style – and it’s good to see them put front and centre. Akira’s Russian ballerinas are mentioned above – Kana has a delicate dancing style (in the flick of the hands and arch of the arm), May Yen Cheah carries the dancing well as the centre of the trio, and Beatrice – now we take our two seconds out in case I forget to say this later during Candyland.

Beatrice Castaneda, in this season’s Nutcracker, stood out for her portrayal of the roles as Russian ballerina and Arabian. She was acting out the Russian and Arabian dance roles for us — smizing, as they say in America’s Next Top Model, smiling with the eyes — and that immediately connected with this audience member, who sat up. It felt as if she were the character – not merely a good dancer, but also the Russian ballerina, and the Arabian dancer, engaging the audience.

 

I think I need to jump back in time slightly, to the part where we see Drosselmayer’s nephew Kristian pluck up the courage to approach Marie. They dance a little – and then Mr Nightingale spots them.

Messrs. Nightingale-Justin & Nightingale-Kenya (the latter playing the father to Li Jie’s Marie) are an interesting pair. Drawn-on moustaches and beards are the rage this season, sported by everyone from the Ambassador(s) to most of the Arabian dancers (bar Huo Liang), but Mr N. Kenya wears pays homage to the Movember movement with a tiny but distinct paste-on moustache.

Mr N. Justin is quite evidently disturbed – good grief, who is this young man to whom his daughter is obviously attracted? He must put a stop to this at once! He promptly pops up between the two and firmly separates them, then takes Kristian aside for a getting-to-know-you session, in good ol’ intimidating dad fashion.

Mr N. Kenya, on the other hand, is a more reserved and stoic fellow, who keeps his feelings in check. He politely clears his throat in dismay and cautious embarrassment and turns to his wife a few times, as if to say cough cough, is that not our daughter? Perhaps I shall have a word with them? Have you discussed such matters with her–? I suppose – I shall have to intervene, yes, I shall and then he approaches them and appears to clear his throat again in polite dismay before courteously, but firmly, placing his hands on their arms to separate them. Then he takes Kristian aside politely and speaks to him man-to-man, trusting in his maturity, which is no doubt even more dreadful and awkward for Kristian, and worse still, he then gets to know Kristian’s subordinates, and speaks to them in turn – after all, there’s no better way to understand a man’s intentions and heart than to speak to his underlings!

You can’t help but wonder …

And when a giant cake arrives on the scene later and all the children surround the poor maid carrying it and clamour to grab a piece of it while she attempts to hold it high above their heads, Mr N. Justin wades in to ensure the kids don’t ruin the cake and the party, and that they mind their manners. Mr N. Kenya seems about to step in, but decides that they are just being playful children (such foreign creatures), the cake is in no danger, and in any case, he is a reserved fellow who does not slap away pesky children’s hands. Instead, he hangs back and observes their good cheer from a distance.

When it comes to discipline, Mr N. Justin is a tall figure of wrath when Fritz runs off with Clara’s Nutcracker, and that is why Fritz caves and hands over the trumpet. When the children with trumpets persist in interrupting the little girls’ doll dance with their trumpet-playing, he is furious. (Overheard from a female audience member, when the little girls danced: So cute!!) Mr N. Kenya’s manner runs more towards sternness – but when Fritz stubbornly refuses to hand over the Nutcracker, he asserts his iron will and  papa psychology, willing his son into remembering his manners.

Speaking of the trumpets, we get to clear up the mystery of how the trumpets get back to the kids, especially Fritz, when they were so obviously a nuisance to begin with and Fritz’s was even confiscated. Butler Peter Allen has a soft spot for the kids, and he tells Fritz he has one more chance, and he passes the trumpet back to Fritz; and he gullibly allows Fritz to have the trumpet again later (second chance). Butler Jerry Wan, on the other hand, returns Fritz’s trumpet with only a little pleading from Fritz – the party can be ruined for all he cares, and in case you’d like to know, nope, he doesn’t care–he’s so over this party right now, especially when Mr N. Justin scolds him for letting the trumpet out of his grasp.

 

The unveiling of the necklace reveals another surprise in dynamics. Mr Nightingale claps his hands to get everyone’s attention. He has a wonderful surprise – and for some reason, his sister-in-law, Mrs Ching, thinks she’s part of it, and she goes up to him in delight, or stands in her sister’s way. Mr N. Justin gently indicates that she’s not the star here, and turns to his glorious pillar of support, stalwart and bulwark in every storm, Mrs Nightingale, who so deserves this necklace she’s about to get.

Where Mr N. Kenya is simply polite to Mrs Ching when letting her down (barely a glance at her, so she gets no wrong ideas), Mr N. Justin is ever the gentleman – which is perfectly fine, but you do wonder why he’s been giving her air kisses on both cheeks when she enters on Thursday night, and a very loud air smooch and embrace when she leaves.  This time round, you start to understand Mrs Ching – perhaps she has always been envious of her sister for having netted a very wealthy, very handsome husband who loves his wife very deeply — which explains her vying for their parents’ attention (though not why she would plant herself in the path of Mr Nightingale…). #afamilyfriendlyaffair

In any case, as we all know, Mrs Ching finds her own happiness with the Ambassador-jeweller, who is rather taken with her, and even spins her into his arms at the end of Saturday night (he doesn’t leave with her, but there’s a suggestion of lunch tomorrow, no doubt).

 

There are other little funny moments in the background.

Kristian tries to dance with Marie again at one point in time, but they are interrupted by her grandparents. One of the soldiers (Reece Hudson) makes the most of the night, draining an entire bottle and even turning his glass upside down to prove to the butler Peter Allen that he should hurry up with another round of drinks. In the background, the Mayor and Ambassador may have discovered a pair of lovely chairs which they proceed to roll about in, while discussing the nature of a Pocky stick and whether it should be placed in a cocktail glass.

The necklace also sparks off reactions from the crowd. The Mayor (Nazer Salgado) promptly orders not one, but two, necklaces for his lovely wife Marina (who stands by quietly) — no one is going to be better-dressed than his wife, and he is a wise man who understands that #happywifehappylife. The Banker (as played by Peter Allen), who was not terribly keen on his wife getting a new, expensive dress and hat, has yet to learn this life motto. He is cornered by his wife (Chua Bi Ru), who points out that he’s not ever gifted her anything as fine and glittery, and she’d like a necklace too, and the Banker tries to persuade her to consider earrings instead, believing them to be much cheaper. This tactic fails and eventually, she marches across the room to the Ambassador, trailed by the Banker. Eventually, the Banker agrees to buy her jewellery, and suddenly, his wife is all beautiful smiles again, and he realises that he is much happier than he was 5 minutes ago, because #happywifehappylife

A small gesture I did like: when the Nutcracker is thought to have been broken by Fritz, Marie kisses her fingers and presses them to his forehead, to heal the Nutcracker, and presents it back to her little sister. One of the Maries also demonstrates that he’s still fine by working his arm and jaw.

 

One more note before we turn to Rats. We’ve talked before about living life on the edge and dancing dangerously close to the fringes of the music. On Saturday night, Kristian appeared to dance rather close to the edge — he looped his arm through a startled Marie’s arm almost on the beat of the music itself, and they did a little turn on the spot; he set aside Marie’s book and invited her to stand to watch the grand Soldier Dance so close to the opening notes that he leapt forward from the sofa (some Kristians do this early enough to allow Marie two breaths to stand, and to step forward). This made for heart-stopping action. Other heart-stopping action includes getting shawls and coats on every guest as they exit. What if they don’t manage to make it out in time before the music changes? Heart in mouth.

 

Act 1: Rats!

As Marie follows her family up the stairs, audience members at the back start to murmur, for they can see a figure hiding behind the sofa. Right on the mark, a Big Mouse pops its head above the sofa and clambers over, only to be joined by two others, squeezing onto the sofa together, arms slung round the back of the sofa, one leg dangling lazily over the side. It’s their party now.

The Big Mice are a Stroke of Genius, and may they reign forever. They are a hoot . One of them lounges about on the sofa, discovers the Nutcracker and holds it to the light to examine it, before proceeding to sayang (pamper?) it, rocking it in his arms, then clutching it close to him as he lies down. The other two lift off the top of a giant present next to the sofa, and start hoisting a seemingly endless procession of small rats out of the box, which made the audience laugh.

Then the mice pop down the stairs and peer about them. The mice and small rats gather in the front, then one set of them attacks the presents.

They hear a noise and start to dash offstage, just as Clara goes down the stairs, having heard them. It’s quite a sight, so many life-size small rats and mice rushing offstage, and you can see why she’s terrified. The last three small rats leap into the arms of the Big Mice, and are borne off in a hurry – another oddly humorous sight,  but a nice touch that explains why the Big Mice disappear too, when they could so easily make off with everything else in the room.

All other matters follow the script we know and love.

I got a lump in my throat listening to the music where the soldiers enter to help fight the rats and mice. See the video below, which sounds amazing. Strangely, the tears begin from the scene from 28:57 below onwards where the tree grows and Clara is being comforted by Drosselmayer. Then 29:47 is the moment the music becomes more military in tone (listen to the repeated notes, and then the progressive brass). Look at the animated expressions and conducting! Such music. The opening is great, too.

 

30:19 to 20 leads us up to the clash of cymbals and it sounds triumphant because back-up has arrived, but it is also the most dreadful music, in a sense, because the soldiers are off to war… And what grand and magnificent soldiers they are, running in and then making a flying side leap and landing neatly in a row. These are the soldiers from the party. 30:52, heralded by increasingly loud trumpets, brings us another 2 soldiers, who land perfectly in front of their compatriots and turn to march smartly between the row behind them, and march out again. Marvellous, and moving. Ivan Koh is a good addition to the Soldiers. 31:06 sees them all turn, rise on one toe and lift one straight leg up behind – graceful long lines, all. Little jumps from them as well, and such orderly marching up to 31:26. Here we are to serve and protect you, they are saying to Clara, who should have full confidence in them…until the Rat King arrives.

It’s all very magical. Please do listen – you’ll find you can’t help but watch the video, too.

The audience always laughs when one little mouse tricks one of the soldiers and steals his rifle (they’re quite cute after all! says Reece Hudson’s soldier to his peers, despite Etienne the Nutcracker Prince shaking his head sternly; and Kensuke is taken in on another night, and Shan Del Vecchio as well, both greeting the mouse with wide smiles). After a tug-of-war with the mouse, the soldier gets his rifle back, in time for him to raise it above his head and join his friends in leaping high.

Right, so we have the popular villain of our times, the Rat King. Dramatic flourishes from Timothy Ng and Reece Hudson.

When the Rat King (tiny mice and rats behind him, Big Mice cheering away from the safety of the sofa) encounters the soldiers, marching out in absolute synchrony, rifles at the ready, he decides to retreat, which is always a funny sight. Twice, Rat King Timothy Ng starts walking backwards slowly, but each time, his mice and rats push him forward. Rat King Reece Hudson obviously has second thoughts when he sees the crowd of soldiers and whips right round, as if he’s a gentleman who’s decided he’s got another really important appointment on and he’ll be back another day, thank you very much; and when he’s pushed to face the soldiers, he looks like omg, no no no and he turns around and tries to escape again.

But when the Rat King gets down to business, the soldiers are disposed of quickly by the Rat King.  For he hath a sword, which he uses to knock them aside by slicing at their rifles. Then the rats clamber onto the soldiers’ backs and rush them away, offstage.

If there’s enough time, the Rat King (Reece Hudson) challenges the Nutcracker Prince to a fistfight and passes his sword to a little rat, so the Nutcracker hands his rifle to Drosselmayer. If there’s no time, they waste no time in putting their weapons aside and indulging in a little mano a mano time. My favourite pose of all time during the battle follows, where they raise one imposing arm before their faces and kick out strongly with one foot – basically a challenge to fight, so graceful and strong and scary. Sometimes you feel the Rat King is almost mocking the Nutcracker Prince. Oh, he’s the Mouse King, says the booklet. Ah well.

When Timothy Ng is the Rat King, the Nutcracker Prince and Rat King then take turns supporting the other, who makes a large leap in the air, his legs cartwheeling and his torso nearly horizontal to the ground. When Reece Hudson is the Rat King, the Nutcracker Prince raises the Rat King high in the air and whirls about 360 degrees twice.

When the Nutcracker Prince has the Rat King down on the ground and is about to strike with the sword, the Rat King thrashes about a fair bit and even tries to get up and kicks his legs up, but he’s stabbed and then the curtain goes down behind the main characters, and the rats and mice and Three Big Mice arrive. Now we see why it’s vital they are involved – previously, a ton of little mice had to carry the Rat King away and that had to be hard on all involved. Now the three Big Mice can do the job properly – except the one at the feet drops his feet with a loud clatter, and the kids in the audience giggle, especially on Friday night, when the front row erupts into long and loud laughter, even as the three Big Mice manage to haul the Rat King away at last.

One of the Big Mice is Marcus Ong, who’s not actually with Singapore Dance Theatre. He’s with SDT’s Ballet Associates Course, and I think he is from the School of the Arts as well.

 

This seems a safe place to stop before we plunge into the dancing. Exeunt, chased by a snowflake.

 

 

 

 

 

Nutcracker – Farewell

If you’ve been following Singapore Dance Theatre closely, you’ll have seen that First Artist Nazer Salgado is leaving SDT after Nutcracker 😥  I’ll write up something proper when the new year is up (and the website is updated).

But for now – tickets to Nutcracker are still on sale.

The Future: Singapore Dance Theatre Season 2018 (30th Anniversary) – Diamonds and Pearls

It’s out. YESSSS. This is always fun for me because I like to see what’s new, get surprised, and be a little pleased if I guessed something correctly, and…because knowledge is power. Link below.

Season 2018 (SDT webpage)

That picture on the main page is of Timothy Ng, Kwok Min Yi (centre) and Elaine Heng – 3 Singaporean dancers from SDT. Link below, from which we can see the other pictures described below.

Performances in Singapore

1. Giselle

That’s Li Jie in the main picture. Awesome. So Giselle is indeed being staged, but not at BUTS in Fort Canning, but in the theatre. Note that it runs from Thurs to Sunday. This is not usual.

Will there be 3 casts? This is not usual either, so I expect possibly not. But who will be in the casts? That’s the question.

It’s in April, probably because the March window that’s usually used for Singapore Dance Theatre has been taken by American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake, and I now realise that it will be well nigh impossible for me to catch Swan Lake on a working night because I can’t take leave. Bummer.

2. Peter and Blue’s Forest Adventure

This answers the question of whether the ” ‘s” should be attached to the first word. I’ve been thinking not, but have been informed otherwise. Perhaps Quora has the answer too. I only remember P&B’s Birthday Party, so I don’t know if this is one of the original trio, but I fancy so when I read the write-up. I think they should meet flowers in the forest, in which case it’s been performed before.

3. 30th Anniversary Gala

No Masterpiece in Motion, this year, because this will be the major showcase of international gems, I think. Etienne Ferrere and May Yen Cheah are in the photograph on the website.

Ma Cong’s Samsara (created for Tulsa Ballet) – Ma Cong’s works are rather intense and beautiful, and intensely beautiful. Excerpts can be found on youtube, e.g.:

Nils Christe’s Sync (created for the Washington Ballet) – Gosh, this is awesome because it’s not created for us, and it’s Nils Christe, so it will be blindingly out-of-this-world. Oh, look at this – you can see that from youtube. I didn’t dare to finish watching the video. Spoilers.

Timothy Harbour’s world premiere, created for SDT’s 30th Anniversary. Exciting.

 

4. BUTS 2017

That’s Yeo Chan Yee in the photo on the site.

The first weekend has George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments (aha, as expected), François Klaus’ Midnight Waltzes (good choice – always felt it was a BUTS-ish piece, though in the heat of the day, it will be terrifying for the dancers in suits), and Nils Christe’s Symphony in 3 Movements (unexpected, but gorgeous, brilliant choice).

The second weekend is a Goh Choo San weekend, as well it should be. We will see Unknown Territory (yippppeeeee, I’ve never seen this before), the Configurations pas de deux (the little black dress), Schubert Symphony (it’s his classical piece and I didn’t expect this, and the casting for this should be interesting), and Fives (I’ve always wanted to see this because the music sounds interesting, but I thought they already showed it in 2013 – so it must have some significance). A snippet of Fives can be seen at the beginning of the video below (folks in red) and I’ve always identified that music as belonging to it – I could be wrong.

If those I’ve not seen are better than Double Contrasts (which is a searing, soaring work of genius), then bring them on.

 

5. Passages

That’s Kenya in the picture on the website. What’s up for this show?

Hurray, it’s at the Esplanade! We’ll see Shadow’s Edge by Ma Cong (wheeee! unexpected…) – this will be interesting as the main couple will be new (previously Rosa Park and Chen Peng/Kensuke or Chihiro and Chen Peng); Another Energy by Timothy Harbour (aha! another prediction); and a world premiere by Timothy Rushton, the Artistic Director and Choreographer of Danish Dance Theatre.

I’m sorry for Another Energy. You see, Passages is usually quite condensed and hence I don’t really have a good record of what is going on. Another Energy was previously seen in Passages too, so…we’ll never have a good record of what it’s about. Besides, round about Passages, the brain bank is usually flat, especially if it’s been more diligent for BUTS.

No Shimazaki Toru works, or Edwaard Liang! That’s a surprise, but I suppose timing’s an issue too.

5. SLEEPING BEAUTY

Omg. Unexpected, yet expected (see the predictions). I thought R&J would have a frontline seat. I’m still puzzled. Perhaps because it would be too close to the recent R&J, and the planners didn’t want audiences to grow weary of R&J? Or worse still, compare (just as I did) and decide I’ve already watched Stuttgart’s version, so I’ll save for the year-end ballet?

I’m aware that choices for the big classical pieces are a bit on the limited side because we don’t have a very big basket of them to begin with, and I think there are capacity and timing issues. One way of describing it might be that Sleeping Beauty appears to afford loads of the dancers a greater chance to dance it out than, say, Don Q, which leans heavily on its 2 leads to dance from start to finish, leap and fouette (and male-fouette) endlessly, do the one-handed lift – but if you look at the rest, other than the soloists and Maenads (I mean, Cygnets, I mean…Dryads), we see “Villagers”.

Yes, Sleeping Beauty also has a lot of walk-on royals, but it still utilises the cast quite a bit, I think. Especially in the very long Act III.

There’s always Swan Lake (that mammoth piece which calls for acting, chemistry and tears), which we were told in 2016 wouldn’t be out of the airing cupboard so soon – it’s quite a heavy piece – but do we want to start the year with Giselle (lots of dead people) and end with Swan “lake of tears” Lake? Besides, ABT is already bringing in Swan Lake, so it’s quite a fortunate thing SDT is not doing it too – audience fatigue, again.

Sleeping Beauty is a killer for Rose Adagio and that’s likely to be quite popular, and it’s a feel-good ballet. Very Christmassy. And – – and – – casting will be interesting – Lilac, amongst others, is usually quite a substantial role, and the casting of Fairies and Lilac Attendants is also usually very interesting.

Do I have other thoughts on the deliberate choices? Yes. Do I share them publicly? No

But there is the issue of timing and capacity – who is available to be cast to do what (for instance, Reece Hudson was a very entertaining Puss at BUTS), what the audience might like to see, et cetera.

That’s all, folks.

Oh, wait. The tour in Malaysia – taken off the website for Repertoire 2018:

Rubies | George Balanchine
Sticks & Stones | Kinsun Chan
Symphony in 3 Movements | Nils Christe

Peter & Blue’s Birthday Party | Janek Schergen

Coppélia Act III
Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty
Kitri’s Wedding from Don Quixote

 

There we go. Rubies is being given a run – I guess that’s to keep it fresh in the company – and it is a stunner.

 

 

Hello & Farewell 2017

Hello

Ivan Koh joined Singapore Dance Theatre as an apprentice in Sept 2017 (yes, belated – 2 months). We last saw him as one of the 4 chaps in blue (known as the “Blueberries”)  in the last part of Serenade in BUTS 2015, so it’s good to see that he’s joined 🙂

Farewell

Round about the same time, Shi Yue Tony left SDT. This was a bit of shocking news, I think. He’d been in more solos and works new to SDT, like Tim Harbour’s Another Energy and Sticks and Stones; and also a memorable classical dancer in partner-works (Coppelia and BUTS’ recent Sleeping Beauty Act III come to mind right now, and his being a “happy jumper” from Sleeping Beauty 2015, that term not being mine), and also a memorable Mayor in Nutcracker 2016 (watching it x times resulted in viewer paying attention to background stories, if you remember). It’s not easy to build a great group of male dancers – we do see a number move in and out of SDT – and so, while it was not a very big surprise, it was a shock – because he’d been here only for 2 years.

We will miss watching his dancing – but he is no doubt following his heart, and we wish him all the best.

Yeah, do not know where the royal “we” comes from either. I presume to speak on behalf of my friends too 🙂

Next: Season 2018 is out, and it is fascinating.

 

Passages 2017 – Incomparable Beauty, Triptych, Configurations pas de deux, Unexpected B

This is the fastest I’ve ever done a review (comparable to Stuttgart’s R&J, maybe?). Short memories must be exploited now. But it won’t become a habit, I’m afraid.

This year’s Passages was a short 1.5 hours (sans intermission), cramming small, high-powered works together. I think Unexpected B will be put out on BUTS sometime, perhaps next year. I also think Configurations pas de deux needs a second airing – it’s like that (imaginary) beautiful little cocktail dress you keep in your cupboard for those very special dinners with people you care about – I don’t think I own any such dresses, really.

We’ve got a Hello and Farewell coming up soon, but I got stuck in Stranger Things 2, which is the best thing on TV right now – just watch it. Another thing I didn’t get round to saying after the last post was that I’d really like to see Ma Ni in more of these things, Passages, or classicals, or whatnot. Her dancing’s always been very easy on the eye and quite eye-catching. It’s always been graceful and pleasant to watch – all the way from Don Q village to Dryads to Snowflakes. So…fingers crossed!

Passages 2017, here we go. That’s Etienne Ferrere on the cover. Brilliant new designs this year.

0 Cover

It was held at School of the Arts (SOTA). The auditorium’s a bit smaller than the Esplanade one, but there’s so much more legroom and you don’t feel like you’re going to topple over from one row to the next (Esplanade has that little weird buffer to stop people from falling over because the legroom area is too narrow, but it makes you think you’re going to trip), or as if someone is going to fall on top of you from above.

SOTA is some distance from the MRT, so I pity the folk who were trapped there when it stormed on Friday night (unless it didn’t storm in that area). Yes, the ladies’ overlooks this giant dark tree and yes, you will not feel inclined to look out. Yes, I think that area has its own Upside Down. But the studio is very nice (if very dark, when the lights are out, and I always wonder how the dancers know where to stand).

1. Incomparable Beauty

1 costume

Costumes for incomparable above. Apparently designed and hand-dyed by a lady who used to dance, herself – and each costs $700?$900?

2 incomparable beauty

Incomparable Beauty is a hefty work, a veritable Thor’s hammer (watch Thor: Ragnarok if you haven’t yet! It’s very good). It seemed much shorter (digestible?) this time, though. May Yen Cheah danced the part formerly danced by Chua Bi Ru (though she is back in action, thank goodness) and Chihiro danced the part formerly danced by Maughan Jemesen, which was created for Rosa Park.

Every time I start blogging, work beckons. This is a sign to hurry up.

This gives the work a different flavour. You know how it begins, three dancers in a column, May Yen Cheah at the head, bourreing on the spot, and Huo Liang and Jason Carter queuing behind her. In parts of this dance, the light on the floor looks like the swirls left by blades on ice in a skating rink. She’s lifted up in the goddess pose – I can’t recall if it’s legs in second, thighs parallel to the ground and arms crossed in an X before her, her fingers curled (middle finger meeting thumb); or legs folded before her; or both.

It’s always interesting seeing a different version. I liked to imagine Bi Ru’s was a great goddess figure, staring out intensely at us – someone beheld as a great and incomparable beauty, but who was ultimately dependent on, and beholden to, the other two dancers, in some way.

May Yen Cheah’s is an ultimately human creature, and it’s pure dancing – incredible shapes and work from the dancers – the men supporting her (ring a ring of rosies) in her amazing arabesques and kicks back, or all with arms around each other as she slides across the ground, or lifting her horizontal to the ground so she can extend a leg. I think I mentioned in another post that this version had quite an incredible, interesting story possibility – that of a lady and her two loved ones. I’ve always wondered what it is about May Yen Cheah’s dancing that allows different stories to be inscribed in the mind when one watches these things…

I am going to go out on a limb and say that I think the music below was used for the pas de deux, you know. Even though in my head I keep thinking of Kwok Min Yi because of the hurried notes towards the end, which harken to the rush of music where ladies, posed in a 150 degree split, enter lifted, sideways, by the men (who hold their waists and the upper thigh that’s further from the ground) – or where the ladies swoop in lifted by the men, and are set down quickly with a couple of rapid hops on plie, which is so unexpected it looks like an error but is in fact perfectly correct, which is mindblowing.

Chihiro’s version of the pas de deux is that of a brittle and pin-point accurate dance. She’s the sort who embodies the emotions of the dance as if it were a classical dance telling a story – you can feel her shudder when Kensuke’s hand draws near to her, and hear her gasp slightly at certain points. The dance flies by: it’s easy on the eye and Kensuke is a marvellous partner. What makes Chihiro’s dancing so powerful is that she makes eye contact. Is this not the dance where her hand is clasped in Kensuke’s and they both lean back? In my mind’s eye I remember her lowered, or leaning back, and I see her she lifting her eyes to his face as she is raised.

Stand-out moments only, now.

Is Chihiro’s and Kensuke’s pas de deux the one where the lady leaps right up into the man’s arms and she is clasped to him, her legs tucked under her in a kneeling position, and you can hear their thighs connect? I do believe so. It’s impressive.

I am always madly in love with the swooping ladies (Kwok Min Yi, May Yen Cheah, Li Jie, the last with her eyes cast upwards at the ceiling), and their amazing partnership with the men. (Sounds as if Ezio Bosso’s Thunders and Lightnings has a part in this dance, but I don’t know for sure.) Cute little moves in the later parts: when they turn their right leg inwards and bend it at the knee to look at the heel; when they are held at waist level and carried rapidly across the backdrop, heads bobbing sideways. I do like the partnership between Li Jie and Jason Carter, in particular: it looks quite effortless here.

Kensuke and Huo Liang get their jumps, and Huo Liang has a moment or two being rubbery in a corner and writhing. For works that are made specifically for SDT (always an honour, etc), there is always the utilisation of resources that are present i.e. if folk can do the spinning-jump or star-point jump (meaning: pinning a star on top of an Xmas tree with an extended arm and wide legs), this will largely be present. It sort of lends an air of familiarity to the proceedings, but there’s no harm done.

It’s fun that Etienne Ferrere rushes out to join them – the playground antics, lifting him in the air between the two of them; and there’s also steady pairwork between Etienne Ferrere and Jason Carter.

There’s also the line up seen in the picture above (occasionally irreverently termed the “Communist line-up” by my friend after those iconic socialist-era statues, one of which Singapore has near the waterworks or some such defence building, I think) —  after which they fall out into a circle and lean out in different poses.

Here’s the one move that captured the attention: Kwok Min Yi, holding on to Etienne’s arm and using that to leap high into the air, throwing her head back. It’s less than a second and it’s stellar, because it happens so fast and the music is so quick that it’s really just part of a series of fast-tracked dancing that is the hallmark of the group pairwork.

Incomparable Beauty was one of the first major dances for which I recall seeing Kwok Min Yi taking a major part in a contemporary ballet, and there’s so much confidence and ease. Clarity of movement always, of course. Just 2 cents.

2. Triptych

3 triptych

“Transformations”. Apparently, the dancers were asked for come up with 3 gestures to signify before, during and after.

They march in, in a row: Reece Hudson, Elaine Heng, Beatrice, Huo Lian, Etienne, Kwok Min Yi, Nazer, May Yen Cheah.  They’re wearing small shirts (dark green for some of the girls, like Beatrice) and army fatigue pants, and their shoes are soft beige boots (the colour of evaporated milk).

The first part is all very orderly. They’re dropping down to the ground in a plank position; they’re doing what looks like a yoga pose, balancing on just their hands, with a leg extended through the space between the arm and the torso (I think). There’s a little gesture they make, of moving the arm in front of the face and upper body, as if using that arm to draw out the shape of a rectangle or dip the hand into an invisible box. They form an orderly row to the audience’s right, then break out of line in random order, to make certain gestures, bodies leaning back, legs moving about. But I think they’re all making the same moves and eventually they fall back into a line somewhere further along the stage. And they repeat this again.

Subsequently they dance alone, or in different groups – e.g. Elaine, Beatrice, later joined by May Yen Cheah – in deliberate moves that contrast with the next segment of the dance; or Nazer as a sturdy one-man show.

When the beat picks up, we have the During, I suppose – the rush of combat. Whoever is not dancing lines the (audience’s) right or the back of the stage, backs to us, hands behind their backs, which is quite an effective use of the soldiers, I mean, dancers. There’s that slow-motion hurdle leap in the air with amazing hang-time [Elaine Heng and Reece Hudson; Elaine Heng and Beatrice Castenada]; the pairwork that sees Elaine Heng caught round the tummy as she falls forward, staring out at us, and held round the waist, her legs stiff as a board, her feet crossed stiffly at the ankle, corpse-like [Elaine Heng, Reece Hudson]. It feels like bits of these are about fighting –  the partnerships, the battles – at one point, people jog about in unison, and the sound of their feet is like drums, raising the tension.

I think the After begins with everyone in a diamond formation, slowly retreating. This brings a lump to the throat: they’re making smaller hand gestures about their faces now, something similar to what happened in the beginning, but some of the gestures bring to mind people looking into mirrors and seeing someone different staring out, haunted, especially the gestures of hands to the head that always make me think of people smoothing out their hair, pretending to comb it, pretending to be normal again in the After.

The music here is made of explosive beats, and is quite enjoyable – it sounds like a pop beat, and is more lively, and everyone dances as a group at first, in the centre. I think they even start making little jumps towards the back (sideways chasses?) and back out again.

The dancers each get their own solos or group dances, and while whoever is dancing takes centre stage, the rest will move forward (or retreat?) in the diamond shape, on the audience’s right. Whoever is done with their moment in the spotlight lines the back of the stage, back to us again. At one point (Nazer and Min Yi’s pas de deux), the other dancers line the front, facing us.

It’s operatic , a frenzy of movement – the haunted looks on Reece Hudson’s and Huo Liang’s faces and the energy in their dancing bring out some sort of inner turmoil. There are the little moves that stay in the mind, like May Yen Cheah in a sitting position, knees bent, swept along unwillingly by 2 male dancers, with her feet dragged across the ground, as if moved by, and struggling against, forces that she can’t see or fight. Beatrice Castenada’s fast footwork, kicking in little circles on the floor as she moves backwards; Elaine Heng jumping in the air, both legs tucked under and ankles crossed, and (I think) switching her feet  in mid-air (!); Huo Liang doing the same but when jumping with both legs extended and ankles crossed; Kwok Min Yi leaping wildly through the air, flinging her arms back and forwards. Just as I was thinking that this was one of the most contemporary-ish of the contemporary ballets I’d seen so far, Etienne leapt towards the back of the stage in a giant ballet leap, soaring through the air; and the other men repeated this across the stage.

At the end, for curtain call, everyone’s really pretty strained and sober. They bow, one by one, starting from alternate ends of the stage each time. Then they march out the same way they came.

This is something that I expect will see the light of day again in Masterpiece in Motion.

3. Configurations pas de deux

4 configurations pdd

Singapore Dance Theatre has not shown the whole of Configurations before. It requires…seven? ten? or more men. It was originally made for, and commissioned by, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to be danced by American Ballet Theatre.

Here’s an article on it, when it was staged by Washington Ballet for the first time.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1987/02/20/gohs-convincing-configurations/8eec3597-2ff1-41ac-9f0c-24ef5d90c94f/?utm_term=.80eb436eefa2

Here’s the music, thanks to the article above. It’s the Canzone: Moderato portion, from 12:52. Oh, the goosebumps!

Kenya walks in slowly from the audience’s left, and Chihiro, from the audience’s right. Blue lighting. The man’s costume scoops downwards in the back, and the lady’s Grecian-esque dress has a gorgeous subtle brass sheen in a triangle across the chest. This is about a couple parting for some reason (such sweet sorrow), though not forever. You feel as if you’re watching one of those old Balanchine DVDs of Four Temperaments – the gracious delicate elegance. Kenya in his steady, assured leaps, taking the time and tempo in his stride.

This is an incredible dance that looks current though it was choreographed a long time ago.

I feel as if I could talk about them twining and pining, about Chihiro reaching out and clasping his hand, and slowly squatting on one leg while stretching out the other, looking as if she’s in actual physical pain at their impending separation, as if it tears at her very bones.

There’s this feeling of watching a great painting unfold, like in that moment when they appear to be posing ala the God and Man painting. But it’s not mere two marble statues. When you see the two in the centre of the stage together (and realise the X marks the spot of the exact centre line of the stage), and Kenya glances upwards, that you suddenly know that you are in the presence of something very special. It’s an exquisite vision, and you have been invited to watch it.

Would that I could remember the beautiful gorgeous pairwork, the shapes, she leaning against him as she arcs her legs. Here’s a little snippet from Chihiro’s instagram, including one of my favourite moments, the lean with the leg crossed at the ankle and one arm delicately flicking out.

While we’re at it, here’s an interview with Chihiro by Moxie: ““I don’t use thick padding because I like to feel the floor” – ! and, “I only wanted to dance”.

https://www.moxie.store/blogs/news/chihiro-post

It would be lovely to see this again. Yes.

4. Unexpected B

5 unexpected b

“B” stands for Beethoven. I do think of it as Unexpected Bee. They float and sting like bees, the dancers – this work runs on and on like that bumblebee song.

Here we go with the music. The costumes are lovely: zipped-up black tunic-dresses with calf-length skirts, and, for both the men and ladies, open laser-cut shapes in the front to reveal a beige-coloured layer below.

It’s Akira and Kana with Huo Liang and Kensuke respectively who open the show, I think. I remember best the music from 1:55.

This is pretty feet – Akira’s and Kana’s style of dancing is light, pretty and graceful, and the choreography makes good use of it to surprise you. There’s a fabulous use of hinge work with bent arms and elbows as joints, and hands: gentle music calls for the partners to face each other, and one to place his hand on her shoulder and the other to place her hand on his elbow. Then it all breaks loose – there’s using feet and hands to push people around tenderly so they tumble about loosely, there are ladies seated on the ground using men’s elbows to pivot themselves. There’s always something delightful going on: an extended bent knee ending in a foot that’s pointed, then goes flat, then the partners meet again and the gentlemen kneel with one bent knee, so that the ladies rest across their thighs and curve their legs up like giant scorpions, which is hands-down one of my 101 favourite parts about this dance.

This is the kind of dance where ladies lie stomach-down on their partners’ backs and roll off quickly. Or where the men lie on the ground upside down on their shoulders and heads, holding their waists with their hands while the ladies whirl about on the stage. After all, Shimazaki Toru did the tender choreography of Blue Snow. In a way, he is into the little movements like Christina Chan, but he works on hinges and the whole body as limbs and torso in a different way.

Shan Del Vecchio and Yeo Chan Yee, Chua Bi Ru and Reece Hudson.

Yeo Chan Yee brings all the life and goods to the table with her in this dance, vivid and lively – throwing her all into the dance. Shan Del Vecchio is in good glorious form – he has a quirky rap-beat feel in his dancing, which he puts to good use. When the music slows, the couples waltz and it is all very feel-good, but you know that the dance never takes itself too seriously.

I’m completely going off chronology, I’m sure, because I know at some point in time, Jeremie Gan rolls in, head-over-heels, and Justin does, too, and Tanaka Nanase and Elaine Heng join them respectively. It’s delightful and energetic, and the ladies’ feet are always nifty and light.

Four women next – Akira, Kana, Bi Ru, Yeo Chan Yee. They are very good dancers. It’s good to see Bi Ru back in action, bringing her brand of life and dancing back to the stage. We also get to see Ruth Austin and Xu Lei Ting dancing.

It’s always good to see more folk dancing – Jeremie Gan and Ruth Austin, this time, in a contemporary ballet. Both are lovely dancers to watch – Jeremie has a sturdy style and Ruth Austin’s dancing is beautiful, with those sweeping arms and graceful moves that draw the eye. I do hope to see more of them in upcoming works!

Kensuke and Nanase have a good pas de deux together with chemistry borne of Bluebird dancing. It’s always fun to watch them together.

Clockwork mechanisms – that’s what I wanted to say earlier, about Shimazaki Toru. It’s not mechanical – I mean that it’s fascinating and unbelievably pretty, like those clocks in the windows. Such choreography – deft and blindingly, secretly complex because you wouldn’t be able to dream it up for yourself. This is my excuse for why I can never remember it as well as I’d like to.

 

Reece and Bi Ru have a part all to themelves, and this is interesting. Theirs are quick and quirky times. They know what it’s all about. They have got their story together. They are the couple that fights and loves to fight, that lives off their bickering. They are both that breed of very expressive, story-driven, character-driven actor/actress type that chews up the music and spits it out in a character. Remember them in last year’s Passages?

It’s good to see them feed off each other’s energy, but they never go down in a fireball – they are in control. Here’s Reece bent double, clutching the insides of his knees, while Bi Ru triumphantly places her hand on his back and minces in fake high-heels in front of him, before also dropping the pretense of false triumph and being over, too. Fierce and furious kicks in the air; she lying on his back when he’s on the ground; he rolling onto her back in turn – tit-for-tat.

This is going to be really interesting if you think about it, because the question comes up as to whether, if one is of this expressive mimic sort, how will the ballet look if your partner matches that, or if your partner is of a different sort?

If you watch Bi Ru closely in this piece and sweep your eye across the crowd, you’ll realise it’s quite humorous and striking, how she digests the music and character, and dances it all out. Just that little extra fling-back of the head, or the eyes lifted to the ceiling when the hand is raised.

At the end, they make it to a quiet corner and seem to reconcile, standing on the sole patch of stage that is not pitch-black –  illuminated by a rectangle of bright white light that falls on this finally-peaceful couple.

When the light goes off, a matching rectangle falls on Xu Lei Ting, who appears to be having a ball of a time acting as someone with a headache – then an earache – as she makes her way in agony to the centre of the stage; and behind her, the side of the stage spits out a man. Akira makes her way with a headache across the stage (somewhere towards the middle of the stage) while Huo Liang is spat out from the (audience’s) left. All is misery until the couples meet each other.

Later, all the ladies take to the stage, looking like Austenian women, mincing about and lifting their legs so their skirts fan out. The smiles are crazy wide and over-the-top on purpose, because that’s not what you’d be looking for from a typical classical music piece.

This morphs into happy couples, like piano keys jangling together, smiling big wide fake smiles and pretending to be in the highest of spirits, and wiggling their hands as if they’re playing the piano. When all goes dark, they retreat into the shadows. Life in the shadows sees some couples remaining happy (Ruth Austin cradled in Justin Zee’s embrace) and the unsettling quadrangle where Elaine Heng is sought after by Jeremie Gan and does not quite want to return to Kensuke, who is taken aback by her reluctance, while Akira watches in dismay. The couples who are not in a love square watch Shan Del Vecchio and Yeo Chan Yee dance seemingly happily before they return to the row at the back. A bar of bright white light falls before the couples, and they realise it’s time to shine again – but then darkness falls again soon and it’s another couple’s time to take centre stage. I think it’s the Reece and Bi Ru show again.

 

At the very end, all the ladies dance and then it ends with them turning around, and Bi Ru gives us a thumbs-up and flashes the audience a big grin, then all goes black. A wave of appreciative laughter; the lights go back on and all the girls give us big grins and a thumbs-up — which tickles the audience — and then the lights go out again. When they’re back on again, everyone’s ready for the curtain call.

Unexpected B is something that I expect (heh heh) to see at next year’s BUTS, if Shimazaki Toru is available and willing. You see, it’s really quite the spectacle and it is lively, adorable, gorgeous, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is quite a rollicking good show.

I know Blue Snow is varied, and romantic, lyrical and unpredictable.

Unexpected B, though, could very fast become an audience favourite.

 

I’m sorry to think of Incomparable Beauty going back into the closet, because it’s a very special and clever work. But it will. It’s been aired 3 times already, I think.

Triptych may not appear for another year – perhaps too sober for the 30th anniversary.

Configurations is a drool-worthy piece, a gem, a rarity that has not been put out for a long time, for reasons. For what it’s worth, now may be the time to mine it a little more.

Unexpected B is a crowd-pleaser and while it was unexpectedly long, I think it captured the audience’s attention and hearts.

 

R & J and reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s that, then — feeling something inside.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a plague.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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