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.

 

 

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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 statutes, 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.

 

 

 

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

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

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

Classical Ballet – Longs

Hopes

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

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

Likely to show, in order of likelihood

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

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

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

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

Classical Ballet – Shorts

Hopes

1. Concerto Barocco

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

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

 

Likely to show (I don’t know likelihood)

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

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

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

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

 

Neo-classical/ Contemporary

Hopes

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

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

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

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

Likely to show, in no order of likelihood

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

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

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

3. Another Energy by Timothy Harbour, perhaps for BUTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

🙂 ❤ ❤

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

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

06 Don Q

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 village dancers 2 gd

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

0 village dancers 4 good pairs

Same folk as above.

 

1 toreadors

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

2 spanish ladies

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

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

1 li jie nazer.jpg

Li Jie and Nazer

 

2 chihiro kenya 1

Chihiro and Kenya

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

 

 

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

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

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

05 Sleeping Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OK, now we go to Don Q.

BUTS 2017 Classical Weekend 2.1 – Coppelia (Act III)

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

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

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

 

Okay, now for Coppelia.

The backdrop for classical weekend.

classical weekend backdrop

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

04 Coppelia Act III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hurray, hurray, we’re done here.

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