Giselle

A friend said something quite illuminating after the show: “How happy the dancer must be to dance Giselle,” or something along those lines – they must feel so lucky to be able to dance Giselle, any dancer would be happy to dance this role, they have so many things to do!

That’s true, when you think about it. The friend added later something about how Nutcracker and Aurora are all princessy and Nutrcracker is all happy-happy.

 

Yeah, I was reminded of it because of this video about Manon.

 

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Another article on Jeremie Gan

Here’s another article on Jeremie Gan!

Yeah I know because the title of this post didn’t make it clear enough :p

It’s really interesting (and in Mandarin). It talks about how he started ballet when his mum, a ballet teacher, plonked him in the studio with snacks and games while she taught classes, and he started to pick up moves. At 12, he decided to become a professional ballet dancer. Another really interesting factoid is that the article notes he’s standing in first position and he says it’s easy for him to stand that way as he was born that way. If you look at the first photograph, the turnout is quite jaw-dropping ūüėģ

He also comments that males aren’t naturally as flexible as females, and that male dancers have to jump higher and do multiple turns and also lift women.

Interestingly, he also said that he’d grown up watching Singapore Dance Theatre, so he had always wanted to join it. He was placed fourth in an international ballet competition in Hong Kong – and arising from that competition, he was also given a scholarship by the New Zealand School of Dance.

Review of Giselle 2018 by Singapore Dance Theatre – Act 2 + curtain calls (slightly media-heavy)

Here’s the review of Act 1.

Please do take whatever I say in all these reviews with a pinch of snuff РI mean salt, bless you.

In the meantime, click on the link below for awesome photos from SDT’s facebook. Loook at Chihiro in her mad scene with that sword. Looook at Jason Carter’s grief-stricken Mr A¬†being physically restrained by Justin Zee (Wilfred). Amazing photographs.

Singapore Dance Theatre’s Giselle 2018 Album

Okay, back to business. Before we move on to Act 2 of Singapore Dance Theatre’s Giselle (2018), here’s a topic for consideration, please.

Why, Albrecht?

After Saturday night’s show, I asked myself: Why did Chihiro and Kenya choose to do a version that was different¬†from what Wiki had told us? Of course each Albrecht has to choose. But why this choice to fall madly in love with Giselle so early on?

It may be that Kenya wanted to choose an Albrecht whose motivations¬†he could better identify with and hence portray. The original Mr A’s not your usual folk hero who is romantic, and good. How can the audience accept such a hero, or empathise with him? Oh, that brings to mind Gordon Lightfoot’s song,¬†“If You Could Read My Mind”: ‘Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell. When you reach the part where the heartaches come, the hero would be me. But heroes often fail. And you won’t read that book again, because the ending’s just too hard to take’.

A friend said, “Well, perhaps audiences might not accept an Albrecht who is [insert choice word].” There are too many choices to insert here –¬†there are hokkien ones (one of which is very vulgar, do not repeat) and then there is English, a b@$}@^%.

Jason Carter, on the other hand, picked (or was given) an Albrecht who has never had to care about anything in the world, and suddenly discovers the simple joy of being with a peasant girl (whose heart he breaks without realising it). Thankfully, he doesn’t play it as genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist ™. And thankfully for the audiences, he therefore is not the slimy Albrecht who might inspire audiences to leave cos they couldn’t care less.

 

Now we must take two seconds to say that Jason Carter’s Albrecht may be non-slimy simply because his Albrecht¬†oozes sincerity.

It is immediately obvious to the audience that Jason, as a dancer and partner to Li Jie, is the reliable, trustworthy, dependable, steadfast partner you wrote to Sears, Roebuck for. He is the Rick Astley meme you see on facebook who is seriously never gonna let the girl down (despite what Albrecht does). It’s evident that he will do whatever it takes to make her feel secure, steady and safe.

This leaves her free to do her job without having to ť°ĺŤôĎÁĚÄ (worry about) what he’s going to do or not do. Li Jie is able to emote freely, to feed expressions into her movements, to accomplish her part without having a subconscious at the back of her mind trying to make sure she’s doing this or that, because Jason will just be there because Rick Astley. Whatever is supposed to happen next on stage she can do immediately without worrying. He will lift her in the manner that they’ve agreed upon, and she will let him lift her.¬†Their partnership is easy on the eye – hopefully it grows from strength to strength. It would be interesting to see how their voices grow stronger…

 

Act 2

Here’s the cast list.

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It’s nightfall and there’s a ton of dry ice and everyone is super-wowed by it. No Willis yet, but there’s an unmarked grave that’s being filled, and a simple marker. Two men at the grave – Hilarion (Yorozu Kensuke)¬†and Mizuno Reo, if my memory doesn’t fail me. Mizuno Reo drags a heavy horizontal bar that says “GISELLE” to the marker and together they fix it to the marker¬†so it forms a cross. Then Hilarion wraps a rope around the centre cross in an “X” shape, and, grieving,¬†puts a flowery wreath (not a bare one, unlike in some shows according to the internet) on the top of the wreath.

In enters the weeping Berthe supported by¬†Miura Takeaki, for she is¬†barely able to stumble over to her daughter’s grave. She mourns her daughter for a while. Then everyone except Hilarion leaves, and Hilarion kneels by the grave for a while, mourning. Oh dear, poor him.

When he gets up and ready to leave (but seems a little lost for a moment), a white-veiled lady suddenly sprints by behind him (from our left to our right), arms in the shape of the arms of the letter K. This is either mildly comical/amusing or else slightly creepy. It definitely creeped out one of my friends. I find it slightly funny (else I’d be scared) but also fabulous, because it totally adds to the atmosphere.

And there goes another girl sprinting from the front (audience’s) right to the left. I tried to compute if there was enough time for it to be the same girl as in the first sprint. You see, the second sprint looks like it’s by Minegishi Kana, and there was a real possibility (given the time lapse) that that could have been her in the first sprint. But there are a few girls who could have done the first sprint – Marina, Watanabe Tamana (but I somehow don’t think so), new people I’ve not watched long enough for. Yes, if I didn’t think about these things I might get the willies.

(I’ve just spent 15 minutes watching Real Doctor (Mike) react to Grey’s Anatomy on youtube and now I’m in his review of¬†The Good Doctor because I’ve liked watching Freddie Highmore in shows since he was little, even though his double first in Spanish and Arabic at Cambridge and ability to speak French kind of scare me in a 007 way.)

There we go with the third sprint from the audiences’ left-front of stage, diagonally across the stage to the back-right, right in front of Hilarion! This is brilliant and fun. And because I thought the third figure might be Kana too, I figured the first might be.

Hilarion shivers, gets the lantern, stops to turn and bid farewell to the grave with a lingering glance – I’ll come back to see you again, don’t get too lonely – and you feel sorry for him. Off he goes.

 

Now we have harp strings, violin strings, and a veiled figure in white bourre-ing across back of the stage, from the audience’s right to the left. This is *scrolls up to read character list* Myrtha, Queen of the Willis. When she next emerges, she is no longer wearing a veil. She has to do a promenade with a 90 degree arabesque, I think, followed by what I assume is an arabesque penche (leg raised behind and then lean over) unassisted. On both sides. Then the music leads in to some lovely steps (hopping on flat with an extended arm in front and a flat 90 degree leg behind, and swapping leg and arm partway through with a beautiful sweep of the arm before one’s face, I’m looking at youtube). So very intriguing. But I don’t like the fact that at the end of a series of steps with one pose, the last phrase of music repeats itself an octave higher like it’s saying, “Aren’t I cute?” and ends with another pose. It’s the music that ticks me off though I suppose it was probably written for the choreography.

This music is really quite different from the usual and it is strangely stirring.

Elaine Heng (for Chihiro’s night) and Chua Bi Ru (for Li Jie’s night) debut as the Queen!

The Queen of Willis picks up two sprigs from some (rocks?) at the back of the stage. These are apparently sprigs of rosemary, for remembrance (just like in the Agatha Christie murder mystery ūüėģ ) The Queen of Willis does the hopping move I described above, so one hand is pointing forward with the sprig of rosemary and she follows the direction in which that hand is pointing. I really like this move a lot.

At some point in time, she tosses the rosemary sprigs: one to the left (audience’s) and the other to the right. I think you can’t guess the wand hand from the distance covered.¬†The one tossed to the left always travels further.

 

Then the Queen summons the Willis (just as my friend whispered, “Where are the other ghosts?!”) and scares the bejeezus out of some of the audience (like said friend, even though I pointed out May Yen Cheah to her). Everyone is veiled like brides, and wearing those gorgeous white bell tutus from the La Sylphide era (or Les Sylphides?). Moyna and Zulma are nearest the centre of the front row. In Giselle’s era, it was taken that these women, having died before they got married, had never borne a child and hence they had never fulfilled their destiny. There’s a pose of theirs, arms raised before their chests. That’s supposed to symbolize the babies they never gave birth to, and that is the cause of their vengeance. (From: One @ The Ballet.)

The Willis dance a little, and I think they genuflect to the Queen, who tells them: Remember what was done to you. They even sink down in a V-formation before her, one leg stretched out on the ground (think: White Swan) and fold their hands over their ankles, then rise up again.

I think the Queen gets to go offstage round about now while the Willis form three sets of 2 columns (left, centre, right) and dance in pairs. I remember the dance includes clasping their partner’s hand high above their heads and dancing round a little in a circle.

Moyna starts a solo and the Willis vanish offstage. It’s¬†the sort that starts with an arabesque en point facing the audience’s left (this is for my own reference). Tanaka Nanase is Moyna for Li Jie’s performances and she is light of foot and clearly a spirit, a Willi who has left mortal life behind her and rises every night to dance. I don’t know why, but for the other Moyna (May Yen Cheah, strength and crystal-clear presence radiating from every limb) and the Zulmas (Sun Hong Lei for Li Jie’s performances; Nakahama Akira), I sometimes feel like¬†(heart-wrenchingly) they are dancing¬†the wedding waltz that they were robbed off – especially the Zulmas’ dance, with their gorgeous graceful arms that sweep before the face, and how they hang on to the last moment while en pointe before spinning round.

Ah, it’s too difficult to remember everything but the Queen emerges again, does the amazing Big Swan-esque leaps across the stage, perfect split jetes.

The Willis also get to hop out in the swan formation: one arm pointing forward, one leg back, forming a straight line. One set of four begins first, then another set, and a last. Three lines of four are¬†hopping in unison, and in perfect formation: no one is too far in front of the other. To the eye dead centre, any three swa…Willis will be in a straight line. This is difficult to achieve.

Eventually, the Willis line up in two rows before their imperious Queen Biru / scary Queen Elaine, and she summons Giselle, and they line up before her grave and bourre with their arms raised in a V formation until Giselle appears, and they scatter into two lines on either side of the stage (if I’m not wrong).

Giselle has a veil over her head and you can see two little tails raised from the veil; and when the music goes Bam, the veil is whisked off. This caused a little laughter on some occasion and none on Saturday night. Giselle starts to dance forward, but the Queen orders her to stop. The Queen is asserting her authority! Dance when you’re told to.

And Giselle does dance when she’s allowed to: very speedy hops round in a circle, one arm extended. This may seem funny but it’s actually very creepy to see Giselle spin round so fast.

Ah, I’m yarning on too long.

 

What happens next, without any reference to dancers (I’ll talk about the dancers below!)

The basic set-up of this is: Giselle gets to dance a little, Giselle runs off. Queen (and the Willis)¬†goes: Hark, she hears a man! to her right, to her left, and then everyone flees. Mr A comes searching for the grave, lifts his cloak to reveal an armful of¬†“OMG I’m¬†so sorry” lilies that are as huge as his apology. He¬†finds the grave, lays the flowers, Giselle appears and he looks up but she’s gone. There’s a slight comical moment, really, when she pops out and he belatedly realises someone’s just passed by.

He goes down on one knee in the middle of the stage and mourns her while she circles him. Finally when he gets up, he sees her go by, he tries to embrace her but she drifts through his arms; at last, when she next goes by, he catches her and holds her. Then later there are 2 dead lifts straight up (the angel lift). Then she goes off and returns with two great yellow flowers and she jetes with them, and he jetes with her, and she flings one flower, than the other, just as the rosemary sprigs had been flung, but with less strength. At some point in time, she even scatters some white flower petals over him, at the grave. He runs off.

Hilarion enters, chased in by Willis to fabulous music. Row after row coming in left right left right, stop him from fleeing. The Willis line up, they pose very sharply in rapid sequence (left arm straight left, right arm overhead) so your eye falls on their Queen, who says Dance until you Die. And he’s like Nowo and pleads. And dances. And pleads, knee on the ground now. But still he must leap and die, and she looks away while Moyna and Zulma dance towards him so he must dance too, and dies (offstage, leaping off into the corner and going backstage).

Ah, some interlude I’ve forgotten happens but yes, eventually in comes Mr A, who has been located by the Willis. Nice long dramatic diagonal line to the audience’s right front corner where Queen stands and obviously he has to dance until he dies. He pleads, she doesn’t care, and then Giselle enters and intercedes on his behalf. But the Queen doesn’t care about your problems #sorrynotsorry

When the Queen bears down upon her and the Willis run to form two rows on either side of the stage, it’s interesting how Mr A seems about to speak, but Giselle says I’ll take care of it (that’s what I saw for one version). And the Queen seems shamed¬†and covers her face. But eventually she doesn’t care still.

Giselle then dances, and Mr A dances, and they plead with the Willis in the rows on either side of the stage, who stick out a talk to the hand arm when they go to either side. Then they dance. Mr A collapses once in a while, Giselle tries to revive him, but when she fails, she dances in his place. Giselle thinks lifting her gives him a break compared to dancing on his own, so she gets him to lift her. Really. Including a forward lift so she can kick up (I think)¬†and another where she hops across the breadth of the stage (very beautiful) and he lifts her by the waist to help her along the way. The most bizarre moment is one¬†where she rouses him so they can run to the back of the stage together, spreading their arms. (I think this is before the assisted hopping.) What’s that all about? Wiki didn’t mention this! (Pinch of salt, please.)

Hmm, who said Giselle was helping him? Maybe she’s hoping he will die a slow and painful death! “HAHAHA, you deserved it, don’t think you’ll get away so easily.” (All credit for this idea goes to my friend.)

Mr A even has some dance scenes alone (so that Giselle can get a break), doing these fabulous little leaps where his legs are 30 degrees to the vertical and his feet beat. All the way down one line of Willis standing in a V-formation, and then down the other arm of the V. Also, these incredible jumps something like 8 times, his arms parallel to the ground and his legs beating multiple times.

Giselle’s solo dance scenes (so that Mr A can get a water break) are the famous arabesque to the side (ala seconde?) and then she turns so it becomes an arabesque to the side, and then these promenades. And jumping with her knees bent and ankles folded up behind her. And high legs. And leaps. It’s a marathon.

There’s that nice pose, you know, where he gets down on one knee and stretches his right arm out beautifully, and then she comes forward and leans her weight on him so her skirt falls softly about his frame and she too stretches out her arm in parallel to his. So, so beautiful.

At last when Mr A has collapsed and all seems lost though Giselle has taken his hand to her chest, and reached to the heavens etc, we hear four chimes of the clock, and the Queen hears them too. It is dawn at last! The Willis bourre to the back of the stage, they put their arms up in fifth like the headstones of a grave, they bow, we are so relieved but at the same time they still look kind of scary with their backs turned on us, and at last they flee.

Then Giselle and Mr A must part, and she returns to her grave at last. He does lift her one last time and rock her in his arms (she has both feet off the ground and lies almost horizontal in his arms, one arm draped across his shoulders). He is so, so sad, and she comes out and scatters white flowers over him, and then she vanishes.

Broken-hearted, Mr A picks up his cloak and a handful of flowers and slowly walks away, scattering a trail of petals as he goes. The curtain goes down as he reaches the middle of the stage.

 

Version 1 – Li Jie + Jason

Let’s talk about the Queen and the Willis first.

Bi Ru was the Queen in Li Jie’s performances, and she has the charisma to carry off this role, as well as extraordinary grace, particularly in what I think is the fourth solo. A friend said she liked her Queen B***h air as the Queen of Willis, and the money move in which the Queen points down at the ground: Die now, dance now, get here now.

The Queen stands with her arms across her chest in the “holding baby” movement for extremely unbearably long while Giselle and Mr A leap around and plead and the like. How her arms must ache! But she never ever betrays it or breaks from her role. She carries her Queenly strength about her shoulders like a mantle. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but at moments during their dancing, the Queen seems to soften. She rotates slightly, no more than 90 degrees at a time, until she faces them again. Then she decides nope, Mr A’s still an @$$ and he shall die.

Hey, here’s an idea:¬†maybe in¬†Giselle,¬†the Queen isn’t just vengeful, she feels she is justice in this particular instance.

The Willis work hard, too. I know I speak very little of them. But to stand frozen with your hands crossed at the wrist and raised is not easy. Kudos to them.

Also, the orderly dancing is a wonder to behold. One of my absolute favourite moments (other than the spine-chilling delicate hand-holding scene described above) is when they do a huge jete away from us (backs to us, heading diagonally to the back corner of the stage to our left) and then couple of steps forward (kicking out slightly Рis it petit battement?) and then they do another fabulous jete, always spreading out the arms. Everybody looks unbearably elegant and graceful. I love that part! And the music with it is so good, too.

Now we talk about the rest of the Li Jie-Jason Carter-Kensuke show

Giselle. I still get goosebumps thinking about this. Giselle is now a spirit, and whatever was girlish, child-like and innocent about her has died, has been stripped away by the brute force of death. Now she is just pure goodness. I don’t know why, maybe I’m wrong, but it is not just love for Mr A that makes her save him – it is the goodness that radiates from her. You see, he caused her death. Yet she is willing to dance in his place, and she hopes for him to be alive. That amount of forgiveness must come not merely from love at first sight, but also from a place of warmth and pure goodness. Oh no! I think I’m crying again…

It is this goodness that Li Jie’s Giselle radiates, that breaks the heart and the waterspout.

When she first appears before Albrecht, she knows they cannot be together.

When Li Jie’s Giselle dances with the flowers, she is saying:¬†Look, this is my heart, these are my feelings. And as she dances, you realise that she is unable to talk. In ballets we get so used to people not actually talking on stage (even if they’re miming) because we can’t hear their voices, but in this scene in Giselle I realised that Giselle was dancing with Albrecht and he with her because she was a spirit and she could no longer talk, and so she had to communicate with him through her dancing. (This is what I meant by expressing the thought through the movement.)

I loved you, she says, so much.

The angel lift is tremendous and due to the mechanics of the matter, when Giselle is lowered, her arms drape around Albrecht as if in an embrace, which is very helpful visually to the audience’s imagination, whether or not intentional.

I used to think those two flowers were the souls of the daisies that Hilarion had disposed of.

There’s a part that’s hard to do beautifully, that Li Jie does as gracefully as if she’s skimming over the surface of water – the series of little jumps where the knees are bent and ankles are crossed behind, while her wrists are crossed before her. She looks so graceful it’s easy to believe that she’s Giselle the spirit. Her dancing always looks easy, gracious, assured.¬†It¬†would¬†wear anyone down, the dancing, but at no time¬†are you ever aware of it.

It’s also interesting to note that she always remains Giselle and is never “the heroine who is more powerful than the Queen of the Willis”.

Judging from this interpretation, Li Jie’s Giselle in Act 2 can be taken to have already transcended partway to Nirvana. Her love for Mr A is shown in her hope that he has not died, when she later¬†pleads with the heavens over and over again, to let him come to life (I suppose that’s what it means when she holds his hand to her chest and raises an arm to the skies).

What is funny is one part where Albrecht and Giselle start walking from the (to the audience) back left corner towards the Queen to approach her. Each time Albrecht seems about to say something, Giselle turns and stretches a hand out slightly to the side: Quiet, let me deal with it.

 

I’ve come to the part about Hilarion. I love the music used¬†for his attempt to escape while Willis enter and block his way. Kensuke is a marvellous Hilarion. He is dramatic and he infuses the desperation of a dying man into his leaps and his twirls. His Hilarion must die, not just because of what he has done, but also to show us that the threat of the Wilis is real. Kensuke’s Hilarion is deeply convincing. Look at how the first time he pleads with the Queen, he is not one knee, and how he actually goes down on one knee the second time he pleads with the beautiful Queen of the Willis, who remains unflinchingly heartless! He writhes, but not overmuch. He dies, but not woodenly. Kensuke brings to life all the productions in which he appears, and the stage would be poorer without him.

 

Now we come to Albrecht. Jason Carter’s Mr A expresses remorse and shuddering misery in the mere hunch of a shoulder. It’s impressive how his body language demonstrates his rising guilt. When he lays down the flowers, he lays them down as: This is for you, this is for me, this whole bunch is for our unborn children, had I managed to marry you (then he sinks into grief and covers his face, a move that is not easy to do without looking comical…)

Now this is interesting: Jason’s Mr A is mortal, and he dances as one who is indeed condemned to death. We are utterly convinced that Mr A is¬†likely to die.¬†Mr A’s role is one that allows the dancer to look as tired as he feels, but we don’t see the dancer at all. We see only Albrecht dancing to the death, flailing his arms¬†slightly with exhaustion¬†in that absolutely magnificent unending series of leaps with beated legs. In that magnificently-choreographed and danced moment when he has to leap with beated legs down a V-formation of Willis (see above), Jason dances with such heartsick¬†desperation, as if¬†the mere presence of the Willis compels him to dance, and at the end he¬†collapses at the waist tiredly — then he has to repeat this down the other arm of the V-formation, and again you get that sense of absolute, utter desperation and defeat. (Again, this is what I meant by expressing the thought through the movement.)

Even though Mr A collapsed at least twice and Giselle was repeatedly worried for him, Act 2 whisked by so easily. It’s a real testament to everyone on stage that Act 2 was so digestible and enjoyable. I’d feared it would be a bore.

 

At the very end, when dawn arrives, and Albrecht awakes, Giselle wraps her arms about him and cradles him, and gently, lovingly, rocks him. She has been so, so strong and filled with goodness this entire night, and now you see that yearning and love beneath it that had given her so much strength. T_T All the love in the world, and now he understands what he has lost.

Giselle has to return to her grave T_T ¬†She¬†reappears and he carries her in his arms and rocks her gently, as he should have had he been faithful to her. It’s almost as if this is the embrace he should have been able to give her before she died, carrying her to her grave.

She retreats, returns to scatters petals over him, and then bourres away backwards. Li Jie’s petals say: I loved you so much back then, I loved you, goodbye. And, most importantly, her petals say: I forgive you. Giselle cannot speak, remember – she pours out her love and forgiveness for him in those white petals.

Such a vast ocean between the lovely happy girl in the first Act and this pure goodness in the second. You know there is no way she can return to those happy, innocent days, and that is so, so sad ūüė• ūüė• ūüė• (Cue waterfall of tears.)

At the end, Mr A has fallen deeply in love with that good, lovely person,¬†but it’s too late!¬†and he walks away a broken man, shuffling petals in his hand so that they fall dramatically to the ground, his cloak trailing in one hand.

 

Version 2 РChihiro + Kenya

When Elaine as the Queen dances her opening solos, there is a strength in her every move. I had a very strong sense that Elaine’s Queen was communicating a message or emotion to us, even though I couldn’t find the words for it, and I felt moved somehow. I don’t know why I felt all this – I didn’t even remember what the sprigs were, but perhaps when she was hopping forward with them, there was the sense that the sprigs¬†were important to her and that the dance was personally important to her.

And yes, there was a distinct moment when #Ineednoman appeared somewhere in that dance as well, when she was picking up the sprigs.

I found myself tearing up during the sprig dance (that music!) and the dance after the sprigs have been thrown aside. For the Queen is the Queen, and she is above all. She has seen so much, experienced so much. She is vengeful, but she also has a reason for that vengeance buried deep inside her, and it is a sorrowful one.

There was something so strong and lonely about that solo after she has flung the rosemary away – not the solitude of having no man by her side, but of being the Queen, older and more powerful than all. It’s lonely at the top. Even now, when I hear the music, I can feel a lump in my throat. You could say it’s a lonely waltz about someone left at the altar, but it’s also more than that – it’s about the Queen herself as a person, somehow.

This Queen has a commanding presence. When Hilarion pleads with her, she is the epitome of #seeyounoup. She pays him no attention. He does not exist: “Sorry, who are you again? Talk to the shoulder.”

(I’ve just discovered Viu – and “Last Cinderella” is on it! I love watching Shinohara Ryoko. Oh, but there are¬†adverts and I have no patience.)

 

We have to talk about Kenya. He is using every inch of stage space given to him and given to stronger dramatic acting. When he appears in Act 2, he is a man who is deeply in love and deeply repentant. You can tell that he is filled with real despair as he searches for her grave. He even runs to the front of the stage (audience’s right). When he spots her grave, he practically flies to it, his cloak floating out behind him.

Perfect timing. When Chihiro flits past Kenya for the nth time in the middle of the stage, he is looking away from her when she is at his shoulder and he lifts her without even looking at her. Visually, this immediately tells you that she wafted past him like a ghost. The timing is perfect and you get the absolute chills.

The flowers she throws appear to be signs that she still loves him, and she has not forgotten. This flower is for you, and this one, too.

 

After the Queen of Willis has found them, Chihiro’s Giselle dances with the memory of the previous Giselle, and a heart overflowing with love for Mr A. She now has no doubt that he really did love her, and her aim is to let this man she loved live, and that is the faithful love of Giselle. When she dances her solo (and Mr A wipes the sweat from his brow), every flick of her hands and every leap she does is filled with the desperate hope that she can rescue him. She wants him to live. When they dance together, she is filled with that desire. This boy must live.

Kenya’s Mr A is a very conscientious Mr A. Even as he dances down the V-shape formation, he does his absolute best and puts his back into it. He manfully soldiers on until the very end, as is scripted for both Messrs. A, where he collapses convincingly (you can see it in the youtube video above).

There’s some amount of relief when at last, the sun rises. I’d forgotten it would get round to it.

Giselle tries her best to wake Mr A: Look, the danger is over! and you’re actually wondering if Mr A will wake up. I love how the Willis look in the background, so graceful, forming the shapes of gravestones, genuflecting and all. It brings to mind the swans in American Ballet Theatre greeting the sun.

Now we are left with the couple, Giselle¬†embracing her beloved Mr A whom she¬†can never, ever be with ūüė•

But when Kenya’s Mr A rises to his feet and realises the Willis are gone and Giselle is by his side, and he¬†is so, so delighted and relieved you can hardly bear it. He turns to Giselle with an exhausted, sunny smile: We can be together, at last!

As she bourres towards him, he closes his arms about her in a loving embrace, and completely misses, for she is thin air, and she drifts past, unable to feel his arms about her ūüė• (more tears)

Mr A eventually lifts her and carries her to the centre of the stage (her legs almost parallel to the ground, ankles crossed), gently swinging her in his arms throughout.

Unlike my imagined story for Li Jie’s Giselle (where the petals at the end that she scatters over Mr A are the story of the love she had had for him when she was alive), her petals speak of her still-burning love for him: Here is my love for you, she says, these are the flowers of my heart. And the fact that she comes out again at the end strangely remind me that eventually he will die, and they will meet again. It’s oddly hopeful.

 

Curtain Call

 

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From Friday night, Jason Carter and Li Jie.

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This photo shows I’m not the only person trying to take a photograph of the cast. Also, that’s Bi Ru, Queen of the Willis, to Jason Carter’s right.

Saturday matinee:

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Fortunately, my friend S has a Phone that took some awesome photos. Many thanks to S! ‚̧

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Queen of the Willis, Chua Bi Ru

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Saturday night. Many thanks to J(X), who helped me take photographs.

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Queen of Willis, Elaine Heng, is to Kenya’s left

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A really cute picture of Chihiro offering her husband Kenya a rose from her bouquet.

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Included this photograph because you can see all the Willis in it.

What’s nice is that you get to see the dancers grow over time, to get used to filling out characters and being them. There were parts during the show when I was trying to figure out why certain things were happening and I was like “??” before¬†I realised why stuff was happening.¬†Maybe I was over-thinking it a bit.

I suspect viewers may prefer one show over another. Both appealed to me for very different reasons. I felt that the Chihiro-Kenya version was very much a quality dramatic production with high sound and colour, whereas the Li Jie-Jason version was a quieter but also deeply emotional (for me) take on it.

 

Review of Giselle 2018 by Singapore Dance Theatre – Act 1

I had the great pleasure of watching two different and thoroughly enjoyable versions of Giselle over this weekend. It is a rarity that we are given two different dramatic storylines which are milked for all they are worth, to different effect. What a joy, and an absolute pleasure.

And Giselle made me cry.

Here’s the advert by SDT, for the curious.

 

There will be those who line up for Swan Lake for the fouettes and Sleeping Beauty for the Rose Adagio, and then when it comes to Giselle, are like “Okay, mad scene, but what else?”

I did not know much about Giselle before I watched the performances. The storyline has (I know it’s “had”, but please, it¬†irritates me slightly still!)¬†always irritated me — why did Hilarion have to die?!! How could Albrecht be allowed to live??? Why was Hilarion given a name so close to “hilarious” when his ending was anything but funny?¬†Where is the love in all of this? Hence, I’d never watched Giselle before this – and anyway, DVDs are not the same, for me.

Well, Giselle is a frightening heck of a marathon. She’s on those feet, leaping and hopping and bouncing and spinning forever. Albrecht (whom we shall now call Mr A because it’s too hard to type his name) is up and at it as well, with his multitude of lifts and jumps. The peasant pas de deux is no walk in the park. The Queen of Willis has a ton of solos.

Less talk, more pictures. Hurray, someone else wrote the storyline so I don’t have to. Some of the pictures actually show Rosa and Chen Peng.

Li Jie is pictured below as Giselle.

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The cast list!

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Casting

As Nazer has left SDT ūüė¶¬†the question arose as to who would end up partnering Li Jie as Mr A. This is no simple matter, so¬†I didn’t bother applying my mind to it until the news came out a few weeks ago that Jason Carter would be making his debut as Mr A. There are always a few factors, I suppose. Obviously, there’s the dancing and the lifting of the lady overhead, which actually¬†a lot of the guys can do, I’m sure. There’s carrying the weight of the show on one’s shoulders,¬†there’s the acting, there’s the visual¬†element – Li Jie¬†is one of the taller female dancers and Jason is possibly a good¬†8 or so cm taller, and onstage that translates to a lot – and then there’s the chemistry. They’ve worked together before, and there’s an easy rapport in those small pair work roles – I’d forgotten but they were Lilac Fairy and Cavelier. Of course the trick sometimes is smiling at your partner as if he is the bee’s knees, and you will find that the principal female dancers do that a great deal.

Act 1

Note: Jason Carter is paired with Li Jie, Kenya is paired with Chihiro.

When the curtains part, we see a backdrop of a forested mountain. We are in some idyllic village that grows grapes. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, brews wine for the nobles of the court. Apparently, back in the day, the countryside life was viewed in a romantic light – much as one might view the Hamptons or a spa in Switzerland.

Giselle’s house is on the audience’s¬†left, flowers in the window, what a lovely day. On the audience’s right, there is only one other building in sight, a hut which belongs to nobody. Behind it is a well and exactly two flowers grow by the well.

It’s early morning! First we see the villagers emerge, some yawning and stretching. The first man to appear is Hilarion, played by Yorozu Kensuke. Shan Del Vecchio plays a particularly sleepy villager who has to be peeled off the bench, while Yeo Chan Yee is the village girl smitten by Hilarion,¬†who dismisses her so that she has to return to the side of¬†Jerry Wan, who rolls¬†his eyes at her youthful impudence.

Everyone disappears to the hills behind Giselle’s house to go pluck grapes. Hilarion hangs around and hovers (sorry, the alliteration is too good to resist) by Giselle’s house. Hilarion’ll have you know that a beautiful girl lives within, and that he lurrrrrves her. Kensuke does this splendid little wriggle as he brings his hands to his heart. Only Kensuke, I say, can in one move demonstrate both his fondness for the girl and also make his character (not quite¬†sleazy, but…) a little ounce of something in his nature¬†that makes you feel slightly irritated – because you’re not here to like Hilarion. (Neither are you here to support Mr A, actually.)

Hilarion plucks a flower from the well but nah, it’s not good enough for his Giselle – so he tosses it aside without a second glance at it. The second flower is perfect, and he places it with reverence on her doorstep, then blows her a kiss, and then hark! he hears someone calling for him, and after one last longing glance at her door, he waves to that someone, and runs off to join the harvesters. It’s all these simple moves that tell a full story: Kensuke acting as if he’s heard someone, then¬†looking at¬†Giselle’s door, then¬†deciding yeah, he’d better make a move, and dashing off, hailing his invisible friends.

Down from the slope on the audience’s right, behind the well, enters Wilfred, Mr A’s right-hand man, looking startlingly noble in rich grassy green puffed sleeves. Justin Zee is Jason Carter’s Wilfred – he cuts a tall, imposing figure and since we’re all expecting Mr A , it’s a surprise. Reece Hudson is a quick-footed, lively Wilfred who dashes in way ahead of his Mr A and checks the coast.

Next Mr A enters, in shades of brown. He’s here for his Roman Holiday. Apparently it is the day of the Festival of the Wine. (Some of these additional notes I have are from the One @ The Ballet session.)

Now we come to our parting of ways in the story!

Version 1 – Jason Carter

Jason Carter’s Mr A is here to kick back and relax. Does he not want to hunt? Wilfred asks, but nope, Mr A just wants to mingle with the people and chill. They retire to a hut, and when they emerge, Mr A’s not wearing his noble cloak. How do I look, Wilfred? He asks. Just like a peasant, no?

Justin Zee as Wilfred says Well enough, but hey now, there’s your sword.

Oh yes, I forgot, says Jason-Mr A, hahaha. This is possibly one of the few times his Mr A actually lols in the entire production.

Even after the sword is put away into the hut, Wilfred is highly doubtful about the whole escapade and when Mr A is curious about the nearby house, Wilfred tries to stop him from approaching it, and even blocks his way. Mr A then physically moves him aside and, without realising the irony,¬†morphs into “Remember, I’m A Noble And Your Boss”, and gives a rousing rendition of “Do As I Say and Begone”, pointing at Wilfred imperiously. Wilfred backs off, tries to chide Mr A, Mr A repeats his noble order, Wilfred goes away resignedly, stops halfway as if about to turn back and dissuade Mr A, then remembers the metamorphosis above, and goes away with #smh (shaking my head) hanging above his head.

Now we see Jason-Mr A feeling some regret at having behaved in such a mean fashion, and he runs after Wilfred, but Wilfred’s disappeared, or too far away, and Mr A also feels that dangit, he’s going to go through with it anyway, it’s his holiday and he’ll do what he likes.

Here is an Albrecht who has some conscience, some heart, and not much thought going on. He is a noble. He neither spins nor toils. He just does what he wants to, and now he wants to knock at the door of the nearby house. He is not a very bad person, just not a very thoughtful one. He’s not crazy cavalier, or splash with cash. He’s just never had to think too hard about consequences, or about life in general.

Version 2 РNakamura Kenya

I don’t know what Mr A here has heard, but he seems aware that there’s a beautiful girl living in that house over there. Yes, he’s drawn to the house, and Kenya takes the step of standing closer to the front of stage and drawing our attention to the house. There’s never any doubt that he’s enchanted by¬†the bucolic cottage, so there’s a foreshadowing that he’s going to be equally enchanted by its contents.

Wilfred, as played by Reece Hudson, is animated and lively, and he helps to up the energy of the scene. He manages to persuade Kenya to get away from the house, but then Kenya decides to play dress-up and it’s quite funny when Wilfred tells him Yep , it would be great but for the sword, don’t you think? Wilfred is also given to strong emotions: No way are you going into that house, sire, he says, opening his arms wide emphatically to block Mr A’s way. But Kenya is that solid stern noble with¬†a slight temper, and he puts Wilfred in his place. An audience member chuckled when he stopped partway through walking off, and visibly considered whether to try to dissuade Kenya-Mr A, then checked himself: oh no, well, there’s no changing his mind.

Kenya’s Mr A is just sooo taken with the house. It’s almost as if he knows there’s got to be somebody inside there waiting for him.

Both Versions

Both Messrs A start to knock on the door, but in glancing down, they notice a flower on the doorstep. Yes, indeed – a young lady must live here. Jason’s Mr A picks up the flower and casts it aside disdainfully – who cares about whoever left it here! He knocks inaudibly on the door, then sneaks round the corner to see what happens next. Really, he doesn’t think at all. Kenya’s Mr A tosses aside the flower too, but in an almost comical way (like, whatever) , and then he actually does knock on the door, and whips round the corner in playful anticipation.

The door opens and Giselle emerges. Hurrah! She’s in a simple folksy blue dress and she comes out and tells us that she heard someone knock but she can’t see anyone. Chihiro’s Giselle is the light-hearted cheerful lively village girl, and her movements are expansive and slightly exaggerated because she’s confiding in you, almost as if she’s telling you a story by a fireplace.¬†Li Jie has always been slightly more reserved in movement, but I am actually also fine with that – it’s also a realistic reaction.

I cannot help but say this now: It was a wonder to watch Li Jie and Jason Carter and realise that they were telling the story through their dancing. They are deeply expressive in their movements. They are dancers who tell stories through their body language and their dance moves, who emote through their dancing, who communicate with the audience in how they hold their bodies. They are aware of how their body moves, or else their thoughts are just best expressed in these subtle movements. It was interesting to realise that they had the same principles in how they chose to tell us the story. (They are also slightly more reserved and are interestingly fairly well-matched.)

Anyway, Giselle darts about to try to find out who has knocked on her door. Chihiro is a delightful, charming girlish Giselle.¬†¬†How she moves when she is not dancing per se, is to make full use of the stage and her arms and her torso so that you can see she really wants to know who it was. Chihiro has developed her own language and stage presence in this manner. It’s a bit like projection of the image so that everyone can see, and it is meant to draw everyone from small children to adults, into the story. Kenya has also developed that in this Giselle, the larger-than-life approach.

Li Jie goes for a more natural person-you-might-know look, smiling at us in simple puzzlement. This is her Giselle Рthe simple, good-natured girl-next-door who was at home sleeping because of her weak heart, until she heard a knock, and she checks about for the knocker.

Giselle does her character’s dance, and it is danced three times, which is useful for the mad scene. I do like this dance – starting with the double lifting of the foot to the supporting leg, then a low kick outwards. Mr A playfully peers out at her and blows kisses (Kenya’s are audible, which is hilarious) and hides again, and she turns around, hand lifted as if she’s heard him, poised en pointe delicately on one foot¬†– but he’s gone. I think that quite early on,¬†Chihiro’s Giselle takes note of the hut, to draw our eyes to it and what’s coming up.

Anyway, Giselle wanders to the front right-hand corner of the stage, wondering where the person who knocked might be. She then wanders slowly backwards, as Mr A positions himself carefully in the centre of the stage. Jason’s Mr A takes his time about it, he’s amused by the simple carefree Li Jie, and he edges himself towards¬†her as she edges backwards towards him, which is playful of Mr A. Kenya’s Mr A is confident and cheekily plants himself in the middle of the stage, waiting.

When Giselle backs into Mr A, she is startled and glances up over her shoulder, and there she sees a handsome gentleman staring down at her.

(I stopped here to watch Claudia Dean explain why she left the Royal Ballet. Yes, she just put up a video on it and in the comments, she also mentioned possibly making a video with Kathryn Morgan, be still my own heart. But I will watch it at judicious points.)

The One @ The Ballet write-up helpfully tells us that ‘…every interpreter of Albrecht has a choice. Was his love of Giselle so overpowering that it negated his previous life or was he caught in a tragic game that came to an unfortunate conclusion?” Mr Janek Schergen has said that of all the men he’s ever asked, Did Albrecht ever fall in love with Giselle or was he still pretending all the way in Act 1? only one has answered that he was simply (a horrible person) toying with Giselle’s emotions. So yes, Giselle in the SDT production does steal Albrecht’s heart a little.

 

Version 1 – Li Jie & Jason

Li Jie’s Giselle immediately turns to stone. I remember this clearly from Friday night’s performance. All of her does not move at all – not her face, nor her arms or her legs. This must be a dream. How is there a man who is not out harvesting grapes, but who lingers here¬†in this neck of the woods? Jason’s Mr A captures her hand ever so lightly and she tugs away in a bit of a fright, and steps away from him. Oh, the warmth of those fingers! One hand is already at her heart, and now this other hand clasps that other hand in that universal sign of a heart starting to possibly fall in love. And then a tiny little smile crosses Li Jie’s face and she lowers her hand and ever so slightly seems to look at it, as if she can’t believe it’s true but she¬†wants to know and Mr A takes her hand again.¬†A cute little gesture on Giselle’s part, a little sign that she kinda liked how he took her hand and she kinda is okay if he does it again because he warmed her heart and that gesture just takes your breath away.

This time, Mr A¬†leans in to¬†kiss her hand. Really, Jason’s Mr A is not exactly a thoughtless flirt – he’s having a little harmless (to him, cue¬†eyeroll) fun and honestly, he doesn’t give off a sleazy air. Though he should not be doing this if he has a fianc√©e ūüė¶

But Li Jie darts away behind him, half-shocked but almost definitely quite delighted, too. This is what is crucial. Here’s a simple village girl who’s found a really charming, pretty handsome tall young man who’s willing to flirt with her straightaway, who makes it clear that he finds her attractive. In this neck of woods, her with her weak heart and no one but Hilarion chasing after her (maybe all the other guys have been scared off by Hilarion), what a lovely surprise this is. This is the image of Li Jie’s Giselle, fleshed out by Jason-Mr A’s good-natured flirtations. You begin to live inside the mind of her Giselle, to understand what it is like for her Giselle to meet her Mr A.

Version 2 РChihiro & Kenya 

Chihiro starts away a little, her heart thudding. It’s definitely love at first sight and ohmygodhe’shandsome for Chihiro – the thudding heart of shock and the first blush of love in how she looks down kind of in the demure village girl way. She does drop her hand again, but there’s no sign that it’s totally deliberate. Perhaps it’s her subconscious that’s doing it.

Both versions

Suffice to say that Mr A catches up to her, enough to introduce himself as Loys, and Giselle, remembering her manners, introduces herself. Then she appears to attempt to flee. Chihiro’s are obvious gestures of trying to escape, out of shyness, even though she seems attracted to him, and Kenya-Mr A is evidently already fond of her.¬†He does tease her a little in holding her hand while she shakes her head and does a little dance of I should really get going.

Li Jie doesn’t make as large a show of fleeing – a more restrained dancing version of it, to which the gentleman Jason-Mr A equally gently restrains her in a friendly rather than sinister fashion.

Mr A invites Giselle to sit and she does so, deliberately (Li Jie) / delicately (Chihiro) spreading out her skirt so he has nowhere to sit. When he points that out good-naturedly (oh, who wouldn’t fall in love with such gentle teasing at this point!), she moves aside for him. Kenya’s Mr A keeps comically nudging Giselle along slightly¬†so that he¬†has more space,¬†and she keeps moving away slightly, until he turns around to put his arm around her¬†and she runs away just in time.

Actually, there’s so much dancing I can’t remember when it is that she dances as if she’s waving a flower high in the air above their heads; I can’t remember exactly when it is that it ends with her in his arms and he leaning in for the kiss and she rejecting him, Li Jie’s shoulders hunching up – but you can tell from her body language that she likes him. It’s¬†another of those little simple actions that reminds you that Giselle is just a girl who is tasting young love for the first time.

At some point, Mr A declares he loves her and he vows he loves her (will love her forever?), and she stops him as it’s bad luck. A silly vow, made by¬†a silly young man or one that does like Giselle.

Give me one kiss, he says, and she says no. Giselle is so pure and innocent, after all, and one does not kiss a strange man whom one has just met.

Then Giselle must arabesque and make a show either of ah, flowers over there or I’ve an idea! whichever it is, and then head over to the flower box at the window of her house, and pick a suitable flower, a daisy. For this she sits back down¬†on the bench and¬†Mr A rests his foot on the edge of the bench and folds his arms to watch as she counts: One, he loves me – and she puts it on her skirt (like “That’s a good one,” says Mr Janek Schergen), One – he loves me not, which she tosses away (“Bad one”), and she pauses to count the rest and oh no, it’s the wrong number, he loves me not. Stricken, she puts the flower down and walks away, a little heart-broken. Mr A takes the flower, counts (or does not, depending) and tugs out an offending petal and throws it aside, then shows her: See, now it totally adds up!

He’s still being cheeky, still flirting a little. Who wouldn’t, when you’ve met such a gorgeous maiden with such an endearing smile? They then proceed to do a delightful little dance round the stage – hand-holding, lifted legs to the side, a delicate and simple dance by two young people who are attracted to each other and getting to know each other. It’s not the grand ballroom dancing you see in Swan Lake waltzes.

Hilarion chances upon them just as Giselle takes to the air in a large jete and Mr A follows suit, and round the stage they go, in what is obviously a courting dance. Jealous Hilarion hides by the well and watches. A little twirl, a zing of chemistry, a special shared moment, ending with Giselle leaning back against Mr A, a leg gently lifted high, her arms delicate and graceful, in the air.

Happily now, they stand together, hands clasped together and unable to stand it, Hilarion separates the two and loses his temper. How can you be all lovey-dovey with him? Incredulously: You love him?? And Giselle says Yes! I love him, with all the light of love shining in her eyes.

 

This seems a good time to explain that Kenya is obviously the head-over-heels-in-love Mr A, who has perhaps never realised that he doesn’t really love his fianc√©e, or who has utterly forgotten her because Giselle is just so durned lovable. He has fallen off the boat and into the river of love (ŚĚ†ŚÖ•, or zhui4ru4, in Mandarin, fallen in with a real proper splash) and by the end of their little couple dance, it’s safe to say he’s in love with her just as much as she is smitten by him.

Jason Carter, on the other hand, is super ai4 mai3 ai4 mai3. In Hokkien (I think) this simply means “do you want this or do you not??” and, literally, “yes no yes no” – and¬†it denotes indecisiveness and wishy-washiness in a situation. He has no idea that he is starting to really kind of like Giselle. He’s just swept up in enjoying the whole thing without a single real thought about what this could spell for her. At the same time, he’s not like¬†really going to put a ring on it, despite his earlier careless vow when he was swept up in the moment looking at this cute pretty girl.¬†Jason’s #aimaiaimaiAlbrecht helps remind us, time and again, that she is really just a simple peasant girl who utterly believes him to be her true Prince Charming, another villager whom she can totally marry and go off into the sunset with. If you think about it, aimai-aimai is exactly why Albrecht decided not to chase after Wilfred and apologise in the first scene! Half-hearted dude that he is.

 

Back to the story. Angry Hilarion says to Giselle: No! I forbid you to love him. I love you!

Giselle rejects him, for what we know must be the hundredth time. Li Jie rejects him with such eloquence: How can you tell me who to love, say her gestures. She is eloquent in her disgust and distaste, and her dislike for Hilarion, in those graceful unfolding flicking hands and arms, in the turning of her back, even as she is a little hurt and shocked. Chihiro is a little more of a Giselle who is hurt and distressed, almost to tears Рsuch an expressive face. Giselle is pure and does not delight in having men fight over her. Hilarion makes her sad by so abruptly ordering her not to be with the man she loves.

Hilarion kneels: you know I love you, he says, pleadingly and he really does, but unfortunately he doesn’t help his case by grabbing a handful of her skirt, which is somewhat coarse behaviour and scares the pure, innocent Giselle, who pulls away in horror and real fright. You must contrast this later with how, in Act 2, Albrecht reaches for the froth of her skirt because it’s the nearest thing he can touch, and there is a hint of desire as well in that, and Giselle as a spirit understands that well.

Mr A intervenes now, standing between the two. Go away, you brute, says Kenya’s Mr A, all ready to protect his beloved Giselle, and we are secure in his love for Giselle. For¬†Jason’s Mr A,¬†Hilarion’s unreasonable behaviour has raised his hackles. He’s not slimy enough to be merely playing a game with Giselle by this stage. It is his awareness of his 100 years of noble lineage that makes him order Hilarion to back off.

Hilarion is ready for a duel, and he reaches for his dagger on his right. Instinctively, Mr A reaches for his sword on the left. Only nobles carry swords on their left, and Hilarion notices a discrepancy just as Mr A remembers the absence of his noble sword and why it’s missing. Nevertheless, Mr A prevails and Hilarion goes off.

The villagers arrive. Sensing Giselle’s sudden shyness about their hanging out together in front of everyone, Mr A says he would like to be introduced to Giselle’s friends. He also introduces himself. He also desires to kiss her, but she cups her hand over his mouth; sweet, innocent Giselle.

Now comes the time for Giselle to show off. No, really. She loves him terribly and she also can’t help but want to show him a dance to impress her crush cos that’s how the first blush of love works. He sits down, and while the girls dance about with arms in the air as if they are holding up flower wreaths, Giselle prances in the centre and smiles at Mr A at the end. The fact that the other girls are not doing massive leaps cues us in to the fact that¬†this dance is all for him.

I think this is where the village girls start to actually dance, in fours. And boy, do they look good and how happy we are to see more dancing! I feel a lot of the dancing in this is a great deal of footwork, the kicks from the knee or from the mid-calf; the changing of feet (e.g. go en pointe and put one foot to passe at the knee, lower that raised foot and go en pointe on it and the other goes up to passe). I love this, the smooth feet, the little exchanges. It’s so soothing and everyone dances beautifully.

Giselle and Mr A joining in – there are groups of four, and Giselle and Mr A each join one group as the fourth, dancing round in happy rings like four-leaved clovers. While everyone is dancing in a row, she and he break off and stroll away – but she suddenly feels faint – her heart is troubling her, and she is breathless, and he inadvertently leaves her behind. He realises and goes back to find her, and asks her if she is fine. There’s nothing wrong with her, she reassures him, smiling bravely. Nothing would stop Giselle from dancing with the man she loves! They join the villagers, who have now formed four arms of a spinning cross, and they join in¬†the opposing ends of the arms, merrily kicking legs up, arms around other villagers. This requires them to run from arm to arm and then join in the dance. This ballet is a marathon.

Now it is time for him to dance with her. I believe she invites him. It’s always Giselle who wants to dance. This is an adorable and also unexpected dance, given that kissing is not really done in a lot of ballets. Maybe because they’re not royals…¬†It’s the air-kiss dance, where they blow kisses at each other at every turn, literally – a leap in the air, a landing, blowing kisses, and again and again down an invisible row to the back of the stage. Then Giselle pretends to blow him a kiss on an extended hand, then pulls her hand back as he reaches for it, withholding the kisses. Always skating up en pointe, one leg back in bent arabesque (attitude), her other hand pinching up her skirt across her front, as if she’s coyly hiding behind it.

At this point, Chihiro’s Giselle is fully smitten and committed to the relationship, and Kenya’s Mr A, backing up in the face of her great love for him, is completely invested in it, too. They are in love, love, love. Their dance is the playful dance of flirtatious lovers. The Chihiro-Kenya performance builds us a massive fairytale romance in Act 1 so it can tear it down.

Li Jie and Jason’s version is¬†not the all-out-romance and punch-drunk love. In Li Jie’s rendition of this dance, it’s clear that she’s still a simple village girl who’s really fond of this peasant-boy and feels she is going to marry him¬†in a very idyllic way (“We’ll grow old together in this village”) while Jason’s Mr A dances along willingly (one would have to be blind not to dance willingly with this Giselle by this stage) and has probably forgotten today’s the Festival of the Wine. Li Jie and Jason’s performance creates the story of a village girl and her dreams, which seem very real to her and to us, until they are destroyed. Everything is so real until it’s not. It would drive anyone crazy.

This is getting really long and I’m regretting this. Why did I not do a general review of the performance? Blast it. But I’m doing this for myself, too. In theory, it’s for people who google the performance. In reality, … google has algorithms.

Anyway, Berthe (Giselle’s mum) wakes up, everyone tries to help hide the couple and even distract Berthe, but there’s no stopping a mother’s instincts, which lead her straight to Giselle. Why are you up at this hour, girl?

This is where Giselle dances her signature dance round her mother again, as if¬†to say: But I love dancing, and please let me dance! Giselle by Li Jie does this in her good-natured simple Giselle way –¬†the straightforward,¬†direct village sweetheart girl-next-door who sees no harm in having a little dance to express the way she feels. Giselle by Chihiro is a cheeky¬†charmer who kind of girlishly pleads with her mum, but you know how much I love it, hehehe. This creates a different sort of relationship with her mum.

I’m so bad with the order of events now. I know her mum sends her to bed at some point in time and parting is such sweet sorrow for the couple – Jason’s Mr A still just wants to have fun, and Giselle leaves with a promise in her eyes and an indication that she’ll be back; Chihiro scoots back to Kenya and has to be persuaded to go and rest, but she and Kenya make lovey-dovey eyes at each other as they part.

The stage clears.

Wilfred reappears with a hunting horn and Mr A’s cloak, and reminds Mr A¬†that the nobles will be about sooner or later, so please get properly dressed and presentable. Wilfred hangs the hunting horn up on a convenient hook on Giselle’s house. When Wilfred wraps the cloak about Mr A, Mr A gets cranky again. Jason’s Mr A, for the first time, has to actually consider briefly what might happen when his two worlds collide. True to his nature, he doesn’t want to think about it – he rejects it all – he will not be present! for I think in his heart he realises that he was actually enjoying himself thoroughly in the village, in this world that is so far away from his real, staid and stiff velvet life. He is a man-child who has no idea what to do next, so he throws the cloak to the ground and dashes off, leaving Wilfred to pick up his cloak and manfully go after him. Now, Kenya’s Mr A is truly furious because he is so madly in love by now that any reminder of his real life is too terrible for him to contemplate. He dashes his cloak to the ground and storms off, and hapless Wilfred follows.

I suppose that this is the point where Hilarion pops up and has a wordless monologue where he complains about what has happened, and as he perhaps swears to himself that he could have scared that upstart with his dagger, and he pumps his fist determinedly, he recalls how Mr A reached for a sword on the left. Ah, a nobleman’s sword! He turns: ah, a nobleman’s hunting horn! Ermahgawd, two and two together. He sees the hut. It must be the hiding place of this chap. Or maybe this is the hut of the nobles when they are on holiday, who knows. He presses his ear to the door. No one’s inside. All right, time to break in with my trusty dagger. (At One @ The Ballet, when Hilarion and his dagger were introduced, Kensuke took it out and started twitching it about happily and Hilarion-like in his hand and Mr Schergen said All right, we can put that away now.)

Very convincingly, with a jerk of the dagger, the lock is picked, and in goes Kensuke and out he emerges with the sword that is not in its scabbard because death by blade, what is that. He then compares the insignia on the sword’s hilt with the insignia on the hunting horn. Yep, one and the same. The chap who owns this sword has been about this area and Kensuke’s Hilarion knows who it is. But hark! People are coming by. What shall he do? This is where the devil that sits on Hilarion’s shoulder whispers, Take the sword, and thus the seeds of tragedy are sown, if they were not already sown earlier. Hilarion dashes offstage with the sword.

I also know that at some point in time everyone is onstage again, including the couple. Was I wrong about the earlier dance? Is this where everyone dances? No! I think this is where Giselle persuades her mum to please, please let her dance for Albrecht! And her mum relents since she’s already had her nap. This is the fiendish hopping dance, wherein Giselle dances on one toe as she lifts her arms up as gracefully as water sleeves. It’s a dance unaccompanied by everyone else. Giselle is saying: I love you, I love you, this is my dance for you. Previously, perhaps she was trying to impress him, then¬†to tease him. Now she is dancing her heart out for him.

When your Kenya-Mr A loves you and there is love in the air, you are sealing the deal with him – ¬†you are expressing your love in a two-sided relationship. When your Mr A is aimaiAlbrecht and the audience knows it, what we see is the shy, simple, loving girl who loves a man so much that she would dance even if it might kill her, because¬†she is young, and in love. It is in Li Jie’s dancing and her movements that we see that dance is how Giselle best knows how to express what she feels, and she wants this man to know. It is a tragedy waiting to happen. Well, I did also think that Giselle wanted her man to know that she was fine and fit after all.

It is also a difficult dance – Chihiro hops half-way across the stage cleanly – it requires pirouettes that look complicated (sudden landings with extended legs?) and this dance is entirely beautiful and pure and graceful. And the multiple speedy pirouettes with passes that swap so quickly that it looks as if the legs are one rotating spinning pole and end with hands lifted, to loud applause. I’ve read that the high ronde de jambes (circles drawn by raised legs in the air) can be flirtatious and almost sensual in some versions, like see my leeeg. None of that here.

Chihiro and Li Jie are never boring to watch. You could just sit forever and watch them in their exquisite movements.

At the end of it,¬†Giselle’s mother Berthe¬†looks at her tired daughter and the strange man, and oh, she worries. And she makes everyone sit down and she tells them the story of the Willis. Have I not mentioned the strongly expressive, beautifully dramatic Shantha Ratii yet? It’s amazing, watching her move. She is so experienced – she tells a story with every move and with every emotion on her brow. Every move is beautifully strong and graceful.

When she tells the story of the Willis, she lends it an air of authenticity: Crosses on graves, ladies lying in them, buried before their time, broken-hearted before marriage, rising up as Willis (her hands forming wicked little boney wings on her back, adequately scary).¬†She picks a man from the crowd – always the chap who is Wilfred in the other performance. Marina, his girlfriend, gets up quickly as if to protect her man, and to cling to him and get him to sit down before he is carried away by a Willi. Berthe decides to pick someone else to illustrate what she means, and she picks Mr A. She tells him, the Willis will make you dance until you die. Until I die? asks puzzled Mr A. You can see that Jason’s Mr A is still a nobleman who’s not heard such superstitions and he’s confuzzled. Kenya’s Mr A’s dismay has a note of foreboding to it.

Berthe repents and the storyline in the booklet says she says it’s an old wive’s tale. What really happens, I think, is that she fears she has somehow cursed the couple. Regrets, we’ve had a few.

But all’s well now because we hear the hunting horn. Or is it well? Everyone gets up. It’s time to get the grapes and wine! Giselle parts from Albrecht, who melts away into the woods because he doesn’t want nobody to know where he is.

Nobles arrive, a table is brought out by the hardworking Shan Del Vecchio and Jasper Arran. Grapes in baskets, wine in caskets, to be poured out. Nobles – the men in fabulous hats with fabulous plum-coloured plumes, led by the Prince of Courland (Mohd Noor Sarman) and Suzuki Mai as Bathilde, the betrothed of Mr A.

Wilfred knocks on Berthe’s door and she emerges. The wine-tasting may begin. All wait with bated breath as the Prince of Courland swirls the wine and then tastes it. Dramatic pause…music slows to chiming…Prince nods and smiles, pronounces the wine top stuff, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief.

I believe that this is where Giselle¬†lets us know that she is a seamstress (since she can’t¬†climb¬†mountains to pluck grapes) and she¬†is totally taken by the wonderful rich fur-trimmed velvet cloak of Bathilde. Can I just say that I love how Bathilde’s hair is exactly like the hair in those picture books we had of old stories, the buns to the side wrapped in criss-cross golden wires?

Hey, some clothes, since we’re at it.¬†Rich colours onstage. This is Bathilde’s dress, I suppose, and that’s Wilfred’s costume. Trust me, they look like a million bucks onstage.

clothes-giselle-nobles

Giselle goes forward to press her cheek against that gorgeous rich fabric. You, as the audience member, metaphorically spit out your coffee and go: What, what??? Like, who in the world does that? Especially to a noble? I think this is meant to endear her to us or something, like such a simple (dim-witted??) village girl. The rest of the villagers think just like you do. This is probably even harder to convince us about than the mad scene, man. Li Jie carries it through as the simple Giselle who really innocently just wants to know – you have already seen above the sort of Giselle she is. Chihiro is the same, an innocent child-like curiosity (in my friend’s words: She looked like a country bumpkin). Think about it, this contrast between Bathilde and Giselle. Think about how Albrecht must feel…

When Bathilde feels something playing with her cloak, she turns around and of course Giselle is horrified and apologetic and runs to her friends. Anyone could have their head sliced off for annoying a noble, remember. But Bathilde, played by the simply amazing slightly condescending Suzuki Mai, is generous of heart in her own “poor little country girl” way. She speaks kindly to this country girl, saying she is beautiful, asking who she is. Giselle introduces herself and explains that she sews clothes. She also loves to dance, and she dances her simple introductory dance. This may make one roll one’s eyes, but think about it: this is her signature move, it helps advance the mad scene, and importantly, it’s really contrasts a village girl against the grand noble who does all the grand courtly dancing instead of this. She is proud of her little dance, and why should she not be?

Suzuki Mai is absolutely splendid as Bathilde. From the shoulder pads to the way she leans back languidly when she stands, to the way she moves her head and hands, in the fashion of a sophisticated royal who’s never rubbed shoulders with peasants, these quaint creatures whom she acknowledges exist – but in a world far removed from her own. She’s not mean – she’s just a royal.¬†I wondered when she was cast. Excellent choice. Brilliant contrast with Giselle.¬†Without a convincing Bathilde, you don’t have half the backstory of Mr A.

Berthe intervenes, apologises, sweeps her daughter away chidingly. But Bathilde goes over and firmly moves Berthe’s hands away and brings Giselle back into the light. This child intrigues her. They’re probably about the same age but such a charming, unsophisticated girl she is! Let’s have some charming girl-talk about boys¬†because we’re about the same age, we need the story to progress, and the Bechdel test didn’t exist in those days.

Bathilde asks: So, have you anyone you love?

Giselle says: Yes I do; Li Jie in that sweet simple Giselle way, confiding girlishly; Chihiro in a delighted full-of-love way.

Bathilde says, I am engaged to be married. How about you?

This is the point of the dagger on which we rest.

Chihiro’s Giselle nods, entirely certain of the marriage at the end of the road, completely confident in the love her Mr A has for her – what were those dances, if not drenched in his adoration for her? And it’s true Kenya has hearts for eyes when he looks at her. But we know the ending ūüė¶

Li Jie’s Giselle pauses, and you know she thinks to herself: Well, he practically vowed, and he blew kisses, and he really seems to like me so, so much, and honestly why would he not marry me? And so! She nods three times, determinedly, with a proud little smile.

That is the thunderclap overhead: Li Jie’s Giselle is a girl who has, since waking up this morning, fallen into the loveliest dream ever, and she imagines to herself that she is going to marry this wonderful handsome young man who has wooed her¬†– she must be a little of a romantic at heart, and she has willed herself entirely into believing that it will happen. That is the beginning of the tears in the eyes, I tell you, the ache in the audience’s heart.

Everyone is stunned and Giselle goes round sharing this delightful news with them. Nodding and saying Yes, yes, indeed. Accepting their congratulations. Chihiro has a great deal of charisma and she engages with the background and the villagers very well, and our eye follows her. She is convincingly¬†popular with the villagers.¬†For Li Jie, oh the heart breaks a little because she is so happy and proud and sure and pleased but we know her man can’t be trusted. She herself can’t help but create the bubble that, when it breaks, destroys her.

In the meantime, Bathilde (Suzuki Mai is¬†so awesome here that¬†I can’t call her anything but Bathilde for the length of Act 1 in this post) asks her father for permission to give her necklace to this sweet village girl, holding out the pendant in hands cupped to form a heart. She’s kind-hearted in her own uppity noble way. She¬†has fellow-feeling for this girl, wants to wish her well and to¬†bless her marriage. Also, she’s rich so a necklace is just another trinket to her. Her father sighs and agrees, and so Wilfred relieves her of the necklace and presents it to Giselle.

Chihiro-Giselle is so, so happy and grateful and delighted.

ŤĶŹŤĶź (shang3 ci4,used in the context of being gifted a present, where ŤĶŹŤĶź is gifted) is the word that comes to mind when Li Jie’s Giselle receives this gift, a present from high above. She is so absolutely having the best day of her life! The betrothal is so real in her mind now, and the necklace is like a gift from the heavens. Oh, the list goes on and on. Such a gorgeous dream. The heart aches, but we tell ourselves oh we’re not gonna cry, really, though our eyes are filling. Well, just a few tears, then.

 

How lovely, now we’ve all settled this business, we will be entertained by the fabulous peasant pair. They dance together – then man dances then woman then man then woman who is joined partway by man then they dance the coda and you feel tired for them. Interestingly, it opens with a hand tucked¬†in the crook of the man’s arm, rather than arm-in-arm.

This requires the pair to kick their legs back, and forwards, together, in perfect synchrony, and the end to the first part is an unforgivingly speedy pirouette to open arms!lift and land!then leaning pose against the man while raising a leg in high arabesque!then a pose at the end.

Two very good pairs who have worked beautifully together before were picked – Akira and Huo Liang for Li Jie’s night, and Kwok Min Yi and Etienne for Chihiro’s night.

Let’s talk about the men. Huo Liang is secure and unafraid in his dancing. He dances with the confidence of a man who says see my corkscrew multi-pirouette spin in the air and my landing. See my little kicks and my glorious leaps with unfolding arms. See each move hang in the air like a brushstroke against a painting.

Etienne Ferrere is graceful and makes the peasant solo look good. Yes, it’s hard to look good in the second solo¬†doing side-split lunge leaps, to leap while alternately raising your leg behind in an arabesque or else unfolding your bent leg into an arabesque. It also requires immense energy and skill and as always, he delivers each part solidly.

For ladies, the girls’ solo starts with a jump in profile, arms held out so the body forms a ‘K’. It’s super high-energy. It’s unforgiving – it’s sharp fast feet brushing up and down the ankles, while making very fast¬†little turns. You need someone who is quite the technician to accomplish it, and¬†both Akira with¬†her speed and clean feet, and¬†Min Yi with her precise lines and fifths, pull it off. ¬†There’s another unforgiving part in the second solo which involves turns while brushing one’s skirt. This is ironically because the less bravura a move is, the less high leg-kick it is, the harder it is to prove or show that you’re doing a particular move.

I like the ending, when the man joins in and they both leap into the air, they do symmetrical moves, they look glorious and bright. Min Yi has very long lines and now she draws her energy from the points of the stage. Akira is light of foot.

The nobles depart.

Albrecht returns because it’s safe to be back where no one knows his real identity.

I know there is a part where there is a cart and a cannon. I am not sure whether this is before or after the friends’ dance. I think it is before, and it brought tears to my eyes, for Chihiro was so bright and happy during it.

What happens for the cart is that two hardworking men roll in a cart that has what looks like a little cannon on it. Mr A loves this life! He lifts Giselle onto the cart, and Sun Hong Lei brings out a wreath wihch she is crowned with, and then gives her a bouquet. Oh, that little lifting by Jason of Li Jie and placing her on the cart Рthat simple gesture that hurts so much because she is so, so happy and to her, this seals the deal. This is the ring on her finger. The bouquet makes her the queen of the Festival, and the men roll the cart around while she waves at all her friends in pure delight.

This is terrible, absolutely terrible. This is the icing on the cake of her dream day, Li Jie’s Giselle is shining with pride and joy. I watched the Li Jie-Jason performance twice, and on the first night I started crying here. For the second performance, I told myself Please, I don’t think you’ll cry again, since¬†you know what comes next. But I was totally swept up in the emotions, in that beautiful unreal¬†dream Giselle was having, contrasted with doubt about whether Albrecht had any feelings for her, and I found tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping down my face (not like a tear at a time only) – and I could not move to wipe them away until I tasted salt and suddenly realised I really was crying. A broken waterspout.

 

Okay, now the friends have to dance. I like their dancing. Feet fast zipping open and close, and I love it when they have arms in third and one leg raised in attitude before them and then they rise on pointe and daintily hop forward, and progress towards the front of the stage in that manner. It’s super graceful and beautiful. It’s different choreography from the usual: plies, lots of attitudes. A friend (as she¬†always does)¬†noticed Minegishi Kana’s very graceful dancing. I thought that Sun Hong Lei had also distinguished herself in this dance.

Now we have the others joining in too, I think. The men! They’re pretty good, and it’s awesome to see such a huge crowd. I love it when they leap across the stage in fours – Shan Del Vecchio cuts a fabulous figure leaping high across the stage. It’s also good to see so many new faces (girls and guys) dancing. Think that while the friends dance, the village couples in the background dance in lovely pairs, the girls lifted, beaming, to sit on shoulders.

I think the couple then end up dancing amidst them, and they face each other, hands together, as if they’re about to kiss.

But Hilarion’s not having any of that! He runs in and separates them before they can kiss, and he mockingly introduces himself grandly to Mr A, the nobleman. This startles and confuses Giselle. Why is Hilarion acting as if Mr A is a royal of a different class? You can imagine this is not what she had in mind: she would marry him, they would stay in the village together forever, et cetera. Li Jie’s Giselle very clearly has never set foot outside the village and has already visualised her life ahead with Mr A just as she visualised her betrothal to him. Royals are on another plane altogether.

Mr A quickly puts his arm about Giselle and seeks to reassure her. There’s no good way to rationalise this behavior except that he must really think there’s some way about it, either¬†by ditching his noble betrothed (likely Kenya’s way) or smoothing it over eventually by closing his eyes so it all goes away, maybe¬†Wilfred will fix it, I really kinda like this girl¬†(Jason’s way). When Jason earnestly reassures Giselle, you still aren’t quite sure where he sits on this matter since he’s so half-past six, but he’s surprisingly not slimy about it. It’s just his body language, perhaps, that saves him from appearing slimy.

Giselle breaks away from him to see what Hilarion is up to and Mr A sweeps her away quickly but you can see Li Jie¬†really believes Mr A quite fast, she smiles, reassured and completely unshakeable in her faith in Mr A. Chihiro is more unsettled though her Mr A is swimming in love for her – but she eventually comes round to the idea. And as they hold one another’s hands and Mr A proclaims his love, Hilarion lays the great heavy cross of the sword across their hands. Instead of being the priest who joins their hands together before the cross as in Romeo and Juliet, he sunders them with this blade, metaphorically. He believes himself to be the conscience and the truth but you can see him burning up inside with jealousy. The path to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions. Maybe he has convinced himself it is best for Giselle that she knows now. No, let’s face it, Kensuke’s Hilarion just can’t stand seeing them together. This great cross is a mirror of the great cross-arms that Berthe had used to mime for us the story of the Willis. That great foreshadowing comes back to haunt us all.

Giselle can’t believe it – it can’t be true – but her young man’s response is instead to grab the sword and turn it around on Hilarion and pursue him across the stage. Stop, stop, cries Giselle – oh, you can see the world shatter like glass over Chihiro’s head. It’s obvious that this is nothing within her sweet Giselle’s contemplation; that for her, this is where the madness begins. In that moment you immediately see how this looks to her because – crucially – her Mr A is so loving that there is no way he could have been lying to her, but now he is evidently raving mad and out of his mind, and destroying every single joy that she has felt before. This is not the man she knows, oh god what is real now.

Anyway, Hilarion puts a stop to all this by grabbing the hunting horn and blowing it. And Mr A halts –¬†for Jason, you can totally see him freeze up in absolute oh god no – and then there is the answering horn.

Jason Carter’s Mr A drops, tosses the sword with a flat clatter – now we’re sunk! – and he stalks away, and as he stands frozen to the right of the stage, still turned towards Hilarion and Giselle and everyone else,¬†the giant words “OH SH**” appear above his head as if he has been changed into a meme, and you can practically see that a bucket of freezing cold water has been dumped over his head. He stands like a man caught in a lie, the water running down his hair, chilled to the ends of his nerves; a man who is feeling the long cold shadow of the consequences of his careless behaviour fall over him.

Kenya’s Mr A drops the sword with a loud clang, angrily. Hilarion has destroyed all hopes of any happiness. He stalks away – and he turns his back on the others. His brow darkens – there is fury, misery at his real life creeping back to haunt him at his happiest, and yes, there is shame, which is why he cannot look at Giselle. He loves her so, and he is so, so ashamed also of having forgotten his fiancee, his obligations, everything that is so faraway now.

Now the nobles have returned, puzzled at having been summoned. Mr A must turn to greet them, for the Prince is here. He must also allow Bathilde to hook her hand in hers, and walk her some distance.

Bathilde is taken aback by how strange Mr A looks. She circles him. No noble cloak? Dressed like a peasant, and stripped of his sword? She asks him where he has been, since he missed the wine-tasting; and then he must lie. Oh (haha) I was out hunting and then I forgot about it entirely. (ETA: Sorry, apparently Albrecht tells Bathilde he’s playing a game?…)

Then they walk to the side and she looks to him for affirmation of love, and now he has no choice (!) but to kiss her hand. Kenya, whose Mr A was so madly and passionately in love with Chihiro’s Giselle, is now dutiful and passionless in kissing Bathilde’s hand.

Jason, whose Mr A was fond of Giselle but obviously also enjoying his holiday rather than drunk on love, is curiously – distant when he kisses Bathilde’s hand, and he does it as if he simply has no choice and almost wishes he were not there and did not have to do so. And when I went home on Friday night and reflected on the entire Li Jie-Jason Carter Giselle show, it was evident that this was because of the stark contrast between the warm-hearted Giselle,¬†who is playful (think back on the kissing dance) and answers his flirtations with her warm, open affection and ready love – and Bathilde, the product of her noble upbringing, who – like Jason’s Mr A – is a little distant, and so noble that she holds herself upright and does not lean against his shoulder even when her hand is tucked into the crook of his elbow, because emotion is so … common.

Jason’s Mr A is starting to realise this difference and is starting to feel its impact on his heart, which Kenya’s Mr A has probably already felt loooong ago.

Now we come to the crossroads.

 

Li Jie’s Version of the Mad Scene

Giselle, who had sought refuge in her mother’s embrace when things got pointy, has been watching, aghast- and she dashes forward and throws her arms and weight upon the joined hands of Bathilde and Albrecht, in horrified anger and almost petulant disbelief: What is this? How can you be doing this? she demands, of them both – but her accusations are mainly directed at Bathilde. Her first instinct is not quite to fault Albrecht.

Bathilde says: He’s my betrothed.

Giselle says: NO! He’s my betrothed!

As they stare at each other and then the horrible truth dawns on Giselle, that Albrecht has been lying to her, and that everything that went before was completely false. All that she has dreamed has come to an end.¬†It’s¬†here that everything falls completely apart for Li Jie’s Giselle, whose timing is impeccable – she breaks away from Bathilde and Albrecht, she tears the necklace off (that damned necklace, you can feel it burning into her skin) – she flings it to the ground by Bathilde’s feet, and she dashes to her mother – and in a likely not-planned move on Friday night, Li Jie gave a convulsive jerk and threw back her head as she plunged towards her mother, and there was so much anguish in that –¬†and then she collapsed onto the stage.

Her mother loosens her hair from its bun and¬†everyone is terrified that she has died. But she suddenly wakes and pushes her mother away and dashes to the centre of the stage, bowing her head and clapping her hands to her ears. Li Jie’s Giselle has opted for long hair that runs in riotous mad curls down her shoulder blades, a lovely disheveled choice. You will see a totally different emotional choice for Chihiro’s Giselle’s hair, which is equally delightful.

Li Jie’s Giselle is a mad, mad Giselle whose downfall began from the moment she opened her front door and fell in love. That is the root of her (and the audience’s) heartbreak.

Then we hear the music for Giselle’s solo begin, and, very slowly, and not even in time to the beat of the music,¬†Li Jie raises her head as the solo begins. It’s perfect timing, and the perfect expression of emotion through her movements (and I watched two performances).

You can see that Giselle is waking up again, to the day’s events. The dream is starting again, but it’s in a cold and lonely world, one which only Giselle inhabits. I will set out, not necessarily in chronological order, the things Giselle does in her madness.

She runs round the circle of peasants, staring into their faces. She looks at them, but she does not seem to recognise them or even engage with them, and they terrify her. They are the faces of people who have watched her be crowned, then watch her tumble from her perch – these are faces whom, in her madness,¬†she does not find friendly – faces that are not real, they are a distant dream-like audience, and she tears away from them. She dances a weak parody of her morning’s dance: the lifted hand and flower, which she follows with her eyes.

She drops to the ground before us and starts plucking the flower petals: one, he loves me, I put that gently on my skirt; one, he doesn’t love me – no, no – no he doesn’t love me, and the memory drives her into a frenzy of head-shaking, and she leaps up.

Jason’s Mr A is in the background, distraught but also unsettled because he is a noble who has not yet realised that he might actually love her, and because she is mad. Let it be known that Bathilde is also terribly shaken by Mr A’s behaviour, and she draws close to her father, and almost seems to ask omg can I break off the engagement! She is clearly miserable, and the nobles huddle together. If Mr A wants to approach Giselle, he is held back by his own uncertainty (aimai), by convention, by the presence of the other nobles, and by Wilfred, his trusty aide who wants to protect him from himself and Giselle.

The thing is, nobody wants to go near a mad person. So the villagers watch, uncertain and unfamiliar with this new Giselle. Also, she lashes out at anyone who approaches – in this case, Mr A does try to approach her, despite Wilfred, and she recoils and shudders and staggers away.

Then there is Giselle collapsing; then there is Giselle getting up and very clearly chasing a butterfly, in the air, as it flutters first to our right, then our left. Perhaps this is also a parody of the morning’s dance when she tells Mr A, I really must get going, and darts to the sides in a futile but also not entirely sincere attempt to get away from the handsome gentleman.

You feel Giselle’s emotions, and you understand how she feels – you almost become Giselle, alone in this nightmare dream world which replays the morning’s events; and you cry and cry because Giselle had the absolute¬†best day a simple¬†peasant girl could ever dream of, and it was all false. It really helps that Albrecht lingers at the edges of this world and the villagers hang back, because that increases that feeling of isolation. You can really see that Giselle is in her own mind, in her own world.

Partway through her meanderings round the villagers, she stumbles upon the sword and you realise that you’d totally forgotten it! and it is new to her too, and she grabs it and then she starts swinging it round at the villagers and the nobles, who realise it’s time for them to leave, and who hastily do so, subdued and saddened by what Albrecht has done – but also probably thinking they’ll leave this mad girl to the village¬†(what a tragedy; oh well, these commoners, this wasn’t a very nice Festival after all).

It’s a heavy sword, or at least leans at a threatening angle when she holds it, and then she holds it by the blade and points it at her throat, and you can almost see the blood running down her arms – but Albrecht intervenes, seizing the sword by the blade and taking it from her while Wilfred … catches her arm? I do not know. Albrecht throws the sword aside.

At last¬†Giselle sees him, and looks straight at him properly where previously she has simply lashed out and pushed him away. She backs away quickly, madly, covering her mouth – she is laughing at him, giggling and¬†jerking her head up and down really quickly and unnaturally, and her hair wiggles. It is ugly, and it is discomfiting, and it is jarring and you will hate it and ask yourself: what the heck is this, what is the point of this, she looks terrible, I was all comfortable crying and now I’m going whuuut?!!

And o, that is absolutely the point of it all. She is mad, and that is ugly, and it makes you uncomfortable. The mad scene is not for you to sit back with popcorn and feel chill and relaxed. It is to stab you when you least expect it, and that is the madness that keeps the other peasants back. Perhaps they are not sad, they are scared. This was not supposed to be how the pretty, lively girl with the weak heart died. It is an unexpected choice to be ugly mad.

I remember there’s a point where she returns to the centre of the stage, a dreamy expression on her face, and Jason-Mr A positions himself beside her hopefully, as he did in the beginning, but more¬†gently,¬†as if he’s ready to dance with her too. At this stage you can tell that he does like her, after all, and he’s sorry, and he wants to spend time with her.

Giselle leans slightly to her left, and clasps her hands by her ear, at such a cunning angle you can’t tell if she’s almost hooking her arm through his, or she’s putting her head against his shoulder. Then she starts dancing lightly, away from him, in her own dream world with an invisible partner, and leaves Mr A behind, to his surprise. Such beautiful, controlled moves, the genteel leg lifts. It’s heartbreaking.

Then she starts dancing more quickly, more maniacally – she tosses her head about, her wild curly hair flying – again you feel terribly discomfited and a little frightened because you have no idea what’s going to happen – and then¬†suddenly she freezes, and you can see the shock in her face, in how she stands, hands pressed to her heart. You can hear the thudding of her breaking heart overhead in the music, and her body convulses terribly. She’s like a rag doll; she’s dying.

But she revives somehow, and after one more frenzied moment in centrestage (during which Albercht approaches her in his desire to help her), she practically flees from Albercht and falls straight into the arms of the waiting Hilarion, beside the well, bent limply back right over in his arms. (Thank you, Hilarion, for bearing the dead weight of Giselle on your arm. Without a trustworthy Hilarion like Kensuke to bear the weight of both the Giselles, they would not have been able to appear so accurately dead.)

Everyone is about to burst out wailing when she rouses herself one last time, and Hilarion helps her, and oh, he points to her mother, comforting her: look, her beloved mother is there, she will be safe there (or leastways, she should die in her mother’s arms). And so Giselle, gathering the last of her energy and willpower, sprints straight to her beloved mother’s arms, into which she collapses.

Almost immediately, she wakes up and she seems almost normal for a fraction of a heartbeat. She’s well again, everyone thinks, thank heaven – but no, she turns runs straight to the centre of the stage, in a fevered mania, and Albrecht catches her and raises her¬†up; and her heart gives, and¬†she falls into his embrace,¬†then slides gently out of his arms and onto the ground.

What perfect timing. I cried so badly when she ran to her mother, at that last moment. It was so beautiful it was terrible.

Anyway,¬†now of course her mother rushes forward. They discover Giselle has died. Albrecht immediately¬†turns on Hilarion for driving Giselle mad. Hilarion says: “Was it I? You broke her heart.”

The guy’s got a point. But Albrecht, in his rage, pickpockets Hilarion’s dagger out of his belt and threatens him. Horrified, Wilfred¬†efficiently disarms Albrecht. Hilarion berates him, and because Hilarion is correct, Albrecht leaves, shaken, feeling deeply guilty. Trusty Wilfred wraps the cloak about him and walks him away (exit to the audience’s right).

Everyone is now gathered about the body in shock. Ladies cover their faces, men look downcast, and Hilarion throws his head back and wails.

 

Chihiro’s Version of the Mad Scene

The choreography is much the same. What I shall describe are the differences in action and effect.

Chihiro’s Giselle is not so much furious or petulant or shocked as she is ripped to shreds when she sees her beloved Kenya-Mr A holding hands with Bathilde. Remember, she started going mad from the moment the swordfight began. She had an inkling that something was not quite right the moment her hearts-for-eyes-only Mr A morphed into a sword wielding tempest. Now she cannot imagine what is happening to her, to her world, and her face is a terrifyingly expresive wail when she breaks between them wildly. You can practically hear her wailing aloud and bursting into heart-wrenching tears.

When she glances at Mr A, she knows the truth, and Bathilde confirms it, and she flees to her mother.

Let’s talk about hair choices. When Giselle next gets to her feet, her hair is down. I think this choice of hair works well for Chihiro’s Giselle just as Li Jie’s worked for her. She has a terrific haircut, shorn to her collarbone and light and wispy. It is exactly right for what Chihiro’s Giselle is, which is an intense, emotionally-charged performance in which you feel pathos for the pretty, pitiful Giselle in her downward spiral. Chihiro’s dancing is light, fragile, delicate.

Chihiro’s Giselle doesn’t wake immediately to the music. A couple of notes pass before she starts to look up, and I think that’s a different way of building tension.

I consciously forced myself to see what Mr A was up to in this version, because he was supposed to really love Giselle. Mr A stalks about in the background, distressed and desirous of getting close to Giselle. Whenever Giselle’s emotions crescendo, their impact on the¬†peasants and on the scene¬†is bolstered and magnified because Mr A is equally devastated. His devastation, lingering on the fringes of your vision, helps you imagine how the rest of the peasants might be reacting.

As a result, where Li Jie’s madness plays out in¬†the quiet, solitary world of her¬†mind, Chihiro’s madness plays out in a world where it engages the peasants and colours the corners of the stage. Both versions have their own uses.¬† This is just a thought. You may experience something different, batteries are sold separately. Both do appear mad anyway, and that’s not easy.

So we enter the realm of Giselle running round the ring of peasants. Chihiro’s Giselle mouths gibberish to herself (! a very clever touch), and when she looks at the peasants she seems to be looking straight at them, as if she is talking to them.

When she starts plucking flower petals, she goes through the motions with full emotions: nodding and smiling at a good petal, throwing away a bad one.

Mr A is supposed to be in the background watching. Jason’s Mr A looked a little hopeful and expectant, which is why we know he kind of likes Giselle. Kenya’s Mr A nods along vigorously as Giselle counts the petals. Mr A is always hoping Giselle will regain her memory (rolls eyes – it’s his fault she’s in this state). He’s very active and dramatic.

Giselle does not actually laugh in the laughing scene. She covers her mouth and looks as if she’s crying, though she breaks into tiny giggles at the end. She’s a fragile Giselle, which is why when she grasps the sword, it’s quite terrifying and she really looks as if she might stab herself with it. Mr A is the noble noble (pun intended) who leaps to her rescue, distress distorting his features. You actually feel sorry for him when she fake-leans against his shoulder as if she’s going to dance with him; he looks so briefly hopefully happy and pleased, and you almost forget she’s going to leave him in the lurch (as he did her, hmph).

We fastforward to the moment where she is about to die, the one where she swings through the centre and heads straight for Hilarion, who is talking to a peasant girl about how dreadful this all is but then right at the last moment, spots¬†Chihiro heading for the well and runs to the correct spot so she can fling herself into a dead faint in his arms. That’s well-timed and I wonder if it was planned just-so.

At the very end, when Giselle¬†finally throws herself out¬†of her mother’s arms and runs to the centre of the stage where the hopeful Albrecht waits for her and catches her up and raises her to the sky and she reaches up to touch it, what is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, is that Albrecht actually holds her up but even before he can embrace her, she slips out of his embrace as he wraps his arms together, and she slides to the ground so he catches empty air.* Oh, I’ve got chills as I write that. What a brilliant touch. Tears spring to the eyes.

*A great deal of this is seen in Act 2, especially at the end. The number of times a move is repeated by the same person or by someone else but to different effect (foreshadowing? symmetry?) is pretty high. In Act 2, Mr A ends up lying down and getting up just about as many times as Giselle (take that, Albrecht!), and where she once danced herself to death, he almost gets danced to death, too.

 

I shall end on this note because if not, the post will be too long. Also, I want to start the next one on the question of Albrecht(s).

7 years ago on this day…

…I watched Romeo and Juliet by Singapore Dance Theatre.

So says my facebook. Such a lovely lovely time, it says. Teenaged girls booing Tybalt and wailing over Mercutio’s heartbreaking death; our nicknames for the people we called “Friends” on stage.

Friend 1 was Benvolio, who appeared first, and we thought he was Romeo because he appeared first, in the same way you think the first guy who ever appeared in the female lead’s life in the Korean drama is going to end up with the female lead* (but a friend says it’s actually the first guy who carries her on his back or in his arms). Yes, you need that qualifier – the first guy who appeared may not be that guy she met in her childhood or in her previous life, omg. I don’t really watch¬†K dramas anymore.

*For J dramas, I think it depends on who the actor is – Yamazaki Kento is the lead of the moment (highlight for spoilers), so despite being 2nd Son, he will actually beat Miura Shohei to win Kiritani Mirei’s hand —¬†what kind of outcome is that! (Nomura Shuhei doesn’t actually count in the competition as he’s the 3rd Son and he’s dating Mizuhara Kiko so…)

Friend 2 was actually emo!Romeo himself.

And o, Fate, and o, Juliet. And oh, the choreography. ūüôā Nice memories.

Jeremie Gan – An Interview Online

Here’s an interesting and insightful interview with Jeremie Gan, a Malaysian dancer¬†from Singapore Dance Theatre!

http://www.buro247.my/culture/insiders/jeremie-gan-interview.html

I liked this part below especially. Glad he’s performing with SDT in Malaysia ūüôā

Finally, what advice do you have for young aspiring dancers?

“Dance. If you stop dancing, you will never make it. Always tell yourself that being able to dance is already an amazing gift and not many people are able to experience it like you are now. Persevere. There will be people who will say you can’t and there will be times that you will doubt yourself and wonder whether if this path is right for you. You may feel like there’s no point trying but I always say ‘Never try, never know’.”

American Ballet Theatre – Swan Lake 2018 in Singapore (review) (media-heavy)

You have to write the review, said my friend, for the folk who didn’t get to see it. But it’s not like this beats the DVD or a live viewing, since obviously I don’t know the choreography…and it’s a one-human periscope view. The periscope also saw diamonds of the first water in a necklace thicker than my wrist, and globular pearls as large as my eyes on fingers and dangling from ears, and a very fine pair of opera glasses made of fine gold-panelled wood.

Separately though, loads of Singapore Dance Theatre’s dancers were in Malaysia for the first leg of their tour over the weekend. Hurray for their performances! (Though they then missed ABT’s ūüėģ )

This is the original poster with the original cast.

swan lake original cast poster

booklet cover

I’ll put up the cast lists for all the nights, but I saw Thurs, Fri and Sat nights. There was some cast changes here and there. The most major change from what we had been given to expect when we bought tickets, was that Isabella Boylston’s partner was supposed to be Alban Lendorf but was changed to Daniil Simkin. We hope Alban Lendorf is fine.

booklet thurs

booklet fri

booklet sat matinee

 

booklet sat night

 

booklet sun matinee

The unbeatable Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra. Hats off. The solo violin during the White Swan scene, the percussionists, the harp, the everything. Did you order the rumbling roar of forest leaves, the roll of thunder? Here you go.

SLO pit

Prologue

It’s Sunday… ain’t no time to waste.

Thurs night – Misty Copeland and Herman Conejo. This is known as “Misty’s night“.

Fri night – Hee Seo and Cory Stearns. This is known as “Hee Seo’s night“.

Sat night – Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkins. This is known as “Sat night” or “Isabella’s night“.

This is the curtain when you enter. Look at those carved metal vines. “They have so much money their money makes money,” someone said once, which a friend told me means that their money is invested and grows.

OP backdrop 3

This curtain is translucent. When a light is shone upon it, one gets to see the monster emerge somewhere to the audience’s right, a great green-grey creature with horns in a rubber suit that gives him huge veiny thighs and enormous arms and immense fugly abs. He claws at the air, then disappears.

Then a princess runs in from the right: Misty Copeland is a youthful joyous princess, fleet of foot; Hee Seo is a graceful young princess; Isabella Boylston is a graceful charming princess who is full of life, which stands in great contrast to her White and Black Swans. After she disappears in to the curtains to our right, the monster appears and gazes out after her (?) and then he claws the air  Рyou can see his head has been turned Рhe has spotted his prize. He vanishes with a flourish of his great, leafy cape, and morphs into a prince (who sweeps out from behind the cape). This prince is the Sorcerer of the night in Act 3.

The princess emerges again from our left, and she is drawn to the Sorcerer as he calls out to her. You can see her fall in love with him – I actually was a bit taken in for Misty’s night, perhaps due to the seating; I actually thought for a moment this was a prologue, a summary of the evening’s events. But the foreboding music hinted at what was to come, and the dancing as well – for he sweeps her off her feet and captures her heart, but also binds her spirit, as he lifts her aloft like a prize, and gives her no opportunity to escape from his iron embrace. You can see her desperately trying to escape (Misty), succumbing and flailing¬†(Hee Seo), struggling and suddenly realising what’s going on (Isabella).

The false prince pulls¬†the princess back into the darkness,¬†one arm¬†wrapped about her waist,¬†while she grasps at the air desperately, unwillingly. And then out emerges the monster again, carrying a huge swan flapping its wings in terror. That’s kind of unpleasant and chilling.

This Swan Lake wants you to know that the ending is not pretty. Yep, got the message ūüėģ

Lights off, so it’s darkness, and the black curtain behind the curtain (frontdrop?)¬† can roll back to reveal a sort of town scene. Curtains back (you should see the Act 3 curtains, they winch upwards as if invisible hands are drawing them upwards, but probably it’s the work of invisible drawstrings running along their width)!

A flat railing at the back for walking on and people to sit upon. Drinks to be had, and a couple having a tiff up front. The grand stairs to the right – there’s where the royals emerge.

There’s a part where a normal peasant¬†girl impulsively¬†decides (against the wishes of her boyfriend with whom she has just had a tiff, and then, with him shoving her forward) to approach the Prince.¬†I have no idea where that comes in! But the Prince is friendly, and also is clear that she has a boyfriend, and she ducks back to be with her boyfriend. This shows that the Prince is friendly with folk, and also doesn’t overstep the boundaries.

The Prince accepts a drink from Benno. Prince Cory relishes rolling the wine in his mouth, while Prince Daniil finds the wine a bit strong. Ladies bring garlands to the Prince, the Prince sits, the Waltz begins. It’s a merry and very long piece.

Now we must be facetious and comment on the lush velvets and silks. It feels as if the Houses of Gucci and Versace have sponsored the clothes. Skirts come in varied, tasteful shades and mouth-watering colours.

The Waltz is lovely and complicated:¬†2 rows of 3 pairs, men lifting ladies up and landing them lightly to greet the Prince. Lots of little attitudes to the back, lifted legs to the front. There’s so much action – to the audience’s left, a column of single ladies doing a little skating movement (a little leap forward then up en pointe with a leg back in attitude, then down again and repeat) to the front¬†and all the way to the back, while in the centre of the stage, couples twirl. The partner-work and group work is very strong and graceful.

ABT has a sort of natural graceful look to it. A friend commented that she thought they tended to favour the graceful, delicate, pretty look – everyone has light twisting hands and garland arms. While I think that that look holds true for quite a few of the soloists and the principals, it’s not always so. There’s enough variation. I do think Royal Ballet holds more to that look of rounded gracefulness; and NYCB, in comparison, leans more towards the, well, lean mean sharp speed (with the exception of a few, e.g. the sparkling Sara Mearnes).

Towards the end of the Waltz, the villagers (ladies in embroidered embossed dresses that are simply unbelievably tasty-looking, and the men in shorts ala the high mountains) bring in a huge maypole adorned with long pastel candy ribbons, and each girl takes one. An actual maypole! I went back to read my SDT review and I saw a reference to a Maypole-like dance. Well, here’s the real deal. The girls take the ribbons and do little jumping partial front-splits – round and round in a circle. The young men stand in an inner ring and they lift the ladies and set them down in some alternating fashion so that the maypole ribbons are all crossed, and then the young men lift them up again and set them down so the maypole ribbons are uncrossed. So clever!

In the meantime, what of our Prince, for whom these festivities are laid out? He stands and marvels, or, if he is Prince Daniil, he is obviously mindblown and greatly cheered by all this, and then towards the end, his friends lift him up upon their shoulders so that he is the centre of attention while pretty ladies leap about him and he marvels at the work of engineering and the ribbons.

It’s not too early to say that Prince Daniil Simkin is everything the magazines promised and more. He appears to be a mood-maker, and it was almost as if his appearance on the stage lifted the spirits of the cast. Everyone seemed to be out to impress. It could also just have been that Sat night was just right – cohesiveness amongst Swans, a Benno (Joseph Gorak) who was a cheerful good friend, etc.

 

After the Maypole dance, I can’t remember¬†what happens. I think the Prince has a happy solo. It feels like Herman Conejo is an old hand at this, as he takes us through the steady moves like a walk in the park, and punctuates every arabesque with a splendid sharp lift of his head and proud turn of the hand. To the layman eye, Cory Stearns¬†seems to have a really good strong technique¬†and his moves are very clean. Daniil Simkin has quite splendid high leaps and also the artistry you see in the videos, which makes it truly pleasant to watch him dance.

We have the Queen scene at this point. For this, she presents the crossbow before the order that he marry. Prince Daniil¬†is a boyish prince who goes straight for the crossbow, and you can see he’s completely over the moon with it. It’s these giant moves, these great emotional touches, that carry the audience along with the story and help those in the back seats see what’s going on – very much appreciated.

The order to marry makes Prince Herman Conejo sad, dejected; makes Prince Cory taken aback and gloomy; makes Prince Daniil confused, upset. It is this reaction that makes for the great contrast when his friend Benno decides to cheer him up with a dance.

A friend remarked that the Prince-Benno friendship should be present, that they should appear to be friends. Kudos to Jeffrey Cirio, Prince Herman’s Benno, who was evidently the concerned friend throughout, and obviously built his character in relation to the Prince, as his right-hand man.

Jeffrey Cirio is a Benno who is high in infectious good energy and enthusiasm, and who puts every ounce of energy and spare into every move. It’s his goodwill and good nature that makes it all the more heartbreaking later when he offers his Prince Herman the crossbow that will forever change the Prince’s life (and death), and suggests that he go hunting.

Calvin Royal III, as Prince Cory’s Benno from Hee Seo’s night,¬†is a very tall, lean dancer and as Benno (and also as Sorcerer on Misty’s night and Sat night), he made everything look slick and light and easy, never breaking a sweat. Clean fluid extended legs and arms that flicked like a wave of¬†watercolour from a¬†paintbrush. Joseph Gorak has a mix of both the energy and the ease, and a smooth finish to the partnerwork.

Pas de trois,¬†a performance that is deeply appreciated for the amount of energy required. I found Skylar Brandt to be a marvelously nimble, agile, speedy dancer, hopping en pointe¬†and¬†zipping feet in and out of fifths with as much ease as if she were walking – no jerky landings. A friend enjoyed Sarah Lane’s light, noiseless, well-oiled dancing as well – she is more of the school of clean lines than the delicate hands.

Look, have some tantalizing excerpts from Jeffrey Cirio’s Instagram.

I’ll pause to say that during the first pas de trois, I suddenly had visions of Maughan Jemesen and May Yen Cheah dancing the exact same moves (remember, I watched two shows of theirs) and I remembered what Janek Schergen said about having dancers who can perform up to world-class standards and do exactly what everyone is doing. The same goes for Benno on Fri and Sat night¬†– the opening leaps¬†danced by Zhao Jun; the part where Benno leaps to the side and opens his arms, danced by Etienne Ferrere. (The same may be said for the Prince Cory Stearns in his solo in Act 3 — suddenly I remembered Chen Peng doing exactly the same stuff.)

Joseph Gorak had chemistry with Prince Daniil, and for every action from the Prince there was a suitable reaction. He’s also got great comic timing. This is made obvious when, after the tiring pas de trois, a bold young lady of the court decides to approach Benno and the Prince. The tired Benno tries to fob her off and foist her onto the Prince, but the Prince makes him dance instead. Any royal is good enough and she goes off with Benno.

The first Benno (Jeffrey Cirio) was unwilling but way too good-natured, and his Prince Herman seemed encouraging; the second Benno (Calvin Royall III) was not terribly tired and he was very obliging to the lady; the third Benno (Joseph Gorak) was like oh noes oh noes even as he danced with her – he desired to retire to the side – while the Prince Daniil was definitely enjoying himself at his friend’s expense.

Eventually, the Prince ends up face-to-face with the bold young lady, who retreats, shocked that she actually has an audience with the Prince. On Sat night, Benno ensured this would happen, obviously on purpose, to tease them both, and the Prince, being a little mischievous himself, then decided to play along and approach the girl as she backed off and at last he kissed her hand and sent the nobles into a tizzy.

He dances with her, and then at the end, she goes off to be with Benno (?), which seems to puzzle Prince Daniil a little. A note here that the Prince is appreciative of female company. Prince Herman fluffs the skirt of one of the pas de trois when he meets her – where did you get this amazing floaty white bell skirt with embroidered flowers, he asks – and he does look pleased to be dancing with ladies. Prince Daniil clearly is very pleasant with the ladies as well.

But now after the bold young lady has gone off and he finds himself surrounded by three other ladies of the court who dance around him, the Prince is in a predicament. Prince Herman is like “how¬†friendly these ladies are” and sort of sorties a bit with them in a good-mannered way, but they flit away behind him and he is bereft. Prince Cory obligingly observes them. Prince Daniil, however, has already been struck by the fact that the lady he was dancing with¬†actually has found¬†comfort with another gentleman, and in fact, as he turns around (thus drawing our gaze to the other couples) – everyone else is in couples. Everyone in court is courting and he is all by myself, I don’t wanna be all by myself.

This is where the acting gets interesting, because it segues into a dance.

Prince Herman dances a lonely clean-lined solo. His lines say: Just me and myself and nobody else, I am solitary, I am solitude. The light falls on his melancholy figure while the others pair up and ermahgawd, there’s even a dude in front who has two ladies on his arm, how is that even allowed?? life is unfair. This is a very mature and grave, rather than boyish, sorrow – tick-tock, goes the clock, and I am still alone. The Prince has to do this arabesque that swings up into a leg in front of him, which Prince Herman does steadily. That is how his dancing is — he takes you through the moves and they unfold like an accordion.

Prince Cory Stearns, who is actually very much the Apollo dancer you read about in books, the stoic chap with good princely looks shining out of his face, chooses to infuse his dancing with his acting, and his solo here is almost a waltz of a man who is without a partner – look at his port de bras and how he holds his arms, as if they are empty (they are) of a lady whom he wishes to hold. This is very much the romantic kind of view, which I think ties up with his Princess Hee Seo, who is very much the romantic tragic figure. His dancing is essentially there I am, on the mark and nails the mark.

Prince Daniil’s version, I suspect, is meant to be the turmoil – love, what is love, it exists and I don’t know it. At the end of his dance, he glances around with the realisation that he is supposed to marry, but everyone else gets to fall in love and he hasn’t even had a taste of that. He dances with the flair and spirit, and interestingly, saves the best for Act 3.

Sad Prince¬†goes up the stairs and he faces us. The couples face him, i.e. their backs are to us as the cold grey-blue light of a lonely twilight falls upon them, and this is some clever direction because you always expect to see people’s faces, but now that you see their backs only, you get a sense of the isolation he feels. They are sort of swaying – do the girls sit on the guys’ shoulders and hold their arms up above their heads? I forget. But then they stand with the mens’ arms about their shoulders and waists, all warm and fuzzy in their embrace.

You know what, this is probably all on youtube. I could be watching Ugly Delicious on Netflix instead. On that note, please watch Everything Sucks! — it is a wise, heartfelt piece of writing. I even like it a bit better than Rita, which actually sags occasionally.

I think Sad Prince goes off. His Tutor watches him sadly, understanding that inner turmoil, and when the couples go back to normal and the lighting is normal (if a little muted) again, Tutor tells Benno to go find the Prince and cheer him up. Benno on Thurs night is dismayed and concerned; Benno on Fri night is surprised and obligingly goes off; Benno on Sat night was enjoying himself in the company of a girl, but he is really very sad for the Prince, and he rushes off immediately.

Then the couples suddenly go straight into the Dance of the Goblets, or Polonaise. The switch in mood is a little sharp and abrupt. ABT’s version is the opposite of what Mr Janek Schergen had said for SDT’s version, which was that the Waltz was cheery and light-hearted, and the Dance of the Goblets was more serious and formal, to mark the change in the Prince’s future and the expectations heaped upon him.¬†In ABT’s version, the Waltz was very much a courtly dance to welcome the¬†Prince, and the Goblet Dance had no goblets (except for one¬†part, hmm was that what it was for?) — it is a peasant dance of cheery youths, as the skies grow pink and purple, and the curtain is to fall on the¬†Prince’s innocence and youth – a last hurrah, if you must.¬†Youths running about cheerily onstage, arms about one another as they kick¬†out, lining up to¬†lift girls by the waist (the girls tucking their legs up or under),¬†and pass the girls along¬†until one is set down, hard, on her bottom in the dust, and she scolds the chap who dropped her. Visually, it’s important that the rest of the row of dancers reacts so that the audience realizes what has happened.

She either smacks him on the arm or ignores him, but he says Come, let’s have a drink instead, then; and they do, in a corner at the back by a barrel, their toast in a Goblet Dance, while the other pairs swish about with incredibly fast feet, from side to side. I like this dance for how the guys lift the girls up in the air, the girls also leaping high up, and arm around the guys’ shoulders for support and their legs tucked under – the very vision of a youthful, girlish leap in the air for joy.

After the dance, the youths go home – it’s dusk. Someone walks back on the railing, balancing carefully. Two other young men jete on their way back. Carefree, merry youth – silhouettes in the sunset as the trees close in from either side, probably on netted curtains.

Okay! I am done with Act 1.

Well, at least we know that Benno goes to find the Prince, and the Prince has been dancing quite sadly and beautifully, and Benno proposes he go hunting. Prince says No, Benno persuades him, Prince then says he’ll go alone, thanks, and Benno gets that it’s a royal wish, and he backs off.

 

Act 2

Monster is in the background and Prince senses something is amiss and turns around but Monster is hiding.

Prince sees swan overhead. Prince is excited. Prince Cory is rather good at getting you to believe that he has seen a swan. She lands, turns into a swan, offstage – Prince is shocked and scared, and runs off.

Swan lands. Applause when Misty appears. I actually had tears standing in my eyes for much of the Misty night, because there was a real air of malice and fear and hope and trepidation. You hoped so much, in a way, for goodness to prevail.

I’m going to go full blast into comparisons now. You know why? Because you know what happens in the other Acts, more or less. You know about the birthday party! I’m not going to rehash it… it’s all the same structure as in Singapore Dance Theatre’s version, more or less ūüôā

Thurs night – Misty Copeland: The brave, independent-minded Princess

Misty Copeland’s White Swan has been traumatized and that is what makes her flee from the Prince. She’s not recovered from the trauma of the capture. But dancing with him eventually makes her fall for him. She sees he cares, and she finds herself caring for him too. So at the point when she rejects him for the hundredth time and he is feeling a little sad about it, she turns around and practically bumps into his shoulder as she heads for him and leans against him and lets him embrace her. What you see is a swan princess who has made her choice, exercised that free will and agency that has been taken from her, and seizes her destiny with her hands.

This is the Swan Princess who protects her flock from his crossbow – don’t touch my swan (sworn) sisters, and please save us. She is strong, she is a Princess, and she does not make her decisions lightly. Her Prince is the standard classical Prince who senses immediately that she’s the one for him, and stands by her.

The move mentioned above – making the choice to follow her heart and the Prince — gives us a chance to better understand her White Swan solo as that of a girl who had once lived and breathed, and had her hopes crushed from years of captivity, and now she hopes again. That urgency, that¬†fierce joy and hope.¬†¬†It¬†brings tears to the eyes, over and over again – she is a woman who takes the plunge for love, and pays the price. When she turns into a swan again, she is a swan under the spell of the Monster, forced to bourre away rapidly.

Misty Copeland’s dancing¬†is about precise execution and making it all look as easy and effortless as breathing so that you can see the story she is telling.

Her Black Swan is delightful and is here to have fun, and she knows we know it. She smiles at us even before she runs offstage, pursued by the besotted Prince. That smile is a wink to the audience, a wave to us: I know you know. She flirts with the Prince, she flirts with us. Her solo is a way of capturing the watching noble court’s hearts¬†and ours¬†too, and she’s ever aware that she’s showing them: I am wonderful and you, too, shall love me. And they do, and we do.

It’s that spritz of energy and spirit, that joyous delight in being the Black Swan, that makes it fascinating when she laughs mockingly at the Prince, darting behind her father, disappearing as everyone sweeps about in dismay, Queen in glorious green included. I would venture to say that her version of Odile and Odette are pretty consistent and seamless. There’s no break in her role. This calls for unafraid dancing and a clear vision in her mind.

When the Prince Herman comes to find her in Act 4, you feel your heart break because she is high up and all alone, while he has been at the party unwittingly betraying her.

She is at first unable to accept what has happened, but because she also has a tender heart and theirs is a relationship of support and understanding rather than the mere first bloom of love and its recklessness, she eventually forgives him.

What I gather is that¬†if the Princess dies, Rothbart too shall die and the spell shall be broken. Or their true love will kill him. I don’t know which, but Rothbart doesn’t want either, no. She tries to run for the hills but Rothbart catches her, then the Prince rescues her, then Monster Rothbart attempts to kill the Prince with the Force and in that time, the Princess rushes up to the top and then pauses and then she leaps. This is her choice. She makes an active, calculated, firm decision and exercises her free will to do all that is in her power to put an end to it all. She is a brave Princess.

Her Prince follows, for he too respects and understands her choice, and knows his heart can only be happy when he is with her, that much is clear. Her leaping to her death has broken his heart and he must join her.

This is pretty standard for the Princes’ interpretation. To varying degrees, you can see that her death has left him with the understanding that he will follow her, for she is where his heart is. (For information: Prince Daniil collapses very visibly at this, as if the very heart of him has been shattered.)

I think the Prince here is the sort who lets his lady shine. He does his job gallantly, and lets her fly. His story with respect to the Black Swan is that this lady looks like the one he likes, and he can kind of see his lady love from the lake, in her current form.

 

Friday night – Hee Seo: The graceful, pretty, delicate Princess

It takes much technique, a friend highlighted, to carry the White Swan through the Act as Hee Seo does hers – as a fragile, delicate and intensely graceful White Swan. No matter how taxing the dancing is, she pours all her energy into that grace. The suffering, shy, terrified princess who flees from the strange man with the cross bow. The prince was quite playful in trying to catch her, but he also sobers once she tells him, with her tremulous arms, about how the lake was created from her mother’s torrents of tears when she vanished.

In the Coda of Swan Lake Act 2, when Hee Seo makes her delicate way down the diagonal and the swans dance at the sides (this is before the series of rapid interchanging passes – foot raised to the knee), I felt so sad because she was so beautiful and fragile, and she was a Princess once, and just a young Princess who wanted to live her life. There’s a sharp sense of loss – the Princess she could have been, and the life she is doomed to lead.

Hee Seo stands out for the part where she transforms into a swan again at the end of Act 2. You can see her body¬†change into a swan’s, that of a fluttering bird’s, and when she¬†bourres away, it is not with the mechanical movements of someone under a spell, but with the¬†shivering wings and tail feathers of a bird that is compelled to fly away. She is a tender, delicate swan. Unlike Misty’s and Isabella’s White Swans, who return to their Princes just as their Princes have turned away dejectedly,¬†it almost seems like her Prince turns to reach for her first.

The whole intent of this White Swan is, I think, to provide a sharp contrast to the Black Swan in Act 3 and then the White Swan again in Act 4. In Act 3, Hee Seo made quite a surprisingly stunningly wicked entry–with a great laughing smile. She was all daggers and sharp edges. You can see Prince Cory Stearns pondering briefly if this is really the White Swan, but then – interestingly – Hee Seo makes the most of her tiny little steps at this point, which are meant to mimic and bring to mind the White Swan, such that the body language of the legs and torso are White Swan. Delicate little flickering steps.

This Black Swan cunningly plays hard-to-get, and when she rebuffs her Prince, she does so very sharply, one arm slicing through the air. She’s arch – leaning into his arms and swallowing his embracing arms, throwing her head¬†and back all the way back. How she advances upon him, proud of her catch and her abilities. Somehow, all this manages to lure the Prince. Why so fickle, Prince? I thought your ‘type’ was the pure, innocent, Śď≠Śď≠ŚēľŚēľ (ku ki ti ti – I suppose this can be translated appropriately into ‘sobbity sobbity’ or ‘tear-drenched’ and is used to describe tear-jerker, handkerchief-wringer TV dramas) type. You know, ś≥™śĶĀśĽ°ťĚĘ (lei liu man mian – tears pouring down her cheeks) sort.

At the end of the pas de deux (together) section, the Black Swan should lean back in the Prince’s arms and drape her arm over his in a show of complete possession. That shape is so arch, the two of them together – it’s so wicked by itself. Yet Hee Seo chooses instead to remain upright and smile straight at us, glowing and basking in her evil glory. Why? I can’t understand. Is it an issue of timing, or a deliberate choice to put a dramatic spin on this ending?

What’s very interesting is that this amount of evil and a little of the moment where she slips forward and he just about catches her hand – they reminded me a little of Rosa Park’s wicked Black Swan.

Her Black Swan solo is, I think, meant to show more of the vitality of the Black Swan, but the stars are aligned when the Prince reappears because her whole show is for the Prince, and his presence gives her Odile/ Black Swan purpose and meaning.

This Black Swan is totally wicked and super enjoys it when the Prince has been fooled. Right at the end, she throws an arm up when he leans down and, at last, bursts into a sunny smile as he rests his cheek upon her hand. At last, I say, because it’s hard to say if he’s really been fooled throughout, but at the end he actually does look quite happy. Maybe his version of the story is that he’s not so silly and fickle.

Thusly, when we see the White Swan again, she has this air of absolute nobility and purity to her, standing all alone on the crest of the mountain which will be the platform for her doomed end, etc. You actually feel great stirrings of fondness suddenly because she’s quite a poor thing and also because you’ve been really annoyed by evil Black Swan. I think it’s really a deliberate choice to play up the very stark black-and-white versions.

This means that while she is heartbroken, at last she tremulously accepts her handsome prince’s apologies and sorrowful declarations of love. When the Monster Rothbart carries her away, you can see how fragile and delicate she is, and then she decides that it’s time to end this. She rushes up the mountainside overlooking the lake and she pauses dramatically, and she leaps. It’s in this moment that you feel a sense of admiration for her.¬†In Act 4, she is all purity and forgiveness, and she sacrifices herself with sudden newfound courage.

Callous as it may sound, I must say that Princess Hee Seo and Prince Cory Stearns made magnificently elegantly graceful leaps. Prince Cory did the leap you will see in textbooks on what sort of leap you should make – it was a photo-worthy moment.

Now we must comment on Monster Rothbart as played by Thomas Forster. It’s not easy to emote for Rothbart, but he managed it. It was not the breaking of any enchantment that did him in. It was pure heartbreak. He was evidently jealous of the Prince in Act 4, and the death of the Princess broke his heart, and near killed him. He was in absolute agony, seeing the girl of his dreams die, and then when the Prince followed, that just ripped him apart from inside. I actually felt really sorry for Rothbart.

Together, the Prince and Princess are really a good-looking pair, and you can see how grateful she is to him at the very end, and how happy he is.

 

Sat night – Isabella Boylston: The regal princess

“I began to understand what you said about Rosa Park’s version,” a friend told me, after Act 2. You remember Rosa Park’s complex version of a little icicle of a Princess who does not trust, in order to protect her vulnerable heart, and whose heart is moved by the¬†tender, overwhelming warmth of the¬†smitten Prince.

This Princess is regal. She was once girlish and happy and carefree, and now she has become a regal swan. Oh, when she appears, in between the stretching of her arms, she gives a little shake of her head as if she is still a bird, learning to be human again after 12 hours of being a swan. In case you think you saw wrongly, she does it again later. And it is so bird-like, as if she is shaking water off her crown, that you are blown away by this tiny little touch of genius.

She’s the sort who’s embarrassed that he’s seen her transform into a person. (If her transformation is anything like when Sailor Moon characters change back into their normal clothes, then I can see why…)

The Prince must be spoken of with her, because that really explains stuff. They are clearly a partnership in this, a shared story.¬†Interestingly, this Prince Daniil keeps his distance from her at the very start, to great dramatic effect – it shows his disbelief, his amazement, his wonderment. He grasps her hands, but she gives him the slip. They are more than dancing – they are telling a story and filling the stage with their energy. They are gilding the pages of those old-time storybooks rather than merely colouring within the lines. Basically, throughout the pas de deux, Prince Daniil handles the White Swan with care and tenderness. He shows her: I’ll be there for youuuu, Rembrandts-style. He shows her that he is really serious about being with her. Catching her about the waist, lifting her.

You know, I’d never known much about Daniil Simkins’ partnerwork, only about his flash and flair, because I hear things but I don’t really watch a lot and I’ve not read the magazines for a while. I had worried about the hype. But all I saw was a really generous partner who was not afraid to squat a little, if he had to, just to make sure his partner could do her (8??) pirouettes and look splendiferous. Anything to make her shine.

Through the dance, she shows how she has started falling for him: at the start, she rejects him; then at one part, she allows him to stroke her face but she pulls away quickly right at the end. When he turns away, dejected, she regrets what she has done, and she turns to him, and wheels her arms towards him as if to push away his arm and fall into his embrace (very slightly similar to SDT’s version), but happily, his mind meets hers and he is ready to lift his arm and embrace her.

Eventually,¬†she rests in his arms and¬†she caresses his hand as he embraces her. The second time he wraps his arm about her, they match each other for the degree of longing and trembling love. There’s a degree of sensuousness that you don’t expect because everyone says that Black Swan is the seductive one and White Swan is the pure, innocent one. Well, this White Swan says Man, I feel like a woman, and there’s kind of a Stuttgart feel, if I may say so. I mean, have you seen their Romeo and Juliet, and their Onegin? Those are not afraid to be open about their romances.

Isabella Boylston’s White Swan solo is beautiful and when it comes to the passes to the knees and the little bounces with that, you see that she’s fighting to live her life. The other swans genuflect and you can see she is their Princess. She has stopped him from shooting her people, and in this scene, they also acknowledge that she is someone they love and admire, as she dances with so much life.

Prince Daniil actually gives the prince emotions, too. His Prince smiles at the end of the pas de deux, in parts, as he lifts her. Who does that when they must be tired as anything? You know how at the end of Act 4, there are two diagonal rows and he lifts her kind of a little high but then carries her in one arm as she unfurls her legs and drags them on the ground? Well, Act 2 involves him dead-lifting her high up and walking. That’s got to be fun, not. But he’s smiling because he is in love and she loveth him too.

Now for the transformation back to the swan. She does that with a series of flurried neat pirouettes that bring to mind Jessica Drew turning into Wonder Woman, and you can see her changing into a swan in that way, and then she has a very straight back and super-straight arms – not human, says her body language – she is the very arched-neck stiff swan who flies away with huge swan wings. A very different swan from the previous 2.

…the Prince does so much trying to find the Swan that it feels like he’s in Central Park: “Which lake? This lake? Or that lake?”

 

How now, Black Swan? I wondered how wicked she would be. And you know what? She is not actually about wickedness. No, this is a logical game. Your Prince knows you, and how can you lure him by being so straight-out wicked? Rather, you must be lustrous and have a winning smile. Such a sparkling personality. This is a little like Misty’s version, and the Singapore Dance Theatre’s interpretation, in that it relies on the belief that the Black Swan retains just enough traits resembling the White Swan’s, that the Prince’s heart may falter.

The Prince is overcome with supreme joy and darts forward when he sees her.

In this case,¬†Isabella Boylton plays the daughter to her father, rejoicing when his plan succeeds – see how she grabs his hands in both her hands in celebratory glee! She’s a strong confident dancer, and a joy to watch in how she simply eats up all the moves. This Black Swan is a glorious beauty and she sets out to seduce the court in her solo. Misty’s Black Swan has us and the court eating out of her hand because she’s not here to threaten us, just to make us marvel at her. This Black Swan, she will be Queen – and she’s here to show us her sparkling personality.

The Prince is marvellous in his solo here, giving us his famed high leaps and concentrating on his countless spins. In the pas de deux, when they are back to back and she spins round, and he too spins, arms outstretched, you can see his great longing and love in his face (uplifted to the heavens) and in how he holds his arms. Without his love, her hard work is for nothing. All this acting lends a dimension to the scene.

Princess Isabella Boylston gives an endless loop of fouettes (if I must say, about 34) and at least one set of triples or quadruples, to great cheers. This Black Swan is slick and confident, and young, and she knows that the Prince loves her now, more than ever. This gives the Prince Daniil the soaring mood he needs to launch into incredible dizzying turns that look almost acrobatic.

The final part is the icing on the cake, and the cherry on the icing.

They are sizzling, the dance is absolutely on fire, and now at the very triumphant finish she must skate towards him, holding an arm up before her, rotating it to face herself like the normal port de bras, then to rotating it out to face him, like a veiled threat, and back to herself, and then to him. But what does the Princess do? She holds her arm up in a fabulous port de bras Рthen she flies at him, her arms opening Рthe one that is held up stretches a little more outwards than is usual, and the arm that is behind opens up a little as well, so she is flying on great dangerous wings. And she repeats this, for she is going straight home to his heart, and he is waiting for her with open delight, and we are all filled with glee for this is a magical, magical moment that you will never see again. They are feeding off the energy Рshe is feeding off the energy, and off his lifeblood.

They dance right up to almost the very last note, and then he falls to the ground and rests his cheek tenderly on her hand¬†– not trulymadlydeeply as you would have imagined, but in joyous love –¬† and oh, instead of doing the rest on my hands and I snatch one away, she in fact leans forward in a loving, caressing embrace as if she¬†is the loving White Swan ¬†– yes, she bows forward to caress his cheek with her forearm! — then she leans back and throws her head and shoulder back in triumph.

The emphasis is not entirely on the pullback, but on that almost anti-climactic embrace that is another touch of genius. You’re like What is that?! and then you see what it means to the Prince. Little wonder then, that when the delighted Prince throws himself at his mother’s feet and declares this is the one, the one he loves, please please let me marry her, that the Queen sees her beloved son deep in love, and which mother would not want that? And of course she says Yes, yes, get up, my love, you must marry her.

In case you didn’t know, when the Sorcerer reveals the White Swan and rushes up the steps to exit through the front door, he disappears with a loud pop and flings down flames that burn briefly – three sharp dots of light. Such a clever idea. Prince Daniil is blinded, falls to the ground. This is very good acting on his part, this horror and writhing and rushing forward.

The two of them, the Prince and Princess, act very well with their body language.

Act 4. We see the Prince struggling against a storm and buffeted by winds and pairs of leaping swans. When he sees the Princess again, up on the crest of the mountain, she is grand, and sorrowfully regal. She tries to flee from him. You can see that she is a little bitter, perhaps disappointed, perhaps she should have known better than to trust, et cetera, but they grow close again, because it’s clear he is remorseful and really loves her and does not love the other.

Her choice to throw herself off the cliff is really just following through with the whole breaking of spell thing. What stood out was the broken-hearted Prince – and then he dashed up to the crest to throw himself off – and there was a moment of good-humoured amusement from the audience, for he was (in the words of a male audience member I overheard) “horizontal”, and sort of belly-flopping, and the audience feared for his tummy and that he might smash his nose on the mattress.

They are reunited at the end, of course, in the sun.

 

Swans

That brings us to the Swans, for at the end, they transform into women when the sun rises, and there were tears in my eyes for the Misty night because they were so, so grateful, and free at last, thanks to their Strong Princess, who paid the price for their freedom. On the Hee Seo night, I was also a bit teary because oh, the sun, oh the mist, oh the freedom and the beauty of these swans who were now lovely ladies once more, and free!

Swans. I must paste here this part that is now in my mind as Gorgeous Important Swan Lake Music. That choreography makes it stick in the mind, that walking waltz step. This is from Act II Coda, with the brilliant heartbreaking Gillian Murphy.

Four of the Swans had to put their arms up and pose with their arms up for a while during the White Swan pas de deux. Four had to sit down. Then they had to get up and start hopping and stretching their arms out. That’s painful!

I like the choreography. Things like them in rows and the front row, hands folded, bowing while the back row raised its arms like wings, then alternating so that they looked as if they were flying. Or when they were in eight columns (four sets of 2) and they did little jumps to the side to lend in fifth and then pose, then another leap to the side, and pose, as they moved towards the centre, then to the side. A friend said it seemed like aerobics, but to me, there was an air of pathos to it.

I also liked how, in Act 4, they proceeded out before the Prince found his Princess. You’d see swans sitting on the ground while one swan proceeded out with folded hands, and a step, then en pointe, then a step, then en pointe, while her other foot stayed out behind her, lightly raised. Then another swan would follow suit. Then you’d have two swans. It followed the music. Then you’d have swans jeteing out, arms raised, eyes upwards, as if they were flying. Then the swans on the ground would get up and, with their hands sticking back a little, and eyes downcast, and walking en pointe, feet not turned out at all, picking up their feet very clearly, in a slightly scarily regimented way that really set the mood for Act 4.

The Big Swans were especially good on Saturday night, very graceful and athletic. The Cygnets were pretty united on Friday night especially. It’s quite difficult to essentially run a 400 m race, which is what the Cygnet dance seems to be.

 

Sorcerer

The life of the party, the charismatic man who lures women. Here’s an awesome video of the dance. You can see how the princesses from other nations dance, too. Love the choreography for this. Calvin Royal III was a slender, sinister Sorcerer, while James Whiteside was an exceptionally exciting Sorcerer to watch: charismatic, enticing, seductive with a fabulous smile that charmed the audience. Turns out he also played the Prince, on Sunday (matinee).

You know, at the start of the party, the four delegations meet in the centre and bow. Also, each time a delegation is about to dance, the Master of Ceremonies leads one lady-in-waiting with a furry fan out. When they finish, the lady goes out again, to show that the show is over.

What puzzled me was that the Princes sometimes engaged the ladies-in-waiting / princesses in conversation. I was used to the Prince-whose-mind-has-wandered-and-is-still-mentally-at-the-lake.

The dance with the Princesses was quite gorgeous as well. I think Prince Daniil held up his end of the distracted Prince pretty well. He danced with the ladies out of gentlemanliness, and looked around for the next lady to dance with because it was required.

Delegations

The Hungarians were in red and in boots, and for the Czardas, Fang Zhong-Jing stood out with her little tilts of her head, on Thurs and Sat nights Рshe and Alexei Agoudine, her lead male Czarda, seemed really quite amused and happy on Sat night. The lead male Czarda (heavily-bearded) for Fri night was very good as well, moving well to the beat Рhe was Roman Zhurbin, aka Monster Rothbart on Thus and Sat nights!

What is fascinating is that the very same Fang Zhong-Jing who was so bold and spirited as a Hungarian Czarda was — I’m sure of it — the delicate fragile Hungarian Princess on Fri night, who was so pliable and had a gentle pleading expression. (I thought she was in purple, i.e. Polish,¬†though . . . unless there was a shifting in cast.)

The Princesses on Fri night were exceptional. And their amazing dresses actually rustled.

Before we forget, Spanish were in gold, with luxurious gold beaded netting in their hair. Two pairs, sliding across the floor. I liked Courtney Lavine as Spanish on Friday night, but on Sat night, she was replaced both as Spanish and as Big Swan – hope she is well.

Italian were two men in white shining tights with a blue ribbon pattern, who did multiple twirls and sleek jumps. Thursday’s pair were superbly slender and tall, and did incredible innumerable spins and looked almost rubbery whipping round so fast; Friday’s pair were shorter and in sync; Sat’s pair looked like twins and were full of good humour and energy.

Polish were in delightful shades of purple approaching pastel, and they danced in a row, 4 facing front and 4 facing back, arms around waists (or stomachs, if facing in opposite directions) and this required much coordination and fast kicking feet.

 

 

In all, it was a visual feast and totally worth watching. The music was utilized beautifully. When I watched it closer-up (Misty’s show was a bit further because it was opening night, and hard to get better tickets) – when the curtains drew back to display the gorgeous dresses and the first scene, I felt myself fall in love with the ballet.

 

A side note. I know there is a counting of fouettes and the papers are quite unfriendly if we don’t reach the actual numbers. Also, I remember Mr Janek Schergen saying principal dancers are not those who are the best at everything, but those who can bear the weight of carrying the production, and who are best able to hide their errors. As with any review, I have glazed over the odd moments, which I put down to jet lag also, and little skips. In all, amazing in any case, and you could tell everyone was brilliant.

Anyway, I will also say that everyone pitched in as hard as they could and¬†the show is glorious¬†when the music is used to perfect effect, when the audience’s spirits are lifted, when they are completely engaged and invested in the performance. That’s what we are here for.

And the curtain calls.

First, Misty’s night. Not a very good photograph…

curtain call misty

 

Hee Seo’s night

Swans

curtain call hs swans

Hee Seo’s night: Swans and Monsieur Monster Rothbart:

curtain call hee seo swans monster

Mr Rothbart as a man, to the left – James Whiteside, also the Prince for Sunday’s matinee.

curtain call hs rothbart man

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns

curtain call heecory1curtain call heecory2curtain call heecory3curtain call heecory4

 

Isabella Boylston’s night

curtain swans 2

curtain swans n rothbart 1.jpg

Mr Rothbart in a suit

curtain rothbart bow

Sorcerer

curtain rothbart man bowcurtain rothbart man

A ton of pics of the leading couple.

curtain isadan1curtain isadan2curtain isadan3curtain isadan4curtain isadan5curtain isadan6curtain isadan7curtain isadan8curtain isadan9curtain isadan10curtain isadan11

A¬†ton of thanks to whoever had a better phone and used it wisely for Hee Seo’s night.

Here’s a video of the bouquet moment, for the Isabella Boylston night. Just because it’s amusing and touching, and includes the conductor.

 

One thought that occurred to me, because I’d heard about the ages of the cast, was that they have a lot of people, which might help when someone is injured. I’d reflected on this quite a bit in the past. Some of the past principal dancers in SDT were the sole principal for a period of time, or did a lot of the heavy lifting and footwork for a long time, and if they were injured, they probably didn’t get to sit it out a lot; and there are sports scientists and doctors in other countries. Here there are helpful clinics and masseuses and the like, of course, but I also don’t think there’s the cash to support all that to the degree that there is in the larger companies.

Anyway, especially with the smaller population of dancers, this¬†means that even with fewer shows, the rotation¬†cycle is smaller, so dancers have to do the same show on alternate times, sometimes overnight e.g. Friday night, Saturday matinee. I know the Swans do that too, if you look at the cast list here. But what I mean is that sometimes that doesn’t help the lifespan or life cycle — it’s difficult. It does make one a little sad, too.

This came to mind partly also because I was reading an old article about one of the past dancers’ injuries (a weak right knee) and I also recalled another dancer saying she had essentially danced so much that one of her bones had been ground away. (Though that’s as may be so for all dancers.)

But we also don’t have the funding, I do know also.

Eeks, this is a strange note on which to end this. Eeeks.

An edit

Edited one of the earlier Farewell posts that said there were no new professionals joining. Of course there were! All the new ones are. I meant more senior professionals, folk joining at Artist level. But having new folk ay all is heartening and excellent, dudes. And they shall grow and et cetera.

Edited the post, anyway ūüôā

Promotions

Rising through the ranks. Hurray and congratulations to the following folk.

Apprentices

Valerie Yeo, who joined as a Trainee,  is now an Apprentice. Hurray!

I must say that the Apprentices (at Dec 2017) were pretty phenomenal, you know. It was always quite a blast, watching them. Some of them had danced with SDT even before joining SDT, and I really look forward to watching their future performances.

It seems that now the first rank for entry is Trainee, even after one has trained abroad. I’m not quite sure why there’s an additional rank, unless it’s for salary structuring purposes…

 

Artists

Hurray for Jessica Garside, Watanabe Tamana, Ivan Koh, Jeremie Gan and Agetsuma Satoru! It’s a pleasure watching them perform.

 

First Artist

Huo Liang. Has there been anyone who has proven himself so worthy of rising to First Artist over the last year? – working tirelessly, pushing himself, accomplishing everything he’s been given and more. I think what’s especially meaningful about this is that we watched him from Nutcracker 2013, through pair work in the like of BUTS 2014’s Shostakovich and¬†4Seasons, etc to Sleeping Beauty where he left his mark as one of the three Russians (I know they’re not called that, but those fur hats…) – and then all the way on and on, in Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, holding his own with the others.

On to Balanchine’s Four Temperaments as the man who is greatly plagued,¬†i.e. that¬†vastly back-breaking work which he completely and utterly pwned (owned..). It’s no small feat, opening that segment, and he very clearly made sure he was in control, instead of letting the part overwhelm him. A man of what seems to be intriguingly pragmatic thought and good humour, who has steadily worked onwards. At around the time Jason Carter was evidently (this sounds terrible, but the audience does gossip, even if it’s not publicly on this site) going to make the cut for First Artist for his zippy lines and form, Huo Liang was also very clearly working it out too – and he has come into his own. As mentioned once, earlier, his voice could be heard through his dancing – you could sense that urgency with which he was communicating – you could get the message from his dancing.

Sometimes I feel that’s what the First Artists have – they have that voice or shape of dancing that is heard and seen loud and clear, and they leave their mark on the role¬†– okay, in part because they get the soloist roles¬† – but let’s say you watch a neo-classical or contemporary ballet – you’ll sense certain things sometimes.

What I mean to say is – this is well-deserved, and in no small part due to the endless hard work that you can tell has been put in.

 

Principal Artist

Etienne Ferrère. I am no end of pleased. Without meaning to sound like the PPAP song Рyou have a dance, you have a dancer Рyou will want to put him in the dance.

A principal artist carries the weight of the show on his or her shoulders, and time and again, Etienne has shown himself¬†to be more than capable of this – not only in his¬†jaw-dropping supersonic-speed and arrow-sharp technique, nor merely¬†in his superb artistry, but also, crucially, in his absolute dependability as a partner.¬†A male partner must know his part and hers, commit it all to memory, and Etienne does all this while at the same time providing a steady, reassuring presence. If there are nerves, he keeps them to himself, which is no easy feat – and time and again, he’s displayed a mastery of the stage and¬†a fabulous ability to communicate with the audience.

A short summary: It’s always immensely enjoyable to watch Etienne dance. You really have to watch him.

 

Now you’ve some time on your hands. You ask yourself: should you watch Lady Bird or Black Panther?

The answer is – Black Panther. Wakanda forever.

Right on, we’re done. Toodles, folks.

 

New folk (2018)

Really livin’ up to the name of this site!

New apprentices – Jasper Arran and Mizuno Reo

New trainees – Felicia Er and Ma Xiaoyu (whom we’ve both seen dancing with Singapore Dance Theatre since Coppelia last March, so this has been a long time coming!) and Reiko Tan and Yamauchi Sayaka.

Will be great to see them perform in the upcoming ballets / dances! ūüôā