The picture above is a snapshot of the cover of the brochure, showing Chen Peng and Rosa Park.
Photograph taken from the storyboards at SDT, showing Act III – stage design.
Right before the Friday night performance, principal artist Chen Peng was injured. It’s a terrible, terrible thing for any dancer and any partner and any company to have to go through, and we really so hope that he recovers fully and quickly.
Principal artist Nakamura Kenya stepped in as Prince Florimund and danced the role through all six consecutive performances, including two performances a day, which is seriously no mean feat; and, of course, he rose to the occasion splendidly.
I’ve written before about watching the principal artists Chen Peng and Rosa Park dance together – the chemistry of a partnership that obviously carries so much experience and trust in it. I’ll say no more. Our fingers and toes are crossed. This was the first time in a while that Chen Peng and Rosa Park were part of what is known as Cast B. Cast A (Uchida Chihiro, Nakamura Kenya, etc) performed the opening and closing shows. Cast B carried Saturday night.
The recollections below will be long. Because I want to give due credit and discussion to each character. Unlike Don Q where there aren’t numerous long character dances except for the leads, there are a lot of dances here. A LOT.
Straightaway, when you walk in, you see a rich red tapestry hung over the stage, with a mirror in the middle – a clever use of curtains, for the mirror acts as the screen onto which the introduction is projected. What a treat, to see good dancers! That’s the first thought when the music starts up, and we’re told about the birth of Aurora, and the fairies who were (and were not) invited.
Entrez the nanny with the baby (apparently quite an ugly doll), the nobles of the court – ladies in their cloaks and men in their grand coats, who help the ladies with their cloaks and disappear offstage at brief intervals to put the cloaks aside. How beautiful the baby is (says everyone, through pantomime, despite above comment).
I love how, when the King (Chen Wei – formerly the Lilac Fairy Cavalier and Puss-In-Boots, and Don Quixote) and Queen (Wang Yan – formerly from the the Shanghai Ballet Company) enter and acknowledge the nobles, the nobles genuflect as the music soars. There’s something so very grand about it.
I love the fairies’ dances.
First is the Fairy of Grace, danced by Maughan Jemesen – brushing her hand lightly on her arm as if to say what beautiful skin, what graceful arms she shall have – very fast, precise movements as she kicks her legs out, or extends her arms quickly. Maughan Jemesen has a wonderfully reliable, secure dance style. Each move is a bright clear line, with beautiful extension and muscle definition lending it strength and grace.
Next comes the Fairy of Beauty, formerly danced by Li Jie (a new Lilac!), and now danced by Chua Bi Ru. I LOVE the blue costume and the moves – Bi Ru flicking hands upwards to the back of the stage prettily, as if she’s dusting the air with fairy dust, while making little pretty steps forward, and her giant strong turning spins across the diagonal of the stage, which we’d seen Bi Ru do in even more rapid succession and even more times, in Opus 25. Bi Ru brings such joy to each dance that you can’t help feeling happy along with her when she dances.
The Fairy of Abundance is May Yen Cheah, her arms sweeping high like swaying fields of wheat. Strong technique is required for making little kicks en (fragile) pointe without faltering – and May Yen Cheah’s smile never dims throughout. (She also played Diamond on Rosa Park-Aurora’s night, which performance I’ll talk about later below.) That’s her costume, below.
Alison Carroll is the Fairy of Song. It seems to be a role calling for someone who’s petite and very, very quick en pointe – something like Cupid in Don Q. Very tiny delicate movements of a fluttering bird’s wings behind one’s waist, and Pan’s flute being played; flitting swiftly on one’s toes backwards across the stage rapidly as birdsong.
Lastly, Tanaka Nanase reprises her role as the Fairy of Energy with a brilliant smile, fingers pointing outwards like the rays of the sun. It’s a perky dance, and she brings lots of grace and energy to it, which takes away what my friend called the “Saturday Night Fever” feel of the dance. If danced less carefully, it can look cartoonish. On Rosa-Aurora’s night, Tanaka Nanase plays Diamond, and on Chihiro-Aurora’s night, she is Princess Florine a.k.a. Lady Bluebird.
I think the Fairies’ dances are beautiful. All the dances – the ones with their Caveliers, the ones with Lilac Fairy and her Cavelier, the ones with the Lilac Fairy’s attendants. Pretty turning lifted hands, gorgeously patterned pieces with turning skirts like flower friezes. The dances are intricate and symmetrical designs. The Fairies are turned swiftly to sit on their Cavelier’s thighs in a row in front; Lilac Fairy and the Fairy of Beauty are lifted high by their Cavaliers so they are turned on their stomachs while their legs are crossed up high behind and the attendants and fairies are lined up in two columns; the Lilac attendants lie on their sides (a little like they are sunbathing …) on the front of the stage, hands poised delicately at their chins while the Fairies pose behind.
There’s humour in this performance, too. When the King hears that someone is outside desiring to be let in, he counts the guests on the list and then, bemused, tries to tally them with the number of fairies in his presence. When Carabosse storms in and accuses the King and Queen of forgetting her, the King promptly denies this and points at Catalabutte (his right-hand-man-in-waiting, played by Ballet Master Mohd Noor Sarman) instead (“I didn’t do it!”).
Carabosse (Emma Hanley Jones) is a sight to behold, a beauty raging beneath her stately exterior. Beautiful acting and graceful movements remind you that this is a story; that this is not an acting role, it is dance. In every move, she commands the stage, and you end up feeling her hurt and rage at the injustice of being forgotten.
Where Carabosse is, there’s her counterpart, Lilac Fairy.
Lilac Fairy! There are two interpretations and the Lilac Fairy dancers alternate as Lilac Fairy attendants, Aurora’s friends in blue tutus, and nymphs on the nights that they aren’t Lilac Fairy.
On Rosa-Aurora’s night, Elaine Heng was goodness personified as the Lilac Fairy. Gentle and warm, kind and good-hearted. Goodness and righteousness radiated from Elaine Heng as she entered, and when she fended off Carabosse’s curse with a shake of her head. She exuded a strong, gentle aura as she firmly rejected Carabosse’s words and pantomimed returning the baby to the King and Queen.
Contrast this with the day of Chihiro-Aurora’s performance: Li Jie was the Lilac Fairy, wise and generous. When lightning flashed overhead and thunder signalled Carabosse’s imminent arrival, she was distressed, but remained regal. This Lilac Fairy faced off with Carabosse, and sternly, and in a very dignified manner, told Carabosse that her spell was no more. In the next moment, she smiled reassuringly at the King and Queen. You pretty much felt Carabosse was finished.
I love the Lilac Fairy’s dance. The music is written for the dance, of course, and when you hear it, you can see, in your mind, arabesques and extended arms, and tight pirouettes. Elaine Heng’s Lilac Fairy has strong, clean moves and clear lines; Li Jie’s has pliable limbs and is fluid – languorous graceful raising of legs very high, to the side (the internet says “second arabesque”) and down, forward.
Favourite moments of the Prologue include the entire court chasing Carabosse away, everyone lined up and pointing the way to the door, the music soaring in triumph as Carabosse flees.
That’s just the Prologue, done and dusted.
Garland dance, the spirited Waltz, and my favourite piece of music of the ballet. I always imagined that it played again at the end, and was sad to find out it didn’t. Stunning colours, canary yellow silks, even for the men’s vests. Girls en pointe scurrying quickly in a circle. The men leap across the stage in cross formations that grow suddenly complex. New SDT dancer Shi Yue is “a happer jumper”, says a friend, noticing his joyous leaps.
Aurora’s friends, in sparkly powder-blue pancake tutus, probably have one of my favourite dances of the lot. I can’t recall it right now, except that it goes with the music so well and it is endlessly pretty and has fabulous formations. How can something so seemingly simple look so unbelievably pretty!
At last, at last, we come to Aurora. She doesn’t appear until this late in the show, after you’ve watched more than half the cast dance in maybe more than half of the roles in the performance (or at least, that’s how it feels). On the first night that Rosa performed (also when Chen Peng was injured), everyone’s performance was a little muted. Perhaps everyone was a little anxious and apprehensive. On a Rosa night, the atmosphere is usually exceptionally lively and everyone’s sharp as a new pin. So if you read a review about a more muted Rosa night, it might have been this night.
My memory says that Rosa Park, as Aurora, makes everything look like a breeze. Luminous Aurora, light as a feather, bounding in. The Rosa Adagio? Her eyes never leave each prince’s face, and her smile is as bright and fresh as it was at the start. When she pauses in each movement, she is glorious, she is the princess – a princess who is reluctant and horrified when her father proposes that she meet some princes, and seems dejected (“Oh, what a bummer…”) as each prince is introduced to her.
Chihiro-Aurora plays a young Aurora, bright, limber and full of life, leaping across the stage without a worry. The Rose Adagio is fiendish and I always wonder how the Princes know when it’s time to let go, but it’s pulled off at last.
I like random things in the dances with Princes, like how the Princes each bow as the Russian (?) prince (a stately Nazer Saldago) and Aurora pass each of them (Aurora spun round once per prince, her leg lifted to her ear, basically). Or how the Russian prince has to turn his head to one side to avoid being poked in the eye by Aurora’s tutu, when he sets her onto his shoulder.
The music changes when Aurora is pricked, and she throws the bouquet aside as if it contained a spider. She has never felt pain, and cannot fathom it. How her face pales; how she tries to be strong and wave away the poisoned prick with a wan smile, even when she almost faints. As the music speeds up terribly and we race towards tragedy, Chihiro-Aurora skitters in a frenzied circle, reaching out to her friends in a fever of a panic. Whereas Rosa-Aurora is brave Aurora, dancing on before the court to show that she is well, so that the party won’t be spoilt, yet dancing with a horrifying urgency that makes you sick with worry, and breaks the heart.
At last, Aurora collapses into the arms of the Russian prince, and her parents find she has died, and the hopes of the entire kingdom resting on their beloved princess die with her. This made me tear in a couple of performances, and on Saturday night (Rosa-Aurora), I found myself blubbing unashamedly – I was seated without friends, so I cried with abandon. Already teared at the start when Catalabutte sought forgiveness from the good Lilac Fairy.
I think it was the atmosphere. The music, coupled with Aurora dancing to her doom with the bouquet and dancing on despite the spindle-prick, made me really feel the emotions of the people of the kingdom and Aurora’s parents when brave, beloved Aurora died. And the finality when she was lifted up and carried away to her bedchamber; when the garland girls/noble ladies said farewell and thank you to the Lilac Fairy as they filed past to go to a hundred-year sleep; and as the last four couples slowly sank down to the ground to await the prince who was their hope.
Part II is shorter. The Prince is betrothed to the Marchioness. Interestingly, Prince Florimund (Nakamura Kenya) has fabulous chemistry with the Marchioness as Chihiro arrayed in scarlet (on Rosa-Aurora night). I enjoyed the peasant dance, its easy beats, its friendly looped arms and cheerful exuberance.
Then comes the vision brought to the Prince, by Lilac. Li Jie is an enigmatic, smiling Lilac Fairy and Elaine Heng is a sweet, well-intentioned Lilac Fairy. Chihiro plays Aurora as a vision of a sleeping, trapped princess, a frown puckering her brow; slick, gorgeous dancing. Rosa Park plays Aurora as a faintly-smiling vision, hitting every note from start to finish. The whole vision dance is a sea of fluttering, shimmering blue dresses. Flawless – no mistakes, but not regimented marching. There’s hopping with linked arms, on one foot, for something like three or four beats; so graceful you wouldn’t know they were hopping.
You can see how the dance helps build up yearning in the prince to meet the princess. The dryads surround the prince initially, so that he cannot dance with the princess. He tries to follow her as she darts in and out of a shifting sea of dryads. When he’s finally united with her, there’s a glorious long pas de deux that ends in him lifting her high above his head. Lifting Chihiro, with her flawless arched legs.
Nakamura Kenya as Prince Florimund – perfect technique, solid form, tireless and ceaseless. You wouldn’t know (until curtain call on Saturday night, for a second) that he’s had to pull off consecutive performances throughout. It’s watching all this that reminds you how professional everyone is.
Act III – The Wedding and the 101 Guests
Funnily enough, the music and choreography for the wedding pas de deux never really stuck in my head. My favourite part of this dance is the succession of spins and fish-dives, culminating in a no-hands fish dive. Simply put, Aurora whips round and the Prince catches her and tucks her into a fish-dive. Three times. I’d seen Rosa Park do this sequence with Chen Peng once, and it was so breathtakingly quick that I almost feared that they’d never make it. Yet they did, each time. It’s hard, and it looks amazing each time with everyone who does it.
Diamond, Silver and Gold have a super-long piece. May Yen Cheah sparkles (pun intended) as Diamond on Chihiro-Aurora’s night. She seems so obviously happy to be dancing this role that you celebrate alongside her. Silver (Yorozu Kensuke) and Gold (Etienne Ferrere) have to accomplish quite a few feats of leaps and turns. Tanaka Nanase is enchanting and never puts a foot wrong, and is ably supported by Silver (Jake Burden) and Gold (Nazer Salgado).
The Cossacks (Ivans) – Huo Liang, Steffan Morrow and Wu Dianyu – have an unexpectedly interesting dance. They enter with great confident soaring split-jumps, and take turns crouching on the ground while one of them pretends to leap over the others by way of making a jump behind the others. They pop out between acts, each of the three taking turns to take the centre spot in the trio; so they never really go away.
White Cat and Puss in Boots – Akira Nakahama as an adorable, very cat-like White Cat and Jason Carter as the slightly bumbling Puss – got the most giggles from the audience. The butt-wiggling in opposite directions, the constant grooming and playful tapping of each other’s heads, and Puss being left behind when White Cat had already exited – the kids (and adults) in the audience enjoyed it. Rare moment of character development for the guests!
Bluebird and Princess Florine. Bluebird has a great deal of spins and leaps in both directions, both of which moves require control and power. As expected, then, this role then fell to the Don Q Gypsy Kings, Zhao Jun (for Chihiro’s night) and Yorozu Kensuke (for Rosa’s night). Nanase (as a charming Princess Florine) and Zhao Jun turned in a sturdy showing. Yorozu Kensuke and Maughan Jemesen were steady, careful dancers on the first night (see: above comment on muted performances), but on Saturday night, they gave an inspired performance. Kensuke was in his element, making it all look ridiculously easy as he leapt effortlessly through the air as a happy Bluebird. Maughan displayed clean lines and hands with fluttery fingers, and when they danced together, they were so gorgeously in tune and in sync that they practically flew. They were on fire. Theirs was perhaps one of my most favourite dances of the series of performances I watched, and it’s on that note that I’d like to end.
Because, honestly, I kept thinking that the waltz should be replayed, and everyone should do a nice waltz ala the last scene of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. I’ve a tremendous weakness for grand endings and firework music.
Hats off to design – shimmery dresses, shimmery head-dresses. Plumes on the hats of the nobles heading to the hunt (plum and emerald shades on the huntsmen – Etienne Ferrere and Zhao Jun; midnight blue on the huntswomen played by May Yen Cheah and Elaine Heng/Li Jie – whoever was not Lilac). The crowns are not one-size-fits-all, especially the Princess’s crown, taken off the Queen’s head. The scenery and backdrops are great (I don’t know why one window in Act III looked crooked from slanted tape, but never mind) – look ye at the curtains which are festooned with green lace, the better to create the forest effect!
The lighting – I didn’t notice, until Don Q, how it could affect one’s emotions. The lighting grows rosy when Aurora takes the roses from Nanase (playing one of her friends), before the Rose Adagio. The lights turn a soft lilac when Lilac Fairy is about to dance. Partway through the christening, as the Cavaliers prepare to dance, the lights soften and turn pure white. These things somehow stir and touch the audience’s heart.
Unexpectedly funny little things: the clueless Lilac Fairy walking onwards into the forest, not realising that she is being followed by Carabosse. Subtle moves for eyes: the nobles/garland pairs lined up to say goodbye to Lilac Fairy, and as each noble lady/garland girl passed Lilac, she switched places with her partner, so that when they crossed the verandah in the background, the ladies were outermost and we would see a palette of colours floating past.
Thank you, if you’ve made it this far.
The next large-scale classical showing will be Swan Lake, and I think it will be a blast.