Schubert Symphony (Goh Choo San)
The music is found here:
There’s a story associated with this that Mr Schergen (a friend of the late choreographer) tells – that the choreographer always said he could do a classical work, and a friend of the late choreographer replied – Well then, just do it! And as a result of a sort of bet, this work was created. Mr Schergen says that all the vocabulary in ballet is in this work; and what the principals dance, the other dancers all do as well. The dance helps one be a better dancer, better partner, work better as a company, and become better technically. We show [this work] because he was an inspiration and a genius, and in his memory.
Every time I see this dance, I feel an overwhelming realisation that I am watching something that is really very pretty – graceful and gorgeous, light and beautiful.
As the music starts, the pairs enter in the dark and stand in two diagonal lines sloping inwards towards a vanishing point at the back. Ladies of the court in intense pinks. Four more central ladies arranged in diagonals, two on either side, in green-creamy shades that my eyes can’t quite pin down (May Yen Cheah, Elaine Heng, Chua Bi Ru, Maughan Jemesen). Li Jie (Lady), in rosy pink, is the lead, and enters a little later. The dresses have long frothy skirts, with the fronts cut higher, to the knees, than the backs; and embellished necklines. The men are in lilac long-sleeved tops with a V-cut to somewhere along the sternum, and white tights. This creates a sort of very Romantic classical atmosphere.
A very musical friend said to me sometime before the show that Schubert’s music was pretty, but that it could have a soporific effect. I did, I admit, have this odd fear that I wouldn’t be able to remember anything because it all passed so prettily before my eyes. The funny thing is that, having watched the ballet, the music has grown recognisable.
It’s a pattern-heavy dance. If you break it down by patterns, it becomes something along the lines of: Ladies of the court dance. The four central ladies dance, and some have little solos. Ladies of the court dance again, together with four central ladies (almost the same dance as before). Four central ladies dance with Cavaliers. The Lady (Li Jie) dances with her Cavalier (Jake Burden); everyone dances almost the same dance as the first with the Lady and Cavalier. The Lady’s Cavalier dances; men dance; men dance with Lady’s Cavalier in lead; the Lady enters and dances, then Cavalier joins her; the Lady dances alone with just the Cavaliers and then Cavalier; et cetera. There is indeed a repetition of the steps with different groups.
But that’s like breaking a dish down to its ingredients and when you stirred them in. What you get on the whole is something that pours into the brain an unfolding pattern of unending beauty.
It’s very delicate and graceful – Li Jie leaping and turning in the air, landing in arabesque, her hands flicking lightly above her head; the frothy skirts swirling as the four central ladies leap towards one another, arms extended in long lines; the other girls are lifted by their Cavaliers, one arm lifted and the other in first position before them, their legs forming graceful diamond shapes as the Caveliers cross each other’s paths, so that the ladies appear to be floating above the stage in lovely little patterns.
I like the little unexpected touches, like how, in Elaine Heng’s solo, she does a jump and lands, and slides her foot. It looks almost like an error, but it’s obviously deliberate, and it’s quite nice. The little fluttering hands of the four central ladies as they extend their legs slightly in the air, their gaze following the lifting leg, as the Lady dances in the foreground.
I’m also terribly partial to the following:
(a) Set to the music of 8:41 to 8:44 – Arms held above the crown of the head (in fifth position), lowered to extend outwards to the sides in three beats (second position); and on the fourth beat, the arms are held gracefully across the torso with one hand held close to a cheek (as if about to press gently against it) and the other hand almost cupping the other elbow. And it’s done very fast, so in those few seconds, the ladies of the court do this, followed by Li Jie and the four central ladies.
(b) Lifting ladies up high, their bodies horizontal, so that they may extend a leg almost vertical, their arms in a loop over their heads. But this is also one of those things that needs a major strong lift for the girl to lean back totally and extend her leg, I think. I have no idea, that’s solely based on imagination.
(c) Beautiful arabesques by Li Jie in the centre (at times when paired with Jake Burden, and at times by herself); long flexible lines and shapes.
This is a work requiring a great deal of strong quick dancing. It’s pure dancing and technique, which makes it fun to watch. Here’s Jake Burden with his strong leaps, spins, and landing firmly, to applause from an impressed audience on the second night. Fire from flicking feet as he does his kicks and jumps and beats his feet quickly. The four central ladies are secure, in control – Elaine in her leaps around the stage (scattering fairy dust over the corners of the crowd); May Yen Cheah sweeping her skirts lightly and turning in one circle en pointe to land in arabesque; Maughan and Bi Ru in their paired dance, so secure and in control.
But it’s also cheeky and spirited – when Li Jie emerges to a stage full of Cavaliers, they gaze at her admiringly and flirt with her, blowing kisses or extending an adoring hand to her.
When Jake Burden, in turn, meets the four central ladies on stage, they surround him and dance in the backdrop as he takes centre stage, and he then obligingly turns each of them in a pose before he bows in farewell, and they too acknowledge him and run off lightly into the wings.
Li Jie, who did so brilliantly in Rubies with her wonderful raised arabesques to the side (so gorgeously high that as she raised her leg and lowered it again, you saw her leg brush her hand), really does shine here. Tireless, and always executing everything with such splendid aplomb and spirit. And Jake Burden is a good, capable, steady and strong partner for her, raising her aloft, way above his head by the waist and leg as she poses in arabesque, then lowering her gently. This dance takes a lot out of everyone.
This hadn’t been performed for quite a while, it seems, and it’s good that it’s back onstage again.
Will be back with Serenade!