Passages 2015 (Review) – Part 2 (Singapore Dance Theatre)

I realise I said “More on that later” in the previous post and then I didn’t say anything more.

What I wanted to say was this: Chua Bi Ru danced a great deal in Passages, and sometimes there’s a sense that she was almost like a muse in parts of this. Or perhaps it is something of the spirit. She’s a spirited and expressive dancer, and is developing her own style. When one is passionate and expressive, there’s a danger of being almost too messy, but if and when all that is pulled in tightly, it can result in a really fine performance.

There’s a bit of Chua Bi Ru that’s like Rosa Park, the kind of verve and spark that lifts the immediate performers around her; or adds a slight edge to the performance. Witness Shimazaki Toru’s Blue Snow; or Napoli in Bournonville, for instance, where Bi Ru’s exuberance infects Zhao Jun in the opening tambourine piece.

And Bi Ru is also developing her own interesting shape and style in classical, neoclassical and contemporary dance. Another such dancer is Tanaka Nanase, who is unforgettable in, for instance, her solo piece in Val Caniparolli’s Chant (where the dance and dancer take on a kind of mystical form, even under the bright lights of the studio, and you can’t take your eyes off the dancer); and who was a sparkling Diamond in Sleeping Beauty.

And Uchida Chihiro, of course.

Okay, the idea behind Singapore Dance Theatre is that the dancers can all perform classical, neoclassical and contemporary works in the spirit of those works, and I have to say that that is entirely true (though there are also those who appear to excel particularly in one form or another).

But just off the top of the head, when thinking about it, Chihiro in particular is a stellar example of someone who has a very clear style that suits all three. In neoclassical and contemporary, she slips right into the rhythm and embodies the spirit of the piece. Look at her mincing away with chicken wing arms in Rubies (the lady in the shop); look at her in that yearning, delicate pas de deux in Blue Snow (set to music that is just pure vocalisation on the part of the singer – though some friends have heard Ma fille and others, my feet, my feet, my feeeeet).

A couple of friends have told me that they notice (and like) how Chihiro is exactly there at the end of every phrase of music, in the right pose (but without looking like a textbook study or like she’s just counting beats). She’s there on the spot, bam. Perhaps that is why her dancing has that clean poise to it. (I rely on friends to see this, I can’t actually see it for myself.) Off the top of the head, Maughan Jemesen and Elaine Heng are like that too – that sort of clean line and bam on the note.

There’s another kind of dancing, though – the kind that sort of seems to absorb the essence of the music and then spit out a shape. That’s not to say that the sort that ends correctly on the end of the note doesn’t do that. It does. That also doesn’t mean that the essence-absorbing sort doesn’t meet the notes correctly.

I mean that there sometimes seem to be moments when people are going by a particular feeling. Sometimes this results in a leg in the air that is not at the peak at the exact note (again pointed out by a musically-inclined friend, with a frown), yet appears to correctly express the feeling of grace and magic required. But such dancing may not always look messy.  That’s the funny thing about it. Maybe I’m the kind of viewer that watches from that perspective as well, which is why I need other eyes to tell me about their observations.


When you watch Sticks and Stones by Kinsun Chan, in passing split-second moments, you might see that. Haha, managed to segue back to the point of this post. I paste the line-up again below, so you can see the names of the performers, and the meaning of this dance. Most the men in SDT at that time were in it.


The piece is supposed to be very masculine, almost in a tribal fashion. The props are quite interesting. The sticks appear to be metal rods that can be slotted back into heavy rod-holders on the ground. The stones are like those graphite-coloured, smooth stones people use to line driveways and koi ponds (?). I didn’t realise that until the lights came on at the end. I thought the chaps were really hitting the ground with the palms of their hands (ouch!).

The guys are shirtless and wear black pants and these contraptions that look like woven wires – some wear them round their torsos, some round their upper arms, and so on.

Things I remember: it opening with the men in a hunting group (using imagination) and one man (Huo Liang) as the spotter, hauling himself up on the backs of 2 folks to peer out to the back of the stage (Legolas, what do your elven eyes see? o_o). Perhaps they are spearing fish here. Perhaps they are taking part in a ritual, lining up and falling like dominoes.

Perhaps they are taking part in one of those initiation ceremonies, shows of their masculinity and bravado: they line up in a row at the back and wait as dancers take turns to perform. Here’s Kenya in a solo: clean, solid lines, as always; there go Reece Hudson and Shan del Vecchio leaping out of the shadows; here’s Shan del Vecchio again, with Stefaan Morrow, swift as flying fish, propelled into the air like high-jumpers. And you can’t have this kind of cast and not have Zhao Jun and Yorozu Kensuke soaring and spinning. It would be a waste.

The only music is a persistent drumbeat. If you lose a beat, isn’t it game over? (And yes. You can, if you are looking, see if/when there is a moment of “eh–oh“. But only one that I saw.)

If you cast your eye over the men in a group, generally, you see a great deal of smooth and slick lines following the beats. Which is interesting, because it’s tribal, but not exactly in the extreme raw, wild form. It’s quite structured. You can see from the write-up above that this is about dance and ritual, not chaos and Lord of the Flies. Everyone’s expressing that strong masculinity and the Power of Lines.

But then right at the back of the group in one part of the dance, there’s Chen Peng, dancing the exact same steps, but almost like he’s absorbed some of the energy and spirit of it and is spitting it back out. Is it because of form? Probably it’s also because different people dance differently. Which I think is what it is as well; Chen Peng’s non-classical dancing sometimes has a bit of a rounded look to it, almost like classical bearing carried over a bit. When you watch contemporary or neoclassical dancing, it sometimes looks like the planes of a palette knife in acrylic on a canvas (sometimes it’s ink painting, as in Passages 2014); and then there’s a smattering of oil painting. Haha, I am making up things as I go along. But maybe I do mean it.

Anyway, that is the kind of thing that crosses the mind of viewers as they watch the dance.

Those that are not sleeping. I have friends who do fall asleep during performances. Not my kind of thing, they tell me, I prefer classical. Suddenly I woke up, and it was over. I understand. Contemporary is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Okay, that’s it for now. I know I wanted to talk about Incandescent. Which blew my socks off. I’d like to see it again.




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