Just some thoughts before starting.
1. Sometime before the Don Q weekend, I figured I didn’t have to think my way through it. There was a 2014 review, so this time, I’d just sit through it. But then I read through my old review and realised that it was totally nothing like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and hence I’d probably end up having to hack away at the keyboard again.
2. Then I went for Don Q, and I realised that I mightn’t be able to actually do a blow-by-blow recounting. Don Q what it is. The story’s on wikipaedia. It’s structured beautifully, I think. Like how Mr Schergen talks about deciding what goes onto the menu for a performance (appetisers, mains, dessert), or what Takao-san* (from Takao Sushi) says about kaiseki flavours cresting up to mains and letting you sink gently , restfully, to dessert, SDT’s Don Q is a well-structured, well-staged banquet that takes you by the hand so you can breeze along with it.
(*Watch the N/Naka episode on Chef’s Table, on Netflix Singapore)
3. I think that after the last experience, I arrived with extremely high expectations and (foolishly) without having taken leave from work on Monday. So when there were little slips here and there (and there were such moments in 2014 too, but these were slightly different), I was a little surprised and sorry, and it startled me in pockets out of the mood, sometimes. But I think it’s fair to say that there was also a lot of upping of the individual game, so to speak, for many individuals – as will be mentioned generally below. (End-March: Ok, it has been x weeks since I wrote the above, and I feel a little mellower now.)
4. I have been waiting for the local English broadsheet’s review of Don Q, because I am made of curiosity; but the only one I can find is the 2014 one. I’ve read the local Chinese broadsheet’s review, and they watched the Thursday opening show (Rosa Park and Chen Peng), and were blown away.
All right, off with the numbers and on with the rest. I think I’ll probably be talking more about the dancing than the story.
Here, have a picture. It’s always exciting to see a ballet poster up outside the Esplanade.
(left to right: Suzuki Mai, Xu Lei Ting, Ma Ni, Ruth Austin, Alice Lin Cao, Chua Bi Ru, Cheah May Yen, Elaine Heng; Chen Wei as Don Q; Nakahama Akira as Cupid; Rosa Park as Dulcinea)
Oh yes, the cast list:
There’re lots of new faces to the company, to be added to the familiar ones.
Always love the opening main dance with the little pas de chat and quickening beat towards the end. Reece Hudson’s dancing is firm and right on point; suffice to say that the village women acquit themselves well too. New apprentice Emanuele Del Celo did not dance, unfortunately (we hope he’s well) – so one of the girls didn’t get to dance in the paired portions (unfortunately 😦 ) and a group of 6 pairs dropped to 5. I tried to look for the music for the village women and men, but I can’t find it.
Wan Jiajing Jerry displayed a great deal of energy and confidence, and eye-catching form, particularly in solo moments. Timothy Ng, another Apprentice, was a graceful and capable dancer who seemed to be enjoying – relishing – every moment on stage. It’s always nice when you can see a dancer who’s really just happy to be performing on stage (because you would hope that people are enjoying what they are doing) – whether as a shoulder-swaying gypsy or a cheery village man leaping in a corner. I’d heard about how Timothy Ng studied dance while going to university (never an easy thing to do), and I’m just glad that if dance is what he’s always wanted to do, he’s at last able to fulfil that desire. I hope we see a great deal more of him.
Toreadors! Marching out in threes to triumphant music, draped in cloaks with shiny neon linings. There’s that little beat and pause before Espada flings his hat into the rafters with a zing; and (in one show) the crowd applauded. Shan Del Vecchio’s slick, striking form and Zhao Jun’s clean lines (a very clean finish to a double pirouette from what I think is a fourth position, with one extended leg, ending with hands pointing downwards in the direction of the extended toe) stood out, in particular.
Toreadors, having fun in the background with their lady loves while Espada parades in front with Mercedes; Shan Del Vecchio lifts Tanaka Nanase high up gleefully, as if Toreador + partner been separated for ages, Miura Takeaki’s partner lies swooning in his arms, while Zhao Jun waggles his cloak above Alison Carroll, vampire-bat-like, and she escapes laughing while he wipes his mouth and smoothens his hair.
Here is a picture of Don Q’s and Kitri’s costumes:
I will leap straight to Kitri and Basilio. As Basilio, Nakamura Kenya’s a lot more relaxed and at ease this time round, and that carries into his acting – he’s a much more laid-back, smiley Basilio now, strumming his guitar and trying to catch the attention of his lady love, Chihiro-Kitri (e.g. by chatting with her friends and pretending to ignore her).
Reassuringly stable dancing as always, from Nakamura Kenya: speedy leaps round the perimeter, nice high jumps, and clean, steady lines to his form. An extremely musical friend of mine notes that Kenya is always very aware of what his female partner is doing (whether she be Rosa Park in Sleeping Beauty or Chihiro here), and his steps match hers and the music neatly, so that there’s a synchronicity in their dancing, and a method to his moves.
There’s a little moment in Act 1 where Kitri and Basilio part ways to dance in their own circles on the stage and meet back in the middle. In that moment, it became very apparent that Kenya’s dancing complemented Chihiro’s, and vice-versa. They were dancing together as a unit, perfectly-matched, and not simply as two very good soloists dancing on their own separate turf in synchrony. I think that Don Quixote is, interestingly, a really good way to spot this.
And that’s something that you notice from watching the two lead couples of Don Q. They complement each other. They know where they’re headed, and their goals and ideals are the same. Perhaps it’s partly because of the story they’ve decided to tell onstage, together.
There’s a massive attentiveness on the part of both Basilios. They are always on the lookout for their Kitri. Maybe Chen Peng-Basilio is kneeling on the ground with everyone else, snapping fingers and such, but he’s ready to hold out a hand to support Rosa-Kitri by the waist so she can pose en pointe on one foot for as long as possible and turn as far back as possible to look impishly over her shoulder at us; and fall back to snapping fingers and then reach out again to support her with one hand to her back so she can balance on one foot once more.
Dancing together needs a vast amount of generosity and communication, I expect. Two humans hand-in-hand, telling one story.
Rosa Park and Chen Peng sometimes appear to live life on the edge. There they are, in one particular performance, whirling and dancing their hearts out right to the very edge of the music – ordinarily, you would imagine that they would be ready to spin to a stop and prepare to end off, but no, whether by accident, intent or instinct, there they are, whirling right on to the very last semi-beat before they whack a stop on the dance. Or (in a studio performance, and in one of the stage performances) in Act 3’s Tavern Scene, where Rosa gives herself a little running start (it looks more elegant than it sounds) and then blitzes straight into Chen Peng’s arms, twice, and the second time, he has to flip her over fast enough for her to kick her legs up into a pose almost ala a fish-dive. Up close, it’s breathtaking (you feel your breath knocked out from you because it’s so fast). It’s dangerously difficult, life in the fast lane.
I must add that for this particular scene, both Kitris have to essentially launch themselves at their Basilios — they have to push themselves off the ground to give themselves some lift into the waiting arms, but they have to do this elegantly so they don’t look as if they’re deliberately jumping upwards – and then their Basilios have to catch them and twist them so quickly that the eye is tricked, and you think that Kitri threw herself genteely backwards or upside down into Basilio’s arms.
Such moves are fascinating, not only for their seeming improbability (and not because they’re like acrobatic tricks or such), but also because of the energy they bring with them, that great high that sweeps the audience up and rolls straight on to curtain call – when, on Sat night, Rosa Park and Chen Peng embraced spontaneously (presumably, we did it!).
I’ll skip, now, to the other main roles.
a) Etienne Ferrere for Rosa’s performance, perfectly frothy and flippy as ever, wonderfully comedic and unpredictable. New moves include being extremely annoyed by the one-armed lifts of Rosa Park by Chen Peng (pesky show-off!) and signalling wildly to Basilio to lower Kitri now, already!, which signal only serves to draw the audience’s attention to the one-armed lifts, of course.
b) Jason Carter as a snooty Gamache, for Chihiro’s performance. He seems to be more relaxed than in the last performance.
Where would we be without them?
I’d wondered about the casting for Friends because there was a space available for Dryad Queen/Mercedes (see below). But Friends is a difficult role as well, with seemingly endless solos and coordination with a partner. Individually, each of the Friends seemed to have improved since their last outing in DonQ – since their last performances, in fact.
For Chihiro’s shows, Cheah May Yen and Xu Lei Ting return as the spirited and graceful, girlish Friends respectively, and (from this eye) they don’t put a foot wrong – tight feet close together for turns – nor do their expressions ever betray the fact that the dances are anything but easy.
Maughan Jemesen and Elaine Heng are back as Rosa Park’s magnetic, charming Friends, kicking off one of their dances by leaping towards a corner of the stage, kicking their legs right up and back as if they’re hurling themselves into a vortex. That energy carries on throughout the dance, with their wide, expansive arm gestures. There’s a remarkable chemistry in their partnership: a shared glance between the two; pirouettes in ever-tighter circles round each other in four beats of music.
There’s a pas de trois with Basilio that isn’t one of my favourites in Don Q. Nothing personal, just something about the chuggy opening notes and the bodies bent double, legs lifted behind as if the dancers are charging off into the sunset. This time, I enjoyed it much more. Perhaps because all the Friends pulled it off with such good cheer. But special mention must be made of Cheah May Yen who flung herself with such cheerful abandon into the role, and Maughan Jemesen (in the same, energetic role).
For Rosa Park’s night, Espada was played by Nazer Salgado – the embodiment of a tall, strong Espada who whirled his cape with so many flourishes that the audience couldn’t help but applaud. Everyone loves the moment when, at just the right pause in the music, Espada’s hat goes zing! into the rafters (fortunately not knocking out a light – but they should consider putting it in as a prop when James Bond next goes crawling around above a stage). One got the sense that his Espada was intent on ensuring that the audience had an enjoyable night by presenting a memorable, bold Espada.
For Chihiro’s shows, Etienne Ferrere was Espada. His Espada is exactly what you asked for, and more (if you find that a bit awkwardly-expressed, I can assure you that there were a few other less appropriate expressions that were culled). His eye on his proud Drya…I mean, Mercedes, and his heart in every move. There’s this dance at the end for Espada that has a very distinct look (sweeping arms out to form a long horizontal, while looking left and right; kneeling on one knee with straight-arm motions, then changing knees and arms; etc). Etienne-Espada swept through it so smoothly that it looked poetic. Elegant, precise, and manly.
Li Jie reprised these roles, for Rosa’s show, this time – paired with Nazer’s Espada. Perhaps with experience, Li Jie’s grown into a more confident Mercedes who’s a little spicier than the last round. Somehow, it seems that she has relaxed and let herself ease a little more into the role.
Her Dryad Queen has developed – not merely graceful, but also imbuing every limb with more significance and meaning. Li Jie’s Dryad Queen worked beautifully with Rosa Park’s Dulcinea as one smooth, graceful unit – entirely watchable. I’ve finally found out (by googling for Don Q reviews…) that Dryad Queen rounds off her solo with Italian fouettes. Youtube has helped to confirm that. I think are Italian fouettes are absolutely beautiful, and they look so tricky to perform. Li Jie (and Chua Bi Ru) does a full-swing round in the second part of the fouette, so that she’s almost dead centre facing you, and then she turns again and it’s a full sweep up for her leg straight up to her raised hand. Again, as in the previous round of Don Q, her fouettes drew deserved applause.
Chua Bi Ru was the Dryad Queen/Mercedes for Chihiro’s performances, paired with Etienne Ferrere’s Espada. I think these were pretty decent performances for a first time as a more major soloist. Hers is the fun, vivacious sort of Mercedes to rouse the spirits, almost a sort of Kitri in her own right, and this is especially clear in the studio version. This made for a clear distinction between her Mercedes and her Dryad Queen (played as a gracious Dryad Queen).
Dryad Queen’s costume, next to heaven help me, I suppose it’s Sancho’s costume:
I’m not sure I have the strength to trot through all the other main roles, as they were played by the same folks as before, many even better than the last round. Gypsy King was reprised by a markedly (more?) cheery Zhao Jun and (as always) cheerful Yorozu Kensuke, and both hit the mark and ended their dance with a bang. Did you realise that the Gypsy King doesn’t actually whack the stage with the tambourine – as he bends over so his torso is almost horizontal to the ground, and he kicks out in the air, he touches the rim on the stage very lightly? Such control. And the gypsy team this time round was inspired – charismatic and forceful. (On a separate note, think it would’ve been good if the lighting for the tent behind which Kitri + Basilio were hiding had been a little sharper.)
Cupid is popular, as always – Nakahama Akira as the fairy-like Cupid with light, graceful fingers and feet; Alison Carroll upping her game with even sharper form than before, and by giving her Cupid a slight smile as she whisks through an exhausting, speedy routine.
We can’t end without talking about Kitri’s father, Lorenzo, played by Jereh Leong. Great comic timing – obdurately turning his head away from Basilio when the latter joins Kitri in pleading for his permission to marry; wiping Basilio’s breadknife suspiciously on his sleeve (funny how there’s no blood, thought the chap was stabbed) before tucking it away; gladly grabbing a bag of money from Basilio before cottoning on to the fact that it was nipped from him when he wasn’t looking. Muffled laughter from audience members around – he’s just too funny as the cranky, money-conscious Lorenzo, without coming across as crass or unpleasant.
So the formal run-through is done with. Here are random comments on the side:
1. There’s a little move Mercedes does in the tavern that I like. At the end, when everyone is celebrating the marriage-to-be,the Friends each do a quick bit across the stage (very, very nice!) followed by Mercedes, who whips across the stage diagonally while making a complex little waving motion in front of her face. I like the music and I adore that bizarre little arm movement that my brain cannot compute – it looks so graceful (light wrists).
2. Everybody is tuning in for the fouettes of Kitri and the (not-male-fouettes!) of Basilio. Which everyone plunges into with gusto and pulls off as always – Rosa launching into a good two solid fouettes before the music starts up, Chihiro’s extended foot slipping in and round with graceful ease, and both Basilios spinning round on the same spot as if the foot on the ground were nailed to it (I did notice it for one Basilio because of the angle of the seats; the observation on the other was obtained by reported speech). Give me two seconds, also, to mention Chihiro’s Dulcinea in Act 3, positively floating backwards on the tiniest of light-footed movements; and Rosa’s Dulcinea whisking skilfully round the stage, and Rosa-Kitri’s great expansive hand movements, hands flicking open with every leap.
3. I’m kind of invested in the opening of Act 2, before the Gypsies appear, though. Carmencita, iTunes informs me. Here’s the tune. It ends at about 4:30, I think.
A sublime romantic little dance; Basilio and Kitri in waltz position, left hands clutching Kitri’s waist, right hands clasped and extended as Basilio slides Kitri across the floor with him. There’s a lovely move where she’s in a modest arabesque, back to him, as he holds her back ankle while his other hand holds her hand high above her hand; then she swivels herself and her foot round, and she’s facing him and smiles at him charmingly, and all this while he’s still holding that one ankle and her hand. It’s a clever little thing, over in a second.
I like the little pose at the end of one of Kitri’s dances in Act I – it’s a fast-paced dance and then suddenly it ends with her right smack up against Basilio, resting her forearm against Basilio’s front, one leg raised in arabesque, smiling disarmingly at him – almost as if she’s daring him not to fall head over heels in love with her (as if he hasn’t already!).
Mesmerising and bold.
4. Once, I did get to see Li Jie as Kitri (for various reasons), paired with Chen Peng, in a little snippet of Act 1. There was an interesting air of confidence in the studio that made one sit up – she breezed through the moves, her long legs just eating up the stage. Hers was a bright-eyed Kitri elated to see her beloved Basilio-Chen Peng but (as is the case for Kitri) in for a good bit of fun (swishing skirts with 2 other young men) and pulling Basilio’s leg now and then; and mischievously curious to see what Gamache had to show for his riches. There’s a great deal to be mined out for emotions, in Don Q.
This post has been absurdly long. I will end it here, abruptly.
I don’t want to think about how, when Don Q next pulls up, it’ll probably have been a good three years.
There are a lot of very interesting reviews out there about various SDT performances. There are at least two now, about Don Q 2016, by people with a stronger, surer vocabulary and dance vocabulary. Hope no one minds if I put up links to them, because it’s always interesting to read (other people’s) detailed, careful reviews. It’s like wearing their eyes.