Q to Rosa Park: You look very comfortable dancing with Chen Peng. Do you always dance with him?
Rosa Park: Since I joined SDT I have always danced with him. He’s the best partner I’ve ever had. I feel comfortable and safe. I trust him and, you know, trust is something you need to build up. It needs time. We discussed the details [of Don Quixote] and actually he quite suits Basilio, too, so it was a good piece for us to have the chance to dance in. A lot of the acting parts actually weren’t acting — it’s just how we really are, the usual banter.
— Dance Europe, March 2015
When I first started watching SDT in earnest, I wondered: what makes someone a principal dancer; and (since everyone’s eyes are often on the prima ballerina) what makes someone a principal male dancer? I’ve forgotten the exact words Mr Janek Schergen used, but over time, he’s mentioned that being a principal dancer requires a mixture of qualities — not just technique, but also partnership abilities, and temperament. He’s also noted that it’s not easy to headline the ballet, because the entire weight of the ballet performance, whether it succeeds or fails, rests on your shoulders, and that’s a lot of pressure.
I used to marvel at Chen Peng’s ceaseless smile when he performed. Generally, as long as the role was not one that required a serious/sober expression, and no matter how tired he probably was, he would be smiling through the performance, and that put the audience at ease and helped them relax — and we greatly appreciated that.
I say generally, because there were some things that require intense concentration for which smiling might not be so readily incorporated and for which every dancer has a specific solid on face.
Of this, a friend said: He just loves dancing, you can see it; and that’s what makes the audience relaxed and happy, and enjoy the performance, too.
Here are some performances that I’d like to remember always.
1. Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, 2011
In this performance, it was actually Chen Wei who caught our eye first, through sheer height and because he appears front and centre quite early (in contrast, Romeo is moping on the steps in a corner or enters mopily with a flower, and you almost expect him to have a loves me loves me not moment). But Chen Peng’s Romeo was quite unexpected. My friend and I writhed in embarrassment in our seats over his great teenage lovestruck moods, and christened him Emo!Romeo. Full of soaring emotions: love, angst, the like. Youthful swooning emo!Romeo, taking his shirt off on a hot tropical night, during an entirely innocent dalliance with Juliet.
Was Romeo ever supposed to be this way?
But it is (to use words from the earlier post) a testament to Goh Choo San’s choreography and to Chen Peng’s interpretation of Romeo that this leapt off the stage and into the memory. Because that’s one of the traits of Goh Choo San’s Romeo. Remember, he’s a teenager in love. Against his better judgment, he attends the enemy’s party and dances on the edge of danger, and he recklessly disregards– or else it never occurs to him–how dangerous this could be.
Chen Peng’s Romeo was the first time I’d really seen him dance, and it’s a memory that has stayed with me.
2. Pas de deux
I could not decide between Siegfried in Swan Lake, 2015 and Basilio, 2014 and then considered Opus 25, etc. It’s not possible to speak of so many of Chen Peng’s performances without talking about partnership.
Rosa Park is a magnificent dancer. Every dancer accomplishes what she accomplishes on her own two feet and the strength of her own abilities. But in a pas de deux, perhaps every prima ballerina needs a really great, compatible partner in order to soar to greater heights and unlock the full potential of the dance itself; to live out the dance in full and bold colour. When you watch Rosa Park fearlessly risk everything (while retaining such degree of control as she requires to execute everything perfectly), you know that that amount of boldness requires a tremendous amount of support and trust in her partner. There’s no substitute for that in a pas de deux. There is no room for tremulous uncertainty or quivering discomfort.
And in a vast number of the dances, it’s been Chen Peng who has been there as she pulls off the great feats: whip turns before she tips into a fish-dive in his arm (Sleeping Beauty); being thrown up and caught round the waist at the right point and dipped into a fish-dive (Don Quixote); letting her black swan zip sleekly across the stage before catching her wrist (Swan Lake); holding her steady so she can throw herself fully into the dance (Opus 25, etc).
He has borne her weight so that she can dance with complete ease, security, freedom and peace of mind. And that’s what brings life and spirit to a pas de deux — when the ballerina can truly soar, because she has her partner by her side, every step of the way.
Together, they were electrifying. Not only in dancing, but also in story-telling — Swan Lake (2015) and Don Quixote (2014, 2016) marched to the beat of their own drum.
In general, from the audience’s perspective, Chen Peng worked well with other partners in other pas de deux, so that the pas de deux did not consist simply of individual units, but of one combined effort (supporting Chihiro in the quirky Chant and doing the heavy lifting in Bittersweet; a tender, engaging, vibrant pas de deux with Li Jie in Shostakovich). One might see the lightness in a lift and a swing and, sometimes, the evident relief in a dancer’s face when she could rely on a partner, however briefly.
There’s a presence he brings when he’s onstage, said a friend, watching him for the second and last time, it’s a pity he’s leaving.
The passage of time brings you two articles on Chen Peng (in relation to the proposal to Li Jie) — interviews with Chen Peng and Li Jie, actually, which are extremely interesting and telling (telling of what? help me, Seymour). The ST article has the video of the entire proposal.