Nutcracker 2016 – Singapore Dance Theatre – Part 2: Dancing (Snowflakes)

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I had, earlier, planned a really long impassioned post about the music versus the dancing in Nutcracker.

I think the quick summary is that I love the music for the Nutcracker. As a kid, I used to go to Borders (where Marks & Sparks sits now, in Wheelock place) and listen to the CD at the side where the freezers and fridges sit now, the sunlight falling in through those street-level windows and casting a lovely afternoon glow over everything. Warm orange lighting, and shelves full of DVDs and music.

The Jeffrey Tan version of Nutcracker is full of dances set to music, or that’s what my memory tells me — Harlequin, a toy soldier, etc. Music set to solid dance after dance. I kind of missed that for the first half, because I’m a greedy person when it comes to watching ballets.

I like the SSO (Singapore Symphony Orchestra)’s version of the Intrada in the pas de deux, by the way. You can find it in the library @ esplanade, I think — perhaps in a compendium of ‘Best Of’s, with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty

Oh well, we’ve digressed.

Here’s the cast list again, so we can remember who we’re watching!

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Here are some costumes: one of the Flowers’ dresses, I think; Snow King’s costume; a Snowflake’s costume; Soldier.

 

For verification, the album of Nutcracker 2016 pictures is up, but when I try to paste the facebook link, facebook informs me that the relationship is over…I mean, that the link no longer exists, though it’s open on in another browser window…Okay.

Snowflakes. In the interests of full disclosure: I used to nod off when the Snowflakes started. (>_<) Anything with Snowflakes was guaranteed to put me to sleep. Yes, all versions of Nutcracker. I used to listen, in vain, to the music on youtube, or even watch videos, to try changing my mind.

But that changed, this round. I don’t know if that’s the effect that artistic director Janek Schergen was referring to, when he said that there’s no dancing for most of the first half, and then bam, you get a full-out snow scene.

I do think it’s a great use of one piece of ‘Scene’ music:

I do know there was once a piece of Scene music that consisted of floating away in a balloon to Candyland (for Jeffrey Tan’s Nutcracker). I think this might have been it, and I never really had a very strong impression of it, except of gentle floating away…

But if it was this, the memory has sort of been replaced by the strangely moving scene of the 2 Icicles bourre-ing in with their Caveliers (I think), with the Snow Queen and Snow King, I think) following shortly after. So gentle, genteel, refined, elegant, delicate – and grand. Just like the entry of royalty whom one loves and respects. Exactly like this music. So beautiful.

Accompanying this gorgeous stirring music, we have the beautiful trio of couples. It’s suddenly transformed into an orchestral piece set to dancing almost ready to rival the Sugarplum dance (also because I have slight issues with Sugarplum’s Intrada – Sorry, Monsieur Ivanov). Lots of enjoyable moments of the Icicle pairs dancing in the background beautifully while Snow Queen and King take the foreground; and of all three synchronised, pirouettes, promenades (?), ladies falling back into the caveliers’ arms – graceful, enchanting.

Look at Snow Queen, lifted by the waist to skim the ground; being lifted high above the head of Snow King triumphantly, her leg extended and his arms locked straight up, as she is carried out, soaring.

(For Li Jie’s Sugarplum shows) Rosa Park is, of course, a splendid Snow Queen, and Kensuke is a deft, spirited Snow King who’s worth watching (back to snappy form and spirit). Watching Rosa Park cross the stage as Snow Queen and launch into the dance reminds you immediately of exactly what we have lost, now that she has retired 😥 Rosa Park crosses the stage en pointe as easily as she’s walking; her dancing is like breathing, second nature to her. The viewer doesn’t realise she’s actually dancing on the tips of her toes, because it’s all so natural and beautiful. It reminds one of the saying that one must not see the shoe when the dancer is dancing.

Li Jie turns in smooth lines for Snow Queen; and for Nazer, one does appreciate all the hard work he’s put in throughout the entire year to reach this polished stage.

Chihiro and Kenya have basically hit that point — already seen in their superb performance in Masterpiece in Motion as long-suffering, hard-working couple in Age of Innocence and soldier-lover couple in Symphony in Three Movements — of easy rapport that makes their performance a joy to watch. They have danced well together, always, but now there’s this additional energy, charisma and light that defines, and (I think) will continue to define, their performances together on stage. They’ve long gone way beyond being two separate units dancing really well technically, of course; but there’s now this added dimension that makes their pas de deux sparkle.

The Icicles are the reliable soloists and demi-soloists of SDT. Felt a sort of pang, knowing that this was Alison Carroll’s last run of performances. Separately, it’s good to see Kwok Min Yi, Peter Allen and Shan Del Vecchio in these roles. I do like watching the latter two Caveliers because a good male partner is essential, and they’ve stepped up to this role, here. Watching dancers grow and take on new challenges is good.

Do I have a soft spot for any pair of Icicles? I sort of do, but I’ve kind of forgotten who they are. I think they are Akira and Alison, actually, visually, somehow — totally together. Just feel I should also mention May Yen Cheah because there’s a visible joy in her performance, and also to note that Jason Carter partners her well. Ok well since I’m here, you obviously know that Tanaka Nanase and Chua Bi Ru and Kwok Min Yi were solidly good Icicles, and the other Caveliers were good too, which is appreciated. (ETA: Missed out one name earlier :()

Special mention: Nakamura Kenya. Somehow, he makes everything he does look like he’s doing something extra, something more. Almost like he’s adding something extra to the steps – an added flair, or more turns in the air. Or is it the imagination? Whatever it is, it’s impressive.

When you have that sort of choreography to the above music, the next part is like magic.

You can now hear the contrast and understand what you’re watching: the fluttering of snowflakes. Urgency, synchronicity, grace. I chose the above video because the portion with the choir sounds more accurate than the version with the Simon Rattle nutcracker picture, even though the latter is clearer.

At 3:50, I think Snow Queen floats out again, and takes centre stage while the Snowflakes dance behind her.

My favourite part from the above is somewhere from 4:24 onwards. If you listen to the clashing of cymbals at 4:41 and 4:47, that’s the simply amazing part where the snowflakes, in rows, skate up to one side sharply, then the other side. By skate, I mean leap up en pointe on one foot, the other lifted and low; and their arms are in line with that, one arm straight up, sharp. And they repeat that to the other side. It’s swift, it’s sharp, it’s a blizzard of activity. Like those razor-sharp spins in skating.

This is the first time we see new addition to SDT, Minegishi Kana, perform before an Esplanade audience. She’s a  graceful Snowflake – soft arms. It’s also (sadly) the last performances with SDT for Lisha Chin and Ines Furuhashi-Huber.

I enjoyed, in particular, the Snowflakes leaping across the stage in threes, from one side to the other, vanishing into the curtains, to be replaced by others: I think – leaps, turns, arms meeting in first in the middle, soaring right out again.

I’ve mentioned Xu Lei Ting before. What gives her performances that little extra zing and touch is (on top of technique) added grace. Mr Janek Schergen said once that waist-down is technique and waist-up is dancing. Somehow, she has a certain grace in the bend of her back and the line of her arms that makes her distinctive in any line-up, as a leaping flower in a group of three, as a zipping Snowflake in the front row, as a Princess amongst 6 Princesses in Swan Lake; and even from the back, as part of a line of Snowflakes running gracefully in formation.

In case I forget to say this, Ma Ni is very, very good as a Snowflake and a Flower. Since her first performance as an Apprentice until now, her dancing form has always stood out and left an impression on the mind. Also need to add that Niki Wong (both as Snowflake and Flower) has stepped up her game, and she seemed to be enjoying herself. Kind of sentimental, as I remember seeing her as the nursemaid in Romeo and Juliet 2013.

From 4:57 onwards, we move towards the part where Fritz and Clara are going to appear and meet the Snow Queen, I think. And boatloads of snow are dumped down. Mr Janek Schergen has commented that each time (in any Nutcracker) that snow is swept up for the next dumping, unexpected items are gathered up with it and descend with the next snowfall.

Aside: I just spent like > 20 minutes watching the Prix de Lausanne finals video (o_o) and I haven’t finished it. But I do like Taisuke Nakao’s classical piece; Marina Fernandes da Costa Duarte’s Don Q (which is exceedingly interesting — watch the coy picking up of the foot — every lightning-quick step has a different meaning and intent); Lauren Hunter (all-round bright, spritely, clean lines – and accuracy plus speed plus body-type makes you think of NYCB); Michele Esposito (all-round) and Fujimoto Yuika’s contemporary A Cinderella Story. I just jumped around the videos quite a bit. Also read the winners’ list.

Okay, and with the arrival of the children, we also have the Snow Queen drifting down between two parallel diagonal rows of Snowflakes, who (as she approaches) do a gorgeous turn and one leg in a plie, the other leg outstretched behind on the ground. Lovely. Genuflection, respect. (If you do sit close enough, you can see if an eyeball rolls back to see if the Snow Queen is making her way up…)

Then the Snowflakes rise up en pointe, arms (lines!) stretched out before them, right up, as if pointing to some distant star.

From 5:50, the Snow Queen and Icicle pairs are lined up and then do a grand big arabesque, arms thrown straight back. It’s the perfect ending to an unexpectedly enjoyable 2 dances.

The snow is slippery, so hats off to the suffering Snowflakes who wobble, but stay en pointe until the curtain touches the ground.

 

 

Full disclosure continued: at one performance, I overestimated the powers of caffeine, and I found, to my absolute horror (and morbid fascination), that I could feel myself falling asleep during the snowflake scene.

What jolted me awake was the memory that, as stated in About, there was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to watch any of this — a time when I was only able to clip out reviews and advertisements, and pore over them for details of the performance. And now, here I was, in the theatre of my dreams, watching the Nutcracker, for goodness’ sake – the least I could do was to pay attention to the dancers.

That’s why it matters to me that I watch, and I have tried, above, to name some specific dancers whose dancing was really inspiring on those nights 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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