Nutcracker 2016 – Singapore Dance Theatre – Part 3: Act II – Dancing

Sometimes I feel silly talking about happy- or cheerful-looking dancers. Especially when their feet, backs, arms and shoulders are killing them. Oh, but I’ve just done it again, oops.

* I’ll just interrupt this to say I’m happy Moonlight won. Sure, I’ll probably publish this way too late, but here we go.

There were a few hiccups here and there, but on the whole, this was pretty enjoyable, and I liked some of the dances more than I realised I would, going into the show.

ETA: I forgot to talk about the last dance and the ending. Updated.

Variety is the spice of life. Have another look at the banner outside the Esplanade 🙂

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While we’re at it, before we stick the cast list up again (so you don’t have to scroll down to the previous posts), here’s another picture from the booklet. The mouse costumes are much improved this round, so they look really scary, and not like raggedy kids. I’m baffled that I didn’t have any photos of the Sugarplum costume — but you can see it here, and on the Singapore Dance Theatre website. (Should I insert the random word “review” here even though this isn’t really a review? Hahaha.)

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Cast lists round 3:

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05-cast-2

Justin Zee did not dance for Act II. …I think Takeaki Miura danced in his place. Looking forward to watching Justin Zee’s next performance, fingers crossed!

Fritz and Clara sit up on some big couch on a kind of dais (later, after each dancer is done with his/her dance, they rest for the span of the next dance before appearing at the start of the dance after, to sit on those long stairs).

Spanish. Look at the cast list for the female Spanish dancers – it makes sense, because we’ve seen them in Spanish-esque roles before. Tanaka Nanase is right on the music, great accentuated moves; Alison Carroll is the neat and nifty firecracker of a Spanish (by which I mean not a Spaniard, but Nutcracker-style Spanish), whose quick moves we’ll miss; May Yen Cheah is a cheerful Spanish taking you into her world of Spanish dancing with her. One pair does nearly over-zip through a turn, but they survive, and all’s well.

The 6 Spanish girls are good, of course, but one can’t take one’s eye off the main pair, somehow. In that one minute, the lead pair whisks through its choreography right up to the last note, and your eye can’t look away.

Chinese flowers – the closest version is this one, so you’ll have to look at (presumably) young Tchaikovsky’s face again.

Okay, not my favourite music. I think Jeffrey Tan’s version had bicycles and I recalled that it was fun. This one, which Mr Janek Schergen is rightly proud of, has two beautiful female dancers — each holding a red stick with a giant red peony at the end – and the surprise is that part-way through, when the second stanza begins (you know what I mean – repeat of the first set of notes), they fling their arms up and the peony unfurls into a gorgeous red ribbon, which they twirl round so that it looks like a great long water sleeve (Chinese opera), or a gorgeous red dragon, and it never touches the ground. That’s a great deal less terrible than, um, some of the stuff you see on youtube.

It’s based on something Mr Goh Choo San learnt from an actual artiste who knew about how to handle these ribbons, and he taught Mr Janek Schergen how to do this, and I just hope it keeps getting passed on, because it’s lovely and the girls look amazing doing really fast pirouettes in circles, twirling the ribbons like lines of ink paintings round them, and doing splits through them like in rhythmic gymnastics, and at last, catching hold of the ribbons in a bunch. (To keep them – you wrap them round and round and loop a little loop round them, I think.) I can never get how they are released. But one peony seems to need some holding fast round the middle before being let go, while the other doesn’t need to be clutched so tightly.

And the dancers are excellent, and they seem to be having fun. There we go again, with saying that people are having fun. But it does lift the spirits.

Toy soldiers. Oh dear. What music’s that? OH, the Russians — Trepak! You get older Tchaikovsky, now. I’ve a very bad memory for the moves. Though there were a couple of hiccups, I thought it was fine on the whole – everyone had good lines and kept calm and carried on. I love the music for Trepak and always rather have a soft spot for the dancers, in any case.

Shepherd and Shepherdess

This was one of my favourite dances of the lot. The video below has the closest approximation to the timbre and tone of the music that I could find online. A month ago, there was a Paris Opera Ballet one, I think. But it was a little faster, and I can’t find it now, anyway.

There is no lamb, nor any wolf, in the SDT version — no more than there is Red Riding Hood and Wolf in Sleeping Beauty’s list of guests. This is popularly known as the Dance of the Reed-Flutes, so you may have heard the, well, reedier version. This version has such a light, gentle sound to it, and it’s matched by the delicate steps. I’m so partial to this dance — to the Shepherd and Shepherdess (S&S, because these are abnormally difficult words to type), holding crossed hands, doing their little leaps with a little trill of the foot; to Shepherdess doing a turn and being spun, and that pose with her arm draped around Shepherd’s shoulders in what is supposed to be a genteel fashion, rather than too up close and personal; and when Shepherdess does an arabesque, and then a plie, and then goes up on pointe again, and turns her hand outwards like she’s touching the point of a star. A couple or so times, Shepherd lifts Shepherdess in the air by supporting her lower back: she’s still upright, and one of her feet is at coupe (I think, her ankle?) and her arms are raised (hands pointing in the same direction, one at elbow-level of the other; such gentle bent elbows; and a very good knee-length costume of soft white material, which drapes softly along the dancer’s frame).

At the end, he goes down on one knee and she sits on his thigh, and they pose .

It is possibly the sweetest dance I have seen in the longest time. It’s not the unbashful romantic love fest that you get out of the wedding pas de deux, but it’s just so lovable. Nakahama Akira and Huo Liang’s is a sweet S&S dance – so neat and delicate, so gentle and unrushed. S&S for Yatsushiro Marina’s performance are efficient and light as well. Chua Bi Ru and Jason Carter’s version is slightly different, interestingly: they take their first steps in bounds and leaps; there’s a spring in their step, and a fizz and energy in their interpretation  — S&S on a joyous sugar rush, which has the added effect of making you feel that they’re dancing slightly different steps, even if you know that they are not.

Next, Arabian Dance.

The piece is surprisingly long, but at no time does it ever get boring or tiresome. That’s tough (making it neither boring nor tiresome, I mean). In Jeffrey Tan’s version, it’s all about a lady with sinuous arms carried aloft by two men, and that’s an equally unforgettable, gorgeous dance.

I know a review has called this a humongous trope. The thing is, character dances are a part of a lot of classical ballet. And unfortunately, the largest Arabian dance trope I can think of is Le Corsaire, and English National Ballet’s version had a skirt-chasing sheikh with a jiggly belly which he constantly caressed and jiggled. I also don’t know if La Bayadere will be uncomfortably tropey, which I at first considered to be one of the reasons that it never made it to the stage at last (but I think, in general, it was probably a cost issue).

I realised I have a soft spot for the dancers in general, because I’m just so happy to see so many of them in these various dances — and I’m glad to see Beatrice Castenada and Sun Hong Lei in this; and the men who’ve not hitherto danced in pairs like this. Why do I name names sometimes? Because then their names are in cyberspace on an article saying someone was happy watching them dance! I know, we don’t live for recognition; but I’d like to show some appreciation. But I don’t type all the names all of the time, because: lazy photo.

What’s this? A wonderfully intricate dance, that’s what it is. Men in a circle facing outwards, women posing and turned slowly by them and then being passed to the next partner, which means everyone gets a new partner at each beat; a triptych of pairs. It also means that the ladies have to be grabbed by their bare midriffs as they pass along the circle, which I can only imagine could be painful.

I think there’s the sort of pairwork that involves pirouetting while clasping hands, which I always find more unique. Friezes of unfolding poses and patterns. The lifting of ladies onto shoulders. The men forming a sort of low wall (by lunging and resting their hands on their neighbour’s shoulder?) which the ladies use to balance themselves as they lean over and lift one leg in a crooked arabesque (attitude, straight up). Think of the ladies holding on to the men and lowering themselves sleekly into forward splits. It’s the poses that I hold in snapshots in my head because the data plan is slow. A friend commented on Sun Hong Lei’s graceful dancing in this, and I agree that I liked her dancing 🙂

It’s a marvellous dance, and falls into that category of Oh, how I wish I could see it again (see Enid Blyton’s story of the king who could wish that he could eat an ice cream all over again, and it would re-appear).

Clara’s Dolls

This is fantasy candyland, so the dolls come to life. This is where the young ‘uns get to dance. They’re pretty good. Not my favourite music, but it’s actually quite enchanting and refreshing to see them dance. One of them gets progressively redder-cheeked over the course of the performances (a soupcon of rouge). They’re all pointing their feet and turning out as best as they can in everything, including their jumps. At the end, they form little chains and run offstage, hand-in-hand.

Previously, this was known as Mother Candy and her 24 Candies, hidden under her giant skirt. I remember it being mentioned in the papers when I was a tiny kid of 8. I wonder if that skirt is still in storage, somewhere 🙂

Waltz of the Flowers

Hands-down one of my favouritest pieces of music in the entire suite (though Intrada for pas de deux wins). Yep. Loads of gorgeous flowers in fabulous soft frilly mouthwatering pastel colours. I have to mention Leane Lim again (glad she’s joined as an apprentice), because she melts into the crowd so easily that you don’t realise she’s not one of the professionals. It’s just a joy also, to see Niki Wong (there is a typo in the booklet), who stands out. As always, the female group dancers from SDT hit the mark.

In my memory, we start with Dewdrop in the garden of variously kneeling /standing and posing Flowers with crossed, folded hands. They then part like fluttering butterflies and form two columns. It’s the kind of piece where first, Dewdrop dances; and then when the same part of the music is repeated, the rest dance too.

On Saturday’s matinee, Tanaka Nanase was awesome. There was a sort of odd moment, an almost-unfulfilled set of pirouettes that she finished much faster than expected and less steadily than she usually does, and then we realised that the ribbons on one shoe had come undone. But she continued with the rest of her part, even when that consisted of an arabesque with flying ribbons that drew a few gasps from the audience; and then, instead of getting to dance with the rest, she vanished into the curtains, and re-emerged perfectly calmly at an appropriate, opportune moment, and went ahead — blazing on ahead in full colour and without turning a hair. It must have been such a shocking moment for her, but she did it. And she was a smashing Dewdrop in both the shows I saw — ribbons undone or no, she was great, and I think all the more so that she pulled it off (and I think that was a slightly emotional matinee at curtain call). When she’s amidst the group dancers, she fits in with them, but has her own style and stands out, crystal-clear; and when she dances solos, she just pulls this special energy and presence out of the bag.

Li Jie makes for an eye-catching Dewdrop who, at some specific points, makes it look as if it’s something she could do in her sleep; and Elaine Heng is, as always, a picture of accomplishment — always the unhurried air of someone who is steadily on the mark. I’ve just finished watching her as a super-impressive Prayer in Coppelia.

Okay, for those interested in the technical stuff, you are in the wrong place. I can only remember that Dewdrop has to do a set of fouettes. It’s nowhere near 32; probably along the range of 7+4 or 8 + 3.

Sugarplum Fairy

The moment many of us have been waiting for. Sugarplum! Magical music. Another favourite from childhood. This is just from her solo.

Rosa Park lights up the stage, of course, as the Sugarplum Fairy, assisted by the ever-reliable Etienne Ferrere. And when I say ever-reliable, that’s quite important because it means that whenever he partners anyone, it goes down well – the partnership looks steady, the girl looks graceful, and everyone comes off looking fine. Along the way, friends have taught me their views about partnering e.g. when the guy is giving the girl a little lift-off; when he is just supposed to be the pivot and not the branch one is hanging from for dear life when falling off a cliff; when control is needed to counter an over-eager spin or tilting pirouette.

The Sugarplums all have their own special voices – and that’s the thing about artistes that is fun to watch: when they have their own voice — more or less, everyone has one, but it’s great when you can see it, and their style, developing hand-in-hand. It makes one nostalgic.

Sugarplum and Cavelier don’t have much room for storytelling. What I remember is that Chihiro is a Princess Sugarplum ably supported by Prince Sugarplum. Li Jie is a gorgeous Lady Sugarplum (a Christmas version of Lilac Fairy, in a much happier setting) and she and Nazer make Saturday matinee’s version interesting (you know what I think of the dance) – and that was the icing on the Saturday matinee show.

Also interestingly, Rosa Park is Fairy Sugarplum, here to bless your day with fairy-dust — light of foot and elfin. Not girlish like Juliet or Swanilda, or young Aurora.

Surprisingly (or not), Sugarplum also has to do fouettes. For some reason, even though they’re done facing the off-side of the stage (diagonal) and have to travel towards Cavelier, they seem more difficult to pull off: consecutive pirouettes with one leg lashing out and pulling back in as the dancer whips round and round. Perhaps controlling the direction of travel is difficult.

Here’s the music for the full pas de deux, starting with Intrada, a terribly moving piece of music.

The choreography for Intrada was apparently originally by Monsieur Lev Ivanov. I’m accustomed to big bada booms for the climactic music, so when the music escalated and built up to … just little moves like doing a tilt and port de bras, or the couple meeting up to pose (hands lifted, etc), I wasn’t quite used to that. But of course, there are major lifts, and you cannot expect the poor gentleman to be lifting the lady forever. Or can you?

What struck me was that Etienne Ferrere and Rosa Park seemed quite hurried as the music escalated: there was a strange urgency as they made their way forward and then threw themselves into an assisted pirouette. It was only on second viewing that I thought I saw what it meant: they were raising the tempo for us. The moves might look simple, but the dancers can manipulate your emotions and heighten your expectations and bring sharpness and excitement to the most basic-looking* pair-work by a shared spirit and movement.

*I know, nothing is basic, least of all being turned round the waist as one pirouettes, as it can always go awry; hence ‘basic-looking’.

Okay, and then at the end of it all, there’s a closing piece of music. Final Waltz and Apotheosis. Also one of my favourite pieces of music. With age, I have come to prefer this to the Waltz of the Flowers and the solo from Sugarplum. Gasp.

You know, I cannot remember how this goes but I believe everyone comes out for their final turn onstage. Anyway, at the end, Clara is carried, still sleeping, to the sofa…and she wakes, stretches, and sees the snow outside (according to the programme booklet, I think). Yes. Just her. Fritz no doubt was popped back into bed, from whence he came.

I hope dancers know when a show goes well — some seemed overcome with emotion (Nanase, in the Sat matinee; Kenya, in the Sat night show) — close to tears, if not in tears.

These were good shows.

Here’s to many more.

Because Nutcracker will be back again at the end of this year. Will there be three casts again? There were three, in 2013 (when Heidi Zolker, Timothy Coleman and Chen Peng were around). It feels massively horrifying to realise that I have not typed any of those names for at least a year. I’ll go sit with nostalgia in a corner now.

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