Masterpiece in Motion 2016 (Part 1) — Schubert Symphony

90% of this post was written last year.

This was my favourite of the 3 MiMs I’ve seen so far. It was, in every sense of the phrase, Masterpiece in Motion.

There you go, Schubert Symphony on the cover.

cover-of-mim-2016

01-schubert-cast

1. Schubert Symphony, by Goh Choo-San

Two phrases leapt to mind when I was watching this:

Cover Girl: Easy, breezy, beautiful ™

Red Bull gives you wings (tm)

As I watched Li Jie and Nakamura Kenya, it was evident that they were essentially Cover Girl. It looked easy, gorgeous, almost effortless as they breezed through the air with superb confidence and timing. Their partnership was actually a step up from that seen in their Paquita performance a bare month before. It was fabulous.

There was an unexpected hiccough or such (there was a minor foreshadowing in one of the Paquitas as well), but they and the show whisked on ahead, wrinkle-free. I do know that they won’t always work together, for a variety of reasons. But I do savour their performances together, because there’s a life and light in them. It’s a great deal of hard work for both parties, but onstage, everything balances out very evenly. If a male partner’s role is (on occasion) to make the lady look fabulous, I must say that it works here.

And, of course, Li Jie works every single move out so that each move reminds you of what is shining and beautiful about the female solo parts of Schubert Symphony – whether with the mere lift of a hand, or when soaring through the air with such sparkling confidence.

Red Bull gives you wings ™ is what you get out of watching Kenya when he flies onto the stage in one great bounding welcoming leap, and whizzes through his solo. An odd phrase just came to mind.. that he is the man to beat…You now can see how he savours each moment onstage. There’s so much to anticipate.

I’ve watched this before, and it’s gotten better with the performances; but at the same time, I’ve watched it quite a bit, so I do get round to wondering when will this part appear or ah here is that bit where she stands en pointe on her left foot and her hands flutter towards the raised right leg. A quick side note that this should be the dance where Suzuki Mai and Yatsushiro Marina have to make their way scarily quickly across the far ends of the stage and meet in the middle. I’m always impressed by their speed. Also, Sun Hong Lei and Tony Shi Yue seem to make a very good pair — visually, of course, and there’s also a sense of ease from the lady. They’ve been partnered in quite a few different performances.

One of the most interesting parts in the dance has the men lifting the women, while the women’s legs are diamond-shaped; or the women are on their backs in the air held high above the men’s heads while the women raise a leg up, a full extension. I think with time, and such, this part of the dance has grown smoother. (On a separate note, I’ve always wondered when the 2 men on the far right in the first picture have to raise their arms as a sort of accent to the lifting of Li Jie. Is it at the last note? Or a beat or two after? I believe it’s a beat or two after.)

01-schubert-crop-101-schubert-crop-2

From previous performances, when Li Jie danced with Jake Burden)

Just one final note. Men. The men, leaping out at diagonals across the stage to meet one another; doing massive spins with Kenya in their lead. Every work in this season’s MiM simply reinforced this one-line message:

These are the men of Singapore Dance Theatre.

Usually, full-length classical ballets ask that the women hold the fort — swans (Swan Lake) and dryads (Don Q) spring to mind especially — and we have audiences’ eyes on principals. Look, also, at Balanchine’s Serenade and count the number of men versus women — it’s the women in their gorgeous asymmetrical skits of alternating diaphanous beige (won’t say “flesh”) and blue panels swirling about their ankles, that are writ large all over the papers and stage.

But MiM 2016 was a splendid showcase of the men of SDT. These are SDT’s men, and they are really good (and now made even stronger with the latest additions). Impeccable timing and formidable spirit. It’s wonderful also, seeing the dancers entrusted with so much and stepping up to it.

Amongst other things, I am thinking of Shan del Vecchio and Nazer Salgado, Huo Liang and Jason Carter, in their duelling death-matches in Age of Innocence, which maybe we will eventually talk about so that we are spared when BUTS 2017 rolls round.

Actually, maybe it is fairer to say that the last piece (Symphony in Three Movements) reminded one that this is SDT. The timing, the precision, the life, the action. More on that in the distant future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosa Park (a super-belated post)

07 farewell 2 pose

Q: To you, Ballet is…?

Rosa Park: …The oxygen in my life

— In the Wings, April 2015

 

It’s been 5 months since Rosa Park retired.

Rosa Park – where does one begin. Anyone who has had the pleasure and honour of watching her dance — well, that sums it up — a pleasure, and an honour. An absolute and utter privilege.

Rosa Park dances as one might breathe* – with such seeming effortless ease.

*assuming all conditions are stable, e.g. not on top of high mountain

I don’t mean that everything looked simple. No, because part of appreciating dance, sometimes, is in realising how intricate, incredible and incredibly difficult every single bit of it is.

But everything looked like magic.

It was magic. Such magic as will never cross the stage again. Each dancer brings her (or his) own magic and craft to the performance, of course. And now that Rosa Park has retired, we will not pass this way again.

If we want to talk about technical things, we can talk about those fouettes – single, double, triple loops; or those explosive jumps across the stage and down the line of Espadas for Don Quixote and that leg shooting up like a piston in a high kick – sharp, bright moves, accents. Such precision. Those spins in a circle at double-speed round the stage. Executing the unbearable, the impossible — you know I’m thinking about Opus 25 now:

Opus 25 pic

How does anyone do that, lying down on the ground and then using the sheer strength of one’s core to draw one’s torso upwards? (Apart from with the assistance of an incredible partner, of course.)

Steely strength underpinning every single move — e.g. a single ankle, a single foot, a single toe shoe en pointe — that is all that pins Rosa Park to the ground with the other leg raised in attitude, as she starts to rotate to her left, slowly, so gracefully– and at the last possible moment, she lands and finishes the turn.

Every single moment is simple, strong, and finishes beautifully. No move is wasted – no move is simply an arc in the air. You do know what I mean – not loose arms, but arms that move with meaning and purpose – perhaps made up of little things, added up in multitudes. (Perhaps a lift of the chin, or each move going through a proper circle, or hands meeting in the middle in clean crisp movements.)

Grace. A steely, precious grace in every move, every lift of the arm. Remember: waist down is technique, waist up is dancing. Such dancing – so full of the joy of being alive– making us, too, feel the joy of being alive.

Everything about Rosa Park drew one’s eye to her. You can watch videos on Singapore Dance Theatre’s facebook page.

While all performances stood out, I think that if I could rewatch any — I might like to see — 2014’s Don Quixote, of course (the entire performance, in fact, was brilliant); R&J 2011; Opus 25, which I never tire of seeing; and Rosa’s Bittersweet with Timothy Coleman. — and, of course, Swan Lake (that delightful Odette who can’t quite trust the Prince yet; that delightfully wicked Odile!).

Here’s another picture of Rosa’s farewell at the end of Nutcracker, with her twin daughters.

08 farewell 3 kids

But, I suppose, no one misses dancing more than a dancer herself or himself.

 

Rosa Park now teaches at City Ballet Academy, which was opened by Xia Haiying, her predecessor (former principal artist) at Singapore Dance Theatre 🙂

 

 

 

Took a break

…from relief because I’d finally written the Coppelia post.

Take some things with grains of salt, like the King and Queen comment in the last post. It just felt so festive and grand, like a crowning, is what I meant.

Back to Riverdale.

Coppelia: Addendum

I edited the previous post because I forgot a part with a sabre.

It was the 100th post.

One thing that was very evident as Saturday night’s show came to an end was this great resounding thought that I totally forgot to add, too:

We are in the era of Queen Chihiro and King Kenya.

🙂

On a really separate note, since the newspapers have said it – yes, they are engaged. (The Straits Times Coppelia review can be googled.)

Chihiro has a lovely website here:  http://cheech333.blog.fc2.com/

And Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/cheechihiro/?hl=en

 

Too tired handling humans, be back another time.

 

Coppelia 2017 (Acts II and III) – Singapore Dance Theatre

Out of the woods and into the frying pan!

Updating previous post with music.

The music is quite awesome – just YouTube Coppelia 1990 Australian Ballet. So lush, between Acts. And then 40:18 is where the action of Act 2 starts.

 

coppelia 2017 cast

Boy, is this room creepy and fun. Here’s SDT’s 2017 Coppelia trailer (using 2013 footage) so that you can get the idea. Look at that gigantic smiling moon.

(This still you see shows Chihiro as Swanilda, Jason Carter as Harlequin with the mandolin, and Mr Janek Schergen as Doctor Coppelius)

Left to right: We have Justin Zee as the musician on the left. Behind him sits Sun Hong Lei (for Chihiro’s shows, where she is not Prayer) / Leane Lim as Scottish with a sash draped across her. Then Beatrice Castenada as Spanish with a long black lace mantilla and a brilliant jewel-red tutu, and a black lace fan in her lap. Timothy Ng is now the Harlequin, which is one of the most fun and scariest dolls ever, Shan Del Vecchio is the Astronomer in the hat similar to that of Mickey in Disney’s Fantasia, and a long dark gown stitched over with stars. And oh, one of my favourite gloriously creepy dolls – the Siamese twins, seated on a set of what looks like steps. Purple and gold, knees bent outwards, eyes shut. It was only in this performance that I realized that they are dressed in traditional (?) Siamese costumes because they are Siamese twins. =_= They were my favourites in the 2013 performance. Such fabulous costumes. You can see them dance at 0:18 to 0:25 of the performance above. With a spoiler, of course.

The girls enter, to really interesting music. It’s sort of evocative of them creeping about like mice, and of the tension (the unsettling shivery violin trill) — and it’s in a major key, but with the occasional twist (chromatic scale?) that makes you feel like you’re in another world. The scared friend (Kwok Min Yi) needs to be pulled in, and she bumps into the rest in a hurry, which scares them silly. She hides her face in her hands and doesn’t dare to look. The quick-tempered friend (Chua Bi Ru) happily bumbles along and walks backwards into the Musician (Justin Zee), who promptly comes to life and starts kicking his legs out and turning. This scares them terribly.

But when he sits back down (with a little doll-like back-and-forth motion), they realise he’s a doll. I thought that they tested all the dolls at this point in time, but I’m not sure there’s enough music or patience for that. You know, the Australian Ballet 1990 dolls are way creepier. Their Act 2 set and dolls are so elaborate. Kinda fun, but eeks.

What we do know is that the girls feel braver now, and they check out the dolls.

I think they do set off the dolls. The Scottish doll gets up and does constant coupe-de-pied en pointe with alternating feet: lifting one foot to cross it behind her ankle, then repeating with the other foot, while swaying from side to side. The Spanish doll waves her fan, and turns from side to side, too. Harlequin strums his mandolin and goes round in a circle. Astronomer spies nothing through his hand-held telescope as he goes round in a circle, looking up and down. Siamese twins, elbows out so that their arms form rectangular shapes, move their arms in opposite directions. (Apparently, Scottish has a sword under her chair, and one way of testing that they were dolls used to be to take the sword and pretend to run it through the doll. Ouch.)

Wait! there’s a cupboard in the corner. Swanilda, with all the girls’ eyes on her, opens it, and Coppelia is pushed out on her chair. Argh! Swanilda runs back to her friends. But Coppelia doesn’t do anything except sit there and read in the dim room.

So Swanilda and friends decide to greet her, and they all curtsey. Since Coppelia doesn’t respond, they curtsey again, even more deeply and politely, sinking closer to the ground. She doesn’t respond, so Swanilda goes closer to have a look. How odd, she tells her friends – Coppelia stares and stares at her book, and she doesn’t blink! (Big, blinky hands so we know what she’s saying.)

I dare you to tug at her skirt, says the brazen friend; or maybe it’s just a cheeky suggestion. Swanilda: Tug at her skirt? (PS: Brazen friend, for all her bravado and temper, would never be their ringleader, even if she’s got spirit. That’s another story.) Not just a tug, but a big pulling and waving of the skirt.

Swanilda does so, with a fabulous almost-180 degree arabesque (arabesque penche? forgot to write that in the last post). And then runs away, and covers her face. Some of them tease her (including brazen friend) when they find that her knees are knocking in terror.

Nothing has happened. So Swanilda goes over and checks out Coppelia again, while her friends watch/cower. She runs back to her friends to tell them the big news: Coppelia has no heartbeat. She is but a doll! just like the others.

Swanilda mimics Franz: me Franz, you Coppelia – down on one knee, how I love thee — he is in love with a doll, silly boy. Her world is all right again, her position by Franz’s side is safe — Coppelia is no competition. Full of glee and mischief once more, she tells the girls to set off all the dolls. (And because there’s enough music and it’s quite the children’s dance, there’s a lot of repeated miming, just like the skirt: all these dolls, set them off; all these dolls? yes, all of them.)

Led by Swanilda, the girls dance along, too. Even after the dolls have stopped, they’re still dancing away happily. Here’s the doll song.

But just then, who should barge in but Doctor Coppelius, in a real temper!

The girls scatter and hide behind the dolls. As he looks round for someone to catch, they start trying to escape. He almost catches Nanase – he does manage to whack the scared friend Kwok Min Yi — and so on and so forth, but they all make it out, leaving Akira and Swanilda, who is hiding in Coppelia’s cupboard, pressed against the wall.

Akira covers her face as she creeps out: If I don’t see him, he won’t see me. And Doctor Coppelius creeps up behind her…and just as she thinks that she’s safe, he claps his hands loudly behind her, scaring the beagles out of her, and she runs for it.

Doctor Coppelius pushes Coppelia back into the cupboard and shuts the doors. This gives Swanilda time to change into Coppelia’s costume and take her place, because that makes total sense (but hey, I’m not quibbling with a very old and well-loved ballet).

Oh phew, now he can have a drink by the table to the far right of the stage, near the Astronomer. So many bottles and cups, and a big book on the table. A regular Shakespearean kind of table.

But hark, the windows are opening! Doctor Coppelius wraps the scarf round his head and rests his head, and stretches out one arm, on the table, adding to the Bard feel. Who on earth would do that? That just about tells us how strange he’s become, poor old man.

Franz enters. Nazer’s Franz has this hilariously delighted look on his face.

Franz realizes he’s in a really strange place, but he doesn’t have time to explore – Doctor Coppelius is sneaking up on him as he makes his way into the room. Every time Franz turns around, though, Doctor Coppelius freezes in the standard mime doll-pose. Head tilted, back bent at an angle, arms up so his frame forms the top and sides of a rectangle, and feet apart. Finally, Doctor Coppelius can stand it no longer, and he spanks Franz and chases him for a bit.

Franz tries to explain: I came here to meet the beautiful girl.

Doctor Coppelius: Beautiful girl? (think think think – brainwave) OH! A beautiful girl! Hahaha! (At this point, he’s already decided to to steal Franz’s life-force.) Come, let’s be friends. (Proceeds to clasp and shake Franz’s hand. Uh-oh.)

Franz: I thought you were angry with me.

DC: You thought I was angry with you? Not at all! (Remember: repeated miming.)

Franz: I thought you were the devil. (Little devil horns and dancing.)

DC: You thought I was the devil? … Well, maybe. Heh, heh. — Well now, let’s have a drink. (This is quite funny, it involves kicking back and bowing with the matching leg and arm swinging back.)

Franz: Yes, let’s! (Does that twice.)

When Franz is seated at the table, Doctor C distracts him by pointing at something random. Franz (Nazer) obligingly stares and sees nothing, and is puzzled but still looks quite happy. Franz (Kenya) stares and sees nothing and thinks Doctor C is nuts, but whatever. Doctor C, meanwhilst, is adding something from a little bottle to the wine bottle, and he pours Franz a mug, and himself one. While Franz downs the drink, Doctor C pours it obviously over his shoulder. Same for the second one. Franz is getting groggy. A third! Franz says no, but Doctor C absolutely insists, and Nazer’s Franz good-naturedly obliges, and Kenya’s Franz can’t say no because he’s too groggy, so he goes with it, and it’s lights out for Franz now.

Doctor C quickly opens the cupboard. Coppelia emerges – but it’s now Swanilda, in Coppelia’s dress.

Repeat – to the left. It doesn’t take centre-stage. Possibly because there’s a reflective surface behind it. What a dress this is! When Swanilda pirouettes in it, it looks like a gauzy little house – a sloping roof, and walls of green.

coppeliadoll-village-male

It’s touching and a little sad, how Doctor Coppelius fusses over his ‘daughter’. He smoothens her hair, dusts her a little, fixes her skirt, and then spots that the book is upside-down, and turns it right-side up.

Here’s some of the music for the Franz’s scene, and then on to Doctor Coppelius. I like 0:32 to 0:52, it’s quite jolly. But oh, 1:51 onwards is the lovely moment when Doctor Coppelius is all alone with Coppelia. (It seemed creepy and strange when I first saw it, years ago/on DVD, though.) It’s so wistful and so stirring. I get goosebumps and feel tearful (metaphorically). It’s from the prelude too. Which sort of tells you that it’s Doctor Coppelius’ theme, and he matters too.

 

Doctor C then goes round checking the other dolls or something, and when he does so, Swanilda rushes over to try to wake Franz. But Doctor Coppelius is on his way back! So she has to stop in the middle of the room in a doll pose. She manages to trip him over, and when he tries to rise, she whacks downwards with her doll-arms. Eventually, he gets up and finds her standing some distance from her chair. She’s alive!!

Doctor C tries to magic some life into her and she blinks her eyes in tune with the music. So he takes more life-force from Franz (or so he thinks) and throws it at her, and she shrugs her shoulders and raises an arm. More magic! Arms are fine, now for legs, which he fixes by grabbing at the air around Franz’s legs. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he toddles about hurriedly, so desperately joyful. His method of madness includes flinging his big book of Magic onto the floor, kneeling by it, and muttering away.

Ah, now she can dance. Who can forget Li Jie turning round and round while working her arms up and down like a mechanical doll, going down a diagonal towards/ past Doctor Coppelius (0:25 onwards)?

It’s quite funny how the doll eventually can’t seem to stand upright, and Doctor Coppelius has to catch her and prop her up; and how she slumps sideways, and finally, forwards. Clearly, he needs more magic.

Now here comes the part on 2 casts’ interpretations, and I like them both.

Li Jie’s Swanilda is a very good doll who is fooling both Doctor Coppelius and the audience. This makes for intense, riveting watching. You can’t take your eyes off her. Every move is solidly imprinted in your memory, and there’s never a dull moment.

Chihiro’s Swanilda is a girl pretending to be a doll. Her gaze flicks over to Franz once or twice.

You see the great difference between these two interpretations now, when heart and soul are given to her.

Now that Swanilda’s come to life, with soft, human limbs, Doctor C is overcome with joy. You are beautiful, he assures her, and he passes her a mirror; and she does that scary thing, a developpe (drawing of the foot up the leg) and leans over in a long straight arabesque. Why would you do that — now that’s just showing off! But o, it’s so elegant, so gracious, so beautiful.

And then she turns into the normal pretty young lady shown her reflection for the first time, and starts walking away from him, preening. When Doctor C approaches, she shows him his reflection and that scares him. He hurriedly keeps the mirror.

More miming now, as he proudly tells her that he made all these dolls himself. O yes, that’s what the Burgermeister tells them when there’s an explosion from his house, you know — that he was once (always?) a wonderful doll-maker/ carpenter. And Swanilda (a little meanly, or else mischievously) says no, he’s just an old man. You don’t quite like Swanilda then. But she’s a little young and thoughtless and callous, that’s why. So pretty.

Well, that’s not a doll, she says of Franz; and she runs to him, but Doctor Coppelius says: No, no, it is a doll! come over here, dance.

Okay, so I suppose this is where he teaches her to dance. He takes the fan from Spanish signorita – and, this is very cute – he bows to her first. He demonstrates a few steps, and she takes it away from there.

 

Doctor C returns the fan with another bow (it did drop once, which borrowed time from Scottish, but no matter — Li Jie dived into Scottish without turning a hair). No need to bow when taking the sash from Scottish, though – attach with Velcro and show her how to snap her fingers and do a jig (if there’s time). Scottish is unexpectedly lengthy, loads of little kicks and jigging, and it was very, very impressive. Interestingly, Li Jie’s version is of a superb Scottish doll; Chihiro’s Swanilda makes faces at us as she finishes off with a very complicated bit that incorporates arms going up and down and such.

Here’s a version with music, but the dancing segment is shorter.

That’s the core difference. But even when they’re twirling round and round, you can see that Li Jie is just the most amazing Coppelia doll you’ll never have, because her Swanilda is just so accomplished at dancing; and Chihiro’s Swanilda is just as accomplished, but also definitely a young girl.

While Dr C returns the sash to Scottish, Swanilda decides that it’s time to stop playing around, and she heads over to Franz and tries to shake him awake. Dr C tries to stop her, so she dashes around knocking his dolls over and throwing his book on the ground (0:32 to 0:52 of the music I liked, mentioned above?). She even grabs a sabre from under Scottish’s chair and parries and thrusts to keep him away. As he tries to right the mess (since he can’t block her sword), she drops the sword, runs to the still-open window, and waves and shouts for help, so he grabs her and carries her away from the window, kicking and still shouting.

He pops her onto Coppelia’s chair and pushes her back into the cupboard, shutting the doors firmly on her.

Hurrah! her friends come rushing in to her rescue. You just know they’ve been wondering what to do… and now they start the dolls dancing again (which is why you hear that in the music below). Someone rescues Swanilda from the cupboard, Swanilda wakes Franz, and as Doctor Coppelius runs around in a tizzy (should he catch the girls or save the dolls? save the dolls, of course), the girls run out, leaving Swanilda and the now-awakened Franz.

And oh, at 1:54-ish below, Swanilda goes into the cupboard and pushes out Coppelia, who lies in her little beige leotard and stockings in a chair, limp and lifeless. As Franz and Swanilda run out, Doctor Coppelius realizes that his beloved daughter was never alive after all. He picks her up and carries her in his arms and makes his way to the front of the stage, broken and mourning. Oh, tears. It’s heartbreaking.

 

To save us the tears, there’s an Act III. An allegory and happy ending sewn in to make us all happy.

Here’s the music to lead us in.

 

Then enter these 12 ladies in the most absolutely stunning dresses – black bodices and skirts, silver trimmings, and gorgeous diaphanous silver sleeves.

coppelia-hours

And they look so amazing, and they dance to this brilliant, sparkling piece of music. They’re apparently some allegory about the 12 hours of the day. Listen to 2:40 and imagine them in rows of four, and with each important beat, row by row they carry out their moves – so orderly, and yet without being regimented. (I keep thinking this is when they sink row by row — from bended knee to kneeling).

So while they do dance in unison in rows, they also kneel in a circle (3:14 to 3:31) and then rise, one by one, to do a pirouette and pose before kneeling again. I love that bit. So.. hourly (I don’t care if it seems as subtle as a sledgehammer — it is just so lovely). The end sees them fading away so that Dawn can take centre stage (coming in from audience’s left).

 

All right! It’s time for Dawn, and there’s a lovely pink glow on the stage. Lighting is wonderful here, as always. Dawn wears a long pink dress with slightly puffed longish sleeves, and a headdress with little ribbons hanging down from it. If you watch her on Australian Ballet’s 1990 version, that dance is pretty much what we have here. And, I’m sorry to say, it’s not my favourite dance.  Just a matter of personal taste. Chua Bi Ru does a bright version of Dawn and puts her best foot forward (in a piece of choreography that is actually my least favourite in the whole ballet). Kwok Min Yi, interestingly, does a version of Dawn that has soft, gentle port de bras. When she stretches her arms up, she looks like the embodiment of a Dawn that is waking with the sun – a gentle, refreshingly new Dawn.

 

The lighting changes to noon, or to late afternoon. It’s time for Prayer, a girl in blue wearing a headdress with dangling ribbons, too. I know the picture below looks like it’s going to tell you “Sorry, this video is not available in your country”, but if you open it up, it shows you “40 Most Beautiful Orchestral Classics”. And boy, is it beautiful. 

Prayer has to do an arabesque penche slowly, leg right up behind her in the air as far as possible while her hands are together in prayer, and hold for at least a fraction of a second. That is no mean feat. Subsequently, she points her foot forward, and, as she lifts her corresponding hand up to join the other hand in prayer, she rondes (make a big circle of) her foot up in the air behind her and holds that there, while she does another of those big arabesques (imagine legs at 160 degrees, one foot on the ground!). She does that twice.

I love how, when Elaine Heng does that move, it looks as if she’s drawing her foot up on a string that’s attached to her fingers, and then when she leans forward, as if that brings her foot up.

The 2 interpretations of Prayer were very special. Elaine Heng was the gracious, benevolent, very genteel Prayer; goodness shining out of her face and every move. Every line was very clean and strong.

Sun Hong Lei — this is the first time she’s had a solo moment, I think, and I’ve a really soft spot for her dancing (hmm, I’ve a soft spot for them all), so I was glad to see her name beside Prayer. Sun Hong Lei drifts out as an absolutely ethereal, breathtaking Prayer — a prayer on a cloud — like a Chinese fairy or goddess out of a fairytale. Watching her Prayer scene is like watching a dream, or a vision, float gently and gracefully. There’s a part when one has to descend out of the arabesque i.e. lower one’s leg, without jerking one’s neck, and she does that very well, so that the vision continues without interruption.

Somewhere after all this, the Harvesters dance. Jerry Wan/Peter Allen, Agetsuma Satoru, Reece Hudson, Jeremie Gan. They are excellent, and the new dancers are good, strong additions to Singapore Dance Theatre. (Also, there were fans of Reece Hudson in the audience seated nearby. The audience may only applaud and not cheer, but those sitting in the audience may be fortunate enough to know.)

We have this next piece of music and I don’t know what it does. But I do know that I skipped a piece of music before that, and that the Burgermeister comes in with someone bearing a tray of money, and he gives it out to the betrothal couples. The lady ends up holding the bag, usually (Takeaki Miura, reluctantly, passes his to Nanase; Timothy Ng looks a little put-out initially; Xu Lei Ting and partner are quite peaceable about it).

Doctor Coppelius emerges from his house and pours out his woes. Swanilda feels guilty about the havoc wreaked, and she and Franz agree to hand him their bag of money. But the Burgermeister instead hands him two bags. Mollified and touched by the couple’s gesture, Doctor Coppelius hands Franz one of the bags and shakes hands with the couple.

The Betrothal couples dance, but I don’t know what they dance to. It looks difficult, though, which is why you have very good pairs dancing. Always looks like Sun Hong Lei and Timothy Ng make a good pair. The couples finish off by kneeling (one knee up) while facing the audience’s left, hands lifted to the sky.

Okay, pas de deux time. I don’t see the full dance here … is it here? There are great spins in a circle, which the Swanildas go through with ease. The part that looks difficult is hopping backwards, away from Franz, on one toe, but it looks good from whichever angle. I can’t remember much of Franz’s dancing except, I think, jumps in a circle on the stage. Whatever it is, both Franzes are fine.

Their piece includes pirouettes using Franz’s hand overhead as a semi-pivot (not totally gripping, I think?) and his hand at the side, to push off. It looks like Kenya gives Chihiro a bit of momentum, for the latter. There’s this fiendish bit for Swanilda, which involves relying solely on Franz (a one-hand grip) to do … a pirouette? and then immediately after, an arabesque while he walks her around quickly. She has only two points of contact at that point – one toe on the ground, and one hand in Franz’s. A friend commented on the issue of Swanilda death-gripping Franz’s hand, and I don’t know, but…as a matter of physics, it must be immensely difficult to survive on just one hand-hold.

At the end, Franz grasps Swanilda round the waist by one arm in a sort of fish dive (she facing the opposite direction, and upside down, legs kicked up). That always brings the house down.

Then it’s on to the finale. Hours leaping out in splits, pushing out their hands – Ruth Austin’s grace and strength standing out, and solid work from the backbone of SDT (dancers such as Yatsushiro Marina, Suzuki Mai, Ma Ni, Beatrice Castenada). Do you know — seeing them in a dance matters, because they’re familiar, good dancers to watch.

Everyone dancing out and then round the happy couple – Swanilda on her husband’s shoulder as he walks around, and then, as the curtain finally goes down, husband can set her back down on the floor again. Love this music — it’s so jolly.

And, on Saturday night, Franz was moved to tears again. The applause was all well-deserved: Franz breezed through his dances and was a joy to watch.

 

Sometimes, when I predict whether Coppelia is going to show, it’s based on whether I think they’re promoting or have just promoted someone. Coppelia, if you look backwards into SDT’s history, is used sometimes when new parties are promoted, or to showcase certain qualities. It’s hard, physically and mentally, to carry a show — so kudos to Nazer (with his great comic dramatic ability) and Li Jie.

It’s a good piece for everyone, really  – lots and lots of dancing for everyone, unlike Don Quixote, so it’s good for apprentices. Did I mention a new apprentice, Jessica Garside, who joined Hours? Good to see new faces. Also a first time seeing Valerie Yeo and Watanabe Tamana onstage, and they fitted into Hours with the rest.

If I could rewatch any part of Coppelia: Li Jie as Swanilda-Coppelia (one can’t get tired of it) and Chihiro as well, of course (again, one can’t get tired of this); the outstanding Mazurka; Kwok Min Yi’s Dawn, because it’s unfathomable how she made it look Dawn-like; Sun Hong Lei as the ethereal Prayer, to see how she does it (I suppose privately I’ve always thought of her as looking something like a Chinese goddess, and she danced very like one in this graceful dance).

And oh, the Hours in anything they did, including the finale. What music! What a dance. And what lovely dresses they had.

 

 

 

Coppelia 2017 (Act I) – Singapore Dance Theatre

coppelia cover

(Nakahama Akira plays Coppelia in the promotional materials and cover of the pamphlet. Photo was not cropped, oh dear! Taken at the Esplanade).

Updated: to include last part on the return of Doctor Coppelius.

I first saw Coppelia live in 2013 — Uchida Chihiro and Nakamura Kenya. I had hoped, for years, to be able to watch it live (ever since The Australian Ballet advert appeared in the papers — you can google when that was), and so it was a dream come true for me. (Prior to that, I had watched the Leanne Benjamin-Carlos Acosta DVD — $10 from the green shop in Bras Basah complex.)

Following the rules of large cinemas (don’t buy row E and below), back then, I had bought (I think) Row F, G or H – something adequately near to the stage and to the audience’s left. This time, I sat further back, which meant that what I saw didn’t gel with the close-up images in my memory (e.g. Franz, larger than life, being fooled by Doctor Coppelius).

When I first saw Coppelia, my overwhelming reaction was: very fun, light, frothy stuff, without the heavy stuff and music that anchors the likes of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, et cetera. (Yet, years later, I found myself humming a bit of music that turned out to be the waltz.) Also, I recalled having a ball of a time and loving the scene with the dancing dolls; and I also enjoyed watching Kenya’s Franz ham it up in 2013. But I just couldn’t quite recall the music … even after the first show I saw this year.

But more viewings reminded me that there are so many moving parts to this ballet; and now, when I play the opening piece, I recall that wonderful sense of anticipation as the audience watched the curtain. And I remember all the good stuff, and that the music was pleasant — the Mazurkas, the crowd dance, the moving second Act. Yep.

 

 

The beautiful curtain. Lookit! Sets the mood for us.
“Where is Coppelia set?” asked a friend. A fictitious country, that’s where.

coppelia curtain

For kicks, here’s the 2013 pamphlet, including the write-up. Found it (and a Starbucks card) while cleaning the house for the new year. Hard work is its own reward.

coppelia 2013 cover

(You can see Nazer on the far left; and that’s Chihiro in the centre.)

coppelia 2013 synopsis

(Kenya and Chihiro)

coppelia 2013 cast

This was so long ago that the Apprentices included (of more recent Artists): Beatrice Castenada, Huo Liang, Kwok Min Yi and Lisha Chin. And now you can lookit the cast list of 2017.

coppelia 2017 cast

This opens in a town square (big town clock at the back, and benches and lamps, and a house on either side, plus a small building to the back) with two youths (Huo Liang and Takeaki Miura) harassing the elderly Doctor Coppelius (Artistic Director Mr Janek Schergen). They’re just having a bit of fun, in their opinion — just buzzing about him and muddling his head — but he gets away and into his house, which is to the audience’s right. This allows us to notice him and recognise his house. Quite possibly, he pops up and brings Coppelia to the window at around this moment.

The youths then go to the bench at the back (more towards the right) where four garlands for an unnamed festival have been waiting patiently. Takeaki Miura hands one to Huo Liang and slides the rest over his arm. Huo Liang, tasked with hanging the garlands, begins with the area under the town clock. Unfortunately, he’s not got an eye for the task, and starts way too far left of the clock, and his friend has to keep gesturing to him to move the garland along (sometimes he moves too far right then, or continues being off-center, causing his friend to smack his forehead in exasperated disbelief: how can anyone not know where centre is). Then it’s fixed, and Huo Liang hammers and nails it in. Then the lamp-post (too high, just right).

Then the small building on the left, to the back. Huo Liang starts to hammer a garland onto one of the pillars. Turns out it’s the local tavern + inn, and the noise (or shaking foundations?) draws out the irate innkeeper, Timothy Ng, and his assistant, Jeremie Gan. I expect they explain the festival to the innkeeper, because he grudgingly heads back in — but not before touching the lamp (or doorway?) outside the inn with his finger and noting that it’s still dusty — and glaring at his assistant, who gives the lamp a perfunctory whack (not even a wipe-down) with the towel around his neck and follows him back into the inn.

Last stop: the house to the left, Coppelia’s house. This is when the Valse (Waltz) from Coppelia plays. Coppelia emerges before they can nail the garland to the door.  I did think that in a performance, they managed to prop it up just before she emerged, but of course — it was upside down, so it had to be set right side up. But there was another performance where Coppelia (Chihiro) emerged before the garland was set up, and she agreed to putting the garland on the door.

This is the version that closest approximates, I think, the one that I heard. Okay, so I only listened to 2 versions before this, and one was the digital type.

Coppelia and the 2 men hold hands and dance round in a circle — ring a ring of roses; a sort of light-hearted, spring-flower moment. Remember, these are young folk and she is a carefree girl — lilies of the field.

Somewhere in this dance, our –and Swanilda’s — eye falls on Coppelia. I can’t recall how this works — I think that earlier on, Doctor Coppelius opens the windows, revealing Coppelia. I can’t remember if it’s the men who point out Coppelia to Swanilda. From 1:11 onwards (to 1:28?), Swanilda invites Coppelia down to dance with her, with little delicate trills of her feet, and pointing down at the ground quite obviously (which, in miming, according to the internet, means… a command? If so, what does this say about Swanilda?). I’m looking at Coppelia 1990 by the Australian Ballet as well, to help me recall. I frankly cannot recall exact moves, but this passes pleasantly and prettily.

From 2:48 onwards there’s a really unexpected part, where Swanilda goes right up under Coppelia’s window (with really rapid kicking movements that match the notes in the music) — she is quite agitated by now, probably because she is not used to being ignored (because she is the prettiest girl in the village and the ringleader of the pack) — I think she is asking why Coppelia won’t come down to play. This ends with her actually commanding Coppelia to come down, then stamping her foot, and losing her temper (the miming being sort of shaking both fists in the air as if drumming a beat against a door). And then doing a sulky series of pirouettes which end with a pose in which she flings her arms up to the side as if pushing Coppelia away; and she refuses to look at Coppelia, rejecting her. Fine, if you won’t play with me, I won’t care about you either! and See if I care! etc. It’s massively comically dramatic, and I didn’t expect that Swanilda would be childish or that she’d actually do something so obvious and familiar to anyone who’s been through the “don’t friend you” phase (before facebook..long before facebook..).

All I remember of what happens next is that Swanilda goes back into her house.

Have a look at her dress, in the centre, below. That’s Coppelia’s dress to the left. I suppose that’s Franz’s on the right. Pretty, isn’t it? Makes one think of, I dunno, a Tyrolean maiden, I suppose.

coppeliadoll-village-male

Franz makes an entrance, a bouquet of flowers in hand, all ready to declare his love for Swanilda. But lo, here are the same 2 chaps from the opening of the ballet, being the ultimate trolls friends. When they figure out where he’s going, they point out Coppelia to him. Franz is taken by her beauty, (passes the flowers to his friends?) and introduces himself to her, going down on one knee, etc. But she ignores him and continues reading. Now he’s taken aback by her aloofness. His friends, in the meantime, now have the bouquet, and in the background, they pretend to be the Franz and Swanilda love show — Huo Liang as the smitten Franz on one knee, proclaiming his love for Swanilda; Takeaki Miura as the lovestruck Swanilda, blown away by his flowers and love, and, in one great, fabulous grandiose leap, making his way to his beloved; and Takeaki-Swanilda sits upon Huo Liang’s knee and they make exaggerated kissy faces at each other. Franz, suddenly aware that his friends are making fun of him, shoves them apart so that they fall to the ground; and his friends troll him by now reminding him that he was supposed to visit Swanilda, not chase Coppelia.

But then suddenly, Coppelia gets to her feet! Doll-like (but realistically enough to the trio), she looks up, blows a kiss at them, and settles back down again with a little sproing back and forth — not that the guys on the ground notice, because now they’re all abuzz about how the new belle in town has just hailed them. They don’t notice that Doctor Coppelius has (I think) pushed Coppelia and her chair aside, and when the 2 friends finally try to push Franz forward. Franz approaches in a friendly fashion but he and his friends fall back in shock when they see that Doctor Coppelius is staring down at Franz . Doctor Coppelius yells at him and he runs off.

Doctor Coppelius then beckons to the 2 friends, and they approach eagerly, but he then snaps at them and chases them away: dream on!

Next up: the scene fills with other folk, the village couples, her friends–and then in enters Swanilda from our left, eyes following an invisible butterfly as it flutters in high above her head — and she tries to catch it and fails, and then in enters Franz from our right, and together, they manage to cup their hands over it when it lands on the ground. Franz’s hands first, and hers over his, their folded hands rising and falling in fluttery beats as if the butterfly is trying to escape while she smiles (and makes eyes?) at him. In this, Li Jie makes a sort of sweet, coy Swanilda while Chihiro plays a cute, chirpy and mischievous Swanilda.

Franz sweeps the butterfly into his folded hands and stands in a corner to admire it. Swanilda longs to see it, so he holds it up in his hand: isn’t it lovely? isn’t it wonderful?

And she is pleased, and all is good.

And then Franz puts it to his chest, proudly produces a pin from his pocket (oh, the alliteration!) and then pins the lovely creature to his chest, thereby stabbing it to death.

Eeeks! Swanilda buries her face in her hands. What a heartless, heartless man! She will have nothing to do with him. Franz, taken aback by her sudden change of heart, rips the butterfly from his chest and tosses it aside (!!), and tries to woo her, but she has gone to seek comfort and counsel from her friends, who all commiserate and agree with her that he’s the most horrid, black-hearted fellow ever, et cetera. Franz retrieves his bouquet of flowers from a quick-thinking friend, and presents them to Swanilda. Swanilda pretends to be impressed and pleased, and just as Franz feels relieved that he has saved the day, Swanilda flings the flowers to the ground and turns her back on him.

When Franz tries to explain himself to Swanilda, her friends take turns telling him off – Nanase is a stern friend, and Bi Ru plays the spirited, pugnacious friend who stamps her foot and sticks out her tongue at him — and who has to be dragged away by a wiser, calmer friend (Sun Hong Lei/Elaine Heng on alternating performances?) while Swanilda disappears into the house, followed by her coterie of friends.

But all’s swell for now, because in enter the Lead Czardas and they lead the Mazurka.

This sounds like a good time to watch the 2013 video from One @ The Ballet. You can see some of the scenes here, with Chihiro as Swanilda, Kenya as Franz, Zhao Jun and Etienne playing the roles that Huo Liang and Takeaki Miura play now; and May Yen Cheah and Chen Peng as the lead Czardas. Ahhh, names I’ve not typed for a while.

 

(For the interested: the butterfly looks like it’s made of paper, and it’s actually held in Franz’s hand as he swoops in to ‘catch’ it. Something else from One @ The Ballet — Mr Schergen said, as they were going to show us this scene with Li Jie and Nazer: “Let’s play the music, so it feels more real.” That was an interesting comment.)

The Mazurka! Swoon-worthy music and choreography.

The choreography and costumes are more like those from Coppelia 1990 by Australian Ballet, on youtube.

Group dancing is always fun. Everyone in pairs, in columns: there are the little kicks of the right foot while the left hand goes up behind the ear so that the elbow sticks up and out and the dancers swirl; and the sliding moves with arms folded parallel and hands balled in fists. The holding of partners round the waists and whirling round, the knock-kneed dance, the men kicking and jumping and actually appearing to almost squat in mid-air. At 1:43, the lead Czardas (May Yen Cheah + Etienne Ferrere for Chihiro’s shows; Elaine Heng + Yorozu Kensuke for Li Jie’s shows) have a little piece by themselves — 2 phrases of music, in particular, end on a triumphant note: first one in pirouettes (I think) and then a pose; and second, a swooping fish-dive.

If you watch the Royal Ballet one on youtube, one difference for the SDT version is that the couples face each other for the majority of the moves. Hardly ever are they facing the same direction, i.e. away from each other.

(Looking at the couples in the booklet – I thought Reece Hudson danced with Sun Hong Lei/Tamana Watanabe; and Shan Del Vecchio ..did not? Did Suzuki Mai dance with Justin Zee and Minegishi Kana with Takeaki Miura? Did Ruth Austin dance with Tony Shi Yue and did Yeo Chan Yee dance with Peter Allen/ Jerry Wan? Or am I recalling the ears of corn dance?)  Also, this is our first time seeing Justin Zee dance, and he is very good (says the layman eye). Shan Del Vecchio is, too.

At parts of the music which sound stronger (a general hint that it’s a men-only portion), the men all leap into the air and do little beats with their feet, and do jumping spins, and they’re all good.

I’ll tell you one thing I think was in the Mazurka, which I didn’t see on tape — it’s when arms are in third position (one overhead, one to the side, so gracefully) and the corresponding leg bent (plie) and the other outstretched to the side, toe on the ground (tendu) respectively. And then they turn round quickly in the same pose, like they’re skating, and the ladies’ skirts whirl and it looks so very different from other moves because they’re not on their toes for this.

When those are over, we hear a bell and see that some people are pulling/pushing in a large bell mounted within a frame. Even the innkeeper and his assistant pop out to have a look. The Burgermeister (Ballet Master Mohamed Noor Sarman) enters and announces that there will be a Festival of the Bells and those who marry that day will receive a sum of money. That sounds like good news to Franz, who proposes that he and Swanilda marry. Swanilda refuses, but is persuaded to join hands with him and stand before the Burgermeister – but at the last moment, she demurs again and runs off to join her friends.

In the meantime, someone produces an ear of corn and it’s announced that if one shakes it and hears a rattling, one’s beloved is true of heart or something of that sort. Or is true to one. I remember being properly baffled by this the first time I watched it.

Swanilda shakes it eagerly and thinks she hears something. Right? Her friends, e.g. Nanase, don’t quite look convinced, and don’t quite know how to tell her that, but she’s already moved on to her friends on the other side of the stage e.g. Chua Bi Ru. They look doubtful or even disbelieving, but she doesn’t seem to notice that.

Now comes the Waltz of the Corn.

Swanilda holds an ear of corn. The rest don’t. A dance of couples, very slow and deliberate. Things like holding the girls by one hand or the waist while they do almost a full 180 arabesque as they lean down gracefully as if to allow an invisible ear of corn in their hand to gently brush the floor; and then they return to normal arabesque later and raise their hands high, as if to hold the corn up to the light. Highly impressive dance because it has all those difficult-looking things like men holding the girls by the hands while the girls pose with one leg raised in front in attitude (bent) and then changing poses like that. Pirouettes where the girls are spinning round while holding on, overhead, to only one of their partners’ hands. And ladies lifted to sit on their partners’ shoulders.

The dance being over, Swanilda shakes the ear of corn. In the dead silence, she hears … nothing. Omg. She’s already had her faith in humanity Franz tested once, and now she is shattered, and she dashes offstage. Franz shakes the ear of corn and he hears a rattling sound and realizes (again! short-lived, though) that she is totally worth his while, and he races off after her. I wish he didn’t look so outrageously happy to hear the rattling sound, though. I thought he should look kind of surprised, then paiseh (embarrassed) that he’s been such a fool. Hahaha. But I suppose we must remember that he’s still young and foolish – he isn’t going to repent so easily! – and that’s why we have the whole scene in Doctor Coppelius’s house.

The giant bell on the frame has vanished. I always noticed it rolling in, but never rolling out.

Time for the friends to dance. ETA: Music.

Look at their names: Elaine Heng/Sun Hong Lei, Marina, Kowk Min Yi, Bi Ru, Nakahama “Cupid” Akira, and Tanaka Nanase. This Coppelia has seen Sun Hong Lei in more major roles, including a gorgeous solo as Prayer, and I am glad about that. These friends are fun to watch, because they have different styles, and they get to dance quite bombastic stuff, especially when they burst across the stage in pairs and then swap. May Yen Cheah and Nanase doing spins that end with a whirling leg kicking up, Nanase’s like a piston. Bi Ru and Sun Hong Lei/Elaine Heng doing quick moves and jumps across the stage. Yatsushiro Marina and Akira doing gorgeous high sharp kicks, their eyes following the trajectory.

Then Swanilda runs in from the right side (from audience’s perspective, of course) and you’re like…wait, I thought you were heartbroken. The internet says Franz cheers her up by convincing her that he truly loves her (offstage?). Here, it’s the music and dancing by her friends that cheer her up, of course. You can always count on your closest friends to lift your spirits.

Swanilda! Feet crossed in tight fifth position, feet zipping out en pointe so her legs and the ground form a little triangle, then zipping back in, then out again, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Oh, and progressing across the stage in a diagonal through a series of little leaps, legs parallel and feet beating together. You know these leaps from Kitri, I think, when the body is arced slightly so that the dancer can see her feet before her, and she’s only slightly elevated. It looks like a difficult and delicate operation, as if the dancer may tip over at any second.

I can’t recall at which point (I think it was in the doll’s room, really, when Li Jie gathered her friends round and they decided to have some fun and dance along with the dolls) that I realized that Swanilda is the prettiest girl, and she knows it, and that’s partly why she is their ringleader. Not that her looks elevate her per se, but that she is just the life of the party and just happens to be the prettiest, and she dances like it’s as easy as breathing, in this part. So she gets to dance front and centre.

No, who am I kidding. It’s like this because it’s a ballet. But you see, everyone else gets centrestage because they’re the princess, or the one in love (Juliet). She’s the main character.

Now we go to (I think) the pairs mixing and matching: Marina and Bi Ru, arms akimbo, one leg in attitude at the back (raised bent leg) and then they plie and go up en pointe. Then another step forward and repeat. Very quickly, like nodding mandarin ducks. Ah, I can’t remember it all. But everyone has their day heading across the stage at a bracing pace, almost as if it’s a finale, and then I think Swanilda joins them at the very end.

Next, the Lead Czardas stroll in. Elaine Heng as the strong, gracious lady Lead Czarda, accompanied by the ever-efficient Kensuke.

May Yen Cheah and Etienne Ferrere make for a vivacious, proud pair. You know – when the lady tucks her hand in his arm and they smoothly roll out the leg very slowly, very proudly, as they advance. There’s no hurry, nowhere else you should be going – they are the main attraction, and they know it.

At one point in time during the merry-making (now??), a loud chiming is heard, and there is an explosion and a blast of light, and Doctor Coppelius’s windows fly open, white smoke pouring out. Doctor Coppelius appears, coughing, and – crucially – he leaves the windows open. Everyone stares at him, he stares back at the void, and then he vanishes.

This is extremely dramatic, but also a tad ominous, and that helps change the tone slightly as the merry-makers return home for the day.

Except for that irrepressible youth played by Huo Liang, who peers round Doctor Coppelius’s house, and then exaggeratedly makes his way round it, back to it, feeling his way with his hands. Then we have Justin Zee, and Huo Liang (again), Takeaki Miura, peeking round the house – and Jason Carter as the last, clumsy, fellow, who either leans on someone’s shoulders and falls over, or who simply misses and falls, and has to be dragged away in case Doctor Coppelius hears (or, once, somehow manages to exit on someone’s back in a hurry).

Franz appears with a ladder. After all, the window is open! Ah, but there’s a sound – and he hides.

Twilight sees Doctor Coppelius emerging from his house. Gracious, but it’s cold, and he’s forgotten his scarf. Back in he goes, and he wraps his scarf round his throat. Oh – he pats the top of his head – now he’s forgotten his hat. Back in, and out again. (“There are two requirements to be Doctor Coppelius. You must be old – check – and you must not be afraid to make a fool of yourself – check,” in the words of Mr Janek Schergen.) He locks the door and then makes sure we can all see him wrapping it up in his white hanky.

Out he goes, but he runs into Shi Yue Tony, who blocks his way. Then a bunch of youths (including the 4 seen earlier) pop up to harass him and bump into him, and Reece Hudson’s character mocks him (let’s dance), so two of the youths hoist the terrified old man high up into the air. Finally, the last of the youths (Jason Carter) turns Doctor Coppelius round and round so he gets giddy, and then the youth runs off in a hurry.

Poor, harried Doctor Coppelius! He wipes his brow with his kerchief, and his key drops with a clang, but he doesn’t notice. The innkeeper, having heard the commotion, heads out with his assistant, and Doctor Coppelius explains that 8 youths punched and kicked him. Come in and have a drink, says the innkeeper; Two, says Doctor Coppelius; All right, two, says the innkeeper, and they all head back into the inn.

Swanilda’s door opens, and she and her friends file out. Akira finds the key, and of course Swanilda, the chief mischief-maker, realises it’s for Doctor Coppelius’s house, and decides that they should all sneak in to explore it. #whatpeopledidbeforeyoutubeandnetflix

So they do, but there’s one terrified lass who always has the audience in stitches (Kwok Min Yi), who shivers, whose knees are knocking (is it the pugnacious character played by Bi Ru, or Swanilda, who makes fun of that), and who remains rooted to the spot. There’s always that one good-natured friend (Elaine Heng/Sun Hong Lei) who tries to persuade her to go in, until someone (either Swanilda or pugnacious friend) gives her a shove and she flies forward with a graceful leap, and dashes in.  Good-natured friend is the last to enter and she makes the sign of the cross before going in.

Doctor Coppelius exits from the inn, drunk and all, using a cane to feel his way. Is he searching for his key with his lantern? I think so. Anyway, he wanders into his house as the girls have left the door open. Then he exits: Wait, how did I get into my house without opening the door? There must be intruders! All worked up now, he readies himself with his cane, almost like it’s a sword, and rushes into the house.

All’s quiet after that, so Franz reappears. No one in sight! He hath his ladder with him, and he props it up against the window sill, and in amusing, comical slow-mo, carefully begins his ascent.

The curtains go down.

But it’s not time for a break. Only for a scene change.

Kudos to the folks behind the scenes, who have what feels like barely five minutes to change everything.

Okay, that’s all for now. Next Friday, a new episode of Riverdale beckons. It has a lot of problems – especially on representation for people of colour –  but it’s curiously engrossing and such a guilty pleasure. Just started on Samurai Gourmet too, on a friend’s suggestion; and I definitely have to watch the Chef’s Table episodes. I always find the female chefs’ episodes exceptionally fascinating – loads of explanations of why they do what they do, and lots of talk about food. (I haven’t watched any male chef episodes from Season 2, so I shall have a look. Soon. After I check out the one about the Korean nun that everyone has been raving about.)

 

 

Eeps

..is that moment when you re-read through your blog entry and realise there are typos (what on earth did you use this phrase for?) and wonder if 1) not reading enough fiction 2) having small issues with the brain tissues.

I will make edits over time. I’ve already made some, to make up for the eeks when the typos are so embarrassing that they loom large and threaten to squash….. the malaprop out of one.

malapropism

or worse, thing without a name.

I haven’t finished re-looking through the post (it’s better to look at the finished product — harder to spot problems when looking at the draft). So there should still be some errors, lying beautifully untouched (unvarnished?unforced?)…

Farewells: End 2016

I’m going to write about Rosa Park and Maughan Jemesen separately. I think.

Anyway, Nutcracker 2016 was the last SDT show for:

1. Ines Furuhashi-Huber … we’ll miss seeing her onstage. Beautiful form, and a strong, fairly recent addition to SDT (2014?). Memories of her, especially, in Serenade (2015) and in Midnight Waltzes (2015), paired well with Shan del Vecchio. This was when Shan del Vecchio was starting to feature more in pairwork and in general.

2. Lisha Chin. My friend would ask, after watching the performances: Who’s that dancer? , for her tall, graceful form always stood out. She seriously left an impression in her final SDT performances  — I don’t think we’ll forget Mrs Nightingale for a long time to come. The line-up for SDT is not going to be the same without her. (I’ve just watched Coppelia, and the backbone has changed so much! Not a bad thing, but it takes a little getting used to.)

3. Alison Carroll. Last, but never, ever least. Where do we begin? Part of the backbone of the major group dancers with so many dances, both contemporary and classical, under her belt. First saw her in a studio performance of the beautifully fragile, moving Absence of Story. The Fairy of Song in Sleeping Beauty; unforgettably, Winds of Zephyrus and Chant. Nimble, precise dancing. Because she was so good at both contemporary and classical dancing, one could always count on seeing Alison Carroll in so many pieces – Jabula (but of course!), Theme and Variations (a fiendishly complicated piece), Fearful Symmetries…the list goes on. And Cupid from Don Quixote, which involves – what, hopping endlessly on toes with ankles crossed, super-fast; a great cupid-bow leap offstage, boundless energy and charisma (you’re sharing the stage with Kitri-as-Dulcinea, after all).

 

Best wishes to them.

New Artists and Apprentices (late 2016, current); Promotions

It makes no sense to move on without first noting the following new artists, some of whom I’ve mentioned in passing. Yes, you can also check this up on the website. Singapore Dance Theatre has done up its page, so it’s all very spiffy and new and shiny, and quite visually-attractive. But I can’t find the In the Wings interviews any longer, including this year’s interview(s?) with Nanase. Will poke around a bit more!

2016 (Artists)

1. Minegishi Kana

2. Justin Zee

2017 (Apprentices)

1. Leane Lim — seen in Flowers in Nutcracker 2016, hurray!

2. Valerie Yeo

3. Jeremie Gan

4. Agetsuma Satoru

5. Jessica Garside (Mar 2017)

6. Watanabe Tamana (Mar 2017)

 

This sort of balances out the natural attrition rate, I suppose. Of which I know nothing.

In Coppelia, just for the sake of discussion, there were a couple of new dancers for Hours: Ma Xiao Yu, Felicia Er

 

I cannot recall if I’ve mentioned promotions yet. In case I haven’t,  here they are, yay:

First Artist: Chua Bi Ru and Jason Carter

Artist: Yeo Chan Yee, Timothy Ng and Wan Jiajing Jerry

 

I do check the site but I’m slow at mentioning this sort of stuff! … and all the other stuff.

 

 

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 🙂

poster night 2.jpg

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.)

03-things

Cast lists round 3:

04-cast-1

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.