Knowing

This is really just a reminder to myself. The other day, I chanced upon a website about crochet and blue elephants, and I marvelled at the website-building skills (I am unable to input those into my brain) and the colours and craftwork (I can’t do the same). I did wonder if those were things I could ever accomplish.

Then I thought: Well, this person is good at crafts, isn’t she (trust me, I don’t have the ability no matter what I do!)? She definitely is passionate enough about it to create her own amigurumi patterns! Then should I not think about something I am passionate about, and devote more time to it?

(I can’t dance well either, and this blog… uh.)

I think, also, that no one can really say for sure if I’m going to be any good at what I am passionate about. I think I just have to look into myself and find my own blue elephant strength and say: I think this is what I’m here for, this is what I will find my way about, and this is how I will get to it and around it.

I have to trust my own judgment and taste, and instincts.

Also, to the boy who gave me the tip to use my spare time to do what I am passionate about, thank you.

Masterpiece in Motion 2017 (Part 1) – Four Temperaments + 2 cents on NYCB/ the great Sara Mearnes

Masterpiece in Motion brings to mind something Mr Janek Schergen said, about giving the best you can to dancers to dance, because they’ve given you their career.

 

Cover MiM 2017

(Nazer Salgado, Li Jie)

01 Four Temperaments.jpg

The whole idea behind Four Temperaments is, apparently, that it was 1946 and everyone still had the classical look of ballet on their minds. Four Temperaments picked that up and pulled it apart.

I’ve watched a few of the black-and-white ballets before, and (sacrilegious, I know) dropped off somewhat unwillingly, because I didn’t quite get them as much as I should have, or perhaps due to jet lag (I managed to stay awake during Serenade). I’m the sort who enjoys watching ballet more if I know who I’m watching, and I only have enough space for all the SDT dancers. In that sense, not a 100% balletomane.

I was struck mainly by how clean and strong the movements of the NYCB men were. I suppose I have my own thoughts about NYCB and its dance style. In any case – it is quite the powerhouse, and their equal lean lithe dancers are so strong and quite flawless, as to almost be intimidating, in their own way.  I do believe I saw Sara Mearns in Western Symphony. She was so vibrant, alive, and colourful, that she would wake the living daylights out of anyone. Nobody on stage was a match for her (and this was NYCB!). She was emerald kitty cat, I think, or blue kitty cat, wild and alive and unafraid and gorgeous. Western Symphony is hardly a decorous waltz, and her dancing showed that she wasn’t afraid to admit it. Loud, proud, punchy – but never too vulgar, because she was right at the top of the ship, master and commander of the sails. I’d watch her again.

 

Right, so we’re watching Four Temperaments, rehearsed by Elyse Borne.

It’s a good introduction to the black-and-white world of Balanchine, and if you look at it from a technique display perspective (rather than a find a story perspective), it’s really quite enjoyable. Not my friends’ favourite, on that note. Not at all.

Theme the First is apparently “Academic”, so you have 2 very right and proper folk on stage, Kwok Min Yi and Etienne Ferrere, who very correctly cross their hands before them, stretch a leg and point a foot before returning said leg/foot to its usual position, turn to face away from each other, bend their knees at the correct angle, get down on bended knee smoothly, et cetera. Such slick and smooth textbook precision. But here comes the breaking of convention over a bended knee. A high arabesque (penche) for the lady as the gentleman walks her round in a circle – like a very exaggerated version of a promenade, but on a flat foot. Kwok Min Yi holding Etienne’s hands and swinging one pendulum leg up; dropping her foot to hold it horizontal to the ground instead of pointed like the usual foot, and then turning her legs in as she walks, with none of the turnout people are signing up for.

I quite like the opening part of the music.

The leotards and stripped-down look make it easier to see the long lines and blunt feet. The seemingly-simple movements are quite fun to watch when you think about how different they must have seemed to audiences back then: the man lifting the woman high overhead (she has one foot at her knee and the other straight down, and her arms are at 45 degrees down) while he walks round in a tiny circle, so that there’s the effect of the girl being very straight and angular like a plank. Or the girl’s diamond legs (one foot pointed at the knee) as she drops her head to face down. And that exit – the woman dropping down so her legs form the sides of a triangle to the floor’s base, so that the man, holding her up by her armpits, drags-walks her offstage. We get the triumphant lift-exit out of Sanguinic, I think, but not this.

When I watched one of the older versions on youtube, I saw that the swinging legs went no higher than 90 degrees. That’s a nice example, I think, of what people mean when they say that as techniques improved and the dances got updated by Mr Balanchine, the dances evolved; and that raising legs very high was considered outlandish and vulgar. Do note that the little horizontal feet mentioned above are actually swung-out feet in the 1964 version. It’s fun to see such changes.

2nd Theme – Energetic, or the like. Kensuke and Akira zipping in to pose, one after the other. Striking images: Akira with her arms held out horizontal and palms straight up, feet crossed on pointe, while Kensuke holds her waist, then nudges her so she leans from he waist, to one side and then the other, still supported on either side. Then (with Akira balancing on one foot, the other leg lifted a little way behind), Kensuke waltzes her through something like six points of a circle, so her hips tilt outwards, as she turns her head to either hand with each tilt. It looks like something that might get people dizzy.

What I find quite dizzying too, is the pendulum turn, where Kensuke holds one hand and spins Akira, who has bent knees throughout.

This dance probably was quite bold for its time – sweeping a lady off her feet so her leg tucks under and between one’s legs, for instance; or all that tilting forwards in the waltz, which looks like crotch-thrusting; and then the big lift up during which she beats her feet really quickly before she is lowered in an open-legged swallow-tail position resting on his upper thighs.

Their exit is remarkable. Egyptian hieroglyphics again. Two arms up for him, for instance, and hers two arms down, like the bottoms and tops of rectangles. They alternate in this fashion, and each step proceeds out with a bent leg on tip-toe. It’s quite amusing.

3rd Theme: Formal, purportedly. Clean, pure form. It’s the music for this that sticks in the head. Coupled with the gorgeous pure lines, it becomes just so stirring. The bent-knee arabesques; the turns where Li Jie’s leg is crossed over at the knee so that her ankle rests on her knee. Nazer lifting her from one side to the other, while her legs remain diamond-shaped. Leaning, lifting; long lines: for instance, Li Jie in a moderate arabesque, resting back against Nazer. A delicate balance that lasts for a second or so. Pure fluid movements from this pair.

Nazer walking diagonally across the stage with Li Jie resting on his back, almost ala Act 4 of Seranade. She moves her right leg in tandem with his, bending it whenever he bends it to move across the stage, while her left leg remains straight, dragging. The walking corpse, but it isn’t grim so much as it’s elegant.

I have a very clear favourite moment in 3rd Theme. It’s the part starting with Li Jie (facing front, but moving diagonally) bending her knees and stretching out a leg , and then Nazer, knees bent too, turning her as her feet meet, so that her back is to the audience. When Li Jie’s feet meet, she’s half-squatting and en pointe, back to the audience, and then she swivels on those pointes to face front. She repeats the sliding and turning motion a couple more times, and she always stretches out her arms as she stretches out a leg, which adds to the illusion that she is sliding across the stage. It’s quite fabulously done, because Li Jie is never a foot out of place, and no arm or finger runs loose or free. Just such purity of movement, and it wouldn’t be accomplished without Nazer, who matches her for grace and lines.

There’s another distorted arabesque: Nazer and Li Jie hold each other’s arms, and she’s in a normal arabesque, but he pulls one side forward, as she leans forward on that side, and he does the same of the other side, much as if he were steering her. Then she is returned to steady-state — or not, since now her standing leg is at an angle to the vertical as he turns her, in an arabesque in which she leans backwards. I freely admit I knew nothing about this sort of thing until I heard about it.

The exit, the glorious and back-breaking exit: supported by, and leaning against, Nazer, Li Jie lifts one leg high up and when she lowers it, it crosses over his thigh. He marches on stoically, pausing to let her repeat this. At the end, she curls up her legs to her chest, so Nazer has to lean back to take her weight; and then she extends her legs and he has to lean further back as he walks her off the stage.

I like these themes because they’re like tasty little morsels.

 

Now we move on to the Temperaments.

Here, they used to wear these costumes:

https://australianballet.com.au/behind-ballet/how-the-four-temperaments-used-to-dress

Melancholic is Huo Liang, in neat lines so that he’s miserable, but not rolling in overwrought grief and flinging his arms and shaking his head. The true point of melancholy is, I suppose, the constant hope and desire to be uplifted, only to find oneself let down again. Witness Huo Liang trying to make higher leaps and opening his arms as large as he can, in successive tries as the music gets louder – before, crushed and defeated, he sinks back into despair. He is a man in the throes of unhappiness – alas, alack, throw up the arms, fall back down again. A work termed Melancholic which is not intended to be a navel-gazing product equals a work that treads the delicate catwalk between parody and utter seriousness. This goes for other parts of the work, too, but Balanchine does this kind of thing well, imho – see Rubies.

It’s a very contemporary sort of misery of the self – why, why – he can barely lift himself up without collapsing back down again. Small, unhappy desolate backbends.

The music gets buzzy as he is joined by two triumphant mosquitoes who make his life even more miserable, and who delight in his agony (or so I’ve always thought, since seeing a video on youtube a while back). May Yen Cheah and Tanaka Nanase: when they dance, it’s quite clear they know what they’re on about. We’ve seen them in separate casts for the same role before (Diamond, in Sleeping Beauty). Or are they the momentary lifting of spirits? For he joins them in a wonderful triad dance, in which they thrust their hips with such energetic footwork that he seems almost recovered. What’s fascinating is that they do it all off-time, and not in unison, unlike Sanguinic.

All would be well, but for the ominous entry of the Furies, 4 ladies doing the zombie-walk: Ma Ni and Jessica Garside leading the pack, Ma Xiao Yu (currently not with the company) and Yeo Chan Yee at the back. The zombie-walk involves sticking out one’s arms like a Chinese zombie, and then putting on leg forward en pointe and leaning the attached hip forward, then rinsing and repeating. Arms always up like a Chinese zombie. (This is tongue-in-cheek…hopefully no one is offended ;( )

Huo Liang and the two Lifted Spirits do an interesting kick, and then stretch their legs back to bow. It brings to mind one of the exit sequences of Rubies, except this dramatic extended-arm bow involves arms to the side, unlike that of Rubies (which is essentially a backwards breast stroke). Huo Liang enters the Furies’ midst. There’s some dallying amidst them and then the two Lifted Spirits join in. There’s some kneeling and intertwining and alternate turning of the girls to change the direction in which they face, or perhaps they do backbends – it is a bit reminiscent of the turning we see in Violin Concerto, but not as knotty, or the ladies in Serenade (where Li Jie, for instance, might – in Act 3 – lean her back over the linked arms of her peers).

If one focuses on the melancholic man, we realise that eventually, surrounded by beautiful ladies, he’s still really very sad and alone. He is eventually reduced to a sad curled up bundle onstage while the ladies dance behind him. His Lifted Spirits have joined the Furies. It’s all about rigorous backbends now, his face upside-down. Agony and misery, but all controlled, because we’re not into breast-beating here. The last of the ladies leaves (the Furies, zombie-walking as always) and he now exits, bent over backwards, arms extended over his head. That can’t be easy.

(Wiki / The internet says that this role was played by William Dollar; and Mr Janek Schergen has said that he was fortunate enough to be picked to dance in Four Temperaments by Balanchine because he reminded Balanchine of William Dollar.)

Sanguinic

Chihiro and Kenya entering from the left and right sides of the stage respectively, stopping to pose: the calm Kenya and the triumphantly confident Chihiro. You can see the differences in Chihiro’s expressions not just from her dancing, but also from her face: a clear smile in Four Temperaments; an agonized expression for 13th Heaven; the good ol’ classical dance cheeriness that comes from dancing in a stunning masterpiece like Paquita. It’s fearsomely difficult to emote when dancing — it is sort of like a pre-requisite, when one is in a principal role, and Chihiro has always had this ability to bare her soul in this way, enabling the audience to empathise with the character she’s playing — building this connection between us and her — bringing us into her character’s story.

I think I felt such a desire to express this because I read a number of reviews also, you know, like “sexless, stone-faced Swan Lake” and so on. The reviewers are entitled to see this because they will have, in their minds, a particular gold standard or interpretation, or expectation. Like, how Elementary ticks my boxes in a way that BBC’s Sherlock does not (bold, italics, underline), albeit I am not a major book-Sherlock fan (I prefer Father Brown and Poirot) so I am just comparing them in terms of my mental wishes (good script, no superiority complex, etc).  I watch SDT thinking of what I think they are trying to tell me because I haven’t, er, watched anyone else closely enough to have a standard or interpretation (even though I have a 100% fondness for Evgenia Obraztsova). #laymaninterpretation

On that note, I do feel guilty when I mention not only the thrills, but also the spills (if any). Though I try not to name names. Sometimes I just feel I am reporting what I saw…that’s why..

In case I don’t remember to say this for Paquita, I saw a video of Wendy Whelan (ex-NYCB) the other day, in which she mentioned comparing oneself to other dancers, and she said something about being the best you you can be, while someone else is the best her she can be. Chihiro, like Li Jie and all of the other dancers, is growing and evolving all the time, which is fabulous — and, importantly, the dancers are growing into the best they that they can be.

Back to Sanguinic.

I went in without thinking of the definition, and what you see is the absolute glory of a perfectly-matched, perfectly-paired couple, with perfectly-timed footwork, neat and nifty skips with feet at ankles; joined hands, little ‘skating moves’ (where one goes up on toe with a 90-degree arabesque on one side, then the other). They are a picture of beaming perfection. Kenya holds Chihiro about the waist while she stands on arabesque and she twists her body and turns her arms from third position (one in front, one out to the side) all the way round; and they repeat this in the other direction, I think. Swazzle and swerve, sparkling. Bird lifts, high up.

Now comes one of my favourite parts. I really think a lot of my favourite parts are from the additional folk who enter the show and bring it into full swing.

Enter the folding frieze, 4-woman greek chorus led by Minegishi Kana, followed by Xu Lei Ting, Niki Wong and Beatrice Castenada. They stride in, bent-knees — arms alternately sticking out to point in the opposite direction (compare the gentle pointing arms of classical ballet) and then going up on bent-legged pointe, sticking out their arms behind. Strident, proud and unafraid. Minegishi Kana, who’s always so softly delicate and graceful in classical dancing, was able to don a completely different character for this and for 13th Heaven.

I love this 4-woman chorus because they stalk out so boldly across the stage; and when Chihiro dances out front, they lean back and hold that pose for an impossibly long time.

Nakamura Kenya has his moment – impeccable, neat and nifty, with never a wasted moment or breath. Chihiro has hers – quick feet at ankles coupled with turns. It’s in this moment that you really appreciate how the costumes highlight the movements: stripped-down purity and simplicity and elegance.

Phlegmatic

Jason Carter is Phlegmatic – the art of gentle walking and deciding to break each move and step, to drop one’s back down – look at the flowers – curled fingers. A walk in the park – I’ll just be taking my time back here. This is not the agonised bending and crushed curling of Huo Liang’s Melancholic, but a staid, laid-back piece.

Here are the clear lines of an arabesque, in his usual form: unhurried straight lines and pleasant port de bras – moves that look simple yet deliberate.

And then, lo! Here are the four smiling angels, the models, the predecessors of the Rubies. First the amazing zombies of misery, then the proud chorus and finally these ladies – the cherry on the icing. The glowing Ruth Austin, Sun Hong Lei, Leane Lim and Suzuki Mai forming a little knot about Jason Carter. Such audaciously humorous moves from the ladies, and they know it – one hip out and bent knee, one hand up as if to say here we are or holding up a little platter, moving forward while dragging their back foot. They pose around him, turn around him, kneel(?) and form an unfolded lotus, a diamond, so that he can step through them. There’s a moment reminiscent of Concerto Barocco – one man and multiple hands all linked, a knot that unwinds carefully. Having established that they’re all one jolly troupe, ladies and gentleman dance together. Little cat-paw hands, legs that furl inwards (knees pointing) and out (knees going out again), little steps. I love the melodious music, and the end part where they all dance together in sync.

Special mention must go to that moment where Jason Carter bends down and lifts one foot up with his hand and stays in that position without flinching, for longer than seems humanly possible, while the four model-angels dance in the background. But he does it so calmly and naturally that it looks doable.

Choleric

Entrez Elaine Heng: fierce, sharp and fast on Friday night; particularly spirited and pliable on Saturday night. Clarity of movement; jet-fast legs. Kenya steps out to partner her, giving her little lifts so she soars forward a little in her jumps.

Right after a part where Choleric is sort of crouched, four men enter to make up a backdrop while Elaine Heng takes strong centre stage e.g. with the men do that little move that ladies do in Serenade  – push open the French windows and leap through them. I do also like the semi-Rubies moment where the four men help to turn Elaine Heng in arabesque, releasing her wrist or her ankle fast enough but also give her enough momentum (in an unobtrusive fashion) so that she can continue turning. It’s a very delicate balancing act.

The men retreat and four ladies enter – Li Jie, Akira, Kwok Min Yi and Chihiro, if I’m not wrong (I think I’m going clockwise from audience’s left front). Lots of nimble footwork and lifted legs. I do know folk who found the lack of a story for this entire performance rather boring, but I suppose we have to remember that (1) it’s not easy! and (2) these were really new in that day and age. And look how seamlessly coordinated they all are. It is always a privilege to watch such fearsomely capable dancers – this includes the next segment, when the men emerge  –  Nazer, Kensuke, Etienne and Kenya, respectively – to partner the ladies. This part cleverly incorporates characteristic moves from the earlier dances – or at least, hints at them heavily, from ladies in hand-holding arabesques swinging their hips forward to the arms-up-arms-down motif of the 2nd Theme. It’s fun trying to guess whether you’ve spotted anything from a previous part (when it actually might just be one’s imagination, really). There’re also a couple of men taking turns to partner Elaine Heng while the other man runs through or ducks past them. I think.

Oh, good – enter more of the previous dancers with the lovely zombie kick! I think. The remaining dancers form two lines – May Yen Cheah and Nanase right in the middle with Huo Liang and Jason Carter. And there we go, with the four couples at corners of an unseen rectangle in the foreground, while the zombie kick is played out in the background — deeply enjoyable.

And right at the very end, when the music is at its grandest, each of the four couples goes between, or in front of, the two lines of dancers, and in each pair, the lady is lifted high above, soaring like a bird above the fields of corn. That’s an outstanding finish to the piece, the lacquer on the box, so to speak.

It’s also an appropriate lead-in to 13th Heaven a.k.a. Children of the Corn (not in the horror movie sense exactly) — children of the great corn moon.

On Saturday night, I thought of them as great gleaming flying fish, high above the ocean waves.

Based on the SDT Instagram photographs, it looks as though there were little changes – Yatsushiro Marina and Nanase were originally in the 4 for Melancholic? and perhaps Watanabe Tamana in the chorus of 4 for Sanguinic? We haven’t seen Marina and Bi Ru for a while 😦 So here’s hoping all goes well, fingers crossed, et cetera.

On another note, Kwok Min Yi’s appeared in more pieces since last year, I think – when Maughan danced Rosa’s part in Ma Cong’s Irreconciliable..Incomparable Beauty – and Kwok Min Yi then danced Maughan’s part and pulled it off with sufficient equanimity that it would have been fairly difficult to guess that this was a change in casting * – plus, she made her own mark and laid her own stamp on Incomparable Beauty. Also, in last year’s Ballet Under the Stars, she performed Bournonville’s Flower Festival with Kenya. Good for her! It’s always nice to see more people dancing more things.

*A word here also for the fact that, if I remember correctly, Etienne Ferrere was her partner, and he is a truly remarkable partner for anyone to have – there as a steadying sweeping arm for Akira as Princess Aurora, always there at the right moment to make the lady as presentable and stunning as she can be. – Also, have you seen him as The Man in Rubies with his rapid-fire precision turns and alternate feet at ankle (coupe de pied?).

Ok, those were my two cents.

Just because I can, here are some top x moments from Four Temperaments. You know, I kind of dozed off in the black-and-white ballets in NY and I had problems keeping up on youtube when I first googled Four Temperaments (which was when I thought we were doing it, last year). So in case you want to prop your eyelids up, here’s what to look out for (in no particular order):

1. The flat-foot moments and swinging arabesques and lifts, and triangle-legged exit in 1st Theme

2. The clock-turn waltz with a thrusting hip and the square arms in 2nd Theme

3. The elaborate slide and squatting turn; and the terrifyingly beautiful exit in 3rd Theme

4. Lifted Spirits’ entrance, zombie-entrance, and all of Melancholic’s back-breaking moments and his exit

5. Sanguinic’s nifty opening pair-footwork and entrance of the Chorus

6. Phlegmatic and his model-ladies, and that one-foot stand

7. Choleric’s entrance and her dance with 4 gentlemen

8. That finish – that music, the two lines, and the soaring birds!

 

 

 

 

 

Masterpiece in Motion 2016 – Part 2: Age of Innocence

The photo below tells you what Age of Innocence is supposed to be about.

02 age of innocence list

As with all of Edwaard Liang’s works, Age of Innocence is fairly long and detailed, and built of music and concepts, with a solid structure.

So, very long and very thematic. Suitable as the middle course in a 3-set performance, and certainly a good reason why this was a Masterpiece in Motion night.

Costumes:

Age of Innocence guyAge of Innocence girl

What’s superbly clever is that the skirt (look at those petal-like pleats!) can be taken off for a more athletic performance. You don’t want to be flipping folk over the shoulder and onto the back when they are wearing a looong skirt.

Picture a darkened stage and long black curtains at the back, with only two narrow columns through which the dancers pour out, to form long lines: men to left and women to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle with you….

It’s superbly formal and proper, with very heavy, 隆重 (‘long zhong’ or ‘grand’, used for ceremonies, etc) music. A proper courtship dance: ladies and men may cross diagonally to their partners in the other row, and at a touch, ladies may turn — but everyone returns to their proper places when they are done.

Women, drifting like warrior dolls in large circles, always facing us as they float in and out and between the 2 rows. They look a little intimidating – enigmatic, distant, untouchable, even menacing.

There are lots of moves to fill the gorgeous music: Men and women take turns leaning out of the rows to claw at the air, alternating (one woman, then one man, and so on, down the line). Such pockets of individual energy, and then a return to absolute decorum.

And when the men and women line up in one single row, the men lunge and push the women out slowly so that the women drift in and out in an unfolding pattern.

May Yen Cheah and Etienne Ferrere stand at the front of each row at the opening, by the way. It’s great to see May Yen Cheah, who is always so, so magnetic in contemporary and neo-classical ballets, and Etienne Ferrere, who is expressive, charismatic, spirited. (I do not know if I should be typing May Yen Cheah like the website does, or Cheah May Yen like I’ve seen in some brochures, so ‘elp me.)

Taking two seconds out now, to say that I think May Yen Cheah is exceptional and superb also because, when she performs in contemporary and neo-classical dances (i.e. those without an evident story line sometimes), she creates a story all by herself. She paints such an incredible picture with her dancing that (as if she were a muse) one can imagine, or create, meaning out of the movements. I was fortunate enough to catch a snippet of her in (incredible outlandish inexorable inconceivable help what is it called) Incomparable Beauty (thank you, google), and in the opening with Huo Liang and Jason Carter, held aloft, then lowered to be betwixt them, struggling to escape yet drawn to them, clasped in one man’s arms while her legs stagger, stretch and drag across the floor like those of a wounded gazelle’s — you can imagine a storyline, say, of a lady and 2 gentlemen, and a strung-out love (yes, I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s incredibly stirring). There’s that joy also, when she dances in classical pieces, but I think that ability to bring out varied interpretations in non-classical dances is truly special and helps audiences enjoy these performances that bit more.

Here, up to 1:02, you can see bits of the opening part.

Back after two seconds: the next part involves a pas de deux between Kenya and Chihiro. Apparently, Age of Innocence has two couples, one considerably happier than the other. I’ll wager that Kenya and Chihiro are the happy folk, because they seem to work in tandem. The hardworking couple that tills the field together. She emerges first and does these long stretchy poses, and then so does he. This is a piece with athletic sinewy moves: she hooks her arm into the crook of his and then while he squats, she rolls over to lie on his back. Don’t do this at home, folks. And while she is lying on his back, knees curled up to her chest, he clasps her to his back with just his right arm, as he ferries her some way across the stage.

Then there is the famous sky-diver pose, where she is curled like a scorpion or the letter U lying on its side, her legs curved over her back, while he holds her round the waist. You can see it the gallery of Masterpiece in Motion 2016 pictures on the SDT website. This is the 同甘共苦 couple, intertwined together. (同甘共苦 translates to suffering together through ups and downs, but mainly downs, I gather.) He holds her by the waist while she throws her legs out, vertical to the ground; she runs to him, is caught just at the right point and tucks her legs under.

In the end, though, they go their separate ways, and it ends as it begins – each person stretches and moves slowly, almost as if they’re doing slow Chinese martial arts movements.

The next stage is the “4 macho men competition”, I think. Etienne Ferrere and Huo Liang, Shan Del Vecchio versus Yorozu Kensuke — Shan’s arms flicking so fast through the air that his hands are a blur; Kensuke with strong clean lines. A fast-paced, energetic section with such leaps; and kicks with arms and legs practically parallel to the ground. When the men are on the ground, how do they get up? not in a leap, but rising up, legs diamond-shaped, their weight resting on the fronts of their feet (the metatarsals?), which are buckled on the ground. Ouch!

There’s even a paired dance between two of the men.

There is a part where 4 girls in long skirts dance, and Maughan in a short skirt (what’s left after the long skirt has been removed) takes centrestage. They dance in their corners and then leave. It’s a Maughan solo, fearsomely strong as always. A second stringed instrument plays overhead and Li Jie enters: no longer merely fluid in form, but each move strong and imbued with elegant purpose. There’s a fabulous tension onstage as they dance. They are joined by May Yen Cheah.

Rosa and Nazer have the second pas de deux. This is one fraught with great angst. Sure, there’s a great deal of partner-work, but these are unhappy folk. I can’t guarantee you I have the chronology of events here correct, because one of my favourite parts appears to intersect with this.

Here’s an idea – go to the Singapore Dance Theatre facebook page and look for their Videos. Specifically, One @ The Ballet – SDT’s 25th Anniversary 11 May. Right after Serenade, you’ll see Age of Innocence in the studio, and Chen Peng dancing with Rosa. Watch how he stands with an arm about her waist, one foot lunging forward so he has a stable base. Then Rosa does an arabesque, leaning forward so that her leg is as high up as possible, while he puts his opposite arm overhead and behind his back so that he can grab that raised leg and then pull her over and onto his back while the hand supporting her waist no doubt pivots her up, and she no doubt gives herself a lift-off from the ground – and, like clockwork, Rosa Park is seated on the man’s bent back. Like so, below (blurry, apologies). Heavens, how does anyone do that? They make it look like magic, Rosa Park and Chen Peng / Nazer. I’ve watched that video over and over again in fascination.

02 age of innocence crop CPRP

See then, how she leans over backwards, so confident that he will catch her round the waist (which he does) and swing her round. Rosa Parke remains poised throughout. Such elegance.

Do you know – there’s a part where she has to balance en pointe while standing with back straight, but with a front leg bent at the knee (almost a lunging position – I can’t quite remember now). She does this with nary a quiver. It takes all of one’s abs and muscles to maintain that position. Yes, the foot that is in front is en pointe too. Eeeks.

Now, one by one, through the entrances in the black panels, 4 girls enter, skirts billowing, borne aloft by 4 men and then lowered. I remember Nanase and Kenya, Jason and Li Jie, Bi Ru and.. Shan Del Vecchio? It’s gorgeous and haunting, their dance – women held high up on the men’s shoulders, arms outstretched like near-horizontal crosses. Here, see 3:50 to 4:03 of Tulsa Ballet’s performance (and the rest of it, too):

Rosa and Nazer are at the sides, dancing, walking forwards. When the 4 pairs exit, they resume their dance – and then she stands, back to us, and dances in a corner. There’s a part where she and Nazer meet again, and as she walks away, the music stops.

It looks as if the show’s ending here, but it doesn’t.

He walks away too, but she suddenly turns around and runs to him, and throws herself at him, and he catches and holds her, impaled, high above his head. It’s a sudden burst of emotion and the music crests again, and he swings Rosa down and holds her so she can do the invisible walk through the air (where the man carries her though her feet appear to cross the grounds too).

There’s a great deal of control and strength in this pas de deux, and they have to make it look — not light and lovin’, but strained without making it look strenuous. Theirs is a tense, drawn-out relationship. Maybe they are strung together by the ropes of convention! I have no idea. But it looks excellent, even if it’s a very, very long relationship and doesn’t look a bit happy. Maybe I’m wrong and they’re really the happy couple that hangs together, whereas the Kenya-Chihiro couple separate in the end, and so on.

But do you find it happy if Nazer turns Rosa Park so that her back is to us, and they together smooth out one leg as she raises it, and then she falls into him and he supports her? Or if it ends with her draped over his arm, broken-backed, while he holds the other arm up and faces the light falling upon them?

The intricacy of the choreography for this pair swept the audience away, and there was massive raucous love for this on both the nights that I watched this. It’s heavy stuff, and yes, it’s bitter and ornate. But when it’s done, you just know you have just watched something incredibly difficult and immensely brilliant.

The last part is seen in the Tulsa video above, from 5:39. Crisp and alive, bright and swift. It brings to mind the group dance in Opus 25, and it’s another of my favourite parts of the dance.

 

This returns in BUTS this year, during the first weekend. It’s worth the watch, is all I can say. It’s like a very fine main course, and its inclusion made Masterpiece really a masterpiece.

I suppose… next up is Nil Christe’s Symphony in Three Movements.

Where I’ve been…

Catching viruses..

Watching Elementary on Netflix (this is really where I’ve been) – it is superior to BBC’s Sherlock in its depth and breadth. Delightful script, character development, character interaction, plot, direction – utterly lacking in the tone-deafness that Sherlock had (which caused misgivings to grow from quiet mutterings to decibel-shattering yells).

And admittedly patchy handicraft-work. Seriously patchy, but it keeps me entertained too 🙂

 

 

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 together 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 that 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 skirts 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.)