American Ballet Theatre – Swan Lake 2018 in Singapore (review) (media-heavy)

You have to write the review, said my friend, for the folk who didn’t get to see it. But it’s not like this beats the DVD or a live viewing, since obviously I don’t know the choreography…and it’s a one-human periscope view. The periscope also saw diamonds of the first water in a necklace thicker than my wrist, and globular pearls as large as my eyes on fingers and dangling from ears, and a very fine pair of opera glasses made of fine gold-panelled wood.

On that note, loads of Singapore Dance Theatre’s dancers were in Malaysia for the first leg of their tour over the weekend. Hurray for their performances! (Though they then missed ABT’s :o)

This is the original poster with the original cast.

swan lake original cast poster

booklet cover

I’ll put up the cast lists for all the nights, but I saw Thurs, Fri and Sat nights. There was some cast changes here and there. The most major change from what we had been given to expect when we bought tickets, was that Isabella Boylston’s partner was supposed to be Alban Lendorf but was changed to Daniil Simkin. We hope Alban Lendorf is fine.

booklet thurs

booklet fri

booklet sat matinee


booklet sat night


booklet sun matinee

The unbeatable Singapore Lyric Orchestra. Hats off. The solo violin during the White Swan scene, the percussionists, the harp, the everything. Did you order the rumbling roar of forest leaves, the roll of thunder? Here you go.

SLO pit


It’s Sunday… ain’t no time to waste.

Thurs night – Misty Copeland and Herman Conejo. This is known as “Misty’s night“.

Fri night – Hee Seo and Cory Stearns. This is known as “Hee Seo’s night“.

Sat night – Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkins. This is known as “Sat night” or “Isabella’s night“.

This is the curtain when you enter. Look at those carved metal vines. “They have so much money their money makes money,” someone said once, which a friend told me means that their money is invested and grows.

OP backdrop 3

This curtain is translucent. When a light is shone upon it, one gets to see the monster emerge somewhere to the audience’s right, a great green-grey creature with horns in a rubber suit that gives him huge veiny thighs and enormous arms and immense fugly abs. He claws at the air, then disappears.

Then a princess runs in from the right: Misty Copeland is a youthful light princess, fleet of foot; Hee Seo is a graceful young princess; Isabella Boylston is a graceful charming princess, which stands in great contrast to her White and Black Swans. After she disappears in to the curtains to our right, the monster appears and gazes out after her (?) and then he claws the air  – you can see his head has been turned – he has spotted his prize. He vanishes with a flourish of his great, leafy cape, and morphs into a prince (who sweeps out from behind the cape). This prince is the Sorcerer of the night in Act 3.

The princess emerges again from our left, and she is drawn to the Sorcerer as he calls out to her. You can see her fall in love with him – I actually was a bit taken in for Misty’s night, perhaps due to the seating; I actually thought for a moment this was a prologue, a summary of the evening’s events. But the foreboding music hinted at what was to come, and the dancing as well – for he sweeps her off her feet and captures her heart, but also binds her spirit, as he lifts her aloft like a prize, and gives her no opportunity to escape from his iron embrace. You can see her desperately trying to escape (Misty), succumbing and flailing (Hee Seo), struggling and suddenly realising what’s going on (Isabella).

The false prince pulls the princess back into the darkness, one arm wrapped about her waist, while she grasps at the air desperately, unwillingly. And then out emerges the monster again, carrying a huge swan flapping its wings in terror. That’s kind of unpleasant and chilling.

This Swan Lake wants you to know that the ending is not pretty. Yep, got the message 😮

Lights off, so it’s darkness, and the black curtain behind the curtain (frontdrop?)  can roll back to reveal a sort of town scene. Curtains back (you should see the Act 3 curtains, they winch upwards as if invisible hands are drawing them upwards, but probably it’s the work of invisible drawstrings running along their width)!

A flat railing at the back for walking on and people to sit upon. Drinks to be had, and a couple having a tiff up front. The grand stairs to the right – there’s where the royals emerge.

There’s a part where a normal peasant girl impulsively decides (against the wishes of her boyfriend with whom she has just had a tiff, and then, with him shoving her forward) to approach the Prince. I have no idea where that comes in! But the Prince is friendly, and also is clear that she has a boyfriend, and she ducks back to be with her boyfriend. This shows that the Prince is friendly with folk, and also doesn’t overstep the boundaries.

The Prince accepts a drink from Benno. Prince Cory relishes rolling the wine in his mouth, while Prince Daniil finds the wine a bit strong. Ladies bring garlands to the Prince, the Prince sits, the Waltz begins. It’s a merry and very long piece.

Now we must be facetious and comment on the lush velvets and silks. It feels as if the Houses of Gucci and Versace have sponsored the clothes. Skirts come in varied, tasteful shades and mouth-watering colours.

The Waltz is lovely and complicated: 2 rows of 3 pairs, men lifting ladies up and landing them lightly to greet the Prince. Lots of little attitudes to the back, lifted legs to the front. There’s so much action – to the audience’s left, a column of single ladies doing a little skating movement (a little leap forward then up en pointe with a leg back in attitude, then down again and repeat) to the front and all the way to the back, while in the centre of the stage, couples twirl. The partner-work and group work is very strong and graceful.

ABT has a sort of natural graceful look to it. A friend commented that she thought they tended to favour the graceful, delicate, pretty look – everyone has light twisting hands and garland arms. While I think that that look holds true for quite a few of the soloists and the principals, it’s not always so. There’s enough variation. I do think Royal Ballet holds more to that look of rounded gracefulness; and NYCB, in comparison, leans more towards the, well, lean mean sharp speed (with the exception of a few, e.g. the sparkling Sara Mearnes).

Towards the end of the Waltz, the villagers (ladies in embroidered embossed dresses that are simply unbelievably tasty-looking, and the men in shorts ala the high mountains) bring in a huge maypole adorned with long pastel candy ribbons, and each girl takes one. An actual maypole! I went back to read my SDT review and I saw a reference to a Maypole-like dance. Well, here’s the real deal. The girls take the ribbons and do little jumping partial front-splits – round and round in a circle. The young men stand in an inner ring and they lift the ladies and set them down in some alternating fashion so that the maypole ribbons are all crossed, and then the young men lift them up again and set them down so the maypole ribbons are uncrossed. So clever!

In the meantime, what of our Prince, for whom these festivities are laid out? He stands and marvels, or, if he is Prince Daniil, he is obviously mindblown and greatly cheered by all this, and then towards the end, his friends lift him up upon their shoulders so that he is the centre of attention while pretty ladies leap about him and he marvels at the work of engineering and the ribbons.

It’s not too early to say that Prince Daniil Simkin is everything the magazines promised and more. He appears to be a mood-maker, and it was almost as if his appearance on the stage lifted the spirits of the cast. Everyone seemed to be out to impress. It could also just have been that Sat night was just right – cohesiveness amongst Swans, a Benno (Joseph Gorak) who was a cheerful good friend, etc.


After the Maypole dance, I can’t remember what happens. I think the Prince has a happy solo. It feels like Herman Conejo is an old hand at this, as he takes us through the steady moves like a walk in the park, and punctuates every arabesque with a splendid sharp lift of his head and proud turn of the hand. To the layman eye, Cory Stearns seems to have a really good strong technique and his moves are very clean. Daniil Simkin has quite splendid high leaps and also the artistry you see in the videos, which makes it truly pleasant to watch him dance.

We have the Queen scene at this point. For this, she presents the crossbow before the order that he marry. Prince Daniil is a boyish prince who goes straight for the crossbow, and you can see he’s completely over the moon with it. It’s these giant moves, these great emotional touches, that carry the audience along with the story and help those in the back seats see what’s going on – very much appreciated.

The order to marry makes Prince Herman Conejo sad, dejected; makes Prince Cory taken aback and gloomy; makes Prince Daniil confused, upset. It is this reaction that makes for the great contrast when his friend Benno decides to cheer him up with a dance.

A friend remarked that the Prince-Benno friendship should be present, that they should appear to be friends. Kudos to Jeffrey Cirio, Prince Herman’s Benno, who was evidently the concerned friend throughout, and obviously built his character in relation to the Prince, as his right-hand man.

Jeffrey Cirio is a Benno who is high in infectious good energy and enthusiasm, and who puts every ounce of energy and spare into every move. It’s his goodwill and good nature that makes it all the more heartbreaking later when he offers his Prince Herman the crossbow that will forever change the Prince’s life (and death), and suggests that he go hunting.

Calvin Royal III, as Prince Cory’s Benno from Hee Seo’s night, is a very tall, lean dancer and as Benno (and also as Sorcerer on Misty’s night and Sat night), he made everything look slick and light and easy, never breaking a sweat. Clean fluid extended legs and arms that flicked like a wave of watercolour from a paintbrush. Joseph Gorak has a mix of both the energy and the ease, and a smooth finish to the partnerwork.

Pas de trois, a performance that is deeply appreciated for the amount of energy required. I found Skylar Brandt to be a marvelously nimble, agile, speedy dancer, hopping en pointe and zipping feet in and out of fifths with as much ease as if she were walking – no jerky landings. A friend enjoyed Sarah Lane’s light, noiseless, well-oiled dancing as well – she is more of the school of clean lines than the delicate hands.

Look, have some tantalizing excerpts from Jeffrey Cirio’s Instagram.

I’ll pause to say that during the first pas de trois, I suddenly had visions of Maughan Jemesen and May Yen Cheah dancing the exact same moves (remember, I watched two shows of theirs) and I remembered what Janek Schergen said about having dancers who can perform up to world-class standards and do exactly what everyone is doing. The same goes for Benno on Fri and Sat night – the opening leaps danced by Zhao Jun; the part where Benno leaps to the side and opens his arms, danced by Etienne Ferrere. (The same may be said for the Prince Cory Stearns in his solo in Act 3 — suddenly I remembered Chen Peng doing exactly the same stuff.)

Joseph Gorak had chemistry with Prince Daniil, and for every action from the Prince there was a suitable reaction. He’s also got great comic timing. This was made obvious when, after the tiring pas de trois, a bold young lady of the court decides to approach Benno and the Prince. The tired Benno tries to fob her off and foist her onto the Prince, but the Prince makes him dance instead. Any royal is good enough and she goes off with Benno. The first Benno (Jeffrey Cirio) was unwilling but way too good-natured, and his Prince Herman seemed encouraging; the second Benno (Calvin Royall III) was not terribly tired and he was very obliging to the lady; the third Benno (Joseph Gorak) was like oh noes oh noes even as he danced with her – he desired to retire to the side – while the Prince Daniil was definitely enjoying himself at his friend’s expense.

Eventually, the Prince ends up face-to-face with the bold young lady, who retreats, shocked that she actually has an audience with the Prince. On Sat night, Benno ensured this would happen, obviously on purpose, to tease them both, and the Prince, being a little mischievous himself, then decided to play along and approach the girl as she backed off and at last he kissed her hand and sent the nobles into a tizzy.

He dances with her, and then at the end, she goes off to be with Benno (?), which seems to puzzle Prince Daniil a little. A note here that the Prince is appreciative of female company. Prince Herman fluffs the skirt of one of the pas de trois when he meets her – where did you get this amazing floaty white bell skirt with embroidered flowers, he asks – and he does look pleased to be dancing with ladies. Prince Daniil clearly is very pleasant with the ladies as well.

But now after the bold young lady has gone off and he finds himself surrounded by three other ladies of the court who dance around him, the Prince is in a predicament. Prince Herman is like “how friendly these ladies are” and sort of sorties a bit with them in a good-mannered way, but they flit away behind him and he is bereft. Prince Cory obligingly observes them. Prince Daniil, however, has already been struck by the fact that the lady he was dancing with actually has found comfort with another gentleman, and in fact, as he turns around (thus drawing our gaze to the other couples) – everyone else is in couples. Everyone in court is courting and he is all by myself, I don’t wanna be all by myself.

This is where the acting gets interesting, because it segues into a dance.

Prince Herman dances a lonely clean-lined solo. His lines say: Just me and myself and nobody else, I am solitary, I am solitude. The light falls on his melancholy figure while the others pair up and ermahgawd, there’s even a dude in front who has two ladies on his arm, how is that even allowed?? life is unfair. This is a very mature and grave, rather than boyish, sorrow – tick-tock, goes the clock, and I am still alone. The Prince has to do this arabesque that swings up into a leg in front of him, which Prince Herman does steadily. That is how his dancing is–he takes you through the moves and they unfold like an accordion.

Prince Cory Stearns, who is actually very much the Apollo dancer you read about in books, the stoic chap with good princely looks shining out of his face, chooses to infuse his dancing with his acting, and his solo here is almost a waltz of a man who is without a partner – look at his port de bras and how he holds his arms, as if they are empty (they are) of a lady whom he wishes to hold. This is very much the romantic kind of view, which I think ties up with his Princess Hee Seo, who is very much the romantic tragic figure. His dancing is essentially there I am, on the mark and nails the mark.

Prince Daniil’s version, I suspect, is meant to be the turmoil – love, what is love, it exists and I don’t know it. At the end of his dance, he glanced around with the realisation that he is supposed to marry, but everyone else gets to fall in love and he hasn’t even had a taste of that. He dances with the flair and spirit, and interestingly, saves the best for Act 3.

Sad Prince goes up the stairs and he faces us. The couples face him, i.e. their backs are to us as the cold grey-blue light of a lonely twilight falls upon them, and this is some clever direction because you always expect to see people’s faces, but now that you see their backs only, you get a sense of the isolation he feels. They are sort of swaying – do the girls sit on the guys’ shoulders and hold their arms up above their heads? I forget. But then they stand with the mens’ arms about their shoulders and waists, all warm and fuzzy in their embrace.

You know what, this is probably all on youtube. I could be watching Ugly Delicious on Netflix instead. On that note, please watch Everything Sucks! — it is a wise, heartfelt piece of writing. I even like it a bit better than Rita, which actually sags occasionally.

I think Sad Prince goes off. His Tutor watches him sadly, understanding that inner turmoil, and when the couples go back to normal and the lighting is normal (if a little muted) again, Tutor tells Benno to go find the Prince and cheer him up. Benno on Thurs night is dismayed and concerned; Benno on Fri night is surprised and obligingly goes off; Benno on Sat night was enjoying himself in the company of a girl, but he is really very sad for the Prince, and he rushes off immediately.

Then the couples suddenly go straight into the Dance of the Goblets, or Polonaise. The switch in mood is a little sharp and abrupt. ABT’s version is the opposite of what Mr Janek Schergen had said for SDT’s version, which was that the Waltz was cheery and light-hearted, and the Dance of the Goblets was more serious and formal, to mark the change in the Prince’s future and the expectations heaped upon him. In ABT’s version, the Waltz was very much a courtly dance to welcome the Prince, and the Goblet Dance had no goblets (except for one part, hmm was that what it was for?) — it is a peasant dance of cheery youths, as the skies grow pink and purple, and the curtain is to fall on the Prince’s innocence and youth – a last hurrah, if you must. Youths running about cheerily onstage, arms about one another as they kick out, lining up to lift girls by the waist (the girls tucking their legs up or under), and pass the girls along until one is set down, hard, on her bottom in the dust, and she scolds the chap who dropped her. Visually, it’s important that the rest of the row of dancers reacts so that the audience realizes what has happened.

She either smacks him on the arm or ignores him, but he says Come, let’s have a drink instead, then; and they do, in a corner at the back by a barrel, their toast in a Goblet Dance, while the other pairs swish about with incredibly fast feet, from side to side. I like this dance for how the guys lift the girls up in the air, the girls also leaping high up, and arm around the guys’ shoulders for support and their legs tucked under – the very vision of a youthful, girlish leap in the air for joy.

After the dance, the youths go home – it’s dusk. Someone walks back on the railing, balancing carefully. Two other young men jete on their way back. Carefree, merry youth – silhouettes in the sunset as the trees close in from either side, probably on netted curtains.

Okay! I am done with Act 1.

Well, at least we know that Benno goes to find the Prince, and the Prince has been dancing quite sadly and beautifully, and Benno proposes he go hunting. Prince says No, Benno persuades him, Prince then says he’ll go alone, thanks, and Benno gets that it’s a royal wish, and he backs off.


Act 2

Monster is in the background and Prince senses something is amiss and turns around but Monster is hiding.

Prince sees swan overhead. Prince is excited. Prince Cory is rather good at getting you to believe that he has seen a swan. She lands, turns into a swan, offstage – Prince is shocked and scared, and runs off.

Swan lands. Applause when Misty appears. I actually had tears standing in my eyes for much of the Misty night, because there was a real air of malice and fear and hope and trepidation. You hoped so much, in a way, for goodness to prevail.

I’m going to go full blast into comparisons now. You know why? Because you know what happens in the other Acts, more or less. You know about the birthday party! I’m not going to rehash it… it’s all the same structure as in Singapore Dance Theatre’s version, more or less 🙂

Thurs night – Misty Copeland: The brave, independent-minded Princess

Misty Copeland’s White Swan has been traumatized and that is what makes her flee from the Prince. She’s not recovered from the trauma of the capture. But dancing with him eventually makes her fall for hi. She sees he cares, and she finds herself caring for him too. So at the point when she rejects him for the hundredth time and he is feeling a little sad about it, she turns around and practically bumps into his shoulder as she heads for him and leans against him and lets him embrace her. What you see is a swan princess who has made her choice, exercised that free will and agency that has been taken from her, and seizes her destiny with her hands.

This is the Swan Princess who protects her flock from his crossbow – don’t touch my swan (sworn) sisters, and save us. She is strong, she is a Princess, and she does not make her decisions lightly. Her Prince is the standard classical Prince who senses immediately that she’s the one for him, and tries to better understand her.

This gives us a chance to better understand her White Swan solo as that of a girl who had once lived and breathed, and had her hopes crushed from years of captivity, and now she hopes again. That urgency, that fierce joy and hope.  It brings tears to the eyes, over and over again – she is a woman who takes the plunge for love, and pays the price. When she turns into a swan again, she is a swan under the spell of the Monster, forced to bourre away rapidly.

Misty Copeland’s dancing is about precise execution and making it all look as easy and effortless as breathing so that you can see the story she is telling.

Her Black Swan is delightful and is here to have fun, and she knows we know it. She smiles at us even before she runs offstage, pursued by the besotted Prince. That smile is a wink to the audience, a wave to us: I know you know. She flirts with the Prince, she flirts with us. Her solo is a way of capturing the watching noble court’s hearts and ours too, and she’s ever aware that she’s showing them: I am wonderful and you, too, shall love me. And they do, and we do.

It’s that spritz of energy and spirit, that joyous delight in being the Black Swan, that makes it fascinating when she laughs mockingly at the Prince, darting behind her father, disappearing as everyone sweeps about in dismay, Queen in glorious green included. I would venture to say that her version of Odile and Odette are pretty consistent and seamless. There’s no break in her role. This calls for unafraid dancing and a clear vision in her mind.

When the Prince Herman comes to find her in Act 4, you feel your heart break because she is high up and all alone, while he has been at the party unwittingly betraying her.

She is at first unable to accept what has happened, but because she also has a tender heart and theirs is a relationship of support and understanding rather than the mere first bloom of love and its recklessness, she eventually forgives him.

What I gather is that if the Princess dies, Rothbart too shall die and the spell shall be broken. Or their true love will kill him. I don’t know which, but Rothbart doesn’t want either, no. She tries to run for the hills but Rothbart catches her, then the Prince rescues her, then Monster Rothbart attempts to kill the Prince with the Force and in that time, the Princess rushes up to the top and then pauses and then she leaps. This is her choice. She makes an active, calculated, firm decision and exercises her free will to do all that is in her power to put an end to it all. She is a brave Princess.

Her Prince follows, for he too respects and understands her choice, and knows his heart can only be happy when he is with her, that much is clear. Her leaping to her death has broken his heart and he must join her.

This is pretty standard for the Princes’ interpretation. To varying degrees, you can see that her death has left him with the understanding that he will follow her, for she is where his heart is. (For information: Prince Daniil collapses very visibly at this, as if the very heart of him has been shattered.)

I think the Prince here is the sort who lets his lady shine. He does his job gallantly, and lets her fly. His story is that this lady looks like the one he likes, and he can kind of see his lady love from the lake, in her current form.


Friday night – Hee Seo: The graceful, pretty, delicate Princess

It takes much technique, a friend highlighted, to carry the White Swan through the Act as Hee Seo does hers – as a fragile, delicate and intensely graceful White Swan. No matter how taxing the dancing is, she pours all her energy into that grace. The suffering, shy, terrified princess who flees from the strange man with the cross bow. The prince was quite playful in trying to catch her, but he also grows up once she tells him, with her tremulous arms, about how the lake was created from her mother’s torrents of tears when she vanished.

In the Coda of Swan Lake Act 2, when Hee Seo makes her delicate way down the diagonal and the swans dance at the sides (this is before the series of rapid interchanging passes – foot raised to the knee), I felt so sad because she was so beautiful and fragile, and she was a Princess once, and just a young Princess who wanted to live her life. There’s a sharp sense of loss – the Princess she could have been, and the life she is doomed to lead.

Hee Seo stands out for the part where she transforms into a swan again at the end of Act 2. You can see her body change into a swan’s, that of a fluttering bird’s, and when she bourres away, it is not with the mechanical movements of someone under a spell, but with the shivering wings and tail feathers of a bird that is compelled to fly away. She is a tender, delicate swan. Unlike Misty’s and Isabella’s White Swans, who return to their Princes just as their Princes have turned away dejectedly, it almost seems like her Prince turns to reach for her first.

The whole intent of this White Swan is, I think, to provide a sharp contrast to the Black Swan in Act 3 and then the White Swan again in Act 4. In Act 3, Hee Seo made quite a surprisingly stunningly wicked entry–with a great laughing smile. She was all daggers and sharp edges. You can see Prince Cory Stearns pondering briefly if this is really the White Swan, but then – interestingly – Hee Seo makes the most of her tiny little steps at this point, which are meant to mimic and bring to mind the White Swan, such that the body language of the legs and torso are White Swan. Delicate little flickering steps.

This Black Swan cunningly plays hard-to-get, and when she rebuffs her Prince, she does so very sharply, one arm slicing through the air. She’s arch – leaning into his arms and swallowing his embracing arms, throwing her head and back all the way back. How she advances upon him, proud of her catch and her abilities. Somehow, all this manages to lure the Prince. Why so fickle, Prince? I thought your ‘type’ was the pure, innocent, 哭哭啼啼 (ku ki ti ti – I suppose this can be translated appropriately into ‘sobbity sobbity’ or ‘tear-drenched’ and is used to describe tear-jerker, handkerchief-wringer TV dramas) type. You know, 泪流满面 (lei liu man mian – tears pouring down her cheeks) sort.

At the end of the pas de deux (together) section, the Black Swan should lean back in the Prince’s arms and drape her arm over his in a show of complete possession. That shape is so arch, the two of them together – it’s so wicked by itself. Yet Hee Seo chooses instead to remain upright and smile straight at us, glowing and basking in her evil glory. Why? I can’t understand.

What’s very interesting is that this amount of evil and a little of the moment where she slips forward and he just about catches her hand – they reminded me a little of Rosa Park’s wicked Black Swan.

Her Black Swan solo is, I think, meant to show more of the vitality of the Black Swan, and the stars are aligned when the Prince reappears because her whole show is for the Prince, and his presence gives her Odile/ Black Swan purpose and meaning.

This Black Swan is totally wicked and super enjoys it when the Prince has been fooled. Right at the end, she throws an arm up when he leans down and, at last, bursts into a sunny smile as he rests his cheek upon her hand. At last, I say, because it’s hard to say if he’s really been fooled throughout, but at the end he actually does look quite happy. Maybe his version of the story is that he’s not so silly and fickle.

Thusly, when we see the White Swan again, she has this air of absolute nobility and purity to her, standing all alone on the crest of the mountain which will be the platform for her doomed end, etc. You actually feel great stirrings of fondness suddenly because she’s quite a poor thing and also because you’ve been really annoyed by evil Black Swan. I think it’s really a deliberate choice to play up the very stark black-and-white versions.

This means that while she is heartbroken, at last she tremulously accepts her handsome prince’s apologies and sorrowful declarations of love. When the Monster Rothbart carries her away, you can see how fragile and delicate she is, and then she decides that it’s time to end this. She rushes up the mountainside overlooking the lake and she pauses dramatically, and she leaps. It’s in this moment that you feel a sense of admiration for her. In Act 4, she is all purity and forgiveness, and she sacrifices herself with sudden newfound courage.

Callous as it may sound, I must say that Princess Hee Seo and Prince Cory Stearns made magnificently elegantly graceful leaps. Prince Cory did the leap you will see in textbooks on what sort of leap you should make – it was a photo-worthy moment.

Now we must comment on Monster Rothbart as played by Thomas Forster. It’s not easy to emote for Rothbart, but he managed it. It was not the breaking of any enchantment that did him in. It was pure heartbreak. He was evidently jealous of the Prince in Act 4, and the death of the Princess broke his heart, and near killed him. He was in absolute agony, seeing the girl of his dreams die, and then when the Prince followed, that just ripped him apart from inside. I actually felt really sorry for Rothbart.

Together, the Prince and Princess are really a good-looking pair, and you can see how grateful she is to him at the very end, and how happy he is.


Sat night – Isabella Boylston: The regal princess

“I began to understand what you said about Rosa Park’s version,” a friend told me, after Act 2. You remember Rosa Park’s complex version of a little icicle of a Princess who does not trust, in order to protect her vulnerable heart, and whose heart is moved by the tender, overwhelming warmth of the smitten Prince.

This Princess is regal. She was once girlish and happy and carefree, and now she has become a regal swan. Oh, when she appears, in between the stretching of her arms, she gives a little shake of her head as if she is still a bird, learning to be human again after 12 hours of being a swan. In case you think you saw wrongly, she does it again later. And it is so bird-like, as if she is shaking water off her crown, that you are blown away by this tiny little touch of genius.

She’s the regal sort who’s embarrassed that he’s seen her transform into a person. (If her transformation is anything like when Sailor Moon characters change back into their normal clothes, then I can see why…)

The Prince must be spoken of with her, because that really explains stuff. They are clearly a partnership in this, a shared story. Interestingly, this Prince Daniil keeps his distance from her at the very start, to great dramatic effect – it shows his disbelief, his amazement, his wonderment. He grasps her hands, but she gives him the slip. They are more than dancing – they are telling a story and filling the stage with their energy. They are gilding the pages of those old-time storybooks rather than merely colouring within the lines. Basically, throughout the pas de deux, Prince Daniil handles the White Swan with care and tenderness. He shows her: I’ll be there for youuuu, Rembrandts-style. He shows her that he is really serious about being with her. Catching her about the waist, lifting her.

You know, I’d never known much about Daniil Simkins’ partnerwork, only about his flash and flair, because I hear things but I don’t really watch a lot and I’ve not read the magazines for a while. I had worried about the hype. But all I saw was a really generous partner who was not afraid to squat a little, if he had to, just to make sure his partner could do her (8??) pirouettes and look splendiferous. Anything to make her shine.

Through the dance, she shows how she has started falling for him: at the start, she rejects him; then at one part, she allows him to stroke her face but she pulls away quickly right at the end. When he turns away, dejected, she regrets what she has done, and she turns to him, and wheels her arms towards him as if to push away his arm and fall into his embrace (very slightly similar to SDT’s version), but happily, his mind meets hers and he is ready to lift his arm and embrace her.

Eventually, she rests in his arms and she caresses his hand as he embraces her. The second time he wraps his arm about her, they match each other for the degree of longing and trembling love. There’s a degree of sensuousness that you don’t expect because everyone says that Black Swan is the seductive one and White Swan is the pure, innocent one. Well, this White Swan says Man, I feel like a woman, and it’s kind of a Stuttgart feel, if I may say so. I mean, have you seen their Romeo and Juliet, and their Onegin? Those are not afraid to be open about their romances.

Isabella Boylston’s White Swan solo is beautiful and when it comes to the passes to the knees and the little bounces with that, you see that she’s fighting to live her life. The other swans genuflect and you can see she is their Princess. She has stopped him from shooting her people, and in this scene, they also acknowledge that she is someone they love and admire, as she dances with so much life.

Prince Daniil actually gives the prince emotions, too. His Prince smiles at the end of the pas de deux, in parts, as he lifts her. Who does that when they must be tired as anything? You know how at the end of Act 4, there are two diagonal rows and he lifts her kind of a little high but then carries her in one arm as she unfurls her legs and drags them on the ground? Well, Act 2 involves him dead-lifting her high up and walking. That’s got to be fun, not. But he’s smiling because he is in love and she loveth him too.

Now for the transformation back to the swan. She does that with a series of flurried neat pirouettes that are like Jessica Drew turning into Wonder Woman, and you can see her changing into a swan in that way, and then she has a very straight back and super-straight arms – not human, says her body language – she is the very arched-neck stiff swan who flies away with huge swan wings. A very different swan from the previous 2.

…the Prince does so much trying to find the Swan that it feels like he’s in Central Park: “Which lake? This lake? Or that lake?”


How now, Black Swan? I wondered how wicked she would be. And you know what? She is not actually about wickedness. No, this is a logical game. Your Prince knows you, and how can you lure him by being so straight-out wicked? Rather, you must be lustrous and have a winning smile. Such a sparkling personality. This is a little like the Singapore Dance Theatre’s interpretation in that it relies on the belief that the Black Swan retains just enough traits to the White Swan that the Prince’s heart may falter.

The Prince is overcome with joy and darts forward when he sees her.

In this case, Isabella Boylton plays the daughter to her father, rejoicing when his plan succeeds. She’s a strong confident dancer, and a joy to watch in how she simply eats up all the moves. This Black Swan is a glorious beauty and she sets out to seduce the court in her solo. Misty’s Black Swan has us and the court eating out of her hand because she’s not here to threaten us, just to make us marvel at her. This Black Swan, she will be Queen – and she’s here to show us her sparkling personality.

The Prince is marvellous in his solo here, giving us his famed high leaps and concentrating on his countless spins. In the pas de deux, when they are back to back and she spins round, and he too spins, arms outstretched, you can see his great longing and love in his face and how he holds his arms. Without his love, her hard work is for nothing. All this acting lends a dimension to the scene.

The final part is the icing on the cake, and the cherry on the icing. Princess Isabella Boylston gives an endless loop of fouettes (if I must say, about 34) and at least one set of triples or quadruples, to great cheers. This Black Swan is slick and confident, and young, and she knows that the Prince loves her now, more than ever. This gives the Prince Daniil the soaring mood he needs to launch into incredible dizzying turns that look almost acrobatic.

They are sizzling, the dance is absolutely on fire, and now at the very triumphant finish she must skate towards him, holding an arm up before her, rotating it to face herself like the normal port de bras, then to rotating it out to face him, like a veiled threat, and back to herself, and then to him. But what does the Princess do? She holds her arm up in a fabulous port de bras – then she flies at him, her arms opening – the one that is held up stretches a little more outwards than is usual, and the arm that is behind opens up a little as well, so she is flying on great dangerous wings. And she repeats this, for she is going straight home to his heart, and he is waiting for her with open delight, and we are all filled with glee for this is a magical, magical moment that you will never see again. They are feeding off the energy – she is feeding off the energy, and off his lifeblood.

They dance right up to almost the very last note, and then he falls to the ground and rests his cheek tenderly on her hand – not trulymadlydeeply as you would have imagined, but in joyous love –  and oh, instead of doing the rest on my hands and I snatch one away, she in fact leans forward in a loving, caressing embrace as if she is the loving White Swan  – yes, she bows forward to caress his cheek with her forearm! — then she leans back and throws her head and shoulder back in triumph.

The emphasis is not entirely on the pullback, but on that almost anti-climactic embrace that is another touch of genius. You’re like What is that?! and then you see what it means to the Prince. Little wonder then, that when the delighted Prince throws himself at his mother’s feet and declares this is the one, the one he loves, please please let me marry her, that the Queen sees her beloved son deep in love, and which mother would not want that? And of course she says Yes, yes, get up, my love, you must marry her.

In case you didn’t know, when the Sorcerer reveals the White Swan and rushes up the steps to exit through the front door, he disappears with a loud pop and flings down flames that burn briefly – three sharp dots of light. Such a clever idea. Prince Daniil is blinded, falls to the ground. This is very good acting on his part, this horror and writhing and rushing forward.

The two of them, the Prince and Princess, act very well with their body language.

Act 4. We see the Prince struggling against a storm and buffeted by winds and pairs of leaping swans. When he sees the Princess again, up on the crest of the mountain, she is grand, and sorrowfully regal. She tries to flee from him. You can see that she is a little bitter, perhaps disappointed, perhaps she should have known better than to trust, et cetera, but they grow close again, because it’s clear he is remorseful and really loves her and does not love the other.

Her choice to throw herself off is really following through with the whole breaking of spell thing. What stood out was the broken-hearted Prince – and then he dashed up to the crest to throw himself off – and there was a moment of good-humoured amusement from the audience, for he was (in the words of a male audience member I overheard) “horizontal”, and sort of belly-flopping, and the audience feared for his tummy and that he might smash his nose on the mattress.

They are reunited at the end, of course, in the sun.



That brings us to the Swans, for at the end, they transform into women when the sun rises, and there were tears in my eyes for the Misty night because they were so, so grateful, and free at last, thanks to their Strong Princess, who paid the price for their freedom. On the Hee Seo night, I was also a bit teary because oh, the sun, oh the mist, oh the freedom and the beauty of these swans who were now lovely ladies once more, and free!

Swans. I must paste here this part that is now in my mind as Gorgeous Important Swan Lake Music. That choreography makes it stick in the mind, that walking waltz step. This is from Act II Coda, with the brilliant heartbreaking Gillian Murphy.

Four of the Swans had to put their arms up and pose with their arms up for a while during the White Swan pas de deux. Four had to sit down. Then they had to get up and start hopping and stretching their arms out. That’s painful!

I like the choreography. Things like them in rows and the front row, hands folded, bowing while the back row raised its arms like wings, then alternating so that they looked as if they were flying. Or when they were in eight columns (four sets of 2) and they did little jumps to the side to lend in fifth and then pose, then another leap to the side, and pose, as they moved towards the centre, then to the side. A friend said it seemed like aerobics, but to me, there was an air of pathos to it.

I also liked how, in Act 4, they proceeded out before the Prince found his Princess. You’d see swans sitting on the ground while one swan proceeded out with folded hands, and a step, then en pointe, then a step, then en pointe, while her other foot stayed out behind her, lightly raised. Then another swan would follow suit. Then you’d have two swans. It followed the music. Then you’d have swans jeteing out, arms raised, eyes upwards, as if they were flying. Then the swans on the ground would get up and, with their hands sticking back a little, and eyes downcast, and walking en pointe, feet not turned out at all, picking up their feet very clearly, in a slightly scarily regimented way that really set the mood for Act 4.

The Big Swans were especially good on Saturday night, very graceful and athletic. The Cygnets were pretty united on Friday night especially. It’s quite difficult to essentially run a 400 m race, which is what the Cygnet dance seems to be.



The life of the party, the charismatic man who lures women. Here’s an awesome video of the dance. You can see how the princesses from other nations dance, too. Love the choreography for this. Calvin Royal III was a slender, sinister Sorcerer, while James Whiteside was an exceptionally exciting Sorcerer to watch: charismatic, enticing, seductive with a fabulous smile that charmed the audience.

You know, at the start of the party, the four delegations meet in the centre and bow. Also, each time a delegation is about to dance, the Master of Ceremonies leads one lady-in-waiting with a furry fan out. When they finish, the lady goes out again, to show that the show is over.

What puzzled me was that the Princes sometimes engaged the ladies-in-waiting / princesses in conversation. I was used to the Prince-whose-mind-has-wandered-and-is-still-mentally-at-the-lake.

The dance with the Princesses was quite gorgeous as well. I think Prince Daniil held up his end of the distracted Prince pretty well. He danced with the ladies out of gentlemanliness, and looked around for the next lady to dance with because it was required.


The Hungarians were in red and in boots, and for the Czardas, Fang Zhong-Jing stood out with her little tilts of her head, on Thurs and Sat nights – she and Alexei Agoudine, her lead male Czarda, seemed really quite amused and happy on Sat night. The lead male Czarda (heavily-bearded) for Fri night was very good as well, moving well to the beat – he was Roman Zhurbin, aka Monster Rothbart on Thus and Sat nights!

What is fascinating is that the very same Fang Zhong-Jing who was so bold and spirited as a Hungarian Czarda was — I’m sure of it — the delicate fragile Hungarian Princess on Fri night, who was so pliable and had a gentle pleading expression. (I thought she was in purple, i.e. Polish, though . . . unless there was a shifting in cast.)

The Princesses on Fri night were exceptional. And their amazing dresses actually rustled.

Before we forget, Spanish were in gold, with luxurious gold beaded netting in their hair. Two pairs, sliding across the floor. I liked Courtney Lavine as Spanish on Friday night, but on Sat night, she was replaced both as Spanish and as Big Swan – hope she is well.

Italian were two men in white shining tights with a blue ribbon pattern, who did multiple twirls and sleek jumps. Thursday’s pair were superbly slender and tall, and did incredible innumerable spins and looked almost rubbery whipping round so fast; Friday’s pair were shorter and in sync; Sat’s pair looked like twins and were full of good humour and energy.

Polish were in delightful shades of purple approaching pastel, and they danced in a row, 4 facing front and 4 facing back, arms around waists (or stomachs, if facing in opposite directions) and this required much coordination and fast kicking feet.



In all, it was a visual feast and totally worth watching. The music was utilized beautifully. When I watched it closer-up (Misty’s show was a bit further because it was opening night, and hard to get better tickets) – when the curtains drew back to display the gorgeous dresses and the first scene, I felt myself fall in love and I remembered, again, why I love going to the ballet.


A side note. I know there is a counting of fouettes and the papers are quite unfriendly if we don’t reach the actual numbers. Also, I remember Mr Janek Schergen saying principal dancers are not those who are the best at everything, but those who can bear the weight of carrying the production, and who are best able to hide their errors. As with any review, I have glazed over the odd moments, which I put down to jet lag also, and little skips. In all, amazing in any case, and you could tell everyone was brilliant.

Anyway, I will also say that everyone pitched in as hard as they could and the show is glorious when the music is used to perfect effect, when the audience’s spirits are lifted, when they are completely engaged and invested in the performance. That’s what we are here for.

And the curtain calls.

First, Misty’s night. Not a very good photograph…

curtain call misty


Hee Seo’s night


curtain call hs swans

Hee Seo’s night: Swans and Monsieur Monster Rothbart:

curtain call hee seo swans monster

Mr Rothbart as a man, to the left – James Whiteside, also the Prince for Sunday’s matinee.

curtain call hs rothbart man

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns

curtain call heecory1curtain call heecory2curtain call heecory3curtain call heecory4


Isabella Boylston’s night

curtain swans 2

curtain swans n rothbart 1.jpg

Mr Rothbart in a suit

curtain rothbart bow


curtain rothbart man bowcurtain rothbart man

A ton of pics from the leading couple.

curtain isadan1curtain isadan2curtain isadan3curtain isadan4curtain isadan5curtain isadan6curtain isadan7curtain isadan8curtain isadan9curtain isadan10curtain isadan11

A ton of thanks to whoever had a better phone and used it wisely for Hee Seo’s night.

Here’s a video of the bouquet moment, for the Isabella Boylston night. Just because it’s amusing and touching, and includes the conductor.


One thought that occurred to me, because I’d heard about the ages of the cast, was that they have a lot of people, which might help when someone is injured. I’d reflected on this quite a bit in the past. Some of the past principal dancers in SDT were the sole principal for a period of time, or did a lot of the heavy lifting and footwork for a long time, and if they were injured, they probably didn’t get to sit it out a lot; and there are sports scientists and doctors in other countries. Here there are helpful clinics and masseuses and the like, of course, but I also don’t think there’s the cash to support all that to the degree that there is in the larger companies.

Anyway, especially with the smaller population of dancers, this means that even with fewer shows, the rotation cycle is smaller, so dancers have to do the same show on alternate times, sometimes overnight e.g. Friday night, Saturday matinee. I know the Swans do that too, if you look at the cast list here. But what I mean is that sometimes that doesn’t help the lifespan or life cycle — it’s difficult. It does make one a little sad, too.

This came to mind partly also because I was reading an old article about one of the past dancers’ injuries (a weak right knee) and I also recalled another dancer saying she had essentially danced so much that one of her bones had been ground away. (Though that’s as may be so for all dancers.)

But we also don’t have the funding, I do know also.

Eeks, this is a strange note on which to end this. Eeeks.


An edit

Edited one of the earlier Farewell posts that said there were no new professionals joining. Of course there were! All the new ones are. I meant more senior professionals, folk joining at Artist level. But having new folk ay all is heartening and excellent, dudes. And they shall grow and et cetera.

Edited the post, anyway 🙂


Rising through the ranks. Hurray and congratulations to the following folk.


Valerie Yeo, who joined as a Trainee,  is now an Apprentice. Hurray!

I must say that the Apprentices (at Dec 2017) were pretty phenomenal, you know. It was always quite a blast, watching them. Some of them had danced with SDT even before joining SDT, and I really look forward to watching their future performances.

It seems that now the first rank for entry is Trainee, even after one has trained abroad. I’m not quite sure why there’s an additional rank, unless it’s for salary structuring purposes…



Hurray for Jessica Garside, Watanabe Tamana, Ivan Koh, Jeremie Gan and Agetsuma Satoru! It’s a pleasure watching them perform.


First Artist

Huo Liang. Has there been anyone who has proven himself so worthy of rising to First Artist over the last year? – working tirelessly, pushing himself, accomplishing everything he’s been given and more. I think what’s especially meaningful about this is that we watched him from Nutcracker 2013, through pair work in the like of BUTS 2014’s Shostakovich and 4Seasons, etc to Sleeping Beauty where he left his mark as one of the three Russians (I know they’re not called that, but those fur hats…) – and then all the way on and on, in Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, holding his own with the others.

On to Balanchine’s Four Temperaments as the man who is greatly plagued, i.e. that vastly back-breaking work which he completely and utterly pwned (owned..). It’s no small feat, opening that segment, and he very clearly made sure he was in control, instead of letting the part overwhelm him. A man of what seems to be intriguingly pragmatic thought and good humour, who has steadily worked onwards. At around the time Jason Carter was evidently (this sounds terrible, but the audience does gossip, even if it’s not publicly on this site) going to make the cut for First Artist for his zippy lines and form, Huo Liang was also very clearly working it out too – and he has come into his own. As mentioned once, earlier, his voice could be heard through his dancing – you could sense that urgency with which he was communicating – you could get the message from his dancing.

Sometimes I feel that’s what the First Artists have – they have that voice or shape of dancing that is heard and seen loud and clear, and they leave their mark on the role – okay, in part because they get the soloist roles  – but let’s say you watch a neo-classical or contemporary ballet – you’ll sense certain things sometimes.

What I mean to say is – this is well-deserved, and in no small part due to the endless hard work that you can tell has been put in.


Principal Artist

Etienne Ferrère. I am no end of pleased. Without meaning to sound like the PPAP song – you have a dance, you have a dancer – you will want to put him in the dance.

A principal artist carries the weight of the show on his or her shoulders, and time and again, Etienne has shown himself to be more than capable of this – not only in his jaw-dropping supersonic-speed and arrow-sharp technique, nor merely in his superb artistry, but also, crucially, in his absolute dependability as a partner. A male partner must know his part and hers, commit it all to memory, and Etienne does all this while at the same time providing a steady, reassuring presence. If there are nerves, he keeps them to himself, which is no easy feat – and time and again, he’s displayed a mastery of the stage and a fabulous ability to communicate with the audience.

A short summary: It’s always immensely enjoyable to watch Etienne dance. You really have to watch him.


Now you’ve some time on your hands. You ask yourself: should you watch Lady Bird or Black Panther?

The answer is – Black Panther. Wakanda forever.

Right on, we’re done. Toodles, folks.



New folk (2018)

Really livin’ up to the name of this site!

New apprentices – Jasper Arran and Mizuno Reo

New trainees – Felicia Er and Ma Xiaoyu (whom we’ve both seen dancing with Singapore Dance Theatre since Coppelia last March, so this has been a long time coming!) and Reiko Tan and Yamauchi Sayaka.

Will be great to see them perform in the upcoming ballets / dances! 🙂


2017 Farewells (Part 2)

This is in alphabetical order, which is also in reverse order of the time they’ve spent as a professional dancer with Singapore Dance Theatre. If there are quotes, I will use ’em. Three professional dancers left, and there have been no new senior professional dancers this year (meaning, folk coming in at Artist level).

I always feel it’s harder on the dancer(s) leaving, and their colleagues, than on the audience. But each dancer is so memorable that it’s always a pity to see someone leave.

Oh, let’s be honest here, I’m a sentimental soul and I’ve kind of watched these dancers grow (while I grow mushrooms in a corner), and I feel a little sad. Yes.

1. Niki Wong

Dance is like climbing a mountain – physically demanding yet refreshing and rewarding when you reach the peak. It testifies of the obstacles you’ve overcome along the way, and how it has grown and developed in artistry and in life. – In the Wings (2016, 2017)

We’ve seen Nikki Wong perform even before she was an Apprentice – she was, for instance, a Nursemaid in Sleeping Beauty (2015?) so it’s quite inconceivable that she’s left Singapore Dance Theatre. I won’t forget how joyous she looked on stage as she took on more roles, and those light-footed moments and hands held high in the air, light and graceful. I was so pleased to see her in her first professional performance in Swan Lake, at last.

Wishing her all the best, wherever she may be!

2. Peter Allen

I can’t find the interview with Dance Magazine that he did. Here’re a couple of things from In the Wings.

Quote or motto to live by?

I’ve got three that I quite like.

  1. From Monthy Python’s ‘Life of Brian’; “Always look on the bright side of life”.
  2. “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck” – Dalai Lama.
  3. And one that I find quite useful in ballet is a line from ‘Swing Time’ with Astaire and Rogers; “Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again”.

(And there’s one on guilty pleasures – I should probably eat less chocolate, but I don’t feel particularly guilty about that.)

He’s said it himself and so has Mr Janek Schergen (the Artistic Director) – Peter Allen is a fast learner, the gentleman whom you can count on to take the stage at the last moment, who knows what’s up and what’s down. It’s been so long since Don Quixote 2014, when he joined (apparently at the last minute too) as a Village Boy and did the turns, and he’s been thrown more roles over time (including the impossible Sticks and Stones, and the Snow Scene in Nutcracker, as one of the Caveliers). I remember in the Dance magazine, he expressed an interest in going back to Britain eventually, to dance.

Such a terrible wave of nostalgia. It seems only yesterday that he moved up from Apprentice to Artist and we were writing here about it.

3. Xu Lei Ting

What are three things that define you as a dancer?

I think what defines me as a dancer is my gentle nature, speed, and musicality.

I really enjoy dancing in ballets like Sleeping Beauty, where I have danced as a Fairy Attendant and Aurora’s friends in Rose Adagio, but I also enjoy works like Opus 25  by Edwaard Liang and Don Quixote, where it requires a certain speed and sharpness in the movements.

To me, music is a very important part of a dancer, so being able to sense and flow with the music is extremely key and essential to my performance.

(FromIn the Wings”, 2015)

I put this quote above because that’s what I remember about Xu Lei Ting’s dancing. There’s an inimitable gentle grace in how she dances. Always a stalwart in so many group dances, important scenes all — as Kitri’s friend, as Chinese in Nutcracker, as a Swan, a Snowflake (I may have mentioned her dancing as a Snowflake before). Will miss seeing her dancing onstage 😦  Here’s a lovely photograph from Instagram.




I think “In the Wings” is really useful, by the way, for any young dancer out there who wants to read about how professionals think – they’re humans, they eat, they breathe, and they have their ways of conceptualizing what they do, because (I imagine) as with anything that requires the brain, soul and body to work together in such synchrony, every ounce of one’s being has to be poured into making sure that one is present, and any amount of guidance that can shed light will be really appreciated. I suppose if I were a young dancer, I’d have my ups and downs and have moments where everything feels overwhelming and daunting and such, and I found that “In the Wings” really is a kind of mentoring process in itself. It’s like those “letters to my younger self” that some professions have.



2017 Farewells (Part 1) – Nazer Salgado


(Nazer in his Nutcracker 2017 solo as the Cavelier of the Sugarplum Fairy.)

In the last few years, Nazer’s stepped up to take on the immensely difficult principal / pas de deux roles for dances such as Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, Balanchine’s Serenade, and Shostakovich, and the fiendishly gorgeous and tragic Symphony in Three Movements. It’s always been a pleasure to watch Nazer take on new roles, and grow with them, and grow into them, both in solo and in partnering roles. It seemed that whatever was thrown his way, he always accomplished without showing audiences how difficult it was.


I’ve mentioned before – he only started dancing ballet at age 16, and it’s incredible how much he did in this space of time – so much talent and hard work perfecting the craft – somehow, he gave the air of being a perfectionist, of wanting to give only his absolute best to every audience in every single performance. If at any time audiences are unforgiving, one should imagine how much harder a dancer is on his or herself.

It’s always a shock, and so surreal, remembering with a pang that he’s left Singapore Dance Theatre, because one always feels as if one might, at any moment, see him on the stage again – so clear is the memory of his dancing.

Nazer has left also left an indelible mark on all the dramatic roles he has played with such charisma and good humour, making them larger than life: Espada with the zinger of a hat and flair in every marvellous leap and jump, who won the audiences’ hearts and applause; the unforgettable Devil in Timothy Coleman’s The Soldier’s Tale (which he took on separately and on top of usual work with Singapore Dance Theatre), who revelled in his wickedness and was quite the scene-stealer; and, most of all, an utterly likeable, brilliantly hilarious Franz. It’s difficult enough to dance, keep an ear out for the music and an arm out for your partner. Being able to infuse a role with so much character at the same time takes an uncanny amount of skill.

The lingering memory, though, is that of Balanchine’s Four Temperaments. That was Nazer in one of his finest moments, I think – smooth, strong dancing in an incredibly difficult role, and such intense control in every movement.

All the very best to Nazer! We’ll miss watching him dance.






RIP Kim Jonghyun (SHINee)

Goodbye, and rest well.

You worked hard, and did well.


It seems impossible that the SHINee we loved from so many years back, the boys from Hello Baby, One Fine Day, We Got Married — from Lucifer and 1000年、ずっとそばにいて (1000 Years, Always By Your Side), Fire, Why So Serious, 101 songs — that something so destructive and heartbreaking should happen to them.

It’s heartbreaking seeing how shattered they are — leader Onew (the “old man” who leads them “from the middle” rather than in a top-down fashion); irrepressible, headstrong Key; dependable Minho; driven “Magic Hands” Taemin.

And oh, Jonghyun who smiled so brightly, and who always brought his sunshine and his loud laughter, and his quick wit, to any set and stage. From/ at the start, he was the centre of the line-up — if you watched those videos and interviews, he was always in the middle – and so people might often have been first acquainted with him. Such pure vocals, sharp dancing, talented song-writing, and a brilliant personality.

It goes without saying that SHINee is an amazing group – not only because each of them is so individually bright and distinct, and so wildly talented, but also because they are sincerely, genuinely fond of one another and they spread their mad youthful good cheer. It is terrifying to realise that nothing will ever be the same again for them.

Little things gain significance: Onew in a video in 2017 saying his world would collapse if Minho were to die (or any of them, since he said they had known each other for so long), and how he would be thinking Why did you leave first; Jonghyun saying SHINee would not break up unless they fell apart physically; Minho’s surprise visit to Jonghyun on the latter’s last episode on Blue Night, the radio show which he left this year, and how he asked Jonghyun if he would return to the show, and Jonghyun affirming this; Jonghyun saying he prepared listeners for a month as he wanted to wrap things up properly and essentially didn’t want to just leave them in the lurch like that; and oh, how tired and sad Jonghyun looked on that last episode.


Jonghyun-san, 本当にお疲れ様でした.

And may SHINee continue – SHINee forever.


ETA: Yes, I did not mention the family but it goes without saying that hearts are with them T_T 😥 


Singapore Dance Theatre – Nutcracker 2017 (Snowflakes and all other dancing)

Cast list.

cast list 1

cast list 2


Act 1: Snowflakes

Snow King’s costume. ‘Tis a fine suit, innit.

costume snow king


Snowflakes – rather beautiful, as always. When it begins, you have the rows of snowflakes in two diagonal rows from the back corner to the (audience’s) right, and then the Icicles paired with Cavaliers bourre-ing en pointe and pointing forward, leading the way as the Snow King enters, bearing his Snow Queen aloft in a gorgeous swan position, arms and head back, legs high.

There are moves that the mind cannot comprehend, that are excellent. Snowflakes leap out backwards in lines of three,  arms extended back and forward, and making a jumping pirouette in the air, hands meeting in the middle and extending back out again – now they’re facing the correct direction and jete across the stage to the other side. Listen to 39:48/49 above, which is the music for snowflakes flitting out in trios.

Another move I can’t wrap my mind round is one that sounds very close to the music at 40:54 or so. Everyone is in trios, including Snow Queen flanked by two Icicles in the front i.e. the lead trio. The lead trio raise an arm straight up so their hand is high overhead, and then they plie (I think they do bend their right knees) and stretch out their left leg to the side, and then they spin on the plie leg, so their left foot inscribes a (part?) circle on the ground, and they are now facing the back (as they do so, one lowered arm extends back and the hand overhead stretches out? forward? like a swan’s wing), and they run off. It’s difficult to do it gracefully and in sync. I tried it out so that I could write it out above, but without a reflective surface. I have no idea whether I described it correctly.

There are delightful little moments, like everyone (lead trio in front) bourre-ing to the front, kicking out slightly to the side as they lift their feet. Snow Queen always looks down to the sides as she does so, then lifts her eyes to the audience with a glorious smile. Another fabulous part sees the Snowflakes in their trios, in a cross / Maypole formation,  a simulacrum of a four-pointed snowflake, and the snowflake whirls round lightly in the centre of the stage.

Kenya and Chihiro are the very assured Snow King and Queen, and you can see Kenya whisk himself round quickly to ensure he’s in the right place for Chihiro when she does a turn. Shan Del Vecchio and Peter Allen are back as Icicle Cavaliers – Shan Del Vecchio appears to be a steady partner for Nanase, and Peter Allen distinguishes himself especially in his demi-soloist role dancing with Shan and Kenya.

Essentially, all the Icicles and Cavaliers make watching this easy on the eye – it sails past. I like watching all three couples on stage.

Close to the end of the pas de deux, when you think the music is just about dying away, the Snow King supports Snow Queen by the waist while she is in splits, and he carries her a little way, then lands her and she pushes off again into splits, and so on, as if she’s gently flying. That needs good timing, especially because the music sounds like it’s about to end, and you just have to trust that the moves will eat up the music adequately. I’m seeing Li Jie and Nazer in my head at this point, an experienced Snow Couple.

At the end of the pas de deux, Snow King does a dead lift of the lovely Snow Queen (straight locked elbows, all the way up) off the stage. I was always of the impression that the take-off happens at a point between five-twelfths to six-thirteenths of the stage (I pressed the calculator for this – it’s around 0.43 really, but probably five-twelfths feels more accurate). But from Kenya and Chihiro’s performance, it seems it’s around the centre of the stage. Ouch! That is called parallax error.

My current absolute favourite part for their pas de deux is, however, when Snow Queen, left arm draped across her King’s shoulders, swings her left leg up and out like a graceful pendulum, and then pivots on her right toe so that the raised left leg is in attitude (raised arabesque) behind her, and her arm is still round the King’s shoulders so that they are quite close together, and then he walks 360 degrees while he continues pivoting her. Flawless and graceful.

At 43:33, should we hear a sort of low rumbling and see the three rows of 4 snowflakes flutter their hands like sudden snowfall?

Also, we must mention this other part (somewhere when the music speeds up — I can’t quite catch the point above, 44:18 to 44:29?) – where we have the lead trio especially, and their legs open from fifth to second, and they reach up and across with the opposing hand (right hand reaching for top left, left hand stretching out below) and glance at us over their shoulder. Like the points of stars. (I’m not sure I’ve the timing of the music right – 44:36 starts to lead up to the fall of snow at 44:39.)


Kwok Min Yi is a new Snow Queen – it’s always a pleasure to see someone take on a new role, and I admit I felt another lump in my throat because seeing someone move up from group to important soloist roles is always a joy, especially when the road has been filled with so much growth and so many new and interesting roles. Also, I didn’t expect this, because usually, Sugarplum has to double up as Snow Queen or Dewdrop or some sort.

It’s interesting – she dances like she’s having the time of her life, and in the part mentioned above about the points of stars, every arm and leg is a line in a crystal, and the hands and feet their points, each move made clearer and larger than life, both for feet opening and zipping together, and arms reaching wide, outwards.

Li Jie is the glorious, grand, unattainable Snow Queen. Chihiro is the gorgeous Snow Queen, royalty, Queen of the dancing Icicles. Kwok Min Yi is a fairy Snow Queen, from a little girl’s perspective.


Act  – Land of Sweets

When Fritz and Clara reach the Land of Sweets, Fritz kneels so that when the Toy Soldiers burst in, they eventually end up kneeling with him to welcome Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy. At first I was rather startled to see Fritz kneeling, and for so long, too.

The Soldiers are a solid piece of work, doing their turns in turn like cogs in a mechanism, well-tuned. It’s interesting to see, for the Akira-Sugarplum night, that Jerry Wan and Reece Hudson are of one particular line of dancing (the rounded, more fluid look) while Jason Carter belongs to the class of dancing that is more on lines and planes, and Yorozu Kensuke’s dancing is a mix of the two.

I love 51:32 of the music above. That’s a part I totally didn’t expect: all and sundry emerge in order of appearance to greet their guests, and boy, does it look and sound grand! I mean, when Spanish appear to the sound of those wind instruments, you feel your spirits lift. 52:10 to 52:22 signals a slight change, and where this part once involved three of Clara’s dolls, it now involves Harlequins, which I think fits better as they’re all grown dancers. Plus, the Harlequins, in their white costumes and their quizzical poses, are a breath of fresh air. 52:24 is familiar, but I can’t recall who they are…I keep seeing light steps to the side and to the centre again, and lifted legs. Is 52:36 the Shepherd and Shepherdess (S&S)? For sure, 52:50 is their portion, so hauntingly melodic; and the violins from 52:56 take us to the fade-out at 53:06, by which time Shepherd has hoisted Shepherdess up in the air so her white sleeves trail down as she leans back and lifts her arms up gracefully as if they are water sleeves.


55:28 – good for getting people into the mood! Danced by always-dependable couples, and ending in a beautiful fish dive that is nowhere near as easy as it looks. A note that May Yen Cheah is always spritely as Spanish, with a sparkle in the eye. For the finale, the Spanish lady cocks her head back slightly and throws her hand up behind her ear, and May Yen Cheah does it so sharply and memorably. She is marvellously supported by Miura Takeaki, who makes sure the pas de deux is swift and on the mark.

Bi Ru + Kensuke are the joyous Spanish, Bi Ru bright and lively, with that proud lift of the leg in the entrance piece earlier, hands at the waist. Kensuke’s performance, summarised in 2 word, is “great lah“, which essentially means that it was a breeze to sit through, as his performances always are.

I fell ill just before the Chihiro performance,* so I left at the intermission, but from memory (of something I did see, which went well), Nanase and Jason were the delightfully efficient and sharp Spanish.

The 6 Spanish girls twirl and stride round, and there are the high proud kicks and 56:32 onwards brings us unexpectedly light-footed music for Spanish.

*Requiring shots – not liquor, though. I like to think that I’d have had the review up sooner but this just knocked the blues into me slightly.


The music after that isn’t quite included in the dance, I think. I have no idea where the harlequins’ music comes from. If you do know, please let me know…

I’m following the sequence in the pamphlet as it’s the same as the performance, I expect? I can’t remember.

When the Harlequins file in, there’s utter silence, and then they leap into the air and the music starts. If I were a crowd I’d say they were a crowd-pleaser, but the audiences remained fairly quiet. I did think they were a more than welcome addition and rather hilariously mischievous, and their dance was well-executed. They ended in a pyramid, with Jeremie Gan balancing on the upper thighs of the other 2 boys, and improvising quickly where necessary. The bows were funny and well-received — whirly dramatic flourishes with their hands, then Jeremie Gan kicking and shoving Ivan Koh into rushing off stage, then all waving as they ran off, and Agetsuma Satoru blowing kisses lavishly at the audience – think he stood out a fair bit in lines and humour.

Chinese Flowers

Always love this, and the crowd does as well. Lookit those great red sashes whirling through the air! And the timing on this is precious – one girl has to run out further than the other to reach the same spot, and then when one pirouettes in a certain fashion, the other doesn’t seem to pirouette in time, and then you realise that’s because the latter needs to be at just the right point of the tight circle that they’re whirling in, at the right point in time.

Shepherd and Shepherdess

Last year, Bi Ru and Jason were the highly-energetic S&S, and this year Huo Liang and Bi Ru turn in a slightly more tempered performance.

I think one of the most fascinating parts is when he has swirled her round and they pose for a snapshot second when the Shepherd has swung the Shepherdess round and her left arm is about his shoulders and his right arm round her waist; their other arms are outstretched, and even in that single breath, the Shepherdess has to quickly slide one leg out in tendu so that in the next note, they can take off again.

Jason Carter and Suzuki Mai are a gentleman and gentlewoman S&S, light of foot and supremely gracious and genteel. I missed Etienne and Akira’s performance, but I’d seen one before and it was very lovely and sweet.


Costumes. Nutcracker Prince, Flowers (there are also yellow and blue flowers, I think), and Arabian.

costumes soldier flower arabian

I unabashedly abandon Clara’s Dolls. They are pretty good, and I’m always partial to symmetrical logical dancing, e.g. when they are in a sort of circle and start turning? and then doing arabesques, in sequential and mirror order.

We’re here for Arabian, which, like the Soldiers, is an absolute dream that whizzes past delightfully. It is the song that never ends, which is fabulous for this audience member. Unfortunately, I was trapped between two extremely bored gentlemen on Friday night after the intermission. Though they had been kind enough to accompany their lady friends, their boredom seeped out of their pores. The gentleman to the right seemed scornful whenever male dancers appeared (see the Netflix subtitle for “scoffs”), politely clapped for female dancers, and applauded with great gusto at Sugarplum Li Jie and her Cavalier (one suspects reasons). The gentleman to the left sank down in his seat after a while and I suspect he dozed off, because he clapped only sporadically, and even had to prop himself up. And as Arabian is very long for people who don’t like ballet, it was a tad uncomfortable…but honestly, I just paid attention to what was onstage because I was getting my ticket’s worth, and more.

Arabian is full of intriguing moves: ladies extending one leg forward (supported at the ankle by their partner) and leaning, bent-backed, against their partners’ arms, then righting themselves and leaning over the extended leg, folding their hands delicately over their ankles; spins involving a handhold overhead and pushing off from the other hand hold, arms at 90 degrees, legs at 90 degrees until they are folded in for the pirouette – and now imagine 3 of these in rapid succession; ladies hoisted up onto the shoulders of their gentlemen and carried about. For Saturday’s matinee in particular, they did seem to exude an air of being Arabian princesses (happy, cool, or sultry, depending on the dancer).

Dewdrop and Flowers

costume dewdrop

At last! And we’re not even at Sugarplum. Li Jie’s Dewdrop is assured, giving us the sense that she can do this in her sleep; she is the Queen of the Flowers, after all. Nanase always turns the energy up a notch when she is soloist – a solid Dewdrop. From memory, Elaine’s Dewdrop is a clear, steady Dewdrop.

Dewdrops are picked for stamina, and they never ever let on that they are tired.

I have no ballet name for this move by the Flowers, who again move across the stage rapidly in trios, across a diagonal. It involves leaps to the side, one leg extended to the side and the other tucked under (not behind, but sideways). It’s difficult to look graceful doing this, but the Flowers always are, and are also coordinated.

Sugarplum and Cavalier

I’d watched Chihiro and Kenya once, and they were a couple in love, or at least – in every breath and every move, Kenya was a delighted and devoted Cavalier. This, unlike Snow King and Queen, requires everyone to be on a high and happy note.

This is Akira’s first Sugarplum for SDT – lovely port de bras, and a sure air, and likely a child’s dream of a Sugarplum fairy, in part because she is petite. She and Etienne (always the capable, reliable partner and dancer) were wildly popular – quite an adorable and sweet pair.

Li Jie had an air of confidence in this year’s Sugarplum, and I think it went a long way in her solid fouettes and then multiple speedy spins. It was a pleasure to see that beautiful final pose with Nazer, hands lifted to the light, and you could tell the audience loved that performance, too.

If you recall, there’s this little arm movement I’m not fond of, in this pas de deux. Interestingly, I no longer notice it – it is a small brushstroke leading to a larger, grander gesture, a sweeping of the arm upwards to the light.


I love the finale, when everyone enters one last time. Not much to say on it now, though.


At last. Pictures.

Etienne, bowing to Akira.

EF akira 0

Li Jie as Dewdrop, and Etienne and Akira.

EF akira 1


EF akira 3


Spanish from Akira’s performance

may yen cheah spanish


Li Jie and Nazer. For this performance, she handed him her entire bouquet instead of the now-customary single flower, and when he kept trying to return it, she made him keep it and in the end he bowed with it raised high and in hand. He is leaving SDT 😦

li jie nazer

li jie nazer 2

No better photos for this couple, I’m afraid. I could try to name everyone from left to right, but maybe another time.



Singapore Dance Theatre – Nutcracker 2017 Part 1 (Before Snowflakes)

Nutcracker is back! — that family-friendly affair.

This year, the Mayor(s) stick(s) to his (their) wife.

If you wish to know the music and the chronology of events, please go to “Archives” and look for “Nutcracker 2016”. This round, I skip these as far as possible. I’ll type the word “review” here because Google and shameless.

esplanade banner

(Pictured in banner: Uchida Chihiro)


nutcracker pamphlet cover

The above shows Chihiro … as…the…Snow Queen? I don’t know what the costume is.

Cast lists are up and they show interesting stuff. Most folk are in the same roles, I think. Some of the previous year’s Claras are now dancing as Clara’s dolls. Fritz is back, and taller than all the Maries now — but still as entertaining and expressive a Fritz as ever. New roles – Harlequins, etc. Personally, I rather like the Harlequins and I hope their scene hangs around.

cast list 1

cast list 2

Act 1 – The Shops

When the show starts, we see the usual setting of the shops. Though the shopkeeper is called Mr Sung, his shop is not named after him. I suppose “Sung” is a pun on 商人 (shang ren, or businessman). Left to right, we see Mr Sung’s shop, the bank, the jewellery shop, the dress shop, and the candy shop, which I don’t recall being there before. It’s a good place for the kids to hang out. The jewellery shop window now has a selection of five necklaces, while the dress shop window has been jazzed up – it’s no longer merely a milliner’s, for there’s a grey suit on the left and a dress and hat on the right.

The opening has much of the same stuff as last year’s – the shopkeeper sweeping somebody’s feet by mistake, Mrs Nightingale (Clara’s mother, played by Ruth Austin) getting annoyed with what the butler has purchased and praising the maid (Leane Lim), Marie getting distracted by jewellery (and a necklace draped round her neck, which her mother makes her return), Marie noticing Drosselmayer’s nephew Kristian as he strides by, the ladies noticing the Russian ballerinas, the Russian ballerinas trying to get the soldiers’ attention, etc.

It’s interesting to see how different people adapt to the situations (see later: the party scene and the 2 Messrs. Nightingale, and the butlers). As the Banker and Mayor respectively, Shan Del Vecchio and Nazer Salgado approach each other as if they’re going to shake hands politely, then the Mayor has this oh, what the heck grin and throws his arms wide open, and Banker throws his arms open and they embrace and exchange European-style air kisses, haha. Whereas Banker Peter Allen and Mayor Jason Carter shake hands, like proper polite gentlemen.

As the street fills with people, including the Banker’s family, Banker Shan Del Vecchio peers out round the bank door like a cheeky child, spots his wife (Chua Bi Ru) near the dress shop, and creeps up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders to give her a pleasant surprise. She then points out the hat and dress and asks his opinion, and he seems quite favourable to the purchase (smart move #1 – say yes to the dress). Their kids come up with bags of sweets (unpaid for! shocking) from their raid of the candy store; and the Banker’s wife disapproves and so does he, and they accompany the kids to return the candy (smart move #2 – back up your wife). Banker Peter Allen hails his wife from afar, they wave to each other and he goes up to her, she clings to his arm, points to the dress. He is a man who knows how much these things cost, and he looks slightly doubtful about whether the dress will work (consistent in character — refer to party scene later) – but fortunately, they are interrupted by their kids and he tells the kids to return the candy, and he goes back to work.

Mr Nightingale has learnt his lesson from last year — he remembers the shocking cost of the necklace he presented his wife. What happens next was first most evident when Nakamura Kenya played Mr Nightingale. After greeting his family friend Drosselmayer, Mr Nightingale ignores Drosselmayer (who tried, in vain, to call him back) and heads for the Bank, where he consults the Banker on his bank balances before he emerges and makes a beeline for the jewellers’, where he tries to get the Ambassador to understand exactly which necklace he’d like. #financialprudence

A subsequent viewing(s) proved that both Messrs. Nightingale now exercise such laudable caution with their wallets and their next encounter with the Banker involves shaking his hand good-day and not disappearing into the Bank with him for a consultation on healthy finances.

Etienne Ferrere is, as always, a hoot as the slightly officious jeweler-Ambassador. Miura Takeaki is hilarious as an Ambassador who is snootily pleased with Mr Nightingale’s good, expensive tastes. Every nod, flick of the hand or shrug of the shoulder from these two jewellers is just right. The jeweller-Ambassador is also a savvy and charming businessman, having already persuaded Marie to consider one of his necklaces. You will also see Mrs Tang (Mrs Nightingale’s mother, played by Sun Honglei) hinting to Mr Tang (Mr Janek Schergen) that she should get a necklace, but he demurs.

The soldiers and the Russian ballerinas always draw stifled laughter from the audience – at how readily they are lured into the shop, how there’s always one unfortunate soldier left behind (e.g. Timothy Ng, head hanging dejectedly and in a sulky temper until he decides to plunge into the shop, too; or Justin Zee, whose soldier then remains #foreveralone as he has failed to scoop up a ballerina, until much later in the party), how there’s always one soldier who is almost fooled into giving all his money to a ballerina girl (Jason Carter, pointing at the bank from which they can get a loan, until Reece Hudson drags him away; Justin Zee, who has to be whisked away so fast he does a turn) or, on one night, one soldier who manages to have all the girls hanging on his arm (Yorozu Kensuke).

Other little new details: the Mayor’s wife (who runs the dress shop) locates a missing child and returns her to the Banker’s wife, who scolds her; Ma Ni, as Mrs Nightingale’s sister Mrs Ching on Nakahama Akira’s Sugarplum night, seems more intrigued than offended by the sight of the Russian ballerinas; and when the music builds up, one of the Russian ballerinas bumps into the Banker and this time, his knee is hurt. Interestingly, the build up to that musical moment is different from the very first time I saw it (Elaine Heng), because it’s a lot more bars of music. Previously, the ballerinas seemed taken with quite how handsome the Banker was, and now they just apologise and run off.

And the ending, of course, is different. It used to be the milliner / Mayor’s wife (Yatsushiro Marina) all by her lonesome self, suddenly remembering that she had forgotten to lock the door, and then going back to lock it before hurrying off. Even in 2013 – I remember the milliner leaving the stage last as the lights dimmed, and there was a sort of suggestion of a dusk and falling snow, in that solitary ending. Now the ending is a little merrier and busier –  just as the milliner is leaving the shop, the shopkeeper (Huo Liang / Miura Takeaki) and his wife pass the dress shop and his wife (Xu Lei Ting) tugs on his arm and wants to stop for a look, but they have a party to get to, and he persuades her to follow him instead.

Act 1 – The Party

This will be exceedingly long because I like remembering the details. They’re all lavishly funny.

Entrez Ruth Austin as Mrs Nightingale, the glamorous lady whose Christmas party is the Event of the Year. You just know that when the doors are flung open, she will be a model of absolute gorgeous calm, welcoming her guests into her house. How does she do it, everyone marvels when they see her breezing about company, setting everyone at ease. It’s not liquid courage, unlike last year’s liquor-lovin’ Mrs Nightingale, that’s for sure.

Hence, the opening, the pre-party, is important – it gives us a glimpse of the hard work behind the scenes. Mrs Nightingale, the proverbial swan who looks calm above water but who paddles hard beneath the surface, puts the finishing touches to everything and holds the household together. Without her, the correct groceries would not have been purchased; Marie would still be sitting with her feet up on the sofa, deep in her book (notice that Akira and Li Jie play more docile daughters than previously seen, to this motherly, fussing Mrs Nightingale), Fritz would still be slumped over in his chair, and Clara…she’s the model of perfection, so Mrs Nightingale has one less thing to worry about.

Without her, Mr Nightingale cannot even fix the failing button on his shirtsleeve, and she disappears up the stairs with him, heralding the entrance of the butler.

The butler! On some occasions, we have Peter Allen trotting in as a very young butler being as butler-ly as possible. He does not pick a quarrel or kick up a fuss – he may have a soft spot for the children, for when Fritz rearranges the dishes on the table, he merely tut-tuts and resets them in resignation.

Jerry Wan Jiajing plays a different butler, one who almost positively hates the job, the noise and the fuss. He’s peevish and irritable, and he even snaps at Young Master Fritz for messing with the food on the table, and directs Fritz to sit down. Evidently, he has a bone to pick with Mr Nightingale, and vice-versa – nothing he does is right on Saturday night – he’s tardy and needs to be chivvied into welcoming the guests, at which he rolls his eyes; he swings in late with a tray of glasses (a point against him in Mr Nightingale’s eyes, and this is probably made worse by the fact that Mr Nightingale ends up without a glass, because his delighted guests e.g. Mrs Sung and his wife cut in before him); he can’t even catch a nut from a nutcracker (unlike the other butler).

This sets the stage for explaining why Fritz is able to keep disrupting the party with his trumpet. ‘Tis the butler’s duty, after all, to keep the trumpet away, as we’ll see.

I love it when the Russian ballerinas enter. For Akira’s performances, Minegishi Kana, May Yen Cheah and Beatrice Castaneda float in like delicate nightingales on a wing, to light fluttery music. Always, the last 2 Russian ballerinas cling to the Ambassador’s arms right after they enter.

The Russian ballerinas are amongst the most under-appreciated performers of the night. The other performer who doesn’t usually get any applause is the Snow King, because right after his solo, the gorgeous snowflakes drift in, and no one wants to interrupt the performance.

I didn’t enjoy the Russian ballerinas’ dance as much previously, because it took me by surprise, especially with the music. But it’s like a pleasant entrée and I do enjoy it now, not least because it gives us room to watch each individual dancer take her turn.

Tanaka Nanase, Yeo Chan Yee and Kwok Min Yi are Chihiro’s proud Russian ballerinas, chins lifted high as they enter; and they turn in a brilliantly steady performance – look at Yeo Chan Yee’s clean landings from pirouettes, for instance. For Li Jie’s performances, Elaine Heng and Suzuki Mai and Ma Ni are the ballerinas –  Elaine Heng makes it look effortless as always, lovely lines; and Suzuki Mai has that graceful neat port de bras, and Ma Ni has a very pretty dancing style – and it’s good to see them put front and centre. Akira’s Russian ballerinas are mentioned above – Kana has a delicate dancing style (in the flick of the hands and arch of the arm), May Yen Cheah carries the dancing well as the centre of the trio, and Beatrice – now we take our two seconds out in case I forget to say this later during Candyland.

Beatrice Castaneda, in this season’s Nutcracker, stood out for her portrayal of the roles as Russian ballerina and Arabian. She was acting out the Russian and Arabian dance roles for us — smizing, as they say in America’s Next Top Model, smiling with the eyes — and that immediately connected with this audience member, who sat up. It felt as if she were the character – not merely a good dancer, but also the Russian ballerina, and the Arabian dancer, engaging the audience.


I think I need to jump back in time slightly, to the part where we see Drosselmayer’s nephew Kristian pluck up the courage to approach Marie. They dance a little – and then Mr Nightingale spots them.

Messrs. Nightingale-Justin & Nightingale-Kenya (the latter playing the father to Li Jie’s Marie) are an interesting pair. Drawn-on moustaches and beards are the rage this season, sported by everyone from the Ambassador(s) to most of the Arabian dancers (bar Huo Liang), but Mr N. Kenya wears pays homage to the Movember movement with a tiny but distinct paste-on moustache.

Mr N. Justin is quite evidently disturbed – good grief, who is this young man to whom his daughter is obviously attracted? He must put a stop to this at once! He promptly pops up between the two and firmly separates them, then takes Kristian aside for a getting-to-know-you session, in good ol’ intimidating dad fashion.

Mr N. Kenya, on the other hand, is a more reserved and stoic fellow, who keeps his feelings in check. He politely clears his throat in dismay and cautious embarrassment and turns to his wife a few times, as if to say cough cough, is that not our daughter? Perhaps I shall have a word with them? Have you discussed such matters with her–? I suppose – I shall have to intervene, yes, I shall and then he approaches them and appears to clear his throat again in polite dismay before courteously, but firmly, placing his hands on their arms to separate them. Then he takes Kristian aside politely and speaks to him man-to-man, trusting in his maturity, which is no doubt even more dreadful and awkward for Kristian, and worse still, he then gets to know Kristian’s subordinates, and speaks to them in turn – after all, there’s no better way to understand a man’s intentions and heart than to speak to his underlings!

You can’t help but wonder …

And when a giant cake arrives on the scene later and all the children surround the poor maid carrying it and clamour to grab a piece of it while she attempts to hold it high above their heads, Mr N. Justin wades in to ensure the kids don’t ruin the cake and the party, and that they mind their manners. Mr N. Kenya seems about to step in, but decides that they are just being playful children (such foreign creatures), the cake is in no danger, and in any case, he is a reserved fellow who does not slap away pesky children’s hands. Instead, he hangs back and observes their good cheer from a distance.

When it comes to discipline, Mr N. Justin is a tall figure of wrath when Fritz runs off with Clara’s Nutcracker, and that is why Fritz caves and hands over the trumpet. When the children with trumpets persist in interrupting the little girls’ doll dance with their trumpet-playing, he is furious. (Overheard from a female audience member, when the little girls danced: So cute!!) Mr N. Kenya’s manner runs more towards sternness – but when Fritz stubbornly refuses to hand over the Nutcracker, he asserts his iron will and  papa psychology, willing his son into remembering his manners.

Speaking of the trumpets, we get to clear up the mystery of how the trumpets get back to the kids, especially Fritz, when they were so obviously a nuisance to begin with and Fritz’s was even confiscated. Butler Peter Allen has a soft spot for the kids, and he tells Fritz he has one more chance, and he passes the trumpet back to Fritz; and he gullibly allows Fritz to have the trumpet again later (second chance). Butler Jerry Wan, on the other hand, returns Fritz’s trumpet with only a little pleading from Fritz – the party can be ruined for all he cares, and in case you’d like to know, nope, he doesn’t care–he’s so over this party right now, especially when Mr N. Justin scolds him for letting the trumpet out of his grasp.


The unveiling of the necklace reveals another surprise in dynamics. Mr Nightingale claps his hands to get everyone’s attention. He has a wonderful surprise – and for some reason, his sister-in-law, Mrs Ching, thinks she’s part of it, and she goes up to him in delight, or stands in her sister’s way. Mr N. Justin gently indicates that she’s not the star here, and turns to his glorious pillar of support, stalwart and bulwark in every storm, Mrs Nightingale, who so deserves this necklace she’s about to get.

Where Mr N. Kenya is simply polite to Mrs Ching when letting her down (barely a glance at her, so she gets no wrong ideas), Mr N. Justin is ever the gentleman – which is perfectly fine, but you do wonder why he’s been giving her air kisses on both cheeks when she enters on Thursday night, and a very loud air smooch and embrace when she leaves.  This time round, you start to understand Mrs Ching – perhaps she has always been envious of her sister for having netted a very wealthy, very handsome husband who loves his wife very deeply — which explains her vying for their parents’ attention (though not why she would plant herself in the path of Mr Nightingale…). #afamilyfriendlyaffair

In any case, as we all know, Mrs Ching finds her own happiness with the Ambassador-jeweller, who is rather taken with her, and even spins her into his arms at the end of Saturday night (he doesn’t leave with her, but there’s a suggestion of lunch tomorrow, no doubt).


There are other little funny moments in the background.

Kristian tries to dance with Marie again at one point in time, but they are interrupted by her grandparents. One of the soldiers (Reece Hudson) makes the most of the night, draining an entire bottle and even turning his glass upside down to prove to the butler Peter Allen that he should hurry up with another round of drinks. In the background, the Mayor and Ambassador may have discovered a pair of lovely chairs which they proceed to roll about in, while discussing the nature of a Pocky stick and whether it should be placed in a cocktail glass.

The necklace also sparks off reactions from the crowd. The Mayor (Nazer Salgado) promptly orders not one, but two, necklaces for his lovely wife Marina (who stands by quietly) — no one is going to be better-dressed than his wife, and he is a wise man who understands that #happywifehappylife. The Banker (as played by Peter Allen), who was not terribly keen on his wife getting a new, expensive dress and hat, has yet to learn this life motto. He is cornered by his wife (Chua Bi Ru), who points out that he’s not ever gifted her anything as fine and glittery, and she’d like a necklace too, and the Banker tries to persuade her to consider earrings instead, believing them to be much cheaper. This tactic fails and eventually, she marches across the room to the Ambassador, trailed by the Banker. Eventually, the Banker agrees to buy her jewellery, and suddenly, his wife is all beautiful smiles again, and he realises that he is much happier than he was 5 minutes ago, because #happywifehappylife

A small gesture I did like: when the Nutcracker is thought to have been broken by Fritz, Marie kisses her fingers and presses them to his forehead, to heal the Nutcracker, and presents it back to her little sister. One of the Maries also demonstrates that he’s still fine by working his arm and jaw.


One more note before we turn to Rats. We’ve talked before about living life on the edge and dancing dangerously close to the fringes of the music. On Saturday night, Kristian appeared to dance rather close to the edge — he looped his arm through a startled Marie’s arm almost on the beat of the music itself, and they did a little turn on the spot; he set aside Marie’s book and invited her to stand to watch the grand Soldier Dance so close to the opening notes that he leapt forward from the sofa (some Kristians do this early enough to allow Marie two breaths to stand, and to step forward). This made for heart-stopping action. Other heart-stopping action includes getting shawls and coats on every guest as they exit. What if they don’t manage to make it out in time before the music changes? Heart in mouth.


Act 1: Rats!

As Marie follows her family up the stairs, audience members at the back start to murmur, for they can see a figure hiding behind the sofa. Right on the mark, a Big Mouse pops its head above the sofa and clambers over, only to be joined by two others, squeezing onto the sofa together, arms slung round the back of the sofa, one leg dangling lazily over the side. It’s their party now.

The Big Mice are a Stroke of Genius, and may they reign forever. They are a hoot . One of them lounges about on the sofa, discovers the Nutcracker and holds it to the light to examine it, before proceeding to sayang (pamper?) it, rocking it in his arms, then clutching it close to him as he lies down. The other two lift off the top of a giant present next to the sofa, and start hoisting a seemingly endless procession of small rats out of the box, which made the audience laugh.

Then the mice pop down the stairs and peer about them. The mice and small rats gather in the front, then one set of them attacks the presents.

They hear a noise and start to dash offstage, just as Clara goes down the stairs, having heard them. It’s quite a sight, so many life-size small rats and mice rushing offstage, and you can see why she’s terrified. The last three small rats leap into the arms of the Big Mice, and are borne off in a hurry – another oddly humorous sight,  but a nice touch that explains why the Big Mice disappear too, when they could so easily make off with everything else in the room.

All other matters follow the script we know and love.

I got a lump in my throat listening to the music where the soldiers enter to help fight the rats and mice. See the video below, which sounds amazing. Strangely, the tears begin from the scene from 28:57 below onwards where the tree grows and Clara is being comforted by Drosselmayer. Then 29:47 is the moment the music becomes more military in tone (listen to the repeated notes, and then the progressive brass). Look at the animated expressions and conducting! Such music. The opening is great, too.


30:19 to 20 leads us up to the clash of cymbals and it sounds triumphant because back-up has arrived, but it is also the most dreadful music, in a sense, because the soldiers are off to war… And what grand and magnificent soldiers they are, running in and then making a flying side leap and landing neatly in a row. These are the soldiers from the party. 30:52, heralded by increasingly loud trumpets, brings us another 2 soldiers, who land perfectly in front of their compatriots and turn to march smartly between the row behind them, and march out again. Marvellous, and moving. Ivan Koh is a good addition to the Soldiers. 31:06 sees them all turn, rise on one toe and lift one straight leg up behind – graceful long lines, all. Little jumps from them as well, and such orderly marching up to 31:26. Here we are to serve and protect you, they are saying to Clara, who should have full confidence in them…until the Rat King arrives.

It’s all very magical. Please do listen – you’ll find you can’t help but watch the video, too.

The audience always laughs when one little mouse tricks one of the soldiers and steals his rifle (they’re quite cute after all! says Reece Hudson’s soldier to his peers, despite Etienne the Nutcracker Prince shaking his head sternly; and Kensuke is taken in on another night, and Shan Del Vecchio as well, both greeting the mouse with wide smiles). After a tug-of-war with the mouse, the soldier gets his rifle back, in time for him to raise it above his head and join his friends in leaping high.

Right, so we have the popular villain of our times, the Rat King. Dramatic flourishes from Timothy Ng and Reece Hudson.

When the Rat King (tiny mice and rats behind him, Big Mice cheering away from the safety of the sofa) encounters the soldiers, marching out in absolute synchrony, rifles at the ready, he decides to retreat, which is always a funny sight. Twice, Rat King Timothy Ng starts walking backwards slowly, but each time, his mice and rats push him forward. Rat King Reece Hudson obviously has second thoughts when he sees the crowd of soldiers and whips right round, as if he’s a gentleman who’s decided he’s got another really important appointment on and he’ll be back another day, thank you very much; and when he’s pushed to face the soldiers, he looks like omg, no no no and he turns around and tries to escape again.

But when the Rat King gets down to business, the soldiers are disposed of quickly by the Rat King.  For he hath a sword, which he uses to knock them aside by slicing at their rifles. Then the rats clamber onto the soldiers’ backs and rush them away, offstage.

If there’s enough time, the Rat King (Reece Hudson) challenges the Nutcracker Prince to a fistfight and passes his sword to a little rat, so the Nutcracker hands his rifle to Drosselmayer. If there’s no time, they waste no time in putting their weapons aside and indulging in a little mano a mano time. My favourite pose of all time during the battle follows, where they raise one imposing arm before their faces and kick out strongly with one foot – basically a challenge to fight, so graceful and strong and scary. Sometimes you feel the Rat King is almost mocking the Nutcracker Prince. Oh, he’s the Mouse King, says the booklet. Ah well.

When Timothy Ng is the Rat King, the Nutcracker Prince and Rat King then take turns supporting the other, who makes a large leap in the air, his legs cartwheeling and his torso nearly horizontal to the ground. When Reece Hudson is the Rat King, the Nutcracker Prince raises the Rat King high in the air and whirls about 360 degrees twice.

When the Nutcracker Prince has the Rat King down on the ground and is about to strike with the sword, the Rat King thrashes about a fair bit and even tries to get up and kicks his legs up, but he’s stabbed and then the curtain goes down behind the main characters, and the rats and mice and Three Big Mice arrive. Now we see why it’s vital they are involved – previously, a ton of little mice had to carry the Rat King away and that had to be hard on all involved. Now the three Big Mice can do the job properly – except the one at the feet drops his feet with a loud clatter, and the kids in the audience giggle, especially on Friday night, when the front row erupts into long and loud laughter, even as the three Big Mice manage to haul the Rat King away at last.

One of the Big Mice is Marcus Ong, who’s not actually with Singapore Dance Theatre. He’s with SDT’s Ballet Associates Course, and I think he is from the School of the Arts as well.


This seems a safe place to stop before we plunge into the dancing. Exeunt, chased by a snowflake.







Ballet Brothers

Jake Burden, formerly from (amongst other places) Singapore Dance Theatre, has set up a really awesome and important initiative to support male dancers 🙂


A video by Ballet Brothers 🙂