Stephanie Burridge

A milestone for dance in Singapore was the local launch of “Evolving Synergies: Celebrating Dance in Singapore” edited by Stephanie Burridge and Caren Cariño. Singapore Dance Theatre’s programme of contemporary ballet “Masterpiece in Motion” was probably the best mix by the company – the triple bill combining a canon of classical beauty, funky street dance inspired moves, and lastly segueing into some nifty musical chairs. This month, we also take a look at what is on offer at Singapore’s most anticipated dance event: the Esplanade’s annual “da:ns” festival.

  • “Evolving Synergies: Celebrating Dance in Singapore”
    Book launch and performance at NAFA Dance Black Box; September 12
  • “Masterpiece in Motion”
    Choreographers: Val Caniparoli, Natalie Weir, Nils Christe
    Singapore Dance Theatre, University Cultural Centre NUS; September 13
  • da:ns festival heads up
    Esplanade Theatre, Black Box, Recital Studio and Forecourt; October 9-19
Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts in Som Said's 'Tarian Hati', in the foyer for the book launch.  Photo courtesy Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts in Som Said’s ‘Tarian Hati’, in the foyer for the book launch.
Photo courtesy Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

September 12. The official release of “Evolving Synergies: Celebrating Dance in Singapore” was hosted by the Institute for Southeast Asian Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Appropriately it featured a curated showcase of local dance to hallmark the diversity of dance as a practice and passion in the city state. Performers included dancers and choreographers from T.H.E Second Company, Maya Dance Theatre, Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts, Kanaka Sabha Performing Arts Centre, Singapore Hokkein Huay Kuan Dance Theatre and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. This is the first anthology on dance ever produced in Singapore and the seventh in the “Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific” series joining titles on Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan and the South Pacific. It was launched by Paul Tan, Deputy CEO of Singapore’s National Arts Council.

September 13. “Masterpiece in Motion” is Singapore Dance Theatre’s annual repertory showcase. Now in its fifth season, this year it featured a triple-bill of international choreographers. It moved from Natalie Weir’s quintessentially neo-classical “4Seasons” that featured pas de deux and the classical canon of steps, to Val Caniparoli’s funky street-dance influenced “Swipe”, to the closing quirky and imaginative “Fearful Symmetries” by Nils Christe. Full of innovation, the season highlighted the versatility of the company and explored the breadth of possibilities for contemporary classical dance.

Originally commissioned as a collaboration with Australia’s Expressions Dance Company, “4Seasons” lost some impact from its first airing at SDT’s “Ballet Under the Stars” in 2013. There was more tension in the earlier duets as the dancers from the two companies were challenged to work with unfamiliar partners and find new ways of communicating in the organic, sensual movement that is the essence of Weir’s work. Nevertheless there were some beautiful, poetic moments in the quartet of duets that evoked the four seasons, corresponding to Vivaldi’s iconic score. These were interspersed by large group sections with some striking formations and patterning that opened and closed the space. A feature was the wonderfully crafted tonality of the costumes by Bruce McKinven that echoed the seasonal concept drawing the choreography together in colour and texture.

Singapore Dance Theatre in Val Caniparoli's 'Swipe'.  Photo © Bernie Ng

Singapore Dance Theatre in Val Caniparoli’s ‘Swipe’.
Photo © Bernie Ng

The company really came alive in Val Caniparoli’s “Swipe” where they had to traverse funky, ‘of the moment’ dance moves and classical steps in a high energy fusion of styles. From the monochrome grey costuming to the pulsating, remixed rhythms it resonated with the hip, the happening and current directions. Sometimes we were caught up in an unmixed classical refrain of music that opened into a grand pas de deux; an extended split arabesque or a lyrical passage by the women – but not for long, as the topless men zoomed downstage and threw themselves to the floor for another strenuous athletic passage. The audience were flung with the dancers into a vortex of pulsating torsos, hyper extended backs and a weird, signature move involving thrusting the arms above the head like a desperate semaphore in a secret language. It was exhausting for the dancers and exhilarating for the audience.

Along the same path of turbo-charged contemporary dance, Nils Christe’s “Fearful Symmetries” delivered a high energy piece with an elegant, inventive twist, based as it is around stylized stools inspired by the abstract constructionist work of visual artist Piet Mondrian that were moved into various configurations by the dancers during clever lighting changes. Far from an academic choreographic exercise, it flowed through many moods and witty combinations for the dancers and was an innovative buzz or the audience. John Adam’s score was a complex foil providing a collage of expression, pulsating rhythms, reflective tones and sounds like animated cartoons that pushed the dancers to give high energy performances propelled by the music. Ultimately it was a perfect ending to an invigorating evening of quality dance by Singapore Dance Theatre.

Matthew Bourne's 'Swan Lake'. Photo courtesy Esplanade “dans” festival

Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’.
Photo courtesy Esplanade “da:ns” festival

In 2006 Esplanade Theatres on the Bay initiated their own highly successful “da:ns” festival that has now become the most anticipated event for dance lovers in Singapore. This year Singapore audiences will finally be able to enjoy Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake”. Although its fame goes well before it and local dance students and balletomanes alike are well versed in the scenario of this work, particularly the twist of incorporating male swans, there will be nothing like seeing the full production live. Regular flamenco visitor Maria Pages brings “I, Carmen”, although for me, the most exciting programme will be Wayne McGregor’s “FAR” from Random Dance Company. This creative artist is another name that has been missing from the local scene for too long. Faith Tan, producer, The Esplanade Co Ltd: says, “We are honoured to present three extraordinary choreographers of our time. The international premiere of María Pagés‘ new work “I, Carmen” and the Singapore debut of Matthew Bourne‘s legendary “Swan Lake”, will see bold makeovers to beloved classics, redefining them for contemporary times while Wayne McGregor‘s “FAR”, harnesses modern science and technology to interrogate the connection between the human mind and body.”

Festival commissions have been an important aspect for the local dance community with companies and soloists appearing in the black box season called ‘Shift’ that is integral to the event. This year Singapore Dance Theatre presents “Intermezzo” featuring a premiere from rising local choreographer Christina Chan, while international names for the programme include the incredible Tao Dance Theatre from China and French new media artist Barbara Matijević with “Forecasting”.

Singapore’s two tertiary dance institutions, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LASALLE College of the Arts also have a chance to show their talents in a platform called “Next Generation”. Education and participation has always been a component of da:ns with master classes, workshops, and outdoor fun on offer where you can simply join in a jam of people trying everything from salsa, to ballroom and hip hop.

'Ream Eyso & Muni Mekhala' by Sophiline Arts Ensemble (Cambodia).  Photo courtesy Esplanade “dans” festival

‘Ream Eyso & Muni Mekhala’ by Sophiline Arts Ensemble (Cambodia).
Photo courtesy Esplanade “da:ns” festival

Another signature of the festival has always been the programmes of cultural dance titled “Rasas” in the theatre foyer and on the outdoor stage. This year, dancers from Cambodia, Bali, Mindanao and Northern Thailand will perform, and give lecture-demonstrations and classes. Overall the festival direction remains towards familiar international names and regional favourites with local commissions and regional collaborations a feature. Several broad themes like east and west convergences, cultural synthesis, and the deconstruction of traditional forms underpin a number of the performances. With packed houses, enthusiasts at workshops and hundreds watching free performances in the foyer each night the festival continues to create excitement.