Singapore Dance Theatre
'Birds of Paradise', 'Maninyas' and 'The Lost Space'
by Ana Abad-Carles
March 16, 2005 -- Peacock Theatre, London
On Wednesday 16th of March, Singapore Dance Theatre gave their first performance in London at the Peacock Theatre as part of the Singapore Arts Festival. The company was founded in 1988 by the Artistic Director Goh Soo Khim; and though it is a young company in terms of its existence, it certainly has a wide repertoire and very good technical standards. There are strong connections with the Australian Ballet through Paul de Masson, Ballet Master for the company, and through the dancers themselves within the different ranks of the company. This link with the Australian tradition is also emphasised by some of the choreographic work the company performs. For their London season, the company actually presented a work by Stanton Welch, who belongs to the new generation of Australian choreographers. This connection, without any doubt is one of the reasons why the company is very strong in its technical performances and assured in the presentation of its work.
There are beautiful dancers within the company and the whole group has a unified image and style in their performances. It is only a pity that the works they chose for their London season were not perhaps the most becoming for a troupe that performs in the capital for the first time. Though of obvious significance for the history of the company, the works they performed were not the best in giving the group a sense of identity.
The first work of the evening was "Birds of Paradise", a work created by Singaporean born choreographer Goh Choo San. The ballet was created in 1979 and it certainly shows its age. Goh Choo San trained at the Singapore Ballet Academy but then moved on to Dutch National Ballet and found his choreographic home in America. The piece showed all these influences, especially reminding me of the aesthetics developed by Glen Tetley in some of his works. A plotless piece in which the dancers keep using imagery related to the Birds of the title, it was beautifully danced; but the ballet has lost its lustre in the sense that it tries to use a kind of vocabulary and aesthetics that, by now, are more than surpassed. At a time when Balanchine has become mainstream, there is no sense of novelty in this kind of works that try to exploit lines and motifs without really involving the audiences in the mood of the piece.
Perhaps that is why works such as Tetley’s "Voluntaries" are still so wonderful, because even though it uses this same sort of vocabulary and technique, they do move the audience. It is also a sign of the times that audiences are used to much more radical works from classical choreographers or even contemporary choreographers working with ballet companies. The novelty these works had in the seventies in that they tried to explore new means of contemporary expression within the realms of classical dance have long been surpassed. Still, the company danced "Birds" with precision and commitment, and we should be grateful to see a company honouring a choreographer who was part of their culture and country and whose work is rarely seen nowadays.
The second piece was "Maninyas" by choreographer Stanton Welch. A more recent piece, the ballet was created in 1996 for the San Francisco Ballet and it has been staged for the company by Sabina Allemann. The first movement of the piece started with a group of women in what seemed to be some sort of despairing, angst filled opening. I must admit I feared the ballet would keep this vein, but luckily it changed its mood and became a fast paced piece for the whole company. Welch is better at allegro than he is at adagio and therefore both first and third movements were better than the second one that featured the slow part of the piece.
This was danced beautifully by Sakura Shimizu, Xia Hai Ying (who had also led "Birds of Paradise") and Jacek Bres. Ying gave a powerful performance just as she had done in the previous ballet, but not even her commanding presence could save the movement from its oversentimentality, which seems to be a constant in this new generation of male ballet choreographers. They seem to be very good in all the dynamic parts of their pieces but fail in their adagios due to a sentimentality that looks somehow lacking in real depth. The recently staged "Pavane pour une Infante Defunte" by Christopher Wheeldom (for the Royal Ballet), showed exactly the same problems these young choreographers have when trying to evoke a more sentimental mood. Perhaps it would be high time female choreographers were back on the ballet scene in order to get a more balanced point of view and style. Personally, I have always related better to Tharp’s women on stage than to Forsythe’s.
The last piece "The Lost Space" was the most original in my opinion. Choreographed by Indonesian Boi Sakti, the piece was more in keeping with recent choreographic discoveries, and it was from a Western point of view more interesting to see as the piece dealt with the problems of “urbanisation and modernisation against a more rural, traditional way of life”. It did so by mixing the traditional setting, costumes and steps with a more contemporary feeling. There were beautiful moments, especially when the women appear in a diagonal on the benches that acted as props and scenery and they seem to be hanging onto a timeless space. There were entrances and exits that led nowhere and ironic comments on an increasingly alienated space where tradition and modernisation coexist, yet seem to resist each other. The concept worked and the dancers, once again, paid good compliment to the choreographer’s vision.
Overall it was a good evening, though not one that sticks to one’s memory due to the lack of challenging choreography for some very good dancers. However, it must be difficult for a country like Singapore to come to terms with its own heritage and use it to create something unique and that has a resonance within their culture.
Edited by Staff.
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