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Singapore Dance Theatre

'Masterpiece in Motion'

by Stephanie Burridge

August 24, 2012 -- Esplanade Theatre, Singapore

Singapore Dance Theatre’s 'Masterpiece in Motion' season at the Esplanade Theatre, August 24, featuring international choreographers was a stunning triple bill. World Premiere of Chant by Val Caniparolli is just a wonderful work- primal and instinctive; the company really nailed the intricacies of Balanchine's Divertimento No.5 and the Age of Innocence by Edwaard Liang was poetic, passionate and sexy. SDT thrives in this highly anticipated annual season – the shorter, contemporary and neo-classical pieces suit the dancers and the choreographies, all for large groups, allow personalities to emerge.

Balanchine, the master of abstract ballet, fully exploits the possibilities of partnering in Divertimento No. 15 as he weaves between lyrical moments and fast paced accents created through intricate, delicate point sequences for the women, and powerful beats and small jumps for the men. It was an elegant, pure, classic piece with white tutus and the men in tights. Balanchine’s love of patterns and arranging groupings of dancers often mirrored the cadences of Mozart’s joyous music and this energy gave impetus to the numerous entrances and exits throughout the work. Led by principals Rosa Park, Chihiro Uchida and Heidi Zolker, the dancers performed the unison sections succinctly and the many solos and duets with lightness and precision. The quirky, parallel knee and foot positions on pointe added a syncopated accent in the later stages of the choreography and were quintessentially Balanchine and a nice surprise. The three men showed good elevation in the rapid foot work and leg beats with Kenya Nakamura showing special flair in interpreting the style.

The highlight of the season was the world premiere of Chant. Like a medieval mantra that builds in intensity through repetition, Val Caniparolli’s choreography asserted a ritualistic power that was accentuated by the superb music of Lou Harrison, titled Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan. Soaring lifts that came to earth with the dancers folding their bodies together in angular, animalistic poses were contrasted with powerful lines of men and women purposefully crossing the stage. Lit by shafts of golden light, the ritualistic feel was accentuated by simple gold mesh shorts and tops that emphasised the angular, often off-balance shapes where they connect imaginatively in unexpected ways – the dancers’ lithe, athletic bodies looked spectacular in this setting. The choreographic inspiration came from the music and the dancers resulting in an instinctive, visceral interpretation with a delightful freedom in much of the movement. This energy spilled onto the stage at all levels from the high lifts, to travelling leaps and rolls to the ground. The dancers exuded a sense of shared humanity as they surged forward on their journey– the emphasis was on rapidly traversing the space with moments to pause along the way; but the urgency of the moment, driven by the crescendo of the music that echoed the structures of a chant, sustained the ballet. In the latter stages men and women formed up in lines at the side of the stage and danced towards each other before retreating to their own side again before repeating this motif. Like a theme and variation in the music, or a reference to the collision of the east and the west, these simple, yet powerful group sections unified the group in a shared purpose before they broke away again. The east/west music was a logical and inspired choice for a work for SDT and the dancers were really in their expressive element in this piece.

The performance ended with Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence. Inspired by the world of Jane Austen, it explored the restricted role of women in society, the social mores and the complexity of relationships in this repressive age– it was a poignant and beautiful work. Initially the dancers interacted through the social dances of the day where fingers barely touched and formal structures, of interaction, such as bowing to each other, were strictly adhered to. At certain points, the female dancers often bent their elbows metaphorically denoting a ‘broken wing’ image of a trapped bird with its freedom curtailed. Liang incorporated the different rhythms and emotions of the music by Phillip Glass and Thomas Newman to give what at first appears to be a historically inspired work, a contemporary neo-Gothic twist. The swathes of red velvet curtains and the stylised undergarments of the Regency inspired costumes cleverly enabled the dancers, and audience, to move seamlessly between the hierarchical, class-driven manners of a stately ballroom to the intimate passion of the bedroom. In Liang’s work, the freer sexual norms for men, evidenced by costumes featuring a vest and bare legs, were contrasted with the suppressed desires of the fully-clothed women and their powerlessness in a male dominated, patriarchal society. When the women strip off their long, vanilla coloured skirts of respectability to express their hidden passions in dream-like duets that momentarily suspend reality, the emotions are palpable. The choreography was luscious and erotic as pairs of dancers shared intimate, private moments that were caught between the over-riding repressed respectability of the times. Full of innuendo and fantasy, the SDT dancers could have brought out more contrast, and perhaps irony and humour, in their interpretation of Age of Innocence.

The company is versatile, talented and disciplined with strong artistic direction from Janek Schergen –since assuming leadership in 2007 he has built a cohesive group of dancers that seem to dance better each time you view a performance. As a repertory company they work hard criss-crossing styles and venues over the year – for this season some of the dancers, including the principals, danced in all three works. Singapore Dance Theatre is a multi-racial dance company where different training, backgrounds and cultures unite on stage - the intelligence they bring to understanding the choreographic intention comes from working with creators from the east and the west and celebrating their unique identity. The breadth of the repertoire takes them internationally beyond Singapore’s shores but their sensibility is undeniably Asian; underpinned by a strong local foothold and empathy. Now in its third year, the 'Masterpiece in Motion' annual season exemplifies these qualities.

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