Singapore Dance Theatre


Kallang Theatre, Singapore

March 15, 2002
By Malcolm Tay

This traditional staging of Giselle by Jean-Paul Comelin was first presented by the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) in December 1999, with National Ballet of Canada principals Chan-Hon Goh and Aleksandar Antonijevic performing the lead roles on the opening night gala. This year's season was dedicated to the memory of SDT's Founder-Patron and former Head of State, Ong Teng Cheong, who recently passed away.

The role of Giselle was alternated between two China natives - Xia Hai Ying, by now an SDT dancer for 9 years, and Guo Fei. Guo was a Guangzhou Ballet principal (1995-2001) who joined SDT last year. Kuik Swee Boon and Cheng Hsienfa, both SDT veterans, took turns to play Albrecht. There were also 2 guest artists who played Hilarion and Myrtha - Alberta Ballet principal Michel Faigaux and Sakura Shimizu, respectively.

It has been almost a year since the last time I saw the company perform, so I wasn't too surprised to find several new faces, as well as some old ones missing. The company, however, still remains at its usual compact size of 21. Which is why the crop of peasants, Wilis and nobles had to be augmented with the help of students from the Singapore Ballet Academy (SBA) and others. The SBA is, in no way, a full-time ballet training institute like the Royal Ballet School or School of American Ballet.

Someone once told me that SDT "looks funny" when they do the Romantic classics. I agree to a certain extent. They don't look quite at home, or as persuasive, as they do in the one-act ballets of Choo-San Goh and others. But SDT is, after all, the country's first and only professional ballet company - we can't always depend on some visiting company to bring the full-length classics, can we? On the March 15 performance, it appeared to be a full house, so perhaps Singaporeans can identify with story ballets.

Having never previously watched Giselle in its entirety, I didn't know what to expect - I didn't know which sections have been left out, or where the choreography was different from other stagings. This production has the Queen's leading Wilis, Zulma and Moyna; I understand that these roles, according to the programme notes, have been omitted altogether in other versions.

On the evening of March 15, Guo Fei and Cheng Hsienfa were Giselle and Albrecht. As a young peasant girl giddy with love, Guo is delicate and, well, even cute. As a Wili, she is ethereal, selfless, other-worldly. But during her mad scene, I'm not sure how I should feel. She looked deranged, and yet not really. With her hair undone, she recalls her earlier he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not petal plucking, but with an intensity that almost threatens to tear her apart. In this version, she wounds herself with Albrecht's sword, and dies in his arms. I wonder if this mad/death scene is typical of other productions of Giselle?

Somehow, the rubbery-faced Cheng, passionate as he was, looks a little too old to play Albrecht, though this could be just a matter of taste. But imagine my horror when I realised that the noblewoman whom I assumed to be Albrecht's mother - yes, I know there's no such role here - was actually Bathilde (Megumi Sugita), his fiancée. Oops!

Now the Wilis. In Act II, one Wili appears in the background when the gravediggers gossip about them in mime. But for some reason, the audience laughed when this Wili bourréed from right to left - there was nothing funny about it. When the Wilis finally appeared, hopping across the stage with their travelling arabesques, it was like "BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!" My companion couldn't help but notice that it reminded her of a scene from BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs series. Maybe it's because we were sitting in the front row.

Shimizu looked exhausted as Myrtha. Her arabesques were wobbly. There was one section when her leaps along the diagonal landed very heavily on her right leg, with very little bend to cushion the impact. Again, the audience laughed when Giselle, who appears as a Wili for the first time, has her veil magically removed by Myrtha. (What is wrong with Singaporean audiences?)

At this point, I really need to ask - what is that green thing that Myrtha holds to magically cast away Giselle's veil? I thought it was sprigs of coriander. Or dill. And right at the end, what was it that Giselle leaves for Albrecht before she vanishes? I thought it was a cauliflower floret. I'd appreciate it if someone could tell me what these items are supposed to be - somehow, I don't think the ballet is meant to have a herb-and-vegetable theme.


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Edited by Marie.

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