Ballet Under The Stars ticks all the boxes it sets out for itself. A reliable and accessible evening of strong dancing in choreography that keeps you entertained. A lovely way to spend the night with family and friends, picnicking and witnessing dance at fort canning green. Unfortunately, sometimes in prioritising accessibility over craft and artistry, a lot of subtle beauty and power can get glossed over.
In the first work, Kinsun Chan’s “Sticks and Stones” features twelve men carrying sticks, creating images and moments that suggest power struggles, bullying, the inner beast. Set to the brilliantly-complex Steve Reich and Swiss composer Fritz Hauser, the music overwhelms the choreography. The men are strong, with Reece Hudson standing out as a particularly wild tribesman. They wave sticks and hint at violence. The dancers’ luminous virtuosity distract me from the musical disjunct. I imagine it would do the same for most, and consider the term premium mediocrity – pleasant but not transcendent. This sums up my Ballet Under the Stars experience.
The dancers’ luminous virtuosity distract me from the musical disjunct. I imagine it would do the same for most, and consider the term premium mediocrity – pleasant but not transcendent. This sums up my Ballet Under the Stars experience.
In Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence” inspired by Edith Wharton’s sublime novel about the New York that could have been. A time before the catastrophes of our modern world wars. The story could be traced through the characters played by SDT principals Chihiro Uchida, Li Jie and Kenya Nakamura, but frankly, nobody really cares. Even the program booklet does not. What we receive immediately is beautiful partnering, poetic moments, but also again a choreographic response to beautiful music (Phillip Glass and Thoman Newman) that only finds synergy on occasion.I did not leave with a sense of the novel from which the ballet is inspired, but I did leave with an understanding of its romantic concerns. Next, to the sparkling, revelatory dancing from Chihiro Uchida, the supportive gentleman in Kenya Nakamura, comes genuinely heartfelt expression from Li Jie, who seems to have been a muse for Edwaard Liang’s piece. The human connection here was powerful, whereas the ensemble sections looked sadly almost an afterthought.
The closing work for the evening is Nils Christe’s “Organ Concerto”. A highly successful work, this piece embraces the music, finds its sweeps and dives, and finds a drive that helps the dancers move wild and free. The overall effect is gothic, sometimes mysterious and sometimes cheeky. The dancers relish the challenge of rushing across the stage together, attacking partnering phrases, dancing with, and through Francis Poulenc’s music. The evening ends on a high, as the capable dancers move powerfully as an ensemble, reveal duets and solos, and show the audience how choreography can sweep us along in a moment.
Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) has cultivated the unique privilege, as Singapore’s national ballet company, of keeping 38 professional dancers on its payroll. This position is one that must be emphasised – in Singapore; no one else can hire this many artists over an extended period. Keep in mind that ballet companies often have many more than 38 dancers. The ballet form, its structures and aesthetics, persists partly because it requires so many individuals to work together as one entity.
This is the political weight that SDT carries when it presents what seems to be an easygoing affair. It is an institution for the ballet, one that serves both the purposes of the craft and the requirements of the people who back it. It is also a household name, responsible for what it delivers in the name of art, for toddlers and adults alike.
This coming weekend, SDT delivers three wedding ballets from the classics. It will be a treat, a window into a world that no longer exists. The beauty and aspirations of classical dance still resonate today, as young and old attend the ballet.