Good dancers – great dancers – leave the spaces they travel through changed, charged with a different energy. Molecules of air are rearranged, sometimes in imperceptible amounts we can only tell by the slightest whistling of wind, often insistently, a thickening of air, a carving of space. When the audience sits at a distance, as they do on Fort Canning’s slanted hill, often it is that – not always precise details but the force-field of movement; moving images and trailing wind – that we are left with. Perhaps then, there was no better pieces to programme than George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Serenade and Goh Choo San’s Schubert Symphony all of which, in their different ways, illumine imaginative interplays of space, time and music.

<i>Concerto Barocco</i> © Bernie Ng
Concerto Barocco
© Bernie Ng

In Concerto Barocco, Balanchine’s 1941 creation, steps gleam with penetrative, inspired sagacity and movement feels gathered, concentrated beneath in a musical ordering of incisive precision. Rosa Park, a beautifully temperate dancer who often, in other roles, seems to revel in the logic of dance, danced the First Violin. Her clear, lucid style spoke in the rapier thrust of her arabesque, the intricate design of her arms (and wrists) and in the way that music and step seemed to arrive as a single statement. But she, like Chihiro Uchida (2nd Violin) also seemed to have less affinity for Balanchine’s proclivity for vertigo: the dynamic displacements of weight and the fullness of movement, qualities that come into sharp focus in the central pas de deux. Here, there is no carnal relationship, only a purely formal one between structure and music, between the dancer and the dance. Danced with the ensemble, the dips and bends seemingly resembling formal bows and littered with arabesques, its inmitations of intimacy is more thespian, yet no less (arguably more) intense. Saturday evening’s performance of it leaned towards the antiseptic rather than the ascetically spiritual.

The delicate and waif-like Uchida found her more joyously fluent self in the piece’s third movement. But it was the octet of women that danced with them, that impressed more. They were neat, precise, musically alert. Individually and together, they also found moments of arresting boldness.

<i>Serenade</i> © Bernie Ng
© Bernie Ng

Serenade, the other Balanchine on display, replaced Barocco's incisiveness with an intensity of a different kind. With large, restless swathes of movement coursing through Tchaikovsky’s expansive tempos, time (and space) in Serenade seems infinite, unending; yet time, Tchaikovsky and Balanchine remind us in the score’s dark underbelly of melancholy, waits for no one. It rushes on, one cascade of steps dissolving into another; every succeeding expulsion of movement turbulent yet ecstatic. The choreography, by turns tender and tempestuous, exists both inside the interiority of its rhythmic complexity and on the wave of its monumental sweep.

The company didn’t quite dance on the precipice. Upper bodies leaned outwards prettily and steps reverberated with legible clarity, but its lateral suspense, that full-body viscerality, was only present in fitful bursts of belligerence.

Sandwiched between the two Balanchine was Goh Choo San’s Schubert Symphony. Singapore, celebrating its 50th birthday this year, is a young nation. That its national company has so much to lay claim too, rests in no insignificant amount on the legacy of the Goh family. Schubert Symphony, choreographed by its prodigious son, the late Goh Choo San, is a work that celebrates classical technique and structure but in freer, more romantic form with moments of inventive, scintillating playfulness. Li Jie and Jake Burden led the company in a spirited opening and took solo turns with the ensemble of the opposite sex before returning together for a celebratory finale.

<i>Schubert Symphony</i> © Bernie Ng
Schubert Symphony
© Bernie Ng

Li danced with a line so ravishingly beautiful that it resembled the moving ends of a felt-tip brush, all felicitous charm. She also appeared to possess the sort of expansive reach that promised genuine lushness, a quality as rare as it is essential for ballerina-dom. Burden, musical and stylish, bought to those repeated arabesque hops on bent knees the weight of the Hungarian czardas. Around them, the four supporting demi-soloists were of varying quality with Elaine Heng and Chua Bi Ru-Chua dancing brightly, Heng graver, but particularly fine. Heng was also a pleasure to watch in Concerto Barocco and Chua, along with Li, offered some of the most full-scale dancing in Serenade.

Because soloists and ensemble danced with a certain carriage that suggested both pride and enjoyment, we watching them felt uplifted too.