Every year, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) stages a triple bill, and the programme always includes something new, something surprising. For those who follow the company, these are eagerly awaited events. For others, it would seem, judging by the empty seats, less so and unfairly because the pieces that are added to the rep are very qualitative. This year’s programme, for example, included August Bournonville's Bournonville Divertissements  , Francois Klaus’s Midnight Waltzes and saw a repeat of Edwaard Liang’s Opus 25 .

<i>Bournonville Divertissements</i> © Bernie Ng
Bournonville Divertissements
© Bernie Ng

In a way, Bournonville Divertissements (staged for SDT by Dinna Bjorn) is a good fit for the company — the dancers lack affectations, their use of space is sleek. In some ways, acquiring a style, like learning a foreign tongue, takes time, especially one such as the Danish technique, which is deceptively complex. Let’s hope then that Divertissements stays in the company’s repertoire. Especially so since together with excerpts from A Folk Tale (Pas De Sept), La Ventana, Flower Festival in Genzano and Napoli (Tarantella) it offers an opportunity to see a diverse cast of dancers in more exposing roles.

Opening night is probably never the best time to gauge a company’s affinity with new material and so it proved on Friday with a performance of a rather mixed quality. The four women in A Folk Tale fared much better — at least, aspects of the work’s integrity of means, clarity of step and buoyant ease were shown — than their male counterparts. In La Ventena the corps performed better than the soloists who looked rather out of their depth. The leads, barely sketching the choreography, were brittle and sweetness could not quite disguise the women’s skittishness in the Pas De Trois. It was left then to Rosa Park and Etienne Ferrere (Flower Festival) to restore a sense of equanimity. From her there were fluttering roulades of ronds de jambes followed by joyous balances and brisés that glided through the air. From him, we enjoyed neat landings in fifth which feel both emphatic and nonchalant, ample jumps, and ribbon-like batterie. More importantly, both communicated not effort but an expression of their heart. And it is that generosity, the willingness to allow us to share in their pleasure while concealing their labor that makes their performance of Bournonville's work so appealing. 

Fortunately, the company looked much more comfortable in the pieces that followed which included a new work by Francois Klaus. A Midnight Waltz set in pre-revolution Russia revolves around the youthful, eager Henrietta, Tamara, who finds love early on and gets the lion share of the rather generic duets and the elegant Anna who is not always convinced by her prostrating suitors.  

<i>Midnight Waltzes</i> © Bernie Ng
Midnight Waltzes
© Bernie Ng
A ball — in the Austen-ian sense of the word, often feels like a public place for the display of private encounters. It feels like a performance too with its rituals of courtship, tender formality, teasing irony; a stage, then, on a stage. Here too inner lives do not intersect; there are momentary glances and chance meetings before each is swept into her or his own private world. Only the Dance Master (Etienne Ferrere) and possibly Henrietta act as interpolators of sorts. The choreography aims for expansiveness — travelling lifts, sweeping movement, a fair amount of waltzing — but it also feels repetitive and we are never quite exactly sure what it is all supposed to add up to. Still, it provides three lovely roles for its female protagonists. Kwok Min Yi was a vivid Henrietta and in motion her slender limbs seemed to be carried by a gentle spring breeze. Rosa Park danced the role of Tamara with her usual pellucid grace. And Chihiro Uchida played Anna with a hint of dreamy melancholy, a touch of mystery, ethereal even fey – a truly wonderful performance.

Local audiences are more familiar with Edwaard Liang's work; Opus 25 being the latest of an impressive list of works by the choreographer that the company dances. Many of them are hauntingly beautiful (Age of Innocence comes immediately to mind) but Opus 25 is, for me, his less successful creation.

At times its free-flowing molasses of broad movement over a blank stage resembled a theatre tabula rasa, at others its ghostlike aesthetic seemed to draw inspiration from the eastern concept of ‘ma’ or the presence in the absence. But though the fluid upper body dilutions and arms grasping through the air were lovely and voluminous, much of that billowing prettiness, together with the flying of an overhead fabric at the start and end (à la Petite Mort), and sudden bursts of virtuoso clichés (fouettés and fouettés again) felt theatrical without always being distinctive. To be fair — and the audience seemed to like it — the piece, commissioned for SDT's 25th anniversary, celebrates what the dancers do best. This isn't necessarily obvious at first, but the dancers looked invested, purposeful, impressive. Perhaps, that is enough.

***11