Time Out Singapore: Theatre Highlights of 2015

Get your cultural calendar out and start planning – Gwen Pew rounds up the theatre highlights of 2015

Tribes

Pangdemonium’s ‘Tribes’

5 Jan 2015:

Plays

We’re a little older, a little wiser, but growing up is not always smooth sailing. The question of loyalty is explored in an original production of You Think, I Thought, Who Confirm? by Yellow Chair Production (Apr-25; Drama Centre Black Box). And The Necessary Stage’s Pioneer (Girls) Generation (Mar 26-29; National Museum of Singapore) is a witty observation of growing old in Singapore, while Wild Rice’s Public Enemy (Apr 9-25; Victoria Theatre), takes a hard look at society when the characters’ personal lives affect the decisions they make as professionals.

The themes of honour, passion and vengence will also appear in the epic wuxia tale, Legends of the Southern Arch (Mar 27-Apr 12; Drama Centre Theatre), The Theatre Practice’s 50th anniversary production.

For something a little more light-hearted, look to Asylum Theatre’s staging of The 39 Steps (Apr 23-May 10; Drama Centre Black Box). Dim Sum Dollies returns with a restaging of The History of Singapore Part 1 (Jun 4-21; Esplanade Theatre), while Pangdemonium will get you giggling about a dysfunctional family in Tribes (May 22-Jun 7; Drama Centre Theatre).

SIFA2014

‘Mystery Magnet’ from SIFA 2014.

Festivals

Starting the year with a bang, we’re treated to two festivals this month alone – including the M1 Fringe Festival (Jan 14-25) and KidsFest (Jan21-Mar 1). The Esplanade has a busy 12 months ahead with its array of festivals, but the one that excites us most is The Studios (Apr 2-May 10). Helmed by playwright-director Chong Tze Chien, it restages five landmark local plays, and features dramatised readings of 45 other works.

The Theatre Practice will bring back the Chinese Theatre Festival (Jul 9-Aug 2) with six shows from Singapore, Taiwan Hong Kong and China, while the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Jul 31-Sep 21) returns with the theme of ‘Post-Empire’; it features new works by local companies such as Wild Rice, Cake Theatre and Teater Ekamatra.

Besides those, Yellow Chair Production’s initiative, Tampines Theatre Festival (May 29-31), brings several schools together in a collaborative performance; Drama Box’s Scenes – Forum Theatre (Jul 3-10) celebrates the company’s 25th anniversary by paying tribute to the art form they use to engage the community; and Monologue Festival (Jul) by Teater Ekamatra invitets playwrights and directors to present monologues.

Dream Academy and Resorts World Theatre's 'Great World Cabaret'

Dream Academy and Resorts World Theatre’s ‘Great World Cabaret’

Musicals

We’re all set to warble along to ‘Memory’ as Cats (Jan 9-Feb 1; MasterCard Theatres) slinks into town, and Base Entertainment will have at least two more musical offerings in the form of Singing in the Rain and Saturday Night Fever (dates TBA; MasterCard Theatres). And since this year is SG50, there are quite a few shows dedicated to our city, starting with Dream Academy’s Great World Cabaret (Feb 19-Mar 17; Resorts World Theatre).

The Capitol Theatre will reopen in April with a newly commissioned production, Singapura – The Musical (dates TBA; Capitol Theatre), which looks back at the struggles of a family during the turbulent pre-independence years. Not to be outdone, Meira Chand and Dick Lee will also stage their collaborative work, called LKY (dates and venue TBA), which is about, well, LKY. And speaking of the Mad Chinaman, we’re excited about the return of his 1998 musical, Beauty World (Nov; Victoria Theatre); too.

This year is also a big one for Toy Factory, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two shows: the multilingual Titoudao (Mar 5-15; Drama Centre Theatre) and December Rains (Aug 28-Sep 6; Esplanade Theatre), the latter of which is performed in Chinese. And since it’s never too early to start looking forward to Christmas, Dream Academy’s Crazy Christmas (Dec 10-19; Esplanade Theatre), will be back after taking a break in 2014.

The Little Co's 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'

The Little Co’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’

Kids

Never mind the benefits of introducing theatre to the young ‘uns – because what’s bad about having someone else entertain the kids for once? I Theatre has four shows lined up for the year, starting with Aesop’s Fables (Feb 26-Mar 21; Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel), which features eight of the Greek storyteller’s tales. Other shows on its calendar include The Gingerbread Man (May 20-Jun 7; Jubilee Hall), Little Star (Jun 3-19; Alliance Francaise Theatre) and The Enormous Turnip (Nov 17-Dec 6; SOTA Drama Theatre).

The SRT’ junior arm, The Little Co, is bringing back the popular Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Mar 11-29; DBS Arts Centre) – except this time, it’s in Chinese. The Theatre Practice is also staging a musical in Chinese, The Wee Question Mark and the Adventurer (Jul 9-19; Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle), which follows a young man on a quest to find his father. And if your kid loves dance, then bring them along to Singapore Dance Theatre’s Peter and Blue’s Birthday Party (Jul 2-5; Esplanade Theatre Studio), which Peter and his friends go on a journey that culminates in a surprise at his birthday bash.

Singapore Dance Theatre's 'Sleeping Beauty'. Photo: Nicolethen Studio

Singapore Dance Theatre’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Photo: Nicolethen Studio

Dance

The Singapore Dance Theatre is bringing back two classic pieces, Sleeping Beauty (Mar 12-14; Esplanade Theatre) and Swan Lake (Dec 3-6; Esplanade Theatre), while more contemporary ones will be staged at Ballet under the Stars (Jun 12-14; Fort Canning Green), Masterpiece in Motion (Aug 21 & 22; Esplanade Theatre) and Passages (Oct 30-Nov 1; Goodman Arts CEntre). continuing its mission to examine the human condition through contemporary dance, THE Dance Company will present a Triple Bill (Apr 2-4; SOTA Drama Theatre) featuring works by three acclaimed Asian choreographers – Sun Shang-Chi (Germany/Taiwan), Xing Liang (Hong Kong/China) and Jeffrey Tan (Singapore) – as well as a restaging of the well-received 2012 da:ns Festival commission piece, Silences We are Familiar with (May 28-30; SOTA Drama Theatre).

We’ll also see the fourth instalment of Maya Dance Theatre’s RELEASE series (Mar 13 & 14; 10 Square Orchard Central), which features an array of performances by emerging choreographers from Singapore, India, South Korea, Malaysia and Isreal. Looks like 2015’s gonna be a cracker for lovers of the stage.

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Time Out Singapore: ‘Mandala’

Mandala

7 Oct 2014: It was truly third time lucky for Jacklyn Kuah: ‘I auditioned for In Source Theatre the first time in the 2000s, and didn’t get the part. I auditioned again later and still didn’t get in, for one reason or another. For my third audition, they were looking for someone to help them with a research documentary called Defining Spiritual Theatre. We met at The Substation and once we all got there they took us to Fort Canning and told us to run. I thought there’s no way I’d get it – I was so unprepared,’ she recalls with a laugh. But she did get it. That was 2005 and now, nine years later, she has taken over as the company’s artistic director.

As Singapore’s only physical theatre group, In Source was founded in 2003 by Beverly Yuen as an associate artistic group of The Substation, and places emphasis not only on acting, but also body movements in the form of dance and martial arts. While it enjoyed great success and brought many of its productions overseas to places as diverse as Hawaii and Poland, the full-time members decided to go on a sabbatical after performing at a festival in Korea in 2009 to pursue their own studies.

The group did several smaller projects during this break, including a performance at The Substation called Leaping Fish in the City last year, but this month it’s back for sure and determined to stay.

‘We’re still looking for a venue to call our permanent home, but while there are many physical theatre practitioners in Singapore, there’s no other company here that focusses on that, so I think it’s really important we bring it back,’ says Kuah.

And she didn’t have to think too hard to know that she will mark the company’s return – as well as her reign as the new artistic director – with Mandala. The piece, which involves a performer drawing a three-metre wide version of the intricate spiritual symbol across the stage throughout the show with rice to represent the cycle of human life, was initially staged in 2003. Different versions of it were performed in subsequent years, and Kuah says that she has a personal attachment to it, partly because it has elements that can resonate with everyone.

‘I don’t expect people to watch the show and understand everything about it, but that’s okay. It’s a piece that you can take away and reflect on afterwards,’ she says. ‘Plus, it’s aesthetically very beautiful – and it’s enjoyable!’

And we can’t wait to see what Kuah has in store for us theatre fiends.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Nutcracker’ Review

The Singapore Dance Theatre has brought the iconic Christmas performance back to the main stage. In the hopes of finding herself in the production’s wintery spell Gwen Pew lands in a hit-and-miss affair.

A scene from Act II of 'The Nutcracker'. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

A scene from Act II of ‘The Nutcracker’. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

6 Dec 2013: There are few better ways to welcome the festive month of December than going to see The Nutcracker. Composed by the great Tchaikovsky and first performed in 1892, the ballet has become a Christmas staple in many dance companies across the world. Rather than setting it in Germany, however, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) has decided to reprise their 2011 production and bring the story to pre-WWI Shanghai. The plot remains largely unchanged though, and follows little Clara (Tania Angelina) through a dream-like journey, where she meets a colourful bunch of characters in the Land of Sweets under a spell cast by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (SDT’s ballet master, Mohamed Noor Sarman).

Overall, the production is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Some scenes and sequences are no doubt fantastic: the Chinese segment of the ‘Divertissement’ segment, featuring Iori Araya and Xu Lei Ting as Chinese Flowers, is interestingly interpreted and complete with a ribbon dance, and we are impressed by Rosa Park’s flawless performance of the famous ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. But one does get a sense, especially during big group numbers, that some of the ensemble members are not fully bringing out the emotions or splendour of their roles as much as they should. As a result, the dancing comes across as being somewhat mechanical in certain parts – which is a shame, as the choreography itself is beautifully crafted.

The set, designed by Aaron Yap, looks great in the first scene, which shows a busy street along the Bund, and the snowy finale of the first act is stunning – but it falters at the Land of Sweets. While the simple backdrop resembles the illustrations from a children’s book, it is too bare to depict the supposedly lavish magical kingdom. The upside, however, is that the eye-catching, intricate costumes, also created by Yap, are allowed to shine through.

But the aspect we found most confusing is exactly who the Nutcracker is, and why the show is named after him at all. In most productions, he comes to life under the spell of Drosselmeyer and takes Clara around, but in this production he barely seems to feature at all. There isn’t any indication that the Nutcracker is there – the character’s name is not even mentioned in the programme’s cast list – and the role of handsome tour guide is, instead, taken by Drosselmeyer himself. At the same time, however, there is no earlier sign that Drosselmeyer has any magical abilities, as there is a separate Magician (Jeremy Tan) at the dinner party in Act I.

In all, SDT’s production is by no means a flawless one, but it must be said that despite its shortcomings, it’s still an enjoyable year-end show to bring the family. It’s just that we know what the 25-year-old company is capable of (their Sleeping Beauty last year was phenomenal) and can’t help but wish that they could take The Nutcracker to the same soaring heights too.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Nutcracker’ Preview

No Christmas season is complete without the beloved ballet, The Nutcracker. This year, Singapore Dance Theatre will be putting on a version that is set in pre-WWI Shanghai. Gwen Pew speaks to artistic director Janek Schergen to find out more.

Janek Schergen. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

Janek Schergen. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

26 Nov 2013: 

Tell us a bit more about this set-in-Shanghai production of The Nutcracker – how much of it will be Shanghai, and how different will it be from the original, western one?

It’s all set in Shanghai, that’s the whole idea of it, except Act II which is the Land of Sweets. But the basic idea is that the parts of reality are set in Shanghai. The reason for this is that our previous Nutcracker sort of turned Asian dancers into German dancers and called them German names and was set in Germany. To me, it was fine, but I thought more could be done with it. You could take it and make it more understandable why there were Asian dancers in a Western context. So what we did was to set it in Shanghai, and there was a mix of people who are Western and Asian and there’s this idea that there’s a western influence but there are still people who keep their traditions – like the Grandma who refuses to wear anything but her traditional dress, and she finds this whole thing going all around her just a little bit silly. We don’t do so much with the Christmas tree; it’s there as a novelty. The real purpose of the party is for the husband to give his wife a beautiful necklace in front of all of his friends. When Drosselmeyer appears, he appears with his nephew Kristian and his schoolmates and eventually Kristian becomes the Cavalier, together with the Sugarplum Fairy – Clara’s older sister.

You’ve previously staged this version in 2011 – why did you decide to do it again just two years after?

Because most companies do it every year. In almost every company around the world, Nutcracker is being done every year. We don’t have the tradition, but in most other places – it has nothing to do with climate or location, like the same thing with music like The Messiah, no one thinks ‘we can’t do it here, that’s not our tradition’, everyone loves The Nutcracker. It’s a Christmas time ballet, very much like A Christmas Carol or The Messiah. There are a few things that are definitely sort of Christmas-centric ideas or feelings. Also, The Nutcracker is one of the few ballets that you can take a child to. The child can enjoy it just as much as the adult can. The adult can enjoy it on a certain level, and the child can enjoy it on a different level. The duration of the ballet isn’t too long either and it’s got some of the most beautiful music ever composed.

What, if anything, are you doing differently this time round?

I’m doing a couple of things differently because I made a cut in the music two years ago that I never liked and I’m going to fix that this time. Any time you go back to a ballet for the second time, there’s always fixes. It doesn’t have to stay the same just because you did it that way before, so the changes are mostly visible to us inside but not necessarily visible to people outside. There are certain things that I’d still like to fix if I could, but I’m limited by time and budget.

Is the rehearsal process any easier this time? Why, or why not?

Worse. When you’re doing it for the very first time, you have no standard to measure up against, you’re making it up as you go along. So there’s nothing to adhere to. With a classical ballet, there are certain things definitely, but once you’re recreating it, you can upgrade it. It was very successful when we did it in 2011 so I have to keep it to that production and then upgrade it, so if there’s a change made, it has to make it better. If there’s something there that’s the same, it has to be of an even better quality this time. Every single time you do something, you want to do it to a higher level. Plus, since I just did a children’s audition and taught the scholars their places there are over 40 children in this ballet. That’s just one cast and there’s still a second cast. So also working with children is a big responsibility in the fact that you are giving some of them their very first theatrical experience at being on stage and that can either be a wonderful experience or a horrible experience. And for almost anybody in The Nutcracker, it should be a great experience. It’s really important that the experience will build the love of dance in these children and it’s a huge responsibility. I take it very seriously.

Which is your favourite scene from the show? Why?

The snow scene. Time stops when snow happens, to me. Time stops when they come out.

For people who are perhaps a bit intimidated by the ballet as something that is too high-brow for them, what advice would you give them? Why should they come to see The Nutcracker?

Nutcracker is the least high-brow of all of these ballets. Nutcracker and Coppelia actually, it doesn’t take much to figure out what is going on. Nutcracker marks time. Almost everybody who saw the show can remember the moment when they first saw it. If you ask somebody, they usually can tell you when they saw it. There’s almost always a time stamp. If you’re a ballet person, and you go to so many performances, you usually can’t remember when you saw a particular work. But for Nutcracker it’s different. I think it’s because it’s one of those things that is a shared experience. In most places in the world, Nutcracker is done every year. The New York City Ballet for instance has done it since 1954 and they do about 50 performances every single year. But what Nutcracker is used for that company is the introduction of first principals. The first time somebody does a principal role is The Nutcracker, because of its structure. You hardly put anybody on for the first time in Swan Lake, because it’s just too much. But for The Nutcracker, it’s a way of introducing someone to a principal role in a way that they can succeed, and they can do it well.

Time Out Singapore: Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ Preview

Literally meaning ‘Big Ballet’ in Russian, the Moscow-based Bolshoi Ballet is one of the world’s oldest dance companies – although its reputation has been tarnished by a string of recent scandals. Gwen Pew reports.

Bolshoi Ballet's production of 'Swan Lake'. Image courtesy of Bolshoi Ballet.

Bolshoi Ballet’s production of ‘Swan Lake’. Image courtesy of Bolshoi Ballet.

13 Nov 2013: Literally meaning ‘Big Ballet’ in Russian, the Moscow-based Bolshoi Ballet is one of the world’s oldest dance companies. First established in 1776, they gained international fame in the early 20th century with their highly successful, masterful performances, which, true to their name, were some of the biggest spectacles in the world of dance.

Despite its prestige (or perhaps, because of it), the company has been plagued in recent years by a series of scandals and rumours of internal rivalry between dancers and the management team. The in-fighting reached breaking point in January this year when one of the principle dancers, Pavel Dmitrichenko, became upset that his girlfriend Anzhelina Vorontsova was denied a leading dance role, and hired a man to throw acid in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin.

Filin has since undergone surgery to save his eyesight, and while he is still recovering and has yet to return to the company full-time, the Bolshoi seems keen to move on and turn over a new leaf with its new season under the direction of ballet manager Galina Stepanenko, maintaining the classic style with which the company made its name.

The current touring production of Swan Lake received unanimous acclaim in London, and the show will be coming to Singapore this month. This will be the only appearance Bolshoi makes in Asia, and also marks the company’s debut here on our Little Red Dot.

Catch their performance of Tchaikovsky’s stunning love tragedy and judge for yourself whether the company can regain its former reputation as one of the best ballet troupes around.

Time Out Singapore: Michael Keegan-Dolan

As part of the Esplanade’s annual Da:ns Festival, Irish dance company Fabulous Beast will be bringing their critically-acclaimed production of Rian – a show that fuses Celtic and West African music and dance styles – to our sunny shores. Gwen Pew speak to Michael Keegan-Dolan, director and choreographer of the show.

Irish director and choreographer, Michael Keegan-Dolan. Image courtesy of Esplanade Theatres.

Irish director and choreographer, Michael Keegan-Dolan. Image courtesy of Esplanade Theatres.

12 Sep 2013:

Tell us a bit more about your history with dance…

I knew I wanted to be a dancer from the age of four when my mother brought me to see a Christmas Pantomime at the Gaiety Theatre in 1973 (the same theatre where Rian premiered in 2011). However, I did not get to take my first dance class until I was 17. I trained for three years in London at the Central School of Ballet from the age of 18 to 21. I formed Fabulous Beast when I was 27 in 1997.

What is Rian about?

Rian is a celebration of the magic that happens when music and dance meet.Rian is about collaboration and community. It is about recognising our ancestors and the imprint they have bestowed on each of us. It is about the pure pleasure and joy anyone can experience when singing, playing or dancing. It is about sharing this pleasure and this sense of community.

What are some of the characteristics of Irish and West African dance?

West Africa, or more specifically, Mali, is one of the musical centres of the world. Ireland also has a great tradition of music. Good dancing is about good listening and allowing that listening to shape the body’s movements. You need good lungs, strong legs, a mobile waist and expressive hands. Good dancing, be it Irish or West African, is about the harmonious movement of the limbs in rhythm through relaxed but concentrated listening to quality music.

How did you introduce the non-Irish dancers to Irish music?

Liam [Ó Maonlaí, musical director of Rian] started playing on day one and the dancers started dancing. Over the weeks of work they got to know each other better as their dancing got to know his music. After a few weeks, [musicians] Cormac, Eithe, Maitiu and Martin arrived. The sound of the band began to take shape. I encouraged the dancers to keep dancing, keeping listening to the music and to follow internal impulses. They did not need much encouragement. The most difficult thing on some days was to get the music to stop and get the dancers to rest and eat. Occasionally the dancing could go on for 12 hours or more.

What’s next for you and Fabulous Beast?

Further exploration of West African Music, a new production of Swan Lake, and we are also looking at staging a series of W.B Yeat’s plays entitled, Four Plays for Dancers.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Stomp’ Preview

Famed for cleverly turning everyday objects into musical instruments and props, the fun, wordless dance show from Broadway and the West End returns to Singapore – with new materials added – following their sell-out run in 2009.  Gwen Pew asks three veteran Stomp performers about their favourite unconventional musical instruments.

Angus Little smashing bin lids in a performance of 'Stomp'.

Angus Little smashing bin lids in a performance of ‘Stomp’.

23 May 2013:

Angus Little, 30, ten years with Stomp:
Fav musical instrument: Broom
‘The amount of interesting things you can do with a wooden broom is infinite. I can do things with them that I never thought possible before I started Stomp– not only can they clean floors, you can flip them, spin them, ride them, balance them, make amazing rhythmic routines or even do the tango with them. We go through up to 30 brooms in one show, although we are only meant to use eight at the most. Wood is known to break when you slam it against a hard floor…’

Ian Vincent, 25, five years with Stomp:
Fav musical instrument: Shopping trolley
‘It’s something we use so often in normal life and would never think of as an instrument. We strap a small plastic box and an empty water cooler bottle inside the trolley, and then use the box as a bass kick drum, the bottle as a snare and also the rims and edges of the trolley itself to create different sounds. We usually use five trolleys in the show.’

Cameron Newlin, 39, fifteen years with Stomp:
Fav musical instrument: Kitchen sink<br
‘I love the kitchen sink as it’s fun to play. Plus, the routine takes a bit from every part of what Stomp is about – rhythm, comedy, audience participation, etc. Its function is to hold water, play different tones and make you laugh (hopefully). We use only four of them per show, but they’re quite resilient and stay in service for years as they’re quite resilient.’

Time Out Singapore: Nazer Salgado

With the Singapore Dance Theatre’s 25th Anniversary coming up, it has brought a whole bunch of talented new faces on board. Gwen Pew talks to Nazer Salgado, 26, who joins the company from Ballet Manila.

Nazer Salgado. Photo courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

Nazer Salgado. Photo courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

17 May 2013:

You didn’t start ballet training until the age of 16. Why did you decide to go into the ballet scene at that point?
I didn’t know a single thing about ballet, just the typical stereotypes – ballet being girlish and a hobby for rich people. I decided to give it a chance when Ballet Manila was in need of male dancers and was offering scholarships to those with potential. My neighbour was already a scholar and I decided to give it a try out of curiosity. I didn’t expect to fall in love with this art.

Were you into dance before that?
Not at all. Before ballet, I was into basketball, just like any other boy in my neighbourhood.

Was it difficult to break into ballet and play catch up?
Of course! It was extremely hard. Stretching was torture for me. It hurt. We were taught to bend and break our bodies out of the norm. I remember thinking how hard it would be to survive my first year of training.

Do you ever feel that there’s a lot of pressure on men who decide to become ballet dancer?
Yes. Until today, ballet is stereotyped as a feminine art form. It still surprises most people that real men are capable of dancing in tights and make up. It’s a challenge to explain what ballet is. Like in the Philippines where it isn’t as popular, ballet is generally confused with liturgical dancing and most people don’t understand that it is actually harder than any sport. Plus ballet dancers have to make it look effortless. People have to see ballet in action to understand what it takes to be a ballet dancer.

What has been your most memorable experience so far?
My first ballet class. I remember being very excited. I had no idea it was going to be very difficult! By the end of that simple basic class, my thighs and hip joints were so sore from the stretching and the turnouts. I couldn’t walk normally after that first day. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. That was when I realised the challenge involved in ballet.

What’s your dream role?
Albrecht of Giselle remains my ultimate dream role. There’s a lot of drama and demands to this dance, not only from the ballerina, but from the danseur as well. Love is expressed so intricately through emotions, gestures and dancing. For me, Giselle is the most heart-breaking love story ever told and the most beautiful ballet of all time.

How many hours do you spend practicing each day?
Now that I’m part of Singapore Dance Theatre, I’ve been spending five to six hours in the studio a day, five times a week.

What would you have been if you hadn’t discovered ballet?

I think I would have my own family by now, probably with a simple job to live by. Basketball would still be my hobby.

Tell us something that we can’t find about you on the Internet?
You’d find that I’m generally a quiet person but I can be talkative too. I love to be around my friends, and family means the world to me.

Time Out Singapore: Heidi Zolker

Heidi Zolker. Photo courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

Heidi Zolker. Photo courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

10 Dec 2012: As the Christmas spirits start to take hold of our Little Red Dot, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) ushers in the season with another production of the beloved classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, which the SDT showcased back in 2010.

Set to a famous score by Peter Tchaikovsky and featuring over 150 roles – which will be played by a 70-strong cast in this production – the ballet has been performed by dance companies across the world.

While everyone tends to focus on the good fairies, the beautiful princess or the handsome prince who wakes her from her hundred-year slumber, we talk instead to Heidi Zolker, who will be playing Carabosse – a wicked, angry fairy hell-bent on revenge after not being invited to the party celebrating the birth of Princess Aurora.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am originally from Melbourne Australia, where I started ballet at the age of 9, and moved to Singapore two years ago to dance with Singapore Dance Theatre. Previously I had been dancing professionally for many years in California. I have performed in countless different productions, including full classical ballets and contemporary triple bills. You need to be quite versatile!

Have you ever played a ‘baddie’ in a ballet before? If so, how does that experience compare with playing Carabosse? If not, what are some of the challenges you faced in playing the bad guy (girl) for the first time?

Actually no, I have never played an ‘evil’ character before – it is quite exciting! For me it is fun to explore a role with such a strong character, and play the dark energy in the scene. Full length ballets like Sleeping Beauty use mime and movement to tell the story, so you need to rehearse interactions with the other characters, so it looks genuine and is clear to understand.

How do you portray ‘evilness’ through ballet?
Strong body language and facial expression is very understandable to an audience, and performing ‘in character’ is an extension of that. I have been making a lot of scary faces lately! You can show what you feel by the way you move or dance, and this is why rehearsals involve a lot more than just choreography and steps. Dancers should always have an emotion or a feeling to share with their audience.

What are some of the most difficult scenes to get right in Sleeping Beauty?
The entire production is a quite a challenge to put on stage. BecauseSleeping Beauty is such an extensive ballet, there are lots of props, set changes, benches, forests, quick changes, and lighting effects which all have to be co-ordinated with the dancers’ performance. Even in the studio everyone is very busy, making sure everything and everyone is in the right place at the right time. Following that, there are only a couple of days to rehearse in the theatre before opening night!

What should the audience expect from the show?
A full-length ballet is like a living piece of art. It is quite a unique situation, that we can bring a traditional ballet back to life, cast different dancers as the characters, and see it performed live on stage. Sleeping Beauty has lots of familiar and beautiful music, lots of costumes and scene changes, and great characters for both good and evil.

The Muse: Enchanted by Design with Tracy Grant Lord (Interview)

'Sleeping Beauty'. Image courtesy of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

‘Sleeping Beauty’. Image courtesy of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

This festive season, Singapore Dance Theatre will enchant audiences with Sleeping Beauty, one of the classical repertoire’s most famous ballets.  Set in an enchanted world of castles, curses, forests and fairies, Sleeping Beauty is an age-old tale of a beautiful princess, enchantment of sleep and a handsome prince.

First performed in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, The Sleeping Beauty was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s first successful ballet.

Staged by artistic director Janek Schergen featuring choreography by Marius Petipa and sumptuous costume design by Tracy Grant Lord, Singapore Dance Theatre’s latest rendition will run from 13-16 December 2012 at the Esplanade Theatre as a grand finale to the 2012 season.

The Muse recently caught up with acclaimed New Zealand costume designer Tracy Grant Lord for an exclusive chat about her inspiration in bringing  the magical kingdom to life.

How many costumes did you have to design for Sleeping Beauty in total?

Approximately 130 costumes.

Where did you get the ideas for the costume from? Were you inspired by previous performances of the ballet at all?

I use many reference resources as I design, historical references are usually my beginning point with research around the original story and its illustrations alongside the periods of history that the story describes. I have many reference books that show me details of construction for style of costume through time and specifically for ballet. I   listen to the music constantly – I become absorbed in the story through the score and in doing so grow to understand the essence of the story as described by the composer. This informs me about place and character and in turn their movement which all goes to inform the final design.

How long does it usually take for you to create an outfit?

I am merely the beginning point of a lengthy process of construction and manufacture that involves many many people. This is a process which takes several months and starts with the budgeting period and then sourcing of all the materials, then the pattern-making and construction followed by fittings and manufacture, with the final stages of the process being the detailing and assembling of all the components together including hair-pieces and millinery and jewellery and wigs and shoes. The skills required to achieve this are many and varied and I certainly would never be able to achieve it alone.

Which one is your favourite? Why?

It is very hard to choose favourites – they are all equally wonderful when they come to life on stage worn by the dancers. For me the excitement is seeing the whole production together working as a unified design, in harmony.

Which one was the hardest to make? Why?

Sometimes the simplest costumes can be the most difficult in order not to distract from the essence of the choreography and at other times there are costumes that require a lot of thought and experiment around the way a particular fabric or shape behaves with a certain movement or how a group of costumes move together. Often when I am asked to design wings on a costume we will have a few prototypes to test shapes and behaviour of the design because they need to ‘speak’ or ‘dance’ in unity with the performer and of course the music. It is not necessarily a hard thing to do but it takes time.

What do you love most about designing costumes?

I think it is the chance to be involved in the process of creating a new work from the very beginning and I love that. I also love the challenge of it being a new beginning every time. This keeps me very engaged in my work.

What projects have you got lined up for the year ahead?

I am currently working on a new production of CINDERELLA for Queensland Ballet and a new play called TRUE MINDS for Melbourne Theatre Company.

* This article was written in collaboration with Yvonne Wang.