Saturday, 19 December 2009

A swan is born, light as a feather

In every generation of dancers, a swan is born. With fluid, delicate arms that emote from the shoulders to the finger tips, but also the impeccable technique and strength required for the most challenging of classical roles. With cool poise to hold the balances of the white swan and the fluttering battements serres of her love-lorn heart - and at the same time the sensuous hauteur of the black swan and her tempting renverses and whipped fouettés,arabesques slicing the stage with her sexual attraction.

The last time we witnessed just a fleeting taste of such a swan was with Ulyana Lopatkina's visit to Singapore two years ago with the Russian stars gala, when she danced the dying swan (not part of the swan lake repertory but which has influenced many contemporary productions of the ballet). The undulations of her arms were heart-rending. She taught me that this ballet was not some trivial story but undoubtedly connected in character and concept) of a melancholic prince trying to escape from dull reality. With her anguished articulations of the shoulder, elbow and wrist, the head thrown back, she told me that love was a dangerously powerful force in humanity. It could spark desire and uplift, but it was also a force that could destroy a human so utterly and profoundly. Lopatkina's earlier, technically flawless displays of the classical Swan Lake role can be seen on YouTube.

There was another such swan at SDT's production of swan lake at the esplanade this week. Coming to us after a comprhensive career at the Korean National Ballet, Rosa Park gave us a riveting rendition of the white and black swans Odette and Odile, in what must go down as an outstanding performance in the history of SDT.

Of a slight silhouette and marvellously expressive and supple arms, Park is a pleasure to watch. She seized the limelight with rare charisma and a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of Odette's chaste charms. She appeared indeed as light as a feather, skimming gracefully through the bourrees suivi steps across the stage, and floating with commmendable control through her adagio pirouettes. Her Odile was no less impressive, as she flirted ruthlessly through renverses and attitudes, and then whirled confidently and continuously through 30 fouetté turns - the latter impressive despite some substantial drifting across the stage, Park compeleted the traditional music just a touch short of the coveted 32 pirouettes, and topped off with a triple turn. It was certainly more impressive than any fouettes I have seen at SDT in years. Her spirited characterisations even elicited some sense of amorous feeling from Chen Peng as Prince Siegfried, in contrast to his usual dryly technical delivery that tends to have all the charm of an ornate wallpaper. Together, Park and Chen were well-matched and executed several examples of beautifully effortless partnering. I would hope that this is the start of a promising new partnership.

The leading couple's work was the highlight of the evening. While the corps de ballet danced credibly through the challenging group choreography, there were a few too many moments of unsynchronised and poorly-blocked dancing. It was perhaps a symptom of the transitions in the makeup of the company, which has seen the departure or retirement of several important dancers, and the introduction of at least five new faces in the past year - of which Ms Park is one.

-Swan Lake at te Esplanade Theatre from 17-20 Dec 2009. Alternate lead cast Chihiro Uchida and Wang Hao.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


I have never known so much about my body. The apparition of bones and muscles heretofore unseen: the sternum, the sacral ala. Facets of the vertebrae, tibialis anterior. The plantar fascia and levator scapula. I wake in the night wondering about the deep clack from the acetabulum, the balance of tensions at the cervical. For only aesthetic purposes, I would like to to teach an anatomy lesson from the sculpted contours of a dancer's back.

What a wondrous instrument the body is. How unique. In each achievent and each injury, it is my enemy, my teacher and my friend.

How long can a body last?