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Review: From Here On by Singapore Dance Theatre

Series of four pas de deux reflects the state of the arts and gives us hope that live performances will be back in full before long. 

Considering it’s been so long since theatres and performance venues shuttered, it feels like nothing short of a miracle that we were sitting in a theatre again on Wednesday evening. But no doubt, there was still something off about being in the 2,000 seater Esplanade Theatre, with only about 50 audience members safely distanced and scattered amongst the stalls.

Tonight, we were here for a pilot small-scale performance for live audiences, as the Singapore government slowly eases up on the COVID-19 restrictions and begins the progressive re-opening of the local arts and culture sector. Where cinemas have already been open to limited audiences since July, the move to open up theatres has been considerably slower, with these pilot performances hopefully marking a change that comes sooner rather than later.

Collaborating with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay for the performance, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) presented From Here On, comprising extracts from longer ballets and short choreographies, for a total runtime of less than an hour. Opening with SDT artistic director Janek Schergen coming out on stage to address the audience about what to expect, we thought about the show’s title, and how it seems to represent a determination to stay strong amidst these difficult times. In carefully choosing these four pas de deux (or duets) for the performance, Janek and SDT are responding to how the industry has been affected during this period, not only reflecting the basic human need for closeness and intimacy with these pairings, but also as a signifier of the company’s strength, looking forward into the future ‘from here on’ as they persevere with these small scale performances.

The performance began with Singaporean choreographer Goh Choo San’s Configurations pas de deux. Originally created for the American Ballet Theatre, the work explores the relationship between two people who are attracted to each other and begin a relationship, yet remain self-absorbed in their own worlds. We watched as SDT principal dancers Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura began by walking away from each other, deliberately creating distance before they turned and came back together again. Chihiro’s lithe movements follow the trills of the piano, light-footed and graceful, but the relationship between the two is anything but warm. As they look at each other, we get the sense that they are distracted even while together, detached and wanting to pursue their own individual desires. At the end of the piece, as they walk away from each other once more towards either end of the stage, with spotlights shining on each other them, we come to see and understand their relationship as strained and emotionally apart. We think about the struggles of intimacy in these times, and how relationships are in a constant state of flux, frayed by distance and doubt.

In The Nutcracker Act II pas de deux, the empty stage made for a decidedly more stripped down version of the Christmas ballet classic, with no set, no live orchestra, and just a pink background as the Sugarplum Fairy (Akira Nakahama) and her Cavalier (Etienne Ferrère) took to the stage. Central to the piece is the dancers’ strength and grace, with both Etienne and Akira performing their solos with finesse. Akira in particular, is pure class, fully in control of her movements while she flashes a smile. As the cymbals clashed for a grand finish to the performance, we thought about how, by reminding us of the power of live performance, Janek’s vision for this show lights the fire within us and urges us to remember why there is no replacing the magic of a night out at the theatre.

Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura then return to perform Swan Lake Act II pas de deux, with a scene where the princess Odette tells Siegfried about the spell she is under, and the latter pledging his love and protection to her. We see both dancers displaying strength in delivering the message of love triumphing over all, with Chihiro embodying the grace and beauty of Odette while Kenya supports and lifts her, and are left convinced by their chemistry, that true love will never die. In the same vein, we think of how this resilience can also be applied to the determination of SDT and the arts sector in persevering on and never letting their passion fall even with the challenges they are surrounded by.

In the final number, Kwok Min Yi and Satoru Agetsuma performed the pas de deux from Act III of Don Quixote, providing an exuberant finish to the entire show, as promised by Janek, with Kitri and Basilio’s grand wedding. While the set was sparse, one couldn’t help but feel the sense of joy and celebration exuded from the dancers, with impressive solos from both Min Yi and Satoru that left us breathless, and if anything, acted as a resplendent end and promise that through the struggles and after weathering the storm, there will be a happy ending waiting for the industry somewhere over the horizon.

Towards the end, we were told not to get out of our seats and wait for ushers to guide us out in batches, like being in an aircraft, and thought to ourselves: is this the new normal once the arts and culture sector re-opens? While the atmosphere of the theatre was completely different that night, with the amount of empty seats around, and how much distance there seemed to be between us and the performers, what SDT and the Esplanade provided in this pilot performance was a sense of hope for the industry. Over its four pas de deux, From Here On takes us on a journey and reminds us that through these times, as much as we may struggle, it is love that will give us the strength to carry on, that if we believe and press on, there is a future ahead, and that it won’t be long before these venues will be filled once again and playing to full houses.

Photo Credit: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

From Here On played live as a pilot trial performance at the Esplanade Theatre on 23rd September 2020. For more information, visit their website here

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