Energising ballet

Timothy Harbour explored Singapore on a bicycle to get a sense of the country.
Timothy Harbour explored Singapore on a bicycle to get a sense of the country.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Australian choreographer Timothy Harbour has an interesting connection to Singapore.

He was born at Gleneagles Hospital in 1975 - as the hospitals were better here, he says - but only stayed here for two days before his mother returned to Jakarta, where his parents lived in the 1970s.

His father's job at the Australian Embassy kept them on the move - Harbour lived in Jakarta till he was two, then Bangkok for three years before moving back to Australia.

"This is where my life started," says Harbour, who is resident choreographer of the Melbourne-based The Australian Ballet.

The 41-year-old has been in Singapore since late September to work with the Singapore Dance Theatre, for which he has choreographed a new work titled Another Energy.

The 16-minute show is part of the company's annual contemporary show, Passages, which runs from Friday to Sunday at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.

It also includes a newly composed duet by Singapore dancer-choreographer Christina Chan, alongside Australian choreographer Natalie Weir's celebratory work Jabula (African for "joy") and Piano Concerto No. 2 Opus 102, "a precise and symmetrical creation" by English choreographer Edmund Stripe.

Tickets for all evening shows of Passages are sold out. Tickets for the 3pm weekend shows are still available.

Wanting to "get a sense of Singapore", Harbour has been exploring the island on a bicycle he bought for $99 at Giant Hypermarket in Suntec City.

On some nights, he ends up on Fort Canning Hill for "quiet time".

His wife, former Australian Ballet dancer Madeleine Eastoe, and his seven-year-old daughter joined him here for a week last month.

Harbour's work, which is a contemporary ballet piece performed by 14 dancers, is an exploration of how energy is contained and released and how this affects movement.

"It doesn't have to be energetic or super dynamic, but more about what we do with energy," he says. The dance is paired with American composer John Adams' composition, Shaker Loops, which Harbour describes as "fizzing with energy".

The work consists of intimate moments such as duets and large swathes of movement, to create a contrast between what he calls a zoomed-out "Google Earth perspective", and also a zoomed-in and intimate experience.

This is his third time in Singapore. As a dancer with The Australian Ballet for 13 years, he visited the country in 1991 to perform in a show with the Singapore Dance Theatre. He retired as a dancer in 2007, but was appointed its resident choreographer in 2014.

His love of ballet started at age five, when his mother enrolled him and his sister for ballet classes. "My sister lasted for a few years before deciding she liked gymnastics better," he says.

From ages 12 to 16, he took a hiatus from dancing when his family moved around Australia, preferring instead to take up sports and martial arts.

Then, he bumped into a friend who urged him to come for a ballet class and "it suddenly flooded into me how much I missed it", he says.

He went for a week of intensive classes with his former ballet teacher and auditioned for a performing arts high school and got in - restarting his ballet journey.

For Harbour, ballet is a broad art form. While its time-tested techniques - such as pointe work and how the dance works with the music - create beautiful experiences, he feels that "it can be stretched to more than that".

"Now is a real exciting time because I think that contemporary dance has reached a higher level in terms of the virtuosity of its technique."

He sees his new work and its portrayal of tiny and large bodies of energy as representative of modern-day life.

"We live our lives according to a certain structure and that's not such a bad thing because this is what our lives are like," he says. "There are tiny moments when you take a break and have a coffee with a friend and you have a bit of a connection.

"And that's important. The show is about putting these experiences side by side and seeing what that looks like."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Energising ballet'. Print Edition | Subscribe