More Singaporean dancers at Singapore Dance Theatre

The Singapore Dance Theatre's production of Don Quixote in 2014, featuring principal artist Rosa Park from South Korea.
The Singapore Dance Theatre's production of Don Quixote in 2014, featuring principal artist Rosa Park from South Korea.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

Singaporean dancers now make one-quarter of the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) - eight out of the troupe's 32 full-time artists are local.

Its artistic director Janek Schergen says: "In the history of the company, we usually have had one or two Singaporeans. Things are changing, which is a very, very good thing."

Schergen,who has been helming the 28-year-old company since 2008, says he does not take lightly the "Singapore" in Singapore Dance Theatre, but "it's always a struggle" trying to recruit more dancers because of the lack of schools to train professional dancers here, compared to, say, Australia or the United Kingdom.

Six of the eight Singaporean dancers in the company were trained overseas; the other two were scholars under the company's scholars programme, a training programme for aspiring professional Singaporean dancers aged between 13 and 19. The scholars programme was started six years ago.

Benefiting from the programme is apprentice dancer, Timothy Ng, 26, one of the three new Singapore dancers who joined SDT this year. He enrolled in the scholars programme in 2011.

Elaine Heng, 27, a first artist at SDT, is currently the longest- serving Singaporean dancer in the company, having joined in January 2011. She trained at the Central School of Ballet in London.

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Schergen also flies the Singapore flag by taking the company on tour, such as to Malaysia and Indonesia later this year, and through outreach programmes for schools.

The 64-year-old Swedish-born American was speaking to The Straits Times during the company's announcement of its 2016 season.

Coming up next is a second staging of its fiery 2014 show, Don Quixote, based on the 17th-century Miguel de Cervantes novel, Don Quixote De La Mancha.

The show, which was staged in Singapore, received accolades from international dance magazine Dance Europe, which lauded it with a Best Premiere award. Dancer Zhao Jun, from China, who played the role of the Gypsy King, was crowned Outstanding Male Dancer and the company was put on the cover of the magazine's January 2015 issue.

"That was very interesting because we are famous for getting bad reviews in Singapore," says Schergen. "We gained an international profile with our production of Don Quixote."

To anyone who laments the frequency of restagings in the company's history, he says: "The idea of a repertory company is that you don't do something once and throw it away. You develop it."

The 2016 season will see a mix of new works and returning favourites.

Ma Cong, resident choreographer of Tulsa Ballet from the United States, will create a new work for the company for the first weekend of Ballet Under The Stars, alongside a medley of classic and contemporary ballet works. The moonlit evening of dance at Fort Canning Green is from July 1 to 3 and 8 to 10.

Tim Harbour, resident choreographer of the Australian Ballet, will also create one of the works for the contemporary season, Passages, held from Oct 28 to 30.

Masterpiece In Motion, the company's annual triple bill, will see two company premieres - Dutch choreographer Nils Christe's Symphony In Three Movements and American ballet choreographer George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. It takes place on Aug 19 and 20.

Besides Don Quixote, fans can check out familiar favourites such as the children's ballet Peter & Blue Go Around The World from June 2 to 5; and the festive classic The Nutcracker from Dec 7 to 11.

Schergen says that even with the company approaching its third decade, the main challenge is survival - in terms of cultivating new audiences as well as in raising funds. As a result of the company's lack of budget, he says it is unable to programme a new full-length ballet this year.

He had been thinking of staging Russian classical ballet La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer) or a new staging of Cinderella.

Staging a new full-length production costs between $600,000 and $800,000. Don Quixote cost about $700,000. The company received a three-year major grant of $1.95 million from the National Arts Council in 2014. For its yearly funding requirements, 30 per cent is obtained through grants from the arts council and the other 70 per cent has to be raised.

SDT will hold its inaugural fundraising evening, The Moon And The Stars, this Friday.

Named in reference to the Singapore flag, the event commemorates the naming of one of the company's studios after one of Singapore's best known dancer- choreographer Goh Choo San, who died in 1987.

The funds raised that evening will help to support the company's efforts in realising its visions.

One of the things Schergen wishes for the company, for example, is live orchestral music at its shows, which would cost the company an estimated $500,000 a year.

And he is adamant that having live music should not be a one-off affair, but be the new norm once it is introduced.

"Once you crack that egg, it's cracked forever. It will damage the company if we don't. We're 28 years old now. It's time to grow up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'More Singaporean dancers at Singapore Dance Theatre'. Print Edition | Subscribe