Singapore Dance Theatre takes on classical, neo-classical and contemporary styles

The triple-bill Masterpiece In Motion's works: 13th Heaven (above), Paquita and The Four Temperaments.
The triple-bill Masterpiece In Motion's works: 13th Heaven (above), Paquita and The Four Temperaments.PHOTO: BERNIE NG
The triple-bill Masterpiece In Motion's works: 13th Heaven, Paquita (above) and The Four Temperaments.
The triple-bill Masterpiece In Motion's works: 13th Heaven, Paquita (above) and The Four Temperaments.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

The three works in Masterpiece In Motion were executed to varying degrees of competency

REVIEW / DANCE

MASTERPIECE IN MOTION

Singapore Dance Theatre

Esplanade Theatre/Last Saturday

Masterpiece In Motion is Singapore Dance Theatre's annual triple bill, and this year's programme was a journey through ballet's three main styles - classical, neoclassical and contemporary.

The neoclassical The Four Temperaments, a stalwart in the repertoire of New York City Ballet co-founder George Balanchine, leaves little room for a company to hide behind.

 13th Heaven, Paquita and The Four Temperaments (above).
The triple-bill Masterpiece In Motion's works: 13th Heaven, Paquita and The Four Temperaments (above). PHOTO: BERNIE NG

A bare stage and simple costumes evoking standard ballet school rehearsal wear are the only garnishes to this piece. Balanchine demands crystalline dancing and intent and, when done right, it is a radiant and evocative piece that plays with formations, numbers and moods.

The performance by the Singapore Dance Theatre was self- conscious, as if the company was so bogged down by the significance of the piece that it was determined to execute every step just right.

Upper bodies were stiff and port de bras lacked pliability, with insufficient distinction between fast and slow dance passages.

Even in simplicity, Balanchine knew how to be evocative - a repeated movement of hands outstretched with palms up can seem so expansive, so beseeching and swollen with yearning, but here it was mechanical: just another classical dance step.

If The Four Temperaments was too unvarying, Paquita, a work by one of classical ballet's most revered choreographers Marius Petipa, was more of a bumpy ride.

The female corps were a charming sight, all smiles in their red tutus and neat lines.

Principal Chihiro Uchida was a reliable technician, reeling off pique turns and those crowd-pleasing fouettes with assurance. But it was a performance of technique. She did not leave much of an artistic stamp, with little of the individuality that signalled a triumphant claiming of the role as her own.

The series of variations that make up Paquita were performed to varying degrees of competence by the rest of the company. It was practically like watching a leg of the Youth American Grand Prix or a similar ballet competition.

Akira Nakahama was a delight in the pas de trois, a dancer with soft arms that veered occasionally into the territory of looseness, her every step inflected with joy.

Her partner, Jason Carter, had a better showing in his The Four Temperaments solo than he did in this piece as he cut an uncomfortable figure with gawky, awkward port de bras.

Sandwiched in between was the world premiere of Edwaard Liang's 13th Heaven. He has a penchant for creating beautiful, easy-to-enjoy work and this was no exception.

It was the company's strongest performance of the night as the dancers flowed like liquid gold through the choreography of a stirring work that married athleticism with emotion.

First artist May Yen was particularly compelling as she brought intensity and vulnerability to each movement.

Singapore Dance Theatre excels at such contemporary pieces, but it is also a company that grounds its roots in classical movement, as it should. A shame then that the great classical works seemed to expose its vulnerabilities rather than fortify its reputation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Precision in motion'. Print Edition | Subscribe