Singapore throws spotlight on dance

New dance platforms launched at the national level help raise awareness of the art form

After years of sustained growth, albeit in the shadows of headline- grabbing art forms such as theatre and the visual arts, dance is finally enjoying its turn in the limelight.

Pivotal to its leap centre stage, say observers including dancers, choreographers and programmers, is the launch of dance platforms at the national level this year.

This has generated more buzz for the scene and raised awareness of the myriad dance offerings for everyone from the curious to the dance enthusiast and professional.

 

In turn, observers hope the high-profile push for dance will go some ways towards bolstering its presence and sustaining growth of the scene.

Contemporary dance is the most happening live art form at the moment in the world, but in Singapore, it is still in its infant stage.

 

  • BOOK IT / GOT TO MOVE

  • WHAT: In this inaugural dance movement launched by the National Arts Council, about 50 dance-related activities held by the local dance community will be made free to the public. The activities range from open classes and dance workshops to masterclasses and talks that will take place islandwide. The 17-day event will end on Oct 24 with a half-day dance carnival at The Promontory @ Marina Bay from 4 to 10.30pm

    WHERE: Various locations. For details, go to www.nac.gov.sg/gottomovesg

    WHEN: Till Oct 24, various times

    ADMISSION: Free

A key nation-wide initiative is Got To Move. A 17-day celebration of dance, it offers about 50 dance- related activities including classes and talks across various genres of dance to the public for free.

This $1.5-million project spearheaded by the National Arts Council began last Thursday and runs till Oct 24. It aims to make dance accessible to the masses and showcase what the local dance community offers to a wider audience.

The first Got To Move event, held at Asia Square plaza, invited office workers in the area to let loose and dance. Participants showed off moves from salsa to breakdancing and were rewarded with free freshly made prata.

Ms Daesiree Tan, 23, a manager working in the area who was among the 450 people who took part in Dance For Your Prata, says she was not aware of the Got To Move drive initially. She had joined for the free food and to "let off some steam". But having taken part, the salsa enthusiast says she is keen to check out classes offered through the movement.

The launch of Got To Move this year, along with other dance initiatives recently rolled out by the council, is meant to "ride on the momentum" in dance, says the council's director of sector development for dance and traditional arts, Ms Elaine Ng.

Ticketed attendance at dance performances grew by more than 50 per cent between 2009 and 2013 and sales rose by a third over the same period, according to the latest Singapore Cultural Statistics. The number of dance companies also multiplied 13-fold in the same period to 369 companies in 2013.

For home-grown dance group Frontier Danceland, which is taking part in Got To Move, the initiative has helped its outreach effort, Frontier Dance Day, gain more notice.

Since 2009, the company has been holding an annual day of free dance classes. Participating in Got To Move, however, has allowed it to add an extra day and leverage on the national platform for greater exposure, says its artistic director Low Mei Yoke.

Dance was also in the public eye in August when the Singapore International Festival of Arts rolled out Dance Marathon, a dance festival within the main festival programme. It comprised 11 dance shows including two free events held over three weeks.

The festival's director Ong Keng Sen says Dance Marathon was a response to developments in contemporary dance both in Singapore and internationally.

"Contemporary dance is the most happening live art form at the moment in the world, but in Singapore, it is still in its infant stage," says Ong.

He adds that Dance Marathon enjoyed "very good houses" and five of the nine ticketed shows sold out despite the performances being more experimental than what most dance audiences here might be familiar with.

A confluence of local and global forces is likewise at work in raising the prominence of Singapore's dance scene through the annual showcase DiverCity.

The show, which is presented in conjunction with the M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival organised by T.H.E Dance Company, has featured definitive works by local dance companies and artists since 2010.

The arts council, however, is co-presenting the upcoming edition of DiverCity next month and inviting an 11-member delegation from Australia including dancers and choreographers, who will be in Singapore for a three-day exchange, to catch the show.

The council's support of DiverCity as a means for international engagement is "an affirmation of the DiverCity platform that has been built over the years", says M1 Contact festival manager Tania Goh.

The arts council has also recently made available a dance space at Goodman Arts Centre to help develop the independent dance scene here.

Dance Nucleus is run by a handful of dance artists to provide independent dancers a chance to train, create, present new ideas and network. It charges a nominal fee for classes and dancers can rent the studio for practice at a subsidised rate.

Ms Foo Yun Ying, an independent dancer and director of Dance Nucleus, says: "The space bridges the gap we are seeing in the dance scene - we have a lot of dance companies, but not enough work and opportunities for independent dance artists to further their craft."

Even as new dance initiatives are launched on the national level, ground-up efforts to promote dance continue.

The Esplanade's da:ns festival, which marks its 10th anniversary this month, has rolled out a new workshop, da:ns lab, that aims to aid local dance artists in their development by focusing on the artistic process of creation.

Esplanade producer Faith Tan says: "We felt it was timely to do so, given the need we saw to support an even more thorough development process that is not just centred on (making) a new work, but a continual process of negotiation, critical discussion and exchange with other artists and dance dramaturges."

Indeed, the issue of sustainability is what many dance observers are concerned about - how long will it be before the spotlight on dance fades?

Addressing this concern, Ms Ng of the arts council says: "Particularly for the new initiatives, we intend for them to be sustained for at least three to five years as we recognise it will take more than one to two years to see the impact of these programmes."

With dance in the limelight, all eyes are on its next steps.

As avid dancegoer and drama teacher Jacyntha England, 48, says: "Now that it's started, how you keep the momentum going and encourage dancers and audiences to push their boundaries will become important."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Dancing into the spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe