Ballet Under The Stars spotlight celebrated choreographers

Russia-born George Balanchine’s Rubies, one of three acts in the ballet Jewels. -- PHOTO: GEORGE BALANCHINE
Russia-born George Balanchine’s Rubies, one of three acts in the ballet Jewels. -- PHOTO: GEORGE BALANCHINE
Chic and stylish: Goh Choo San’s Double Contrasts (above) will be among works to be performed for Ballet Under The Stars’ 20th anniversary. -- PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG
Chic and stylish: Goh Choo San’s Double Contrasts (above) will be among works to be performed for Ballet Under The Stars’ 20th anniversary. -- PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

Ballet Under The Stars will highlight works from Goh Choo San and George Balanchine

Singapore Dance Theatre's annual Ballet Under The Stars series will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year by highlighting works from two celebrated choreographers.

The first is Goh Choo San, brother of company co-founder Goh Soo Khim and one of Singapore's pioneer ballet choreographers.

The other is George Balanchine, the Russia-born co-founder of the New York City Ballet, and one of the most influential ballet figures of the 20th century.

Though the two were born oceans apart, they had a similar working style, say company artistic director Janek Schergen and repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, Elyse Borne.

Schergen, who worked with Goh from the start of his career until his death in 1987, recalls: "He was incredibly fast, unbelievably fast. He shot things out at people so quickly and he himself moved very quickly."

In the studio, Balanchine was just as swift, says Borne, who danced with the New York City Ballet from 1972 to 1985.

"The ballets just flew out of him," she says. "When he came into the studio, he already knew the music intrinsically and he would just say 'you do something like this', 'you do something like that', 'what can you do, dear?' And voila! Masterpiece."

Over two weekends this month, the company will be presenting two works from Goh and three from Balanchine at Fort Canning Park.

They will also be performing Lambarena by American choreographer Val Caniparoli, a vibrant, colourful work which blends traditional African rhythms with classical ballet.

The first weekend will feature more contemporary works - "you will never see a tutu", quips Schergen - while the second will have a more classical slant.

Schergen says he chose two very contrasting works by Goh for the 20th anniversary show.

"We have Double Contrasts, which is very chic and stylish, and Schubert Symphony, which is very classical."

They are also one of the earliest and latest works respectively in Goh's repertoire, with the former premiering in 1978 with the Washington Ballet, and the latter in 1985 with the same company.

Goh's approach to the two works was also very different, according to Schergen.

"He kept changing Double Contrasts in the nine years that he worked on it and the last version that he left was so different from the original ballet.

"But for Schubert Symphony, there is nothing different. It's the same at the beginning as it was at the end."

The company will also be performing Balanchine's Rubies on the first weekend, and Concerto Barocco and Serenade on the second.

Borne says that Rubies, one of three acts in the ballet Jewels, is one of her favourites pieces to stage.

"It's pure fun, it's jazzy, there are jokes, games. It's sexy and sassy, with prancing and running; it's so human, accessible and fun," she says of the piece which combines elements of Broadway and 1930s and 1940s jazz.

She has staged the ballet more than 30 times, but says that each new company working on it adds its own character to the work.

"(Principal artist) Chihiro is like a little porcelain doll and I can see that she's going to take things that are in your face and she's going to refine it a little, because that's her personality, that's who she is.

"And that's great because if I saw the same thing over and over again, how boring that would be!"

lting@sph.com.sg