The stars were obscured by a thick swathe of clouds that dripped rain upon the audience at Fort Canning Green on June 12. However, stars were present on stage, in the shimmering backdrop and sparkling costumes in the first of the ballets presented by the Singapore Dance Theatre as they celebrated 20 years of Ballet Under the Stars.
Choreographed by Singapore's son of ballet, Goh Choo San, Double Contrasts is a neo-classical piece of the Balanchine ilk: a ballet driven by choreography, patterns and form rather than plot.
The theme of contrasts sprung from the two pianos in dialogue in Poulenc's concerto but was not always present choreographically. This was a sleekly executed affair that the company seemed most at home performing. Clad in either black or white, the dancers turned, picked up their feet and performed entrechats as if they were themselves piano keys that were being played.
Rosa Park was particularly lovely to watch, radiating charm and luminescence while partnered by the technically proficient, if rather stoic, Kenya Nakamura.
This was followed by Rubies, from Balanchine's famous Jewels triptych. It's a gem - pun intended - of a piece, evoking an almost Gershwin-esque feel of early 20th century Broadway. It's jazzy and sexy, full of precise, multi-faceted movements that demand sharpness from its dancers. More crispness overall would have elevated the piece, notably in relation to Eitenne Ferrère and Chihiro Uchida's partnering. Mr. Ferrère suffered a rather torrid night while Ms Uchida, a lithe and lightfooted dancer, lacked the playfulness and sauciness the piece required.
First Artist Li Jie oozed confidence with her come-hither gaze and a smile that said butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Positioned in the middle of four male dancers as they shifted her into a series of poses, she was like a princess holding court amongst male suitors, showing off her strength in an arabesque penchée before disappearing into the wings with a flourish.
The female corps, dancing pleasingly in unison throughout the evening, wore cheeky little red skirts in what may well be ballet's closest equivalent to New York's famous Radio City Rockettes.
Rounding out the night was Val Caniparoli's Lambarena, a popular piece that fuses African dance with classical ballet and Bach's music with the West African beats of Gabon. It was a highly athletic, ambitious final piece for the visibly tiring company to get through in the Singapore humidity, but they made a good effort of it.
Traditional arabesques and pirouettes were melded with robust movements somewhat antithetical to the vocabulary of classical ballet. The dancers gyrated their hips, undulated their bodies and shimmied their shoulders with varying degrees of success.
Rounded arms reminiscent of ballet's first position of the arms evoked images of women carrying baskets from a harvest. Males crouched low, moving deliberately across the stage with knees bent and backs curved, swinging their arms back and forth like a herd of animals crossing the African plain.
Chihiro Uchida displayed marvellous fluidity in the opening sequence of the piece. In the final act, she flicked her hips back and forth, and with her legs crossed tightly in fifth position, feet (and pointe shoes) lifting her high, she tipped her head skywards with her arms raised exultantly above her, in a glorious celebration of life and dance.
Tan Li Min is a law graduate who designs balletwear and writes about dance at Cloud & Victory (www.cloudandvictory.com).
Ballet Under the Stars
Where: Fort Canning Green
When: June 12 to 14, 19 to 21, 7.30pm
Tickets: $27 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)