Dance review: Singapore Dance Theatre needs to make bolder choices

BALLET UNDER THE STARS

Singapore Dance Theatre

Fort Canning Green, Friday

 Singapore Dance Theatre's commitment to new choreography in recent years is beginning to pay off. Artistic Director Janek Schergen commendably showcases the company in a mixed bill of work created for it at its trademark Ballet Under the Stars season this year.

 While pieces choreographed specially for the company are suited to its dancers, there is a fine line to be trod between forging an artistic identity and mind-numbing homogeneity. Despite little winsome touches, the programme confirms the reign of the abstract, modern ballet in the SDT repertoire. The evening sees one duet after another, with women being manipulated by men, and does not look past what has come to be known as conventional.

 The company is in good form, and its dancers present themselves as fine interpreters of modern ballet. The men, in particular, are taking risks with a fuller use of the torso and greater amplitude in their leaps.

 In Edwaard Liang's The Winds of Zephyrus, they are gales to the women's breezes. Invisible currents cause the dancers to converge and diverge, forming enigmatic clusters, which then capriciously dissolve. Amid the free-wheeling fluidity, Liang's ensemble flanks a central couple in vertical lines on either side of the stage in a nod to the classical corps de ballet. Chihiro Uchida unfurls into a luxuriant backbend while being lifted over Zhao Jun's head, and perches in off-kilter positions with ease.

 Val Caniparoli's Chant is composed of largely similar physical images of edgy neoclassicism - extreme extensions, swooping lifts and striking athleticism. But he litters his piece with occasional Asian influences such as flexed wrists and subtle tilts of the shoulders, which seem to perfunctorily announce composer Lou Harrison's unlikely use of the Javanese gamelan alongside Western string instruments.

 Edmund Stripe's offering is an unpretentious exercise in neoclassicism. The dancers bound through its outer sections with playful exuberance, darting quickly onto their toes and whizzing across the stage. The central movement, performed by Li Jie and Chen Peng, is a tender, euphoric duet which marries languor with delicacy.

 The anticipated world premiere of Bittersweet by Natalie Weir is the undoubted centrepiece of the show. A jewel-like capsule piece, it embodies various facets of a relationship - dependence and despair, apprehension and verve. The partnering is not just restricted to the arms as Timothy Coleman hoists Rosa Park up with a lift of his leg. The pair are in constant flux as they embrace each other with every sinew of their bodies.

 For SDT to be constantly evolving with each newly commissioned work, the company needs to make bolder choices and embrace more choreographers from outside the classical canon.

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