Dancer back after 20 years to choreograph for Ballet Under The Stars

Ma Cong (left), choreographer of two pieces for Ballet Under The Stars, in a rehearsal.
Ma Cong (left), choreographer of two pieces for Ballet Under The Stars, in a rehearsal.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

In 1996, Yunnan-born dancer Ma Cong visited Singapore with The National Ballet of China and took a ballet class with Singapore Dance Theatre.

At the time, the local dance company was based in Fort Canning Centre.

Now, 20 years later, he returns to Singapore as a choreographer for two of the pieces in the company's annual Ballet Under The Stars series.

Incidentally, the popular event, now in its 21st edition, will be held at Fort Canning Green.

"I call it coming full circle, maybe. After many years, it's like destiny," says Ma, 39, who is in Singapore for the final rehearsals with the company's dancers.

He is the resident choreographer for Tulsa Ballet, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the United States.

Ballet Under The Stars takes place over two consecutive weekends, starting on Friday.

He has choreographed two contemporary ballet pieces for the event. The first, Incomparable Beauty, will have its world premiere on Friday and will be performed only as part of this weekend's programme.

The piece, a reflection on beauty derived from the human body in different forms, will be performed by four pairs of dancers from Singapore Dance Theatre. It features a score by Italian composer Ezio Bosso.

The first weekend of Ballet Under The Stars also features Blue Snow by Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki, a restaged piece from 2014, and Swipe by American choreographer Val Caniparoli.

The programme for the second weekend includes Bournonville Divertissements by Danish ballet master August Bournonville and Paquita from the ballet of the same name, based on a version by French ballet master Marius Petipa.

Incomparable Beauty from the first weekend was created specially for the Singapore Dance Theatre.

Similarly, an older work, Shadow's Edge, was choreographed by Ma for the dance company as part of Esplanade's da:ns festival in 2014. It will be restaged next weekend.

The bachelor says of Shadow's Edge: "It's a different piece now because it has grown into the dancers' bodies."

Ma, who was last in Singapore in 2014 for Shadow's Edge, says he enjoys working with the Singapore Dance Theatre again.

"The dancers are working extremely hard with me. This makes my work much easier."

His father was a music professor and his mother loves the arts and dance. So it is not surprising that he started out as a classical Chinese dancer. He made the switch to ballet at 18 when he was invited to join The National Ballet of China.

In 1999, he joined the Tulsa Ballet as a dancer, fulfilling his dream of working outside China. He danced for 13 years before retiring in 2013.

"I miss dance. I do not miss the pain," he says with a laugh.

"Making contact with the audience on stage, that is the part I miss the most."

But his gruelling Chinese classical training from his teenage years at the Beijing Dance Academy continues to stay with him. For example, the choreography in Shadow's Edge borrows from Asian folk dance and the idea of a small community of people working to achieve their desires.

He says: "When people look at my style, they see a part of Eastern culture and a part of Western culture. It is my identity now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Dancer back after 20 years to choreograph for Ballet Under The Stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe