Impressing The Czar in Singapore

Watch William Forsythe's iconic ballet here for the first time, with comedy, theatre and elements of hip-hop dance

Impressing The Czar will include choreography in a hip-hop style and elements of theatre and comedy.
Impressing The Czar will include choreography in a hip-hop style and elements of theatre and comedy.PHOTO: IAN WHALEN

Fans of American choreographer William Forsythe will be in for a treat when Dresden Semperoper Ballett performs his iconic ballet, Impressing The Czar, here for the first time at the Esplanade Theatre this week.

The ballet, which premiered in 1988, looks at the history of the dance form and comments on the commoditisation of culture. Its title references Russian Czar Alexander III's lukewarm reception of a lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890.

But those unfamiliar with Forsythe's body of work need not worry. The German dance company's performance will also offer comedy, theatre and elements of hip-hop dance.

"Whoever you are or wherever you're from, there's something that relates to you and that you will want to see," says Aaron Watkin, the company's artistic director and a former personal choreographic assistant to Forsythe.

And there will be plenty to see in the four-act ballet.

Dancers donning golden costumes get auctioned off in one act, while male and female dancers dressed in Japanese schoolgirl outfits break out in hip-hop moves in another act named Bongo Bongo Nageela.

"It's outrageous and it's kind of a comment on the commoditisation of art. It's weird, but also captivating," Watkin says of the auction sequence.


    WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $40 to $120, with limited concessions available (only for ages six and older)


Meanwhile, Bongo Bongo Nageela will delight children and teenagers.

"It's what would have been seen as a hip-hop style of dancing. It's like going to a club and watching a big dance," Watkin adds.

Dresden Semperoper Ballett's performance is part of Esplanade's da:ns series this year, which celebrates the works of Forsythe and Taiwanese dancer and choreographer Lin Hwai-min.

Another Forsythe ballet - the 2016 piece Blake Works I - will be performed in June by the Paris Opera Ballet as part of the series.

While Impressing The Czar incorporates different art forms, ballet still reigns supreme and those well-versed in it will appreciate act two of the performance - the standalone piece In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

The neo-classical ballet was created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1987 and originally performed by the likes of dance luminaries Sylvie Guillem and Laurent Hilaire.

Dresden Semperoper Ballett soloist Alice Mariani, 26, will take on Guillem's role when the company performs here.

"There was pressure because she's a big star and also my idol. I knew from the beginning that I couldn't perform it the way she did, so I tried to find my own way," says Mariani.

Dresden Semperoper Ballett is the only dance company performing Impressing The Czar now, a fact which Watkin calls an honour.

"We have the honour of having the exclusive rights to this production and being able to keep it alive and having William's work shown is important to me. If we weren't doing it, no one else would be doing it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline 'Impressing The Czar in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe