Trace a dancer's personal journey through a Family Reunion

Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies (centre) at a studio rehearsal for Family Reunion at the Singapore Dance Theatre.
Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies (centre) at a studio rehearsal for Family Reunion at the Singapore Dance Theatre.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

There is a party going on in the rehearsal studio of the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT). Dancers are grooving to the strains of 1950s jazz singer Dinah Washington's Such A Night, taking turns in the centre as if in a dance-off at a club.

"Make it wild," calls Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies as they fling themselves around with calibrated abandon. "Wild horses."

Jervies' new work, Family Reunion, will have its world premiere on Friday as part of Passages, the SDT's annual contemporary season.

It joins previous SDT commissions such as Natalie Weir's pas de deux Bittersweet and Toru Shimazaki's Blue Snow; as well as Val Caniparoli's Swipe, which was set to the music of electro, hip-hop and dance music producer Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev.

Family Reunion is Jervies' first commission for the SDT. In the 25-minute work, the 40-year-old wants to trace a dancer's journey through struggle, confusion and, ultimately, joy.

Clad in motley disco outfits, the dancers sing snatches of The Beatles, do a primal take on the theme of the dark fairy Carabosse in the Tchaikovsky ballet Sleeping Beauty and put a fresh spin on Offenbach's famous can-can.

The piece is constantly shifting, says Jervies, and is unlikely to stay the same from opening night to final curtain. "When I thought about the joyous pieces of music that have kept me smiling my entire life, all of them have a real darkness to them," he says. "I wanted to create a party, but acknowledge that kind of celebration usually doesn't exist without some kind of struggle."

Jervies is fresh from the acclaim of his politically charged revival of Spartacus, about the gladiator who led a slave rebellion against the Roman empire, for the Australian Ballet last year.

Family Reunion is a far more honest and personal - though still political - creation, he says.

  • BOOK IT / PASSAGES

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 3 and 7.30pm; Sunday, 3 and 7pm

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: singaporedancetheatre.com

"It celebrates anarchy. It has fun with norms and traditions - with the utmost respect, but tongue-in-cheek the whole time."

Jervies started dancing at the age of six, when his mother enrolled him in jazz-ballet lessons at the local community centre.

A former Australian Ballet dancer, he has also danced with contemporary companies in Europe and directed for theatre.

He once spent six months dancing on a cruise ship, performing in one show as cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew. "I would stand in front of the mirror in the costume and say to myself, 'From the Australian Ballet to Pepe le Pew', and then go and do a tap number on the ship while it listed."

It was not the most rewarding career, but Jervies would still recommend the experience.

"Dancers don't necessarily have the confidence to step outside the norm because we're creatures of habit, but a dance career has so many diverse opportunities," he says. "Why only stay in one stream when dancers are brilliant at adapting themselves?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Trace a dancer's personal journey through a Family Reunion'. Print Edition | Subscribe