William Forsythe's iconic ballet Impressing The Czar is 'weird but captivating'

The four-act ballet Impressing the Czar will include hip-hop-esque choreography and elements of theatre and comedy.
The four-act ballet Impressing the Czar will include hip-hop-esque choreography and elements of theatre and comedy.PHOTO: IAN WHALEN

SINGAPORE- 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 ballet and comments on the commoditisation of culture. Its title references Russia's 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.

Meanwhile, Bongo Bongo Nageela will delight children and teenagers.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: March 15 and 16, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $40 to $120, with limited concessions available. Admission for ages six and above.


"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," adds Watkin.

The Dresden Semperoper Ballett 's performance is part of the Esplanade's 2019 da:ns series, which celebrates the works of Forsythe and Taiwanese dancer and choreographer Lin Hwai-min. Another Forsythe ballet - his 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 the dance form 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 to do it," says Mariani.

Currently, Dresden Semperoper Ballett is the only dance company in the world performing Impressing the Czar, 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."