Show stealers in Asian fusion discos

Performers from South Korea and Taiwan are stealing the limelight from those who hail from Thailand and China

Russian dancer Anastacia. -- PHOTO: NEVERLAND GROUP
Russian dancer Anastacia. -- PHOTO: NEVERLAND GROUP
At Allurez club, Taiwanese and Japanese performers take to the stage. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
At Allurez club, Taiwanese and Japanese performers take to the stage. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
South Korean group Viva Girls (above) show off their polished dance moves while singing at Neverland II. -- PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
South Korean group Viva Girls (above) show off their polished dance moves while singing at Neverland II. -- PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

At Asian fusion discotheque Neverland II recently, it looked like the Hallyu, or Korean pop music wave, had swept over to hubba-hubba land.

The show-stealers were a group of six leggy South Korean women, who could easily have passed for a professional K-pop girl group eyeing Girls' Generation's throne.

Never missing a beat, the six cutesy women who go by the name Viva Girls hip-swayed and twirled on stage in unison, singing renditions of popular K-pop numbers with harmonised vocals.

One of them, 25-year-old South Korean Rena Kwon, mesmerised the crowd as she belted out English love ballads by the likes of Alicia Keys and Adele.

In a bid to cater to a wider audience and keep the Asian fusion club concept fresh, more Asian club operators are casting their nets farther afield in a bid to go international with their entertainment offerings.

It is now common to find male and female singers and dancers from places such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and even as far away as Russia and Ukraine performing at such clubs.

Only a few years ago, the majority of foreign entertainers in Asian clubs hailed from Thailand and China.

But in the past year, clubs have begun hiring entertainers from other parts of Asia and even Eastern Europe.

Life! counted at least a dozen Asian clubs that now feature such performers who either work at the club from four months to two years at a stretch or are engaged for one-off performances.

Says a spokesman for the Neverland Group, which runs a stable of nightclubs, including Neverland in Orchard Plaza, Neverland II and Club Sonar in Orchard Hotel: "We brought in Korean and Eastern European performers to keep our entertainment offerings fresh with new acts, which is also in line with our vision in redefining live entertainment."

The Neverland Group hired Viva Girls through an entertainment agency based in South Korea and also employed a group of Russians and Ukranians to dance freestyle during the DJ sets at the club.

Club patrons are taking to the Asian melting pot concept.

"Koreans dance way better than a lot of other performers from other countries. They are more professional and they look like they work very hard and practise every day," says Mr Sebastian Tan, 47, an IT executive who occasionally visits Asian clubs and enjoys performances by Koreans and Taiwanese.

At nine-month-old Chinese club Allurez in Middle Road, Taiwanese and Japanese male and female singers and dancers entertain club patrons, performing Cantonese, English, Hokkien and Korean pop songs. Taiwanese make up the bulk of its foreign entertainers.

One of Allurez's four owners, who wants to be known only as Mr Z. Ho, 33, says when they set up the club, they "felt there was a market for such performers from Taiwan, because no one was really doing it".

Back then, performers from Thailand and China were all the rage and no one had thought about hiring entertainers from other parts of Asia.

"The flower club concept is unique in Asia and we wanted to take it to the next level by injecting it with a different culture and cater to a wider, sophisticated audience," says Mr Ho, referring to the flower garland culture popular in Asian clubs, where patrons show appreciation for performers by purchasing flower garlands and silk sashes for them.

The entertainment format is similar across most Asian clubs: there will be live singers and a backing band. In between their sets, a DJ will spin tunes for dancers to groove to on stage.

Customers can purchase flower garlands or silk sashes for performers, but the performers here are not allowed to mingle or drink with them.

Allurez attracts a crowd of mostly working professionals in their mid to late 20s.

Many of its performers are professional dancers and trained singers, hired from entertainment agencies based in their home countries.

"They're all well-trained, some even come as a group, it's like the Spice Girls," says Mr Ho, referring to the popular British all-girl pop group from the 1990s.

Indeed, patrons say such professional dance groups and trained singers add more entertainment value than just seeing another pretty face on stage grooving to the music.

Business development executive Huang Shi Hui, who frequents Asian nightclubs such as Sonar, Neverland and Shanghai Dolly, says: "Some girls just sway a little on stage, they don't do much. But the Korean girls can look so professional, maybe it's the K-pop trend. And they look way hotter than the Thai girls."

Even Mandopop club Shanghai Dolly at Clarke Quay, which has previously hired foreign entertainers from China and Hong Kong, recently featured guest performances by South Koreans. The club, however, does not have its patrons buy flower garlands for the performers.

Mr Gordon Foo, 32, coordinating director of operations for St James Holdings, which manages Shanghai Dolly, says clubs need "a good mix of nationalities to cater to customers' tastes and preferences", especially in a highly competitive Asian nightclub market.

"It's something fresh and different. Singaporeans are also exposed to all these nationalities through travel and K-drama series; it's something that they enjoy."

Mr Foo adds that he will consider hiring foreign entertainers from Taiwan and South Korea on a regular basis as long as it is within budget.

Clubs contacted by Life! declined to say how much such performers earn, but it is understood that performers from Taiwan and South Korea command a higher pay compared to their China and Thailand peers - up to 30 per cent more.

Life! understands that each of these women can earn anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 a month. They are drawn to Singapore to gain overseas experience and get a taste of a different culture outside of their home countries.

South Korean singer Ms Kwon, who came to Singapore for the first time last month, says in English: "I've been in entertainment for a long time and have performed in musicals in South Korea. I think this job will give me more work opportunities in the future."

Since working here, she has received garlands from club patrons, a practice she thought was "a little strange at first".

But she adds: "Everyone is nice and kind here and I like this job very much."

Clubs going international may be a fresh and novel concept for now, but in an industry where partygoers' tastes are fickle, this trend may just last for another couple of years.

Notes Mr Foo: "On the clubbing scene in Singapore, a club cannot remain stagnant because of intense competition. Every club should change things up every three to five years."

Economics grad turned club dancer

Coco Min holds a degree in economics and could easily find a job in finance.

But the 25-year-old South Korean would much rather spend her days dancing in a nightclub instead.

"I like dancing more," the tall, svelte performer says hesitantly in English.

Having arrived in Singapore about a month ago, she now works at Asian fusion club Neverland II at St James Power Station. As part of six-member Korean group Viva Girls, she sings and dances six days a week.

"I like Singapore best. Everyone is very nice and it's easy to make friends," says the single woman, who has worked in Japan and China. "Many customers come up to me and say they enjoyed the performance."

Coco, who graduated from a local university in Seoul, says she has been working in entertainment for "many years" and has always been an entertainer, performing with different dance groups.

Ask if her parents are supportive of her decision to work in nightclubs, she replies that they were "a little bit annoyed at first, but now they understand".

She says it is her second time working in Singapore as a performing artist - she worked at another Asian club here last year for a few months.

Eventually, she hopes, her work experience here might serve as a stepping stone to job opportunities in other countries.

The most difficult part of her job, she says, is learning how to sing Chinese songs, a requirement at Asian clubs in Singapore.

It takes her about two months to learn a song and practise it to perfection with her group.

She says: "The pronunciation is so hard."

Professional dancer does not mind sexy clothes

For 21-year-old Russian dancer Anastacia, a gig as a performer in Singapore is a dream come true.

The dancer, who goes by only one name and hails from Moscow, says she wanted a job that allowed her to travel and dance. Her six-month stint in Singapore gives her that chance.

"I learnt about this job through my friends and the Internet. It was a fast decision," says Anastacia in heavily accented English.

For six nights a week, she performs as a freestyle dancer with three other women from Russia and Ukraine at Neverland II.

It is a job that requires her to dress in sexy clothes on stage, but she says she does not mind it in the least.

She adds that she has performed as a dancer in other countries, including India and Thailand, and Singapore seemed like the next best country to work in.

Even though she freestyles at the nightclub, Anatascia says she has had formal training in dancing since the age of seven, and was a professional contemporary dancer in Russia.

She says she practises daily.

"It's not very difficult, I just play music and stand in front of the mirror and dance... the DJ can play any song and I'll just improvise," she says.

Asked about her first night working at a club here, she says: "It was scary, but good... there were a lot of emotions running through me... but I liked it."

She adds: "I don't have high educational qualifications, but I love to dance and this is what I want for my life."