Singapore dance pioneer Ferrer was well versed in ballet and jazz

Donato Ferrer was known to his students as a talented artist with a gift for comedy.
Donato Ferrer was known to his students as a talented artist with a gift for comedy. PHOTO: ATTITUDE PERFORMING ARTS STUDIO

Dancer and choreographer Donato Ferrer, a founding member of the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), died of cancer last Saturday. He was 57.

Ferrer was a dancer with Ballet Philippines before he was recruited by Goh Soo Khim and Anthony Then to form the SDT in 1988. There, he choreographed and performed in numerous productions.

Ferrer went on to pursue his passion for teaching dance and became the full-time ballet master at Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS) in 1994.

He was later awarded the Lee Foundation scholarship and sent to the Royal Academy of Dance in London to attend a teaching course for professional dancers.

Ferrer's excellent performance in the nine-month course earned him the Jerwood Prize for the academy's most outstanding graduate.

"Mr Ferrer was a brilliant and talented artist who did particularly well in comic roles," said Ms Melissa Quek, 39, who was a student of Ferrer's at SCGS in the 1990s. "He had a great sense of humour and always brought laughter into the classroom."

In 2001, Ferrer founded Attitude Performing Arts Studio in Bukit Timah. Besides ballet and jazz, the studio also offers classes in gyrotonics and pilates.

"A holistic performing arts studio which showcased various styles was also Mr Ferrer's vision," said Ms Quek, who is now the head of the School of Dance and Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.

"His dance and choreography were very versatile because he was well versed in both ballet and jazz."

Attitude's co-founder Aldo Gan said: "Donato had a special gift for understanding the body's anatomy and movements."

Mr Gan added that students had often sought Ferrer out if they were experiencing aches or injuries, as he could easily detect if something was amiss with a dancer's posture.


Besides teaching at SCGS, Ferrer also worked with students from Lasalle, Crestar Learning Centre and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

SDT's artistic director Janek Schergen said: "Donato was well loved by many and contributed greatly to the dance community in Singapore. While he was at SDT, all the dancers were in almost every single ballet, which helped to shape the repertory of the company.

"More than a workplace, Singapore was home to Donato," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore dance pioneer Ferrer was well versed in ballet and jazz'. Subscribe