Bridge for aspiring professional dancers

Bridge for aspiring professional dancers

SINGAPORE - In a few years' time, Singapore Dance Theatre performances might feature more local faces.

The company has started a Scholars Programme, a training course for dancers aged 13 to 19 who are looking to pursue dance as a professional career.

Currently in its third year, it is the only pre-professional programme in Singapore. It offers a bridge for aspiring dancers between schools such as the Singapore Ballet Academy, which teaches a fixed Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, and a full-time professional ballet career. There are currently nine students enrolled in the course, the duration of which depends on each individual dancer's progress.

Artistic director of Singapore Dance Theatre Janek Schergen, 61, says: "The reason that it was started was that every major company has an upper level school and there's hardly ever a company established without a professional training school attached."

He cites the Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Australian Ballet and Britain's The Royal Ballet as examples. Each of these companies has an affiliated academy which provides intensive full-time training for young dancers, preparing them for a career in ballet.

At The Australian Ballet School, for example, students may begin full-time training at age 13 and complete the programme only when they are 20. Students in the programme attend classes which begin at 8.30 every morning, six days a week.

The Scholars Programme here does not have the same rigour as its Australian counterpart as it is a part-time course. Instead, training takes place every weekday evening from about 5.30 to 8pm. Classes are taught by a different teacher, either a current or former Singapore Dance Theatre dancer, every day of the week, with each focusing on different techniques.

The cost of enrolling in the programme is $3,000 a year, and up to 50per cent of the fees may be covered by the Singapore Dance Theatre.

One student who has joined the programme is Sherry Leow, 16. The student of Pei Hwa Secondary School first started ballet as a co-curricular activity while she was studying at Raffles Girls' Primary School, and joined the Scholars Programme in June last year.

She says that juggling commitment to the programme and school is not easy: "Sometimes, I do find it difficult to manage, but good time management helps a lot. I have a timetable for myself, and I allocate my time each day, so all I have to do is follow it strictly."

She plans to audition for the New Zealand School Of Dance next year and hopes to come back to Singapore to dance professionally after completing her training.

Lee Wai Hong, 17, is another dancer in the programme who also wants to turn professional. He will be starting his national service next year, and began learning ballet only when he was 14, at Bukit Batok Community Club. He joined the Scholars Programme three years ago, as one of the students in the pioneer batch.

He says that the variety of teachers in the programme has benefited him greatly: "We train five days a week, with five different teachers, so we learn different things, have different opinions and corrections from all of them."

Mabel Khaw, 16, auditioned for the programme this year and will join both Sherry and Wai Hong in class when the new year begins. Each year, about 50 dancers audition for the programme and three to five candidates make the cut.

Mabel says she hopes to improve her technique: "This is one programme that I strongly believe will give me good technical training. I hope the programme will help expose me to different dance genres, such as contemporary dance, and also dancing at a professional level."

While the students of the Scholars Programme are more than satisfied with the training, Schergen is still cautious about its prospects. He says: "I couldn't say that it's going wonderfully because it's not. There's no culture here for it. The mindset isn't there."

He does hope, however, to open two more levels of classes, which will take in younger students.

He adds: "I'm going to be patient, I'm going to keep developing it. I would like to eventually see it become an academy for the company, a serious academy where you can take somebody in at 10 or 12, and he goes through the levels of training."

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