Ballet masterpiece lacks attack

Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) performing George Balanchine’s Theme And Variations at the Esplanade Theatre on 23 August 2013.

The ballet, with its hierarchical cast of a principal couple, four soloists and a corps de ballet, its courtly decorum and resplendent tutus, is undeniably imperial and opulent.

The Singapore Dance Theatre, in its premiere of the work, tackles the robust technical demands of the ballet valiantly. However, the fearless attack which makes Balanchine ballets scintillating is lacking in this iteration, which is performed below the quicksilver speed American companies are accustomed to.

Balanchine, known as the father of American ballet, simultaneously shows how a ballet class builds from the most fundamental battement tendu - where a leg is extended along the floor, foot stretched - to crowd-pleasing virtuosic leaps and spins, and distills the full- length ballet to its terpsichorean essence.

Theme's choreography is mercilessly exposing for its principle couple.

While Rosa Park and Kenya Nakamura rise to the occasion, it is Park who performs with a transcendent serenity that belies the fiendish footwork she is dealt.

Women of the corps de ballet, feet quivering on pointe to Tchaikovsky's tremulous strings, support her as she balances on one leg, the other extending to delicately pierce the air above.

After the demands of Theme, Dutch choreographer Nils Christe's Organ Concerto is like a collective exhalation. The dancers seem liberated, performing the work that was created for the company last year with emphatic precision and stunning pliancy.

Twelve couples cavort within an organ, their every movement seeming to dance across the keys which produce the imposing strains of Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto.

Christe employs drastic changes in speed to astonishing effect - Ryo Suzuki barrels into his solo with exhilarating abandon, and the ensemble crosses the stage at an unnervingly slow pace before the cleverly abrupt end of the piece.

Completing the evening is Val Caniparoli's Lambarena, set to a remarkable amalgam of traditional African music and the work of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The piece's overt exoticism makes it look dated, and the dancers perch safely on their toes instead of luxuriating in the earthy sensuality of Caniparoli's waves and undulations.

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