SINGAPORE - Watch the Esplanade stage come alight with dazzling footwork and sinuous bodies this October as the annual da:ns festival is staged for the eighth time.
Headlining the 10-day programme this year are three international dance acts: a double bill by Brazilian company Grupo Corpo, Rian by Irish troupe Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre and Gala Flamenca from Spain, directed by Angel Rojas.
The trio of works are presented under the Centrestage banner and will be performed at the Esplanade Theatre or Concert Hall.
For Centrestage, the festival's associate producer Faith Tan looks "for key choreographers, dance companies and large-scale productions that will inspire the audience and dancers in Singapore".
The 30-year-old says that the Centrestage acts this year each brings "a distinct approach to dance that is strongly inspired by their homeland".
She explains: "Grupo Corpo's dance steps feature the unmistakable fire and rhythm of Brazil, while Fabulous Beast dancers perform to rich melodic Celtic music.
"And finally, the Spanish passion is embodied in the flamenco gala which closes the festival."
Aside from those three programmes, there will be six ticketed performances at other venues at the Esplanade as well as a series of workshops - free and ticketed - which will teach the public a variety of dance styles such as swing, hip-hop and reggae.
A festival dedicated solely to dance may have seemed like a tough sell in its early years, but attendance at da:ns has been growing steadily since its inaugural edition in 2006.
Then, it drew a crowd of 50,000. The audience has since grown by 50 per cent to more than 75,000 last year, giving it a mid-sized following compared to the arts centre's larger annual festivals like Huayi, the Chinese arts extravaganza which drew 92,000 this year and 140,000 last year.
Ms Tan puts this in perspective: "While we are happy that the numbers have grown, we are, however, more mindful that it is not just the numbers that matter, but also the depth of these arts experiences and how our audiences can grow with us."
SEM MIM AND ONQOTO BY GRUPO CORPO (BRAZIL)
Brazilian family-run outfit Grupo Corpo will be bringing their brand of loose-limbed sensuality here with a double bill featuring two of the company's signature works: Sem Mim and Onqoto.
Company choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras says: "Sem Mim is the last piece we created and Onqoto is a very Brazilian work. I think with these two pieces, the Singapore public will be able to know what is the work that Grupo Corpo does."
Pederneiras, 58, adds that the company's style is strongly influenced by its roots: "I think there is a Brazilian way to dance, a Brazilian way to move. We have a different way of walking, there is a kind of sensuality."
The first of the two works, Sem Mim, means "without me" in Portuguese. It is based on seven verses by the 13th-century Galician composer Martin Codax. Pederneiras says: "The lyrics tell of a woman who is crying in front of the sea because she has lost her lover who has gone with the sea. Or she is crying, hoping that the sea can bring him back."
The sprite-like dancers slip between layers of tan netting, to a lively soundtrack by musicians Carlos Nunes and Jose Miguel Wisnik.
They each don unitards dyed to match the colour of their skin and the garments are printed with inscriptions and designs inspired by the geometry of the Middle Ages.
Pederneiras says: "At the centre of this piece is the sea and the idea that it can take away or bring back happiness, so the costumes are designed to look like sailors' tattoos."
The second piece of the evening is Onqoto, which explores humanity's place in the universe and the beginnings of creation through a uniquely Brazilian metaphor: football.
Pederneiras says: "This piece is based on the phrase "Fla-Flu" which was created by a very important writer in Brazil, Nelson Rodrigues."
The phrase is a truncation of Flamengo-Fluminense, two Brazilian football teams. The derby match-up is one of the hottest rivalries in Brazilian football.
Pederneiras explains, tongue firmly in cheek: "Rodrigues said, the Fla-Flu is like the beginning of the universe, not the Big Bang. With Fla-Flu, then the light came. So Fla-Flu is like the whistle of God."
To complement the football-themed performance, the lighting design by artistic director of the company Paulo Pederneiras is reminiscent of a stadium, with spotlights attached to large metal frames.
Underneath the harsh light, a pair of dancers crawl intertwined across the floor, embracing while propped up on angled, crab-like limbs.
In another segment, an ensemble moves from its soft, circling hips to dreamy vocals and understated drums by Caetano Veloso and Jose Miguel Wisnik.
The 38-year-old company is very much a family affair, with brothers Paulo, Pedro and Jose Luiz as the artistic director, technical director and photographer respectively.
Their sister, Miriam, runs community projects. Rodrigo Pederneiras says of succession: "We worry about that, of course, but it will still be a family company because the people who want to continue are family members from the company and they have worked with us for 20 years."
AN EVENING WITH GRUPO CORPO (BRAZIL) A DOUBLE BILL - SEM MIM AND ONQOTO
Where: Esplanade Theatre
When: Oct 11 & 12, 8pm
Admission: $20, $40, $70, $100 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)
RIAN BY FABULOUS BEAST DANCE THEATRE (IRELAND)
The most striking thing about Rian is that everything is in shades of green, the Irish national colour.
The backdrop and floor are reminiscent of swathes of verdant grass, while the costumes run the gamut from a rustic olive to an oceanic aquamarine.
The 90-minute production by Ireland's Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre is an exuberant celebration of music and life, featuring an international cast of eight dancers and five musicians.
Artistic director of the Dublin-based company Michael Keegan-Dolan, 44, says of the emerald set: "Ireland is a very green country and we took a long time to pick that particular shade of green. We looked at thousands of shades, but we picked the one that we felt was the most evocative and powerful."Green is also the colour of life and is all about life-affirming and celebratory energy."
The work premiered in Dublin in 2011 and is a collaboration with music director Liam O Maonlai, lead singer of Irish rock band Hothouse Flowers.
Rian is also the name of O Maonlai's 2005 solo album and means "mark" or "trace" in Irish.
The music in Rian, a toe-tapping mix of jaunty fiddles, gentle drums and cadenced vocals, is a blend of traditional Irish and modern influences. Keegan-Dolan says: "The music in Rian has great depth and great roots in the land here in Ireland and the people who were here before us. "And into that mix, we've also brought in Liam's interest in West African music, more specifically from Mali, and there's also something of the fact that Liam is the frontman of a rock 'n' roll band, so that charisma and sensibility were also in the mix."
Like the music, the dancers themselves are from a delightful blend of cultures and nations.
Among the rainbow of nationalities: half- Indonesian and half-English, half-Ghanaian and half-Danish, Nigerian, Finnish and Greek.
Throughout the show, the performers take turns to deliver exuberant solos, before uniting centre stage as a merry ensemble.
Running through their nimble pirouettes and lissome leaps is a strong sense of freedom and spontaneity.
Keegan-Dolan says that was a response to O Maonlai's creation: "All the structure of the work and the choreographic form it took really came from the music."
The men are clad in woollen suits, while the women are in simple cotton dresses nipped in at the waist, creating a deliberately rustic, 1950s feel.
Keegan-Dolan explains: "We wanted to use clothes that were real clothes. Me and Liam, we talked about our parents and we put the men in the kind of suits that our fathers might have worn and the women in skirts from a similar period."
Since its debut two years ago, Rian has been performed around the United Kingdom as well as in Germany, Spain and Sweden.
The Esplanade performance marks its Asian premiere.
"People are very happy when they leave the theatre after Rian and it moves them deeply.
Very often, it moves them into movement, so people end up dancing and singing in the theatre. It can be extraordinary," says Keegan-Dolan.
RIAN BY FABULOUS BEAST DANCE THEATRE (IRELAND)
Where: Esplanade Theatre
When: Oct 18 & 19, 8pm
Admission: $20, $40, $70, $100 from Sistic
Triple bill treat of starter, main course and dessert
The fusion of African dance and ballet may sound like an unusual one, but in Val Caniparoli's Lambarena, the traditional and the classical come together in a spirited celebration.
The work is part of Singapore Dance Theatre's annual triple bill, Masterpiece In Motion. This year's edition, the fourth, opens on Friday at the Esplanade Theatre.
The programme closely follows the formula of its previous incarnations: a classical ballet, an established work of choreography and a newer piece, which artistic director of the company Janek Schergen says is "like a full meal, with a starter, main course and dessert".
To whet your appetite, the evening begins with the upbeat Lambarena. American choreographer Caniparoli, 62, says: "When I heard the music, it just hit me and I knew I had to do this. "It was exotic, it was different, just the whole theme of it, it fuses the two types of music and celebrates not only their differences, but also their similarities while staying true to both cultures."
The soundtrack begins with the poised strings of a Bach melody, before seguing into the exuberant joyfulness of African drumbeats and vocals.
The costumes are similarly cross-cultural, with brightly coloured African-inspired prints overlaid onto 18th-century silhouettes.
The work premiered in 1995 at the San Francisco Ballet, where Caniparoli is now principal character dancer.
It has since been performed by more than 20 companies worldwide, with the Singapore Dance Theatre debuting it here in 1998.
Caniparoli says: "When you start out with a ballet, you want it to last, but you don't think it's going to last 18, 19 years. "I think it's the celebration of it, the oddness of it in many ways, that attracts people. I think a lot of directors also like to challenge their dancers, that's part of it as well."
The entree for the evening is Organ Concerto by Dutch choreographer Nils Christie.
It was a work created specifically for the Singapore company and it premiered here last year at Ballet Under The Stars at Fort Canning Park.
Schergen, 61, says: "What we've done this year is to add a full set, with a backdrop and wings, to give it the proper environment and setting. Choreographically, it remains the same, but it will become a more profound work being seen in the proper surroundings."
Twelve pairs of dancers are clad in sheer black, with the men in fitted shirts and pants and the women in clingy dresses. Performed to Francis Poulenc's score of the same name, the highlights of the piece are the dynamic solo passages.
To end the evening, be treated to the only classical presentation of the night, the company's premiere of Theme And Variations by the late Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine. Schergen says that it is "the jewel in the crown of the Balanchine repertoire".
He says that it is also notoriously technically difficult: "Right now, it's probably thought of to be one of the most difficult ballets you can dance, classically."
The ballet begins with a corp of a dozen women and a principal couple. A central pas de deux then takes centre stage, before the full cast of 26 emerges for the finale.
Schergen says: "The works that we present are all united by the fact that they're by significant people in the art form and they're all working at a very high level in terms of choreography."
MASTERPIECE IN MOTION
Where: Esplanade Theatre
When: Friday and Saturday, 8pm
Admission: $30, $50 and $70 from Sistic
GALA FLAMENCA (SPAIN)
Watch the fiery passion of flamenco ignite the stage with Gala Flamenca, a Spanish explosion of fancy footwork and furious rhythms.
The 90-minute performance, which stars four of the genre's most prominent artists, is the first flamenco gala in the da:ns festival's eight-year history.
The event has hosted flamenco performances before, such as flamenco master Israel Galvan's sold-out show in 2011, and their popularity has led to the Esplanade bringing in this star-studded showcase.
Angel Rojas, director of the performance, says that the genre draws inspiration from many different sources: "Flamenco dance sprung up from a mix of different cultures and that is its real purity."
Rojas, 38, is himself a famed dancer-choreographer, having founded the Nuevo Ballet Espanol in Spain 17 years ago with fellow artist Carlos Rodriguez, one of the stars performing in this gala.
Rojas says that when creating the show, he "tried to combine flamenco from different generations in it".
As such, the performance stars four dancers: two well-established artists and two rising stars from the younger generation.
The first of these is Antonio Canales, who is widely regarded as one of the first practitioners of modern flamenco.
The 52-year-old, who hails from Seville, fuses the traditional art with his own classical ballet training in his wide repertoire of choreography.
For this performance, Canales puts on his well-worn dancing shoes for a masterful display of powerful technique and timing.
The second of the established dancers is Carlos Rodriguez, 38, who is known for his mix of contemporary and traditional flamenco.
In the gala, he takes to the stage with a dynamic solo, his performance a tornado of whirls, spins and strikes that covers the stage with an infectious energy.
The first of the younger stars is Jesus Carmona, 28, who began his solo career in 2010. His style of flamenco is highly balletic, with clean lines and extended leaps, but the Spanish influence is unmistakable in his precise, lightningquick footwork.
The final performer is Karime Amaya, 28, who is the grand niece of the legendary flamenco dancer and singer Carmen Amaya.
The younger Amaya, who began performing when she was nine, is renowned for her speed and power, and the sound of her shoes on stage is a frenzied chorus of taps and strikes.
Rojas says: "It is really interesting to work with dancers of different generations and to create different ways of interaction on stage among them. Great artistic moments arise."
A large part of the gala's festive atmosphere can be attributed to the live musicians: two guitarists, two singers, a percussionist and a violinist.
The ensemble is not tucked away in the orchestra pit. Instead, the musicians ring the stage and, in some segments, even stand up and join in by clapping.
Gala Flamenca premiered in London in March this year, as part of the annual Flamenco Festival London, and has since toured countries such as the United States and Greece. The Singapore production is its Asian premiere.
Rojas says: "The London audience's reaction was great, full of enthusiasm, regardless of age. I hope the Singapore audience can enjoy it as well."
GALA FLAMENCA: ANTONIO CANALES, CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, KARIME AMAYA, JESUS CARMONA (SPAIN), DIRECTED BY ANGEL ROJAS
Where: Esplanade Concert Hall
When: Oct 18 & 19, 7.30pm
Admission: $20, $40, $70, $100 and $120 from Sistic
(go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)
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