Ballet Under the Stars

I can still remember the first (and only) ballet I ever attended.  I must have been five or six at the time and the memory is perhaps one of my oldest.  It was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and despite a little confusion as to why there was no speaking, a small seed was planted within me that day.  Like lots of young girls, I participated in a number of different dance clubs before my interest waned and that seed was lost.

Then about four years ago, I came across an article about ballet dancers which explained the work and pain that goes into breaking in a pair of pointe shoes only to have to replace them a few weeks later.  I read it with mild interest but GCSEs were beckoning and besides shuddering at the thought of people willingly wearing pointe shoes I continued life as normal, unaware of that little seed beginning to unfurl.  In that peculiar manner that things always appear in groups I came across several articles and videos about ballet and dance after my exams.  The seed began to bloom.  Reading about the physical demands and watching the grace with which herculean moves were performed I developed a deep-seated sense of respect for all dancers, ballet dancers most of all, with their unending grace and prowess.

Since this enlightenment I had not had the opportunity to attend a live ballet.  Instead, I have subsisted on snippets in films and video performances.  That is until now.  When I saw a post asking if anyone wanted to attend Ballet Under the Stars I put my name down before I had even read the details.  I was going.  I was going even if I had to sell a kidney.  I didn’t, but I would have.

Ballet Under the Stars runs for two weekends and is pretty self-explanatory.  It is a series of three ballet acts performed at night on the lawn of Fort Canning by the Singapore Dance Theatre.  Each weekend had a different line up.  The first weekend was a set of contemporary pieces and the second a classical trio of weddings.  It was to these weddings that we went.  Coppélia Act III, Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty, and Kitri’s Wedding from Don Quixote to be exact.

Armed with several layers of bug spray but absent a comfortable rug to sit on, we settled down for what has quite possibly been my favourite night since arriving in Singapore.  While it was a shame not to see an entire ballet unwind from start to finish, the immense skill of the dancers and enthusiasm of the crowd completely made up for it.  Not only this, but my friend and I spent the interlude plotting the procurement of some of the stunning dresses and costumes that glittered oh so beautifully under the stage lights.

Some of the solo dances were absolutely amazing, with the dancers flowing across the stage in sync with the music or performing pirouette after pirouette after pirouette.  I held my breath as gravity neglected to pull flying forms to the ground and dancers were held aloft.  The sheer skill, not only to hold a pose but to hold a pose where arms and legs align in graceful curves and make it look utterly effortless is breath-taking.  To transform a jump into an elegant artform, perfectly in time with a clash of cymbals or trumpet call is what gives me such a sense of respect for dancers and why I can’t wait to watch another ballet.

Photo from here.

The Esplanade Theatre

Something I recently discovered is that the Esplanade Theatre has a wide range of performances and events that are either free or extremely cheap, especially with a student discount. For instance, I attended a concert of Shostakovich, Bartók and Tchaikovsky by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for a grand total of S$10.50 which is roughly £6. I think this is particularly wonderful because it means that anyone can take time out of a hectic life to stop and listen. It means that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy world class performers on a semi-regular basis without worrying about the cost.

The concert I went to was conducted by Andrew Litton who has gained an amazingly long list of achievements throughout his musical career. At the end of the show I was none the wiser as to how conductors conduct. However, from watching Litton I am of the opinion that conducting batons should be renamed conducting wands due to the magic they wind in effortlessly bringing together so many instruments. Of course, it is not just the baton doing all the work, Litton infused all his passion into the performance. He conducted not just with his arms, but with his whole body; crescendos were emphasised with jumps and a grand spread of the arms, while the softer bars were whispered of by delicate hands and a lighter tread.

On the topic of moving with the music, it was interesting to compare the differences between the musicians. For instance, while at one end of the spectrum some of the violinists moved their entire body with the music, torso leaning and foot tapping, others remained motionless save for the drawing of bow over strings. Another observation was the different yet similar rest poses of each musician. I imagine there is a rough guideline on how to sit and hold one’s instrument when not playing but each performer infuses a little of themselves into the pose; here a calm assuredness, there a laid-back ease, the smile that passes between two of the double basses signals a strong friendship. Despite these differences, when the time comes bows move in perfect unison and flutes sing out together.


I was particularly impressed by the pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in his performance of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.1. He radiated and played with such an energy and liveliness that I was unsurprised to read about his successes, including three Gramophone Awards. Once again, I was struck by just how amazing it is for the Esplanade to sell such reasonably priced tickets.

I loved the moments when the cymbalist and triangle player began to gear up for their parts and couldn’t help but wait for the crash of cymbals or chime of the triangle. It sounds mildly ridiculous, but because their instruments are used so rarely, there is something incredibly fulfilling about watching them get to play. Finally, it was perhaps a little unfair on my part, but I found great amusement in watching the trumpeters gradually turn bright, fire engine red in Tchaikovsky’s trumpet calls.

I enjoyed the concert greatly and look forward to attending other events at the Esplanade in the future.

The Night Festival

I only went for the lights but was quickly drawn into the festival itself. The lights are a lure you see, they tempt you down to the museum and then, since you’re there, why not peruse what else the festival had to offer?

The light show projected onto the outside of the National Museum was short but intriguing. Another story for the mind to tell. Whereas, the light show at Marina Bay told the full emotive story, this time a prompt, a mere whisper of an idea was seeded in the watchers’ brains allowing us to continue and conclude to story as we wished. Here, we delved into the Sci-Fi genre. The geometric lines that define each feature of the building begin to warp and twist as reality changes. The façade shatters, the shards blown around by an invisible wind before they settle into a new shape and a stone lion peers out from the wall.


Suddenly, the world glitches. Strips of white static followed by the whine of a feedback loop and colour bars signalling a hack. Points of light fly across building’s surface, warping the image as they move. We know now that we are not the only reality and that all realities are nothing more than a computer program, a network of ones and zeros, susceptible to both glitch and hack. But what is this? As successive realities shatter and warp out of existence, how do we know if this if glitch or hack? Will the program reboot? Or is this the end? This is the question left to the watcher, the opportunity to dive to the depths of imagination and explore the world through another’s eyes.


From Sci-Fi to fantasy, with the end of the show I dive into the world of the night festival. For a fantastical moment, I see the festival trough my mind’s eye, not as the modern day world of electricity and AstroTurf, but as a faire in a foreign land, filled with enchantments and magic. Here the grass underfoot is transformed from plastic to thick turf, spongy and spelled to not become mud under the tread of a thousand people. Fairy lights strung between trees become beads of magic, dancing through the air and bathing the world in their soft glow. Drinks that flash with the piercing blue of LEDs, are painted as exotic and exciting elixirs, promising all the fun of ale without the lingering headache. Only the white peaked food tents remain untouched, they already fill the night air with a heady array of smells and flavours. Perhaps if I was closer and could see inside, I would see wisps of magic as food is cooked over open flames and tossed on to waiting plates.


As I wander through the night, strains of music call to me. Whispering in my ear to watch this show for just a little while. To relax in the lawn hammocks and let the music roll over me as I soak in the lively atmosphere and sounds of laughter and joy. While it may be odd for a physics student to wonder around with magic in her eyes, it is hard to resist when an extra layer of life adds a whole new world to this program of reality.


If we open our eyes to the world, beauty can be found everywhere and with it, art.  It comes in many forms stretching from the traditional portraits of long past monarchs to the modern realms of “I could do that”.  Included under its sweeping title are the marble statues of Rome and the preserved animals of Damien Hirst.  There is art to be found in music, dance and fashion, be it the BBC Proms and Paris Fashion Week or a tinny iPod and Strictly Come Dancing.  It is all around us, waiting to be seen.

The Cirque du Soleil is art, or rather a culmination of many pieces of art into one grand masterpiece.  To see the costumes alone is to enter a new world of imagination and wonder.  I can only imagine the hours upon hours that must have gone into creating them.  It takes me a day to sew the most basic of piece so I cannot fathom the patience required to add such intricate details that will only be seen for the briefest of moments.

A picture paints a thousand words, but here music completes the visual story.  It weaves in and out of every scene, warning of danger and singing of childlike glee.  Each flick of the wrist and explosive change of direction is underscored with sound.  Every show of strength and impossible contortion is perfectly in time with the music.  Not only this but in moments of humour sound is used to leave the audience chuckling.  The use of music in the place of words brings the audience together and bridges the barrier of language.  Here everyone understands the story being told.

I’ve left the best to last, mostly due to intimidation.  My words are a poor substitute and can do no justice to the extraordinary feats of strength, flexibility, and acrobatics of the dancers.  The slow ascent to a handstand while balanced upon a tower of chairs is made to look completely and utterly effortless.  Every motion is fluid as hoops are spun, no awkward jerking or momentary fumbles as the swirling hoops spin faster.  I watched with bated breath as people twisted, not only themselves but their height’s worth of stilts, through the air in complex backflips and cheered as they rode bicycles along the tightrope no circus is complete without.

Be it balance on a rope, or contorted to impossible shapes, there is not a single wasted movement throughout the show.  This is art in motion.  Visual and auditory blending together in a tale of a boy who receives a box full of magic and who, for a few hours, we are permitted to join in a colourful world of childlike wonderment.

Check out #kooza on Instagram for a glimpse of this awesome performance.


A Show of Lights

It begins with the thrum of music through my body.  Enticing me.  Drawing me into the performance.  The giant geometric bulb flashes on, one colour, then another.  Narrow search beams light up the sky as mist begins to cover the watery stage.  Jets of water leap up, scattering jewels of light, first blue, now red, soon to be purple.  The dance has begun.

Projected images dance and swirl through the spray and the music draws us in.  We are captivated.  We are captivated as a story is told.  There are no words to this story and to each the tale is different, but for me it is an amalgamation of ancient culture, futuristic technology, and above all, love.  The narrative does not suffer as these themes meld seamlessly together with the surrealness of a dream.


The rumble of drums sets the scene as a spaceship escapes the final hours of a doomed planet.  We watch from afar and with bated breath the final moments of what was once a refuge.  Before sadness can overwhelm, a stain glass bird flies around the stage.  The music whispers of his grief, but we are hopeful.  He escapes his confines in a swirl of silk as bow is drawn across string.

We move on.

Shapes come and go, as in the transience of life, and we are carried through all by the tide.  We crest a wave of notes as the dragon offers his wisdom and a bird remains a friend, though our descent is imminent.  The melody lulls, we have reached the trough and the flowers usher in a new act.  A white peacock spirals across the stage, her song speaks of how she is trapped and dreams of flying higher to her escape.  As the lights dim and shrink away we are know that this will not happen.  The end is near.

But wait.

All is not lost.

The music sparks back to life, bringing with it a kaleidoscope of flowers, blossoming and singing out the hope of new life, of rebirth, of spring.  Now the music is unstoppable.  It charges towards its crescendo.  Onward and onward, and all the while, the lights follow it in its dance.  Then, for a second…  silence breaks.

The page is turned.  This, the last page, is softer.  The story tells of a happy end.  We have returned to our spaceship and the birds are together as it lands on a new planet.

A new start.

A new beginning.