For their London debut, Singapore Dance Theatre opened with a work by Goh Choo San, the most internationally famous of Singapore’s choreographers before his death, aged 39, in 1987. Birds of Paradise was created for Washington Ballet in 1979; it now looks seriously dated. The dancers are encased in shiny unitards, and the ballet style – long leans and extensions combined with angled arms and quirky hand positions – is all effect and no substance. It has moments of impact – the women’s soaring swallow-jumps, the criss-crossing patterns – but this is an empty piece.
a striking and unexpected scene in which women sidle spookily across the stage like spiders
Stanton Welch’s Maninyas, another abstract modern ballet, is much better in every respect. The women, in skirts as billowy as the curtains hanging behind them, introduce the motifs that weave through the piece: arms flung wide in supplication, hands covering the face, and flouncing and flicking their skirts. The opening section generates a soaring, motor-like energy. In the slow central part, a man dances two rhapsodic duets and there’s a striking and unexpected scene in which women sidle spookily across the stage like spiders. The final section neatly offsets casual shuffling with balletic leaps and spins.
The Lost Space, by Indonesian choreographer Boi Sakti, is in a very different style, moulded from regional folk dance and martial arts, the performers dressed in local costumes. Four wooden benches are arranged to suggest a well, soap-boxes and stepping stones. It is purportedly about traditional ways of life giving way to urbanisation, and is laden with cryptic symbolism but it remains frustratingly disjointed.
This bill showcases the diversity of the company’s repertoire, but probably not the best works in it – a shame, because the sleek, versatile and attractive dancers are excellent throughout.