Singapore Dance Theatre dances Sleeping Beauty to live music after 14 years

SINGAPORE – Fourteen years after the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) performed Sleeping Beauty accompanied by musicians, audiences will be treated to the company dancers performing the classic Tchaikovsky ballet to music played live by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra.

Will audiences be able to tell the difference?

SDT’s artistic director Janek Schergen says: “Of course live music is better. The moment the overture is played, you will see the difference. Somehow you’re more ‘inside’ the theatre.”

The performance from Thursday to Sunday at the Esplanade Theatre will be under the baton of Singaporean conductor Joshua Tan Kang Ming.

Both the orchestra and SDT plan to perform at least one more full-length ballet together next year and are seeking donations via the SDT website to fund future performances.

Donations are 250 per cent tax deductible for the donor and will be matched by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s Cultural Matching Fund.

Adding live music to SDT’s productions has long been Schergen’s goal, though he estimates that it will cost the troupe an additional half-million dollars a year at least.

The Sleeping Beauty production involves 45 dancers and 51 musicians.

He says: “People would say, ‘It’s going fine without an orchestra.’ It’s not going fine. It’s what we are used to. I never danced to recorded music until way later in my career.”

He adds: “Some choreographers are not interested in working with recorded music. There are Balanchine ballets we can’t perform because we work with recorded music.”

book it // Sleeping Beauty Presented by Singapore Dance Theatre

WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

WHEN: Dec 6 and 7, 8pm; Dec 8, 1pm and 8pm; Dec 9, 1pm and 7pm

ADMISSION: $35 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

INFO: To donate to the partnership between Singapore Dance Theatre and the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, visit

He is referring to the late Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine, often considered the father of American ballet.

In the 1990s, SDT performed some ballets with music from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), in part because then- company manager Ng Siew Eng had worked at the orchestra.

SDT has also performed with other orchestras such as the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (Sleeping Beauty, 2004) and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (Quest, 2006 Singapore Arts Festival).

However, orchestras play second fiddle to the dancers in such performances, which is a drawback for musical ensembles focused on concerts and touring.

Excerpts from famous ballets are often included in these orchestras’ concerts here – Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty was played in an SSO concert last month – but it has been difficult for the SDT to find regular live accompaniment.

Now, however, there are enough musicians in Singapore for a full-time freelance orchestra.

The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra was set up in 2013 under the baton of associate professor Chan Tze Law, vice-dean (professional integration) at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The professional gig orchestra includes conservatory alumni and freelance musicians. It is known for a regular series of movie-themed concerts, with an upcoming one titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope on Dec 14 and 15 at the Esplanade Theatre.

The orchestra’s co-founder and general manager Low Jia Hua says this is the first time the ensemble is accompanying dancers.

“Because it is the first time and all of Tchaikovsky’s ballets are really tough, we are worried – but in a good way. For the musicians, it enriches our craft and our understanding.”

And, Schergen adds, “this music was made to be played for dance. You can’t say Tchaikovsky was a worse composer when he wrote for dance”.

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