Celebrating it’s 10th year of annual performances here in Malaysia, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT)’s is bringing to Kuala Lumpur a selection of ballets of “unparalleled distinction”, according to the professional company’s artistic director, Janek Schergen. For the local leg of the tour, they will open the show with George Balanchine’s masterpiece, Serenade, inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.
This will be followed by Theme and Variations, which was originally created for American Ballet Theatre, also by Balanchine. Rounding up the evening will be a full-company work called Linea Adora, specially made for SDT by The Australian Ballet’s Timothy Harbour, in commemorating the company’s 30th anniversary last year.
Ballet Illuminations have no doubt inspired a generation of young Malaysian dancers, including Jeremie Gan, who is part of the corps de ballet at SDT. It will be his second time performing back on home soil with the company, and he shares his journey as a professional ballet dancer thus far in an interview with Options.
How did you come to be a part of SDT?
When I was 15, I got a scholarship after competing in the Asian Grand Prix – an international ballet competition in Hong Kong. It was to attend the New Zealand School of Dance to do my diploma. In my final year of studies, we go out to audition for companies that we may have a particular interest in, in hopes of securing a job with them after graduation. So during the two-week winter break of my final year, I sent an email indicating my interest in joining the company and got an invite by Schergen to join a company class in place of an audition. I was then offered a contract just as I was about to perform in my last graduation season in November 2016. I will always be grateful for that moment.
I’ve always looked up to the company, ever since they began doing Ballet Illuminations in KL when I was a little kid. I have fond memories of them performing and being mesmerised by what I saw on stage. SDT was the very first professional ballet company I saw perform, and it gave me a glimpse into what I could be if I strived hard enough.
Favourite projects you’ve worked on so far?
We do about six performance seasons throughout the year and I enjoy every single one of them. It’s hard to choose a favourite. I love doing the major classical ballet productions like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty at the Esplanade Theatre, at the same time, I also enjoy performing Passages, our contemporary shows which features newly commissioned work. Then there is Peter and Blue which is a children’s ballet programme choreographed by SDT artistic director, Janek Schergen, specially for the kids.
But my favourites so far would have to be the 30th Anniversary Gala held last year with works by Dutch choreographer Nils Christie and Australian choreographer Timothy Harbour. We also did a National Day video for Singapore last year choreographed by our very own ballet master, Mohammed Noor Sarman.
What pieces will you be performing for this year’s upcoming Ballet Illuminations?
We’re doing two separate programs for the KL and Penang segments of the tour, but I’ll be performing in Linea Adora and Theme and Variations in KL, which is always a treat!
What has been your most memorable experience in ballet so far?
Definitely last year’s Ballet Illuminations! We were doing a triple bill (which is three distinct works in a single programme), and after the first piece, I was told during the performance that one of the dancers got injured and I had to step in for him. So I had 19-minutes to learn a completely new part, try out costumes I have never worn before, practice on stage during intermission for spacing and perform it there and then in front of both the choreographer and his assistant who came specially from Rotterdam to watch the performance.
Can you share some of your challenges faced while pursuing ballet as a career?
My mum is a ballet teacher and so she started me off on it since young. When I was 11 years old, I told her that I wanted to pursue it as a career, and that’s when the intensity of my training ramped up. I guess the hardships of ballet could be categorised into two parts: First, with my mum being my ballet teacher, there was no parent that I could complain to about my teacher being harsh. Though, with my mum being my ballet teacher, I knew I would get the best training, even if it was at the expense of tears at times!
The other part, which I found to be the harder aspect, is the mental strength needed. The times when you think “Is this right for me? Why is it so difficult?”, or the times when my elders did not fully comprehend my decision and say things like, “Oh, you mean you want to be like a ballet teacher for after school activities?” or “So when are you going to get a real job?”. There was also a time when a guest tutor in New Zealand called me “delusional” without any context or substantial backing. I just had to deal with it and continue pushing on.
Still, I was very fortunate to not encounter any bullying from my peers and teachers in school while I was studying in Subang Jaya. And whatever negativity that I did encounter helped to build my tenacity and grit to get what I want in life.
Your mother is a ballet teacher, which is what kick started your passion in dancing. Do you see yourself one day becoming a teacher as well?
I think it’s a bit too early to tell. I do teach adult ballet at SDT during the weekends and I enjoy it . I’ve been working on enhancing myself in other areas as well. I’m currently working towards getting my BSc in Business and Management via distance learning with the University of London and London School of Economics while having a full-time dance career, so that will help keep many doors open for my future goals. Maybe I will stay on in the industry as part of a ballet company’s artistic staff or move on to other industries? I’ll keep those options open.
How does it feel to come back to perform in Malaysia?
To put it nicely, there is a sense of coming full circle with a hint of nostalgia. Not as nervous as I was last year, having done it before now, but there is a sense of home, to be performing in the same theatre where I watched my very first performance by a professional ballet company. Also, I get to perform for my friends and teachers. It is just a great feeling to have.
Ballet Illuminations is on at Pentas 1 of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre from Sept 6-8, and the Performing Arts Centre of Penang from Sept 13-15. Tickets are priced at RM25, RM38 and RM48. Buy KL tickets here and Penang tickets here.