Behind the Scenes: SDT’s The Nutcracker

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By: Joni Tan

Dancer Joni Tan who will be performing in SDT’s The Nutcracker, shares with ArtZine a sneak peek of their rehearsals.

Behind the Scenes: The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker by Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) is just around the corner and I’m getting all excited about watching the performance – from backstage. As one of the performers, I’m enjoying every bit of it as I witness the building of the entire production from choreography to performance.

I’m in the corps de ballet and will be involved in the Snow scene (Act 1) and Waltz of the Flowers (Act 2). The first time I did a production with SDT was in 2005 – in the same roles. No, I’m definitely not bored with it. In fact, it’s been an interesting experience for me!

Auditions for corps de ballet dancers were held in early August. Eventhough I’ve been through numerous auditions for SDT, it was still as nerve-wrecking as ever! There were about 40 dancers auditioning for the corps de ballet roles. After a few elimination rounds, we were left with 20 dancers and 3 understudies.

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Photo from Joni Tan

The Rehearsals

Rehearsals started out as twice a week trainings from September till October, then increased to thrice a week in early November. In comparison to 2005, the first month or so of rehearsals felt more relaxed. The one in 2005 was choreographed from scratch and we had to run through small sections (that ranged from a few seconds to a minute) for what seemed like millions of times, each time with a little alteration to the legs, arms or position on stage.

By the end of each rehearsal, we’d be confused which was the final version. This time round all we had to do was learn more or less finalised steps with bits and pieces of choreography changed. Probably another reason as to why everything went much smoother is that the batch of corps de ballet this year is much stronger than the 2005 batch.

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Photo by SDT

Towards the end of November, rehearsals intensified as the corps had to attend combined rehearsals with the main company. This was where more changes were made to the choreography (to make sure the corps and company dancers didn’t bump into each other on stage). We also began our full-runs and dress rehearsals.

I was glad I could still fit into my 2005 costume! The full-runs and dress rehearsals were fun as we got to see how the whole production looked like after only months of rehearsing our small segments of the ballet. The little kids doing the role of rats look so adorable with their faces painted to look like real rats!

Photo by Victoria Ong
Auditions Photo by Victoria Ong

Unsung Heroes

During rehearsals, many stagehands and production assistants ran about looking after the younger kids, calling cues and tended to the tiniest details. There was one rehearsal where I saw about five burly men who were probably stage hands, sitting around a garbage bag in the SDT office and cutting up confetti for the performance. I’m quite sure that their actual job was to shift heavy props or something along that line! I’m deeply appreciative of these unsung heroes who slog for us and don’t receive the audiences’ applause at the end of performances.

My favourite part…

… is towards the end of Act 2 when the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince dance. The role of Sugar Plum Fairy is shared between Natalie Clarke and Nari Pak on alternate performances. Like all performing arts, ballet is an art where you cannot show your tiredness or pain while on stage. During the rehearsals, Natalie and Nari dance with lightness and ease of magical fairies in their solo and pas de deux sections. However, the moment they step out beyond the stage markings, exhaustion is obvious as they pant and try to regain their composure as a tall and proud ballerina. It’s probably the most demanding section out of the whole ballet – technically and physically. It’s simply amazing how the dancers have the stamina to last through it.

What I’ll miss…

… walking up Fort Canning Hill’s countless steps to where SDT is located, as we move to Esplanade for the remaining rehearsals before the performance. However, I’m looking forward to the upcoming performance with anticipation. Enjoy!

Read our interview with the choreographer for SDT’s The Nutcracker, Jeffrey Tan here.

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Photo by Chester Tan

This article was written by guest writer Joni Tan who has been teaching at NUS Dance Synergy, CHIJ Katong and CHIJ Toa Payoh, and is an assistant teacher at MGS and SCGS. As a dancer, she has performed in numerous musicals and dance performances, including performances with the Singapore Dance Theatre in their major productions. She possesses a Distinction in Level 2 Vocational Graded Examination in Dance (Intermediate) from the Royal Academy of Dance. Joni is also a musician and a psychology graduate from NUS.

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