Tealeaves Folio



Singapore Dance Theatre: How ballet has changed

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#OverACupOfTealeaves: At TEALEAVES, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is a story to tell and wisdom to share. Our team had the opportunity to connect with Janek Schergen of the Singapore Dance Theatre, and here is what we learned.


Janek Schergen’s career has spanned over 30 years, dancing with a number of prestigious ballet schools. One of his many roles was ballet master of the Norwegian National Ballet (2002-2006), and in 2008, Schergen was appointed Artistic Director of the Singapore Dance Theatre. In addition to dancing, teaching, and directing, Schergen has been part of several committees and panels, been invited to judge ballet competitions, and won awards for his dedication and contribution to the art.

Janek Schergen from Singapore Dance Theatre

Having started dancing at eight years old, Schergen never doubted that ballet would be the main focus throughout his life.

“I knew I was meant to be a dancer from young. I thought it was the ultimate

achievement and the most perfect way to live my life. I never considered anything else.”

Read on to learn more about the challenges behind keeping the ballet relevant in the modernist world.


TEALEAVES: What are some iconic ballet moves, sequences, or techniques in Sleeping Beauty, and how many hours does it take to perfect them?

Schergen: The most famous section of the ballet Sleeping Beauty occurs in ACT I and is called the Rose Adagio. Aurora does a dance with four princes who all are vying for her attention. It takes daily rehearsals over the span of 4 – 6 weeks of rehearsal to gain the technical security and artistry to achieve.


TEALEAVES: How many hours of training is behind each minute of choreography?

Schergen: Every minute of choreography on stage represents about two hours of rehearsal. So a 30 minute ballet usually has been given up to 60 hours in rehearsal preparation. If the cast is smaller that can possibly lessen the time, but a large cast (24 or more dancers), 1 – 2 hours for every minute on stage is usual. Sleeping Beauty has 40 dancers and is about 2 hours.


TEALEAVES: How often are rehearsals and what is your role during rehearsals?

Schergen: At Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), we do rehearsals 5 days a week, starting with daily class at 10.00am and then rehearsal from 11.45am – 5.30pm. I teach class, and rehearse classical & neoclassical repertoires.


TEALEAVES: What is the timeline like to learn a new technique or choreography?

Schergen: New ballets are generally given four weeks of creation time. We have between  3-4 new ballets enter the repertoire each year. The rest of our performance repertoire is drawn from existing productions.


TEALEAVES: How long have you been dancing?

Schergen: I began training at eight, became a professional at 19 and a ballet master at 30. I came from a family with classical music and dance, so it was normal to me.


TEALEAVES: How does your relationship with ballet change with time?

Schergen: I have been associated with SDT for 30 years. I originally taught them specific productions. In 2007, I became a full time part of the company. I do the artistic side with teaching, rehearsal and putting productions on stage, as well as the artistic planning and forward planning in scheduling Singapore performances, tours, engaging dancers and choreographers and overall structure to SDT.

Sleeping Beauty by Bernie Ng

TEALEAVES: How can/does ballet remain relevant and become more accessible and relatable to younger generations?

Schergen: Dance is one of the fine arts and it is as relevant and evolving as theatre, music and literature. Classical ballet and music is connected to heritage and both art forms develop from roots.


TEALEAVES: Where do you think the future of ballet is headed? (ie. are we seeing more diversity, different styles of dance merging together, modern takes on classical ballets, etc)

Schergen: Classical ballet and contemporary work began to merge a long time ago, notably with the ballet ruses in the early part of the 20th Century. George Balanchine with the New York City Ballet was a main catalyst for change, the establishment of “Dance Theatre” was done by Netherlands Dance Theatre from their start in 1959.


TEALEAVES: What is your favorite ballet/choreography that you’ve performed? Why?

Schergen: As a dancer, I was more drawn to neoclassical work. I did the whole spectrum from pure classical ballet, to Balanchine and modern ballet of Paul Taylor and Jose Limon. I liked everything if it meant I could move.

I never had a favorite. It was always what I was doing at the moment.


TEALEAVES: How do you put your own personality in your artistic direction?

Schergen: I don’t, I represent SDT’s outlook and creative scope first and foremost. The performance is for an audience, not me, and I never forget that.


TEALEAVES: What is the most challenging aspect of your role (that people wouldn’t think of)?

Schergen:  It is hard to keep moving forward at a restless pace when sometimes you’d like to pursue the development of quality and artistic depth.


TEALEAVES: What message do you try to portray to the audience in your choreographies?

Schergen:  As we represent the spectrum of pure classical ballet, to international repertoire

as well as contemporary work I like to seek a balance to all of those things in relation to

each other.


TEALEAVES: How has your role as Artistic Director changed your perspective on ballet?

Schergen: It has taught me balance and a degree of patience is developing a long range artistic goal. The most rewarding part about the ballet world altogether is the values it has taught me and the person it has allowed me to be.


Sleeping Beauty by Bernie Ng


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