Ball of a Time: TFI interviews Janek Schergen, Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura, on ‘Cinderella’| The Flying Inkpot
It’s been 9 years since the then-Singapore Dance Theatre’s last new full-length ballet, Don Quixote, in 2014. Originally planned for 2017, Singapore Ballet Artistic Director Janek Schergen’s Cinderella is finally resplendently ready for the ball – or rather, the stage. It will be the 1st time that the design team is fully Singaporean, with Leonard Augustine Choo’s costumes and Eucien Chia’s sets. Aileen Tang chats with Schergen for a glimpse into his vision of the well-loved fairytale, as well as with Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura, Singapore Ballet’s principal dancers who will be taking their last bow with the closing show of Cinderella.
The Flying Inkpot: What made you decide to choreograph a brand-new production of Cinderella?
Janek Schergen: The previous version we did was by Graham Lustig for Singapore Dance Theatre in 1996 when the professional level [of the company] was not yet what we have today. I wanted to do a version of the fairytale that would be more reflective of Singapore Ballet today with complex choreography and sophisticated design.
TFI: What was the most challenging part of the creative process?
JS: Time and budget. There is always a lack of dedicated rehearsal time and the budget needs to do justice to a three-act ballet with sets, costumes, lighting, a full cast of 40 dancers and an orchestra.
TFI: There is also a lot of anticipation about the costumes and the set. Can you tell us something about that?
JS: Leonard Choo, the costume designer, has great knowledge and understanding of design and how to transfer it from paper to actual costumes. Details with fabrics, wigs, and embellishments add immeasurably to it. The same is true with Eucien Chia’s set designs.
TFI: What is the impact of having a live orchestra for the performances?
JS: The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra with Joshua Tan conducting will give life and energy to Sergei Prokofiev’s remarkably beautiful scores. Live music inspires the dancers in a unique way.
TFI: In what way might this production be a reflection of how far Singapore Ballet has come?
JS: Certainly, in most of the artistic terms, each new ballet builds upon the strength of the previous repertoire. In 1996, SDT was only eight years old. Now, at 35 years of accomplishment, we can bring all the confidence and artistic maturity of the dancers to the stage with confidence.
TFI: Chihiro and Kenya, how does it feel to be dancing the roles of yet another iconic “royal couple”, and this time in a new production for Singapore Ballet?
Chihiro Uchida: Very exciting. I’m truly happy and privileged to be still learning and challenging something new at this stage of my life.
Kenya Nakamura: I have danced various Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and other princes, but dancing in Cinderella is an honour for me as it is the first new Singapore Ballet production since Don Quixote in 2014.
TFI: Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. Is there any way in which you identify with the roles you’ll be dancing – Chihiro as Cinderella and Kenya as the Prince?
CU: The way she looks on the bright side of things. I think she will see the glass as half-full when others will see it as half-empty. I’m an optimistic person too and my motto is: keep my chin up and go with the flow.
KN: Chihiro and I met and got married based on true love. But beyond that, I am not a prince, and it is a bit difficult to know where else I can relate!
TFI: You both met at the then-Singapore Dance Theatre, got married and now have a little girl. Can you tell us briefly about that journey for the 2 of you?
KN: I met Chihiro when I joined Singapore Dance Theatre in 2011. We danced in many productions together and developed a great bond and love for each other.
We got married in 2017 and had a daughter in 2019. She’s now 4 years old, and she is a confident, independent and energetic girl who always folds her arms and tries to rebel against me!
TFI: Cinderella will also be the final performance for both of you. How does it feel to know that you’ll be taking your last bow with Singapore Ballet in less than a month?
CU: I have been surprised by the response from everyone. My heart is filled with so much gratitude. I live one day at a time so I’ll find out how it feels like it on the actual day itself but I’m so happy and grateful that I can take my final bow with Kenya and share this special moment with him. I think it’s a perfect way to end my precious 18 years of career with Singapore Ballet and I wouldn’t want it in any other way.
KN: It is a strange feeling, I started ballet when I was 6 years old. I have no idea how many tens of thousands of plies and tendus I have done in the past 30 years, and I truly love ballet, the dance and the stage, and I consider it my purpose in life.
But strangely enough, I am not that reluctant to leave ballet. Part of it is because I want to see who I will be next, but I think I will probably feel the same way in the future when I get older and say goodbye to my life one day because I will feel that I have accomplished something. So I hope for Cinderella to be a performance where I can give it all I’ve got.
Tickets for Cinderella are available from SISTIC:
Cinderella 2023 | Singapore Ballet
With live music from Metropolitan Festival Orchestra
14-15 Dec (8pm), 16 Dec (3pm & 8pm), 17 Dec (3pm & 7pm)