Celebrating International Dance Day: five of Singapore’s most innovative dance groups you should check out
In the week of International Dance Day (29 Apr), The A List shines a spotlight on five of Singapore’s most innovative and dynamic dance groups.
Our selection takes in the classical Indian dance of Apsaras Arts and the experimental contemporary dance of RAW Moves – one of the newer companies that keep the Singaporean dance scene fresh and energetic.
These dance groups combine world-class dance talent with community outreach initiatives designed to make the creative movement in our Little Red Dot more vibrant and inclusive.
1. Apsaras Arts
With more than four decades of creating and performing innovative Indian dance productions, Apsaras Arts has steadily developed into a performing arts company of international standing.
Since 2005, under the leadership of award-winning artistic director, Aravinth Kumarasamy, Apsaras Arts has focused on making new work within the traditions of Indian dance that is fresh and relevant to modern audiences, and it has taken this fusion of contemporary aesthetics and classical technique out into the world. Dancers and musicians of Apsaras Arts have toured to more than 40 countries and counting.
At home, the Apsaras Arts Academy is active at Goodman Arts Centre, Siglap South Community Centre, and the Global Indian International School at Punggol, offering classes for children and adults in several classical dance genres. The latest initiative is an introductory syllabus called Bala Bharatham for children aged 4-6 years.
The recent passing of Mrs Santha Bhaskar brought Singapore’s rich tradition of Indian dance to the fore. Proving that the local scene is as vibrant as ever, Parama Padam brings to life an ancient board game (later simplified to make the ubiquitous children’s game, Snakes and Ladders) created a thousand years ago by followers of the Vaishnavite faith to teach moral values.
This hour-long solo performance stars Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, principal dancer and resident choreographer of Apsaras Arts Dance Company. Parama Padam premiered at the Esplanade in early 2019 and has since toured France and Sri Lanka.
Get along to Wild Rice @ Funan on 6-7 May to enjoy one of the world’s leading exponents of the Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance. You can book tickets here.
2. Frontier Danceland
Frontier Danceland is a standard-bearer for professional contemporary dance in Singapore. Founded by Low Mei Yoke and Tan Chong Poh in 1991, it became a full-fledged repertory company in 2011 and, down the years, has collaborated with many top names in the international dance world.
Frontier Danceland represented Singapore internationally, notably at Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv (Israel), Kuandu Arts Festival (Taiwan), the 25th Quinzena De Dança De Almada – International Dance Festival (Portugal), Festival Tour d’Horizons (France), and Dance in the City (Belgium/Germany).
An ever-present creative force as artistic director, 2018 Cultural Medallion recipient Low Mei Yoke holds fast to her vision of creating a unique blend of contemporary with a distinctive Singaporean style, fusing Eastern aesthetic with a Western movement vocabulary.
When pandemic measures restricted live performances, Frontier Danceland embarked on a series of filmic performances, the latest of which was streamed live on SISTIC on 14 and 22 Jan in collaboration with Singaporean director, Kris Ong and Ecuadorian composer, Omar Khalife. As live performance returns to the stage, the company created a full-length piece entitled More Than Human with Israeli dance artist, Shahar Binyamini, which premiered at the School of the Arts (SOTA) studio Theatre on 18 Feb.
Not only does Frontier Danceland plug Singapore into the international dance world, but it also nurtures emerging local talent. Goodman Arts Centre was the venue for the 12th edition of LEAP in March, the coming out show for a group of dancers sponsored by the company through a year of contemporary dance training.
Members of the public can now experience the Frontier Danceland aesthetic themselves by attending a short course and improvisation jam facilitated by company artist, Ma YueRu. A trial class on 2 May is followed by a four-class course on 9, 16, 23 and 30 May (register here). There is also a 6-part course in May and June led by company artist, Tan Xin Yen (register here). No prior experience is needed!
3. Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre
Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre (SCDT) was incorporated as a professional dance company in 2014 with a mission to promote Chinese dance of artistic and creative excellence. Led by artistic director Jenny Neo, SCDT plays a vital role in developing and exploring the Chinese dance identity in Singapore
To date, the company has put up eight significant productions, including dance drama A Startling Dream (2014), ROOTED | A Triple Bill and Journey: Purpose in Motion (2015), dance drama Life’s A Stage (2016), HEARTiculation (2017), dance drama The Greatest Good (2018), Crossings: A Double Bill (2019), and its first digital production, The Susurration of the Tree, in 2021.
The Sussuraton of the Tree has been adapted into a Virtual Reality (VR) dance experience in collaboration with creative-tech startup, Avventura, and is a perfect example of how the dance scene in Singapore is embracing the shift to digital which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been quite a journey since Lim Moi Kim founded the SCDT’s forerunner, Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Dance Theatre, in 1989 as an amateur troupe offering Chinese dance courses and performing opportunities for local dance enthusiasts. Check out SCDT’s upcoming performance at Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on 29 and 20 Aprl
4. RAW Moves
Contemporary dance company RAW Moves celebrated its 10th birthday in 2021 and opened this year with a renewed three-year grant under the National Arts Council’s Major Company Scheme through March 2025. The grant rewards a holistic and experimental programme of movement and dance that encompasses artmaking, research, and dance in the community.
A special programme, called A Little Raw, draws in children and teenagers of different abilities, guiding participants to move beyond the boundaries of conventional methodology in dance. These programmes are helmed by co-director, Wai Yee, who has 30 years as an independent performer, choreographer, and dance educator under her belt.
5. Scarlet Mela Festival of the Arts
Vibrant dance culture is rooted in initiatives like the Scarlet Mela Festival of the Arts (SMFA). Created to nurture and celebrate talented young dancers, SMFA aims to build a community of artists who value tradition while at the same time seeking to push boundaries to keep things contemporary and relevant.
The inaugural SMFA is the fruit of an intensive incubation programme for Chinese, Malay, and Indian dancers in Singapore. Selected after an open call, participants went through an intensive 8-week programme of ideation, choreography, workshops, rehearsal, and feedback. On 27 Mar, each participant presented a work-in-progress performance for producers in the arts industry.