Regal ease: Kana Minegishi makes her mark in Singapore Dance Theatre’s Swan Lake

Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
December 7 & 8, 2019

Joy Wang X.Y.

For a long time, Singapore Dance Theatre’s performances of the great classics have missed one crucial ingredient: live music. This season the company sought the services of the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra. Under the assured baton of conductor Joshua Tan Kang Ming, the effect of live music was instantly transformative. SDT’s Swan Lake has never felt brighter.

In part, that too is because the company seems to have found a distinctive new Swan Queen. On paper Kana Minegishi is not the most obvious Odette/Odile. She has been in the company since 2016 but I don’t seem to recall seeing her in a major classical role before. Rather petite, Mingeishi does not have the longest of lines. This in a role where narrative is quite literally unspooled through one arabesque after another can be complicated.

Kana Minegishi and Kenya Nakamura in Swan LakePhoto Bernie Ng
Kana Minegishi and Kenya Nakamura in Swan Lake
Photo Bernie Ng

But while Mingeishi might not make the most extraordinary shapes she manages something far more difficult. She offers already, in this her first principal role with SDT, a sustained dramatic vision.

There is beautiful length to her upper body. You feel her elongating from her back all the way through to her fingertips. Importantly, she uses it to create multiple effects. Quivering and tremulous at the start and later, pleading and expansive. There is something wonderfully soulful, almost otherworldly about her Odette. But in the way she seems to search for her partner’s eyes with every twist and bend of the torso, the pas de deux also feels like a deeply human statement of love. She uses superb technical control: the diagonal of turns in Odette’s variation were taken with the head directed heavenwards, and her sensitive phrasing built Act Two to a thrilling, musically piquant finale.

As Odile, she offers subtle distinctions: sharper musical accents, tauter lines, a proud lift to the neck. Instead of relying on caricature she lets the authority of her dancing speak for her. She sails through Odile’s variation with regal ease. It is a performance that announces her as an interpreter of real intelligence.

As her prince however, Kenya Nakamura danced with a general air of ennui. On Sunday night though, it didn’t quite matter. Minegishi was revelation enough.

Satoru Agetsuma with Kwok Min Yi as Odile in Swan LakePhoto Bernie Ng
Satoru Agetsuma with Kwok Min Yi as Odile in Swan Lake
Photo Bernie Ng

The second cast which I caught on Saturday night was more uneven but in Satoru Agetsuma’s Prince Siegfried it saw another performance of great promise.

In his second performance of this role, Agetsuma doesn’t yet give Siegfried much of an inner life. When he bounds onstage, his prince feels very much like a happy young man full of life. It is not quite clear what draws him to the dark night of the forest or what keeps him there. In a way, his feels like a more populist interpretation; he doesn’t seem that much different from his subjects.

That is until he starts to dance, when it quickly becomes clear that here is a special dancer. His jumps have wonderful spring, his landings are cat-like, silent and he laps up the stage with such eagerness that it is hard not to be sucked into the vortex of his excitement. There is too in the elegance of his carriage a hint of gravitas.

On both nights, the principals were supported by an effective corps of swans. So much of Swan Lake is about Odette/Odile. But really it is also about the women as a collective. They are the ones that sustain the ballet lyric thread; that give it the tragic ring of a Greek chorus. On Sunday their plaintive echoes spun out with eloquent force. Kudos to them.