Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) is set to hit Penang on May 16 to perform classical to contemporary pieces. We caught up with SDT’s passionate senior artist and lifelong dancer, Chihiro Uchida, for a chat.
How early did you start dancing? Who or what inspired you to put on your dancing shoes?
I started taking ballet lessons when I was two-and-a-half years old. From the moment I could walk, I would dance in front of the TV with any music that was playing, so my mum thought of letting me put on my dancing shoes and attend class. I ended up loving it and have been doing it ever since.
You have been with the SDT for about nine years. Can you reveal the workings of SDT's artistic team?
Our company has dancers from all over the world. We normally work from 10am to 5.30pm five days a week. Once a month on Saturdays, we have studio showings for the public, and when we have performances, we are on stage Saturdays and Sundays as well. We rehearse for upcoming performances every day. It can be quite intensive, especially when we have to rehearse five to six different ballets in one day or rehearse for a full length ballet, but no matter how hard it may seem, it is always a joy to dance.
You are one of SDT's principal dancers, taking on various roles such as Odette/ Odile in Swan Lake and Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. How did you get to be here?
I am very lucky and grateful to have all my ballet coaches, senior dancers, dancing partners and colleagues, who have taught me so much. And of course, my family's support is vital. I am thankful for all the opportunities that have been given to me from both the directors I have worked with, Ms Goh Soo Khim and Mr Janek Schergen. These experiences helped me grow as a dancer.
I like to go with the flow. Take it one day at a time, keep working hard and simply find joy in dancing every day. And hopefully one day in the future, I will be able to teach and inspire students who want to become professional dancers.
Becoming a successful ballerina takes lots of hard work and practice. What are the qualities required to be in this profession?
Ballerinas are artistes but also athletes. I think staying healthy is important for us in order to last through the tough practices we have every day, and we definitely have to be mentally strong to cope with the pressures and expectations and to stay determined and confident to perform on stage. But at the end of the day, we must enjoy what we do, no matter what. The love for dance is essential to be in this industry!
Romeo and Juliet.
SDT performs six seasons annually, with three full ballet performances on the stage of Singapore's Esplanade Theatre. Having such a busy schedule, how do you balance between dancing and leisure?
I have learned to have a healthier dancing and work-leisure balance over the years. My life pretty much revolves around dancing, but I try to draw a line between work and leisure. Once I'm outside the studio I can usually switch off from work. When performances are just around the corner, I tend to focus more on work than leisure, but I think that's necessary. I enjoy working hard, but I also like to spend time on relaxing activities like massages, shopping, cooking, eating good food and watching movies after hours and during weekends. We don't get many holidays during the year, but when we do have one, I love to travel and unwind.
Absence of Story.
You won the Idemitsu Kousan Scholarship at the 8th Asian Pacific International Ballet Competition in Tokyo, and were later accepted into The Australian Ballet School. How was it different dancing in Japan and Australia, and later on in Singapore and other cities?
The Australian Ballet School is a fulltime ballet school, and it was my first experience with dancing and learning ballet throughout the entire day. Their curriculum comprises not just classical ballet, but also contemporary ballet and character dance, which I never actually studied when I was in Japan.
I've travelled to Malaysia, China, Korea and France with SDT, and I feel that different cities give me different vibes. I still feel most comfortable dancing in Singapore, which I think is because I've been with the company for a while now and some of the audiences know me. It’s my home for now.
Tell us a bit about Ballet Illuminations. What can we expect?
It has a very good line-up – we'll be showing classical to contemporary pieces, and each piece has its own unique style that differs from the others, so it'll be very exciting for the audience to watch!
Ballet Illuminations is definitely something special for us, especially because we are î Lambarena. given the opportunity to perform outside Singapore and to have new audiences. I think Don Quixote grand pas de deux is something that will excite the audiences as it is a great spectacle! Also, Lambarena, choreographed by Val Caniparoli, which has an African flavour fused with classical ballet, will be a unique one to look out for!
Are you nervous about performing in Penang?
I'm not nervous now, but I will probably get a little nervous before the show, especially because I'll be performing some challenging ballet this time in Penang as well as in KL. I just hope that you will enjoy watching us and remember us until we come back to perform again in the future.
Chihiro Uchida will be performing SDT’s Ballet Illuminations at the Penangpac on May 16 and 17. For more information, call +604 899 1722 or +604 899 2722, or visit the Penangpac website at www.penangpac.org.
Julia Tan is assistant editor for Penang Monthly. She usually has two left feet and has recently found a love for reading Terry Pratchett.