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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dancing with the Devil: A Review of "The Soldier's Tale" by the Singapore Dance Theatre



You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
This is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing;
Two, is as if they had never been.

-The Narrator in "The Soldier's Tale"


Igor Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale is a moralistic story of a soldier who trades away his violin to the devil for a book that promises him a limitless supply of wealth. Based on a Russian folk story, the libretto was set in a post-World War One world, one where consumerism was on the rise, and where Russia had just overthrown its czar in exchange for a Bolshevik government. The tone of the performance is understandably dark, and the central theme of the Faustian bargain undergirds the role of the key players, notably The Soldier, The Devil and The Narrator, as they dance the delicate balance between life and death. Throughout the show the audience is kept at the edge of their seats, as they wonder whether The Soldier would be able to eke out a new existence or if he would eventually succumb to the devious wiles of The Devil.

Stravinsky's epic tale of the battle between good and evil.
The Singapore Dance Theatre's interpretation of Stravinsky's arrangement was as ambitious as it was fascinating, incorporating elements of drama, dance and orchestra music all in one sitting. Choreographer Timothy Coleman capitalised on the strengths of each genre to spin a haunting story of a soldier at the back and call of the Devil. Of notable mention was Stefaan Morrow, whose portrayal of The Soldier with his marionette-like movements conveyed the mental and emotional control that had been exerted on him. Morrow's performance was in stark contrast to Nazer Salgado's charismatic portrayal of The Devil, all dressed in a stunningly-charming outfit of dazzling white. Coleman himself also wowed the crowd in his role as the Narrator of a lyrical prose that captured the imagination of the audience.
The Soldier constantly haunted by his bargain with the Devil.
The Soldier's Tale encapsulates a unique approach in the areas of music and dance. Composed in 1918, Stravinsky incorporated neoclassical elements in his work, essentially shrinking the full orchestra suite to a simple septet of bassoon, trombone, clarinet, percussion, string bass, trumpet and violin. With conductor Adrian Tan and celebrated violinist Loh Jun Hong at its helm, the ensemble was versatile in its music presentation, and its repertoire included several marches and a pastorale. The dances were also especially alluring, with interesting forms such as the tango, waltz and ragtime. Particularly fascinating was the scene when The Soldier played his game of cards with The Devil, utilising dance as a conduit to tell the story. The intimate couple dances between The Soldier and The Princess also served to convey the importance of love and its emergence as a countering force of influence against the greed encouraged by The Devil.
Will love triumph over greed and the power of evil?
The strength of The Soldier's Tale lies in the interplay between drama and dance, and between music and drama. For instance, the musicians all joined in a scene to "laugh" at The Soldier. And, there was also an interesting moment when The Devil attempted to hijack the role of the composer by seizing control of the orchestra. 
Whose tune do you dance to?

In all, the performance was highly entertaining and we were riveted until the end. If the words of our 4-year-old son Z are an indication, it was clear that the production was a resounding success. Z told us he found that the violin created very "graceful" music, and that he had enjoyed the "majestic" heralding voice of the trumpet. 


The Singapore Dance Theatre's "The Soldier's Tale" was performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 15 and 16 November 2014. All photographs are the property of the SDT and were used with their permission.

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