We catch up with Silvia Yong, Associate Artistic Director of T.H.E. Second Company, on the challenges of teaching the next generation of dancers.
You were part of da:ns festival’s commission, Above 40, several years back. As a dancer in your forties with a long career, what do you look for when you go on stage?
I decided to accept the commission because, firstly, it allowed me to dance again with my friends. The second reason is because I wanted to rediscover that sense of satisfaction. Being a dancer is also like being an actor; when we’re on stage, we need to express emotions, be it passion, or sadness or anger. I feel that satisfaction when I arrive at that emotion within myself. It’s that moment on stage when you can offer the audience something that you long to present. It’s not something technical but comes from the spirit, an innate sense. I feel this more now, especially now that I’m not able to dance like I could in the past.
You suffered an injury three years ago. How did it affect you?
It’s still affecting me today. Due to the large range of movements that I perform as a dancer, there was quite a bit wear and tear in my hip joint, so I had to go for an operation. However, the outcome of the operation was not the most ideal. As a result, my technique and ability to perform have been reduced to about 50 percent of what I used to be able to achieve.
From a psychological perspective, it was quite upsetting and it took some time to adjust to the new state of my body. However, I was ready to retire and start a family, so perhaps it happened at a less detrimental time.
How do you think dance education in Singapore has changed?
Unlike the past, where individuals with dance experience and passion could teach, the government now lays down certain rules so that only those who are certified are able to teach. It’s good for our students, as this ensures that they are learning from qualified dance educators.
The current mindset is to give students as much as possible, to let them learn from different teachers and instructors. On the one hand, it’s good for them to be exposed to different styles, philosophies and principles; on the other it may not truly aid their learning. Before they completely grasp one technique, they receive a different set of instructions from another teacher. Without the filter that comes with experience, it can be confusing for students.
I think one needs to be clear on who he/she is as an artist. But that may take many years to discover and unfold.
You lead T.H.E. Second Company, who talent spots young dancers who are not ready to join a professional company. How do you choose your dancers?
Besides technique, personally, I place a lot of emphasis on attitude. I interview them to find out how they go about learning and the intentions behind their desire to join us; for instance, do they want to work with us long-term, or are they looking for a stepping stone?
I also look at their ability to focus and be absorbed in the art form. Also, humility, because having the passion is not enough; you need to be able to take a bit of hardship. A lot of people love to perform, but they overlook the tough training process that is necessary before the stage performance can materialise.
This is the first time local choreographer Albert (Tiong) is choreographing for T.H.E. Second Company in Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX). You’ve been friends with Albert for a long time. How did you persuade him?
As you said we’re friends, so I invited him and he just said yes (laughs). I didn’t have to persuade him. With T.H.E. Second Company, we usually collaborate with younger choreographers, so I’ve never invited him in the past.
What do you hope Albert could bring to the dancers of T.H.E. Second Company?
A lot of the choreographers we bring in to work with our dancers are very open. If the dancers can’t seem to achieve a certain style or technique, they may allow the dancers to execute the movements within their own range.
Albert has clear beliefs and a specific vision. He’s very rigorous about this – and he will ensure that you achieve exactly what he has in mind. I want him to bring discipline to my dancers, and the idea that easy compromise should be the very last option. This is the type of training that dancers lack today.
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Bernie Ng. Catch the dancers of T.H.E Second Company in Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX) on 26 June.