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Singapore Dance Theatre: Meet the tireless advocates shaping Singapore’s professional dance scene

Cultivating the dance scene in Singapore is no easy task. These are the dreamers, believers and doers who moved mountains.

Everything has a beginning. The Singapore Dance Theatre was Singapore’s first professional dance company. In three decades, what began a team of seven dancers has scaled into a full-fledged assemble of 32 dancers and apprentices. Unbeknownst to many are the tremendous sacrifices of its pioneer dancers. Not to mention the family of respected dance figures that feature in this origin story. Think ballet maestro Goh Choo San, his two sisters Goh Soo Nee and Goh Soo Khim, as well Soo Khim’s husband Daniel Teo, all tireless advocates for the art form. Despite the death of Goh Choo San in 1987, which set the company off to a grievous and rocky start, the Singapore Dance Theatre has found its way to international acclaim.

 

GOH CHOO SAN

Goh Choo San was the resident choreographer for the Washington Dance Company
Photo credit: The Straits Times

Goh Choo San is known to be Singapore’s ballet legend. Referred to as ‘very slim, but very keen’ by former Singapore Ballet Academy teacher, Florrie Sinclair, he was known by many to be extremely passionate about dance. Before taking up the role he found fame in as resident choreographer at the Washington Ballet USA, he was the official choreographer at the Singapore Ballet Academy. His passion for dance took him far, and he created 14 original works such as Fives, Birds of Paradise, and Unknown Territory, to name a few. These works greatly raised the profile of the Washington Ballet to an international stage.

Choo San contributed one of his works, Beginnings, to inaugurate the Singapore Dance Theatre. However, shortly before its debut, he passed away. His works and choreographies, eleven of which would continue to be staged by the Singapore Dance Theatre in the years to come, are a commemoration of his talent as well as a key contribution to Singapore Dance Theatre’s repertoire.

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GOH SOO KHIM

Goh Soo Khim was honoured with Her World Woman Of The Year 2008 award.
Photo credit: The Straits Times

Goh Soo Khim, 74, is a highly respected ballet figure in Singapore’s dance scene, being the first Asian to be accepted into the prestigious Australia Ballet School, and the subsequent principal dancer and trainer in the Singapore Ballet Academy. The sheer amount of hard work she put in, coupled with her passion for dance, was what shaped the Singapore Dance Theatre into what it is today. Goh Soo Khim co-founded the Singapore Dance Theatre in 1988 with the late Anthony Then, relying on $50,000 seed money from the Ministry of Community Development.

The company was small, starting out with only seven founding dancers, and had humble beginnings, staging both classical and contemporary works by regional choreographers. Soo Khim would take on multiple roles such as ballet master, costume designer and tailor. There were times in which she felt like throwing in the towel, especially in the face of tragedy, such as the passing of her brother Goh Choo San and the death of her co-founder and good friend, Anthony Then. However, what kept her going was the joy of her dancers.

To this day, she remains involved with the company, and is now Singapore Dance Theatre’s director emeritus.

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GOH SOO NEE

Goh Choo San, Goh Soo Khim, their mother, Goh Choo Chiat and Goh Soo Nee.
Photo credit: Ms Goh Soo Khim

Goh Soo Nee is one of the most respected ballet icons in Singapore. Having founded the Singapore Ballet Academy in 1958 with Frances Poh and Vernon Martinus, she played a crucial part in advancing the dance scene in Singapore. Under her tutelage, many young dancers, including her siblings Soo Khim and Choo San, would eventually move on to pursue dance professionally. During the Singapore Dance Theatre’s formative years, it would rely heavily on the Singapore Ballet Academy for dancers and studio space.

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DANIEL TEO

Daniel Teo is a veteran property developer and art gallery owner.
Photo credit: The Straits Times

Daniel Teo, an established property developer and arts enthusiast, is commonly referred to as Goh Soo Khim’s childhood sweetheart. The two married in Australia back in 1969 and moved back to Singapore, where Goh Soo Khim took over the role of director and principal of Singapore Ballet Academy. When she co-founded the Singapore Dance Theatre in 1988, he helped out greatly behind the scenes, raising funds and organising visits by foreign choreographers as well as scouting for new up and coming dancers. Attributing a large part of her success to him, Soo Khim refers to her husband as her ‘invisible hero’. He now sits on the board of directors of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

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A look at other dancers who’ve contributed to Singapore’s professional dance scene:

  • Anthony Then

    After obtaining the Advanced Royal Academy of Dance certificate from the Singapore Ballet Academy, he went on to the Rambert School of Ballet in London to further his dance career. Subsequently, he returned to Singapore and co-founded the Singapore Dance Theatre in 1988 with Goh Soo Khim.

    Photo credit: Singapore Dance Theatre