Many Singaporean girls will relate to the memory of having romanticised ballet in our childhoods. Some of us may even have partaken in several years of classes ourselves, in the hopes of dawning pretty pink tutus when we eventually transform into big girl ballerinas.  

Either way, ballet is often synonymous with depictions of grace.  Despite being probably the most famous form of dance, few are really aware of the history and richness of ballet, and the passion, discipline and intensity is takes to be a ballet dancer.  

“Dance, and ballet specifically, is hugely important to France’s cultural tapestry, and we are thrilled to be incorporating this into our French Excellence programming, which showcases  French expertise and history to facilitate cross-cultural understanding”, says Fabian Forni, Executive Director of Alliance Francaise de Singapour.  

In an effort to build bridges and ties across Singaporean and French cultural planes, Alliance Francaise has embarked on a French Excellence program, which involves a series of workshops, talks, screenings, live performances and tastings that open a window into French culture from the shores of Singapore.  

The latest installation of the program – which is occurring from 15 July to 15 September – focuses on the theme of dance, specifically ballet, which has a deep history within France itself.  The first ever ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet was born in France in the 17th century, and many terms used in ballet today are commonly French, including the art form’s very name.

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This ballet installation centres around an important historical figure in dance in the 20th century, Rudolf Nureyev.  

Showcased are 14 intricate and diverse costumes worn by Nureyev in his lifetime, graciously on loan from his protégé Charles Jude.  Another unique aspect of this exhibition is the 49 unpublished photos of Nureyev in some of his most iconic performances, including “La Bayadère, said to be Nureyev’s favourite.  

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) was a dancer considered to be a revolutionary.  He was a man who pushed the boundaries of choreography and tradition, often mixing in contemporary dance into his ballet pieces, embodying the spirit of the changing times.  Not only was he pushing the envelope of the mainstream by being one of the first ballet dancers to go on television, but he also brought the power of male ballet dancers into the spotlight, defying gendered stereotypes of the time.    

Along with the costumes and photographs, a series of conferences have been arranged to go into further detail about the artform and this man’s fascinating journey.  A conference with Charles Jude recently occurred on the 18th of July that highlighted the life and impact of Nureyev in the dance scene.  Accompanying the conference was also a pas de deux put up by Etienne Ferrère and Akira Nakahama, respectively Principal Dancer and Soloist at the Singapore Dance Theatre.

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Another conference will be led by Leonard Choo, who will be sharing an industry insider’s view on the evolution of costume design, weaving in the intermingling of tradition and innovation in the world of ballet.  His enthusiasm, wit and expertise make for both a fun and informative time, even to those who are not familiar with the textile industry or ballet dance.  

Other conferences include “The Global Influence of the Paris Opera” with Aurélie Dupont, a joint storytelling/dance performance with Alice Bianchi and Aradhana Iyer-Vohra, and also a meet-the-author session with Rudolf Nureyev biographer, Ariane Dollfus.

For those who enjoy a foreign film, Alliance Francaise will also be screening several dance related films such as Ballerina, Polina, The Grand Ball, The Paris Opera, and The White Crow, at their in-house theatre. 

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For gastronomes who prefer to taste the French culture rather than simply view it, Champagne, French Vodka and Caviar tastings are also available with dates to be confirmed in alignment with Covid restrictions. 

Alliance Francaise also holds French classes regularly at their location on Sarkies Road, if you would be so inclined to learn a new language.  For my younger self, learning some of what the ballet terms meant, and reliving moments on the stage with Nureyev’s exhibition has already brought some of these little girl dreams back.  

More information about the exhibition and other Alliance Francaise de Singapour activities can be found on their website.