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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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People sit inside of Redhawk Coffee on Meyran Avenue.
The best cafés to caffeinate and cram for finals
By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • 3:27 pm
Fresh Perspective | Final Farewell
By Julia Smeltzer, Digital Manager • April 19, 2024

A Tab Bit of Tea | Turning Marina Bay into Swan Lake

A Tab Bit of Tea is a biweekly blog about Elizabeth’s adventures in the art and entertainment world.
A+Tab+Bit+of+Tea+%7C+Turning+Marina+Bay+into+Swan+Lake
TPN File Illustration

My artistic adventures normally take me around the city of Pittsburgh. My theater endeavors are mostly based around Pitt, like the plays put on by the Theatre Department, student-run club musicals, and the occasional 24-hour play festivals. Even beyond the scope of Pitt, I’ll venture downtown to see a large touring musical, or even to the South Side for a smaller, more local theater company. I’ve seen shows closer to home in Philadelphia, or have even made the exciting trip to NYC for a big Broadway show. However, my latest theater endeavor found me on the other side of the world. 

This summer, I participated in an internship in Singapore for the summer. For two months, I bore the humidity and heat in exchange for some of the most delicious food and grand sights I’ve ever seen. Singapore is an urban city-state in southeast Asia, nestled quite close to the equator. The country is known for being a strong hub of cultures from all across Asia. The performance I went to see was put on by a troupe from China, called the Xi’an Acrobatic Troupe. I had visited Xi’an about 11 years prior, so it was quite surreal getting to meet people from Xi’an all these years later, especially in a different country. 

The Xi’an Acrobatic Troupe hosts a variety of talented artists, some of whom perform feats of contortion from hand balancing to juggling. They stopped by Singapore on their tour of the classic ballet drama “Swan Lake.” I was familiar with the story of Swan Lake before, being a fan of Tchaikovsky’s work. It’s a beautiful tale of a princess who is turned into a swan. As one of the most popular ballets performed, it lends itself to a great variety of interpretations like modern adaptations and ones adapted for different cultural settings. Oftentimes, the story acts as a framework for greater artistic expression. However, this particular production was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Set against the background of ancient China, the performance mixed class Western ballet styles with Chinese acrobatics. The fusion of different art styles was seamlessly woven together to create an incredible performance. There were two principal ballet dancers, who landmarked important highlights of the story. However, in between, there would be performances by a variety of different acrobatic acts. I saw performers floating through poles in the sky, flipping through hoops, and riding unicycles across the stage. They performed with the grace and beauty of a dancer but with the rigor and power of a gymnast. Even the principal dancers themselves participated in a balancing act, at one point having the princess balancing on her hero’s shoulders. 

It was fascinating watching the feats of strength performed so delicately and deliberately, the perfect mix of styles and influences from different art forms. The variety of acts never got boring, instead, they brought life and excitement to the show, and I never knew what to expect next. The ballet performers brought the storytelling aspects and added the drama typical of a ballet show. Overall, the fusion of acts worked extremely well and effectively and I could feel the stakes of the narrative and the physical performance. I left with the feeling that the human body is amazing because of the things it can do. Such creativity and ingenuity were expressed by the performers, without the use of any language. I truly believe that I saw the greatest range and extent of the capabilities of the body. 

The show was performed at one of the most famous venues in Singapore: Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, which I didn’t even understand the significance of until after I saw Swan Lake. Located on Singapore’s famous Marina Bay — also my favorite place in the city — Esplanade is a theater complex that hosts many different performance spaces. It’s one of the most popular cultural hubs in the city, featuring symphonies to musicals to cultural performances. 

I stayed around the theater and ended up walking into a museum section, featuring the history of Esplanade. The theaters were created to support and encourage a larger performing arts scene in Singapore. The building features two prominent domes, with triangular patterns stretching across the top of them. Ironically, after its construction, Singaporeans related the building’s exterior appearance as similar to that of durian — a fruit commonly found in Southeast Asian cuisine. The silhouette of Esplanade is an essential part of the iconic Marina Bay skyline and you can find its likeness on tourist magnets and T-shirts. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to attend a performance in such an important and famous building.

Overall, getting to experience a theater performance in Singapore was one of the most exciting things I got to do abroad, and I definitely checked off a few items on my bucket list. To see such a well-known story transformed into a dynamic and innovative performance was truly magical. I look forward to seeking out more theater abroad and seeing how universal theater can be.