Goh Choo San



Goh Choo San (b. 14 September 1948, Singapore–d. 28 November 1987, Manhattan, United States) was a renowned choreographer and ballet dancer.1 An opportunity to work with the famed Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1978 opened doors to other internationally recognised dance companies for Goh.2 Goh died from an illness in 1987.

Early life
Goh was born in a family that produced four prominent ballet dancers.3 His siblings worked mainly in the civil engineering, business and law fields. He had three older siblings (brother, Choo Chiat, and sisters, Soonee and Soo Khim) who were very passionate about and deeply immersed in ballet as a dance art form.4 Goh started taking ballet lessons with his elder sister, Soonee, at the age of 10 at the Singapore Ballet Academy and began creating dances in his teens.5


Education and career
Goh studied at the National University of Singapore and graduated in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.6 Halfway during his honours year in 1970, Goh, then 22 years old, left for Lausanne, Switzerland, to dance with a Swiss student company for a brief period before moving to Amsterdam to study British ballet on a two-year scholarship. He stayed on as a dancer, first as a corps de ballet member, then eventually as a soloist, with the Dutch National Ballet for five-and-a-half years.7 During this period, he choreographed his first ballet in 1973.8

He was awarded the creative arts grant for choreography by the Dutch government in 1973 and 1975 for putting together two ballets for Dutch graduates and a choreographer’s workshop.9 Unfortunately, the Dutch National Company did not have any vacancies for a resident choreographer. Thus, in 1976, Goh went to the United States to work for the newly established Washington Ballet Company as a resident choreographer, where his works were very well received. His style was perceived as containing strong Asian influences, blended with classical and modern movements.10 He later became the associate artistic director of the company.11

Goh also worked with most of the major dance companies in the United States and abroad such as the American Ballet Theatre,12 Berlin Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet,13 Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre14 and the Boston Ballet.15

In 1978, one of the leading male dancers in the United States at the time, Mikhail Baryshnikov, requested Goh to create a work especially for him. Thus began a series of opportunities and works that placed Goh on the world’s stage for dance.16

He became the associate artistic director of the Washington Ballet in 1984 having worked with them as resident choreographer since 1976.17 During his 11 years with the company, Goh created 14 ballets for them.18

Death and legacy
On 28 November 1987, Goh’s career was prematurely terminated when he died from complications due to viral colitis in his Manhattan home in New York at the age of 39. In his will, Goh left a US$500,000 legacy to set up the Choo San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation for young dancers and choreographers. The foundation was based in Washington and collected applications for grants and scholarships from choreographers and dancers from around the world.19 Harry Robert Magee was Goh’s business manager and close friend who looked after his legal matters. Magee died of an illness six months before Goh’s death. The money and fees for staging Goh’s ballets have also been invested and the interest distributed as grants for choreographic works and scholarships.20

Achievements
1978: Received the choreography fellowship from the United States’ National Endowment for the Arts.21 In August that year, Goh was also invited to perform a solo at the Singapore Ballet Academy’s 20th anniversary concert. Goh had choreographed and performed the piece, Spectrum, in 1969 during his final year in university.22
Jul 1983: Bagged the choreography award at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, for Momentum.23
1983: A 35-minute documentary, The Art of Goh Choo San, premiered. It traces the Goh’s successful career, from an unknown young dancer to an internationally acclaimed and sought-after choreographer.24
1986: Awarded the Washington Mayor’s Award for excellence in the arts25 and the Singapore Cultural Medallion for dance.26
Mar 1987: One of the celebrity judges at the Miss Universe pageant held in Singapore.27
1987: Guest director for the Hong Kong Ballet for one of his works, Moments Remembered, for the Celebration of Hong Kong Artists Festival held in October 1987 in commemoration of City Hall’s Silver Jubilee.
1988: Singapore Dance Theatre performed Beginnings for the troupe’s debut at the Singapore Festival of Arts.28

Works29
1973: Untitled (Nel Roos Ballet School).
1975: Impressions Passes (Dutch Ballet Workshop); Octet + Four (Dutch Ballet Workshop)
1976: Introducing... (The Washington Ballet)
1977: Life in Dance (The Washington Ballet); Variations Serieuses (The Washington Ballet)
1978: Fives (The Washington Ballet); For the 1st Time (Gus Giordano Dance Company); Synonyms (The Washington Ballet); Double Contrasts (The Washington Ballet)
1979: Momentum (Joffrey II Dancers); Variagiones Concertantes (Houston Ballet); Casella 1,3,4 (Pennsylvania Ballet); Birds of Paradise (The Washington Ballet)
1980: Celestial Images (Pennsylvania Ballet); Interventions (Houston Ballet); Lament (The Washington Ballet); Casual Moments (The Washington Ballet); Leitmotiv (The Boston Ballet); Helena (Joffrey Ballet)
1981: Destined (The Washington Ballet); Due Pezzi Sacri (The Boston Ballet); Configurations (American Ballet Theatre); Spectrum (Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre)
1982: In the Glow of the Night (The Washington Ballet); Llantos Perdidos (New World Ballet of Caracas)

1983: Scenic Invitations (The Washington Ballet); Beginnings (Joffrey II Dancers)
1984: Romeo and Juliet (three acts) (The Boston Ballet)
1985: Schubert Symphony (The Washington Ballet); Integral Dances (Bat-Dor Dance Company); Pastoral Moments (Milwaukee Ballet); Moments Remembered (Bat-Dor Dance Company)
1986: Unknown Territory (The Washington Ballet); Skiftende Billeder (Royal Danish Ballet); Ballade (Goh Ballet Company)

Family
Father: Goh Kim Lok, an oil manufacturer, who moved from Medan, Indonesia, to Singapore before Goh was born. He passed away within a year after Goh began his dance career in Europe in 1970.30
Mother: Siew Han Chng
Sisters: Soo Chin, Soonee, Soo Khim
Brother: Choo Huey, Choo Meen, Choo Keng, Choo Eng, Choo Chiat31



Author

Sharon Teng



References
1. Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The ascent of Goh Choo San. (1984, June 5). Singapore Monitor, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Khor, C. (1987, December 1). The dance is over. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mother of ballet stars. (1982, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Goh Choo San’s success and untimely death. (1997, September 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Goh Choo San’s success and untimely death. (1997, September 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Byramji, N. (1978, August 20). A local boy makes good – than better and best. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Goh Choo San dies. (1987, December 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Byramji, N. (1978, August 20). A local boy makes good – than better and best. The Straits Times, p. 12; Goh Choo San dies. (1987, December 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Byramji, N. (1978, August 20). A local boy makes good – than better and best. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Goh Choo San dies. (1987, December 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Goh Choo San dies. (1987, December 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. The ascent of Goh Choo San. (1984, June 5). Singapore Monitor, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Branson, L. (1997, October 30). Washington’s elite attend tribute to Goh Choo San. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Goh Choo San dies. (198, December 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Toh, S. (1988, January 17). Choo San’s million-dollar gift to young dancers and choreographers. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Khor, C. (1987, December 1). The dance is over. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Byramji, N. (1978, August 20). A local boy makes good – than better and best. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Khor, C. (1987, December 1). The dance is over. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. The ascent of Goh Choo San. (1984, June 5). Singapore Monitor, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Khor, C. (1987, December 1). The dance is over. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Arts Council. (2016, February 24). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award. Retrieved 2016, June 27 from National Arts Council website: file:///C:/Users/nlslpw/Downloads/CMYAA_Recipients_2015.pdf
27. Miss Universe beauties will arrive next week. (1987, April 21). The Straits Times, p. 1; Hoe, I. (1987, December 1). Choreographer Goh Choo San dies in New York. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. De Souza, J. (1988, March 23). Giving a lift to Singapore Dance Theatre. The Straits Times. p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
29. Schergen, J., & Goh, S. K. (1997). Goh Choo San: Master craftsman in dance. Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING 792.82 SCH); Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation. (n.d.). Ballets created by Choo-San Goh. Retrieved 2016, June 26 from Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation website: http://goh-mageefoundation.org/ballets.html
30. The ascent of Goh Choo San. (1984, June 5). Singapore Monitor, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Mother of ballet stars. (1982, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




Further resources

The art of Goh Choo San[Videotape]. (1983). Singapore: SBC.
(Call no.: RAV 792.82 ART)

Goh, C. S., et al. (2005). Awakening: In the glow of the night, maninyas, tabula rasa [Videorecording]. Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 AWA)

Goh, C. S. & Singapore Dance Theatre. (2005). Beginnings; Variations serieuses; Fives [Videorecording]. Singapore: National Library Board.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 BEG)

Goh, C. S., et al. (2005). Birds of paradise; Maninyas; Who cares? [Videorecording]. Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 TRI)

Goh, C. S. & Singapore Dance Theatre. (2005). Configurations (Pas de Deux); Birds of Paradise; Schubert Symphony [Videorecording]. Singapore: National Library Board.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 CON)

Goh, C. S., et al. (2005). Double contrasts; Unknown territory; Momentum [Videorecording]. Singapore: National Library Board.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 DOU)

Goh, C. S., et al. (2005). London season; Birds of Paradise; Maninyas; The lost space [Videorecording]. Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.845 LON)

Goh, C. S., et al. (2005). Romeo and Juliet [Videorecording]. Singapore: National Library Board.
(Call no.: RCLOS 792.842 ROM)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Ballet dancers--Singapore--Biography
Artists
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists
Choreographers--Singapore--Biography
Dance companies--Singapore--Biography
Goh, Choo San, 1948-1987
Arts>>Dance>>Ballet and modern dance