by Lim, Joyce Y.
Frontier Danceland is a local non-profit contemporary dance company founded by Low Mei Yoke and Tan Chong Poh in July 1991. The main focus of the company’s repertoire of original works is on fusing Western dance techniques with Asian aesthetics and culture.1 These are largely influenced by contemporary life in Singapore and social issues facing Singaporeans. Frontier has performed regularly in international dance festivals and toured many countries, including Australia, Cambodia, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. Starting out as an amateur group, the company gained professional status in 2011.2
Frontier’s co-founder and artistic director Low Mei Yoke only started taking formal dance lessons when she turned 18 and is trained in Chinese dance, ballet, modern jazz and the Martha Graham techniques. Through the years, Low has choreographed a number of well-received works such as Abortion, Crying Earth, Grandmother’s Tale and The First Emperor. She is also the artistic director and choreographer for a number of educational institutions in Singapore.3
Tan Chong Poh is co-founder and president of Frontier. A professional dancer trained in classical ballet, Tan was a former principal dancer with the National Dance Company and had performed in many of the company's overseas productions. He is also a dance critic and a regular judge for the Malaysian Chinese Festival of Dance. Besides being trained in dance, Tan is also a qualified engineer registered with the Singapore Professional Engineers Board.4
In its early years, Frontier had a roster of between 15 to 50 dancers, from amateurs and students to professional dancers. They trained five times a week under Chua Kah Joo, a former professional dancer with a number of European ballet companies.5
In 1993, the National Arts Council (NAC) contributed S$17,000 towards the production cost of the company’s show at the Festival of Asian Performing Arts. Frontier then received grants of S$3,000 and S$2,000 respectively from the NAC and the Singapore International Foundation to perform at the Jakarta International Cultural Festival in Indonesia in 1994.6 The company also received a one-year grant of S$140,000 from the NAC under its Major Grant Scheme in 20117 and another S$240,000 in 2012.8
Frontier did not have its own office and studio until the NAC helped the company establish its own premises under the Arts Housing Scheme in 1994. The following year, Frontier moved into its first home at the Stamford Arts Centre in Waterloo Street. The company paid 10 percent of the rent for the premises, while the NAC subsidised the remaining amount.9 Frontier moved to its current location at the Goodman Arts Centre in 2011.10
Frontier generally produces two main productions or three small shows a year.11 With no restrictions on their dance styles, the themes of their shows are usually centred on Asian forms, cultures and traditions as well as social issues and the contemporary life of city dwellers.
For example, in their non-traditional performance Crossover in 1993, Frontier blended Chinese, Malay and Indian dance styles and performed to Western and Asian music. Artistic director Low intended for the dance to display the harmonies of multiracial society in Singapore and to attract the masses.12 Another piece that focused on Asian aesthetics and culture fused with modern dance moves was The Master and Mistresses in 2008. Based on the classic Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions, Frontier’s performance was a triple bill of contemporary dance that touched on love and human relationships.13
Frontier’s performances have also focused on social issues such as in the 2007 dance drama Something Wrong. Created by theatre actor and director Nick Ng and Frontier resident choreographer Albert Tiong, the show looked at humanity’s selfishness, war, vengeance and broken relationships. Something Wrong was inspired by contemporary events such as the 9/11 attacks in the United States and suicide bombings in Iraq.14
International collaborations and performances
Frontier frequently invites foreign dancers and choreographers to Singapore for collaborations. Low believes that it is important for her amateur dancers to experience dance styles from other countries.15
In 1996, Frontier presented Expressions & Movements Contemporary Dance Nite, which showcased works choreographed by Taiwanese-American Yunyu Wang, one of the founders of Taiwan’s prestigious dance company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, and Malaysian Choo Tee Kuang from Penang Dance Station. Choo's masterpiece, Not That I Don't Understand, incorporated songs by Chinese rock singer Cui Jian.16
The company has gained international recognition for its original works performed regularly at regional and international dance festivals such as the ASEAN Dance Festival, the Asian Youth Festival in South Korea, the 2000 Feet World Dance Festival 1999 in Philadelphia in the United States, the Tari 2000 Dance Festival in Malaysia, the Bangkok International Dance Festival 2010 and the 16th Crown Festival 2011 in Taipei, Taiwan.17
Frontier’s 1999 performance of Cloud, choreographed by Low and performed at the 2000 Feet World Dance Festival in Philadelphia was praised as a first-rate performance by New York’s Dance Magazine.18 The company’s performance of 22.5 Minutes – Subconscious Indulgence, a cross-cultural dance collaboration between Frontier and Anarchy Dance Theatre’s Jeff Hsieh Chieh Hua at the Crown Festival in Taipei, was also well-received by the audience and the media.19
Education and outreach efforts
In 1998, Frontier initiated New Dance Lab, a project that attempted to create a "new dance language for Singapore", one that would extend beyond the fusion of existing dance styles. The project culminated in a production, Time + Pass = Years Pass, choreographed by Low and Malaysian artist Loke Soh Kim. The dance sought to reflect the feelings of the people in the 1950s and 1960s.20
In 2007, Frontier created 02 Square Series, a platform for new, creative and experimental works. As of 2012, the series has showcased 14 new performances by 11 choreographers.
As part of the 02 Square Series, Frontier started the Dancers’ Locker programme in 2009 to help cultivate a new generation of choreographers. Dancers’ Locker aims to present original works by young choreographers and to create awareness of contemporary dance development in Singapore. Four new choreographers benefited from this platform in 2009 when Frontier commissioned their first works with a budget of S$10,000.21
In 2009, the NAC partnered with Frontier to initiate an annual new works platform, Sprouts, for budding choreographers. Sprouts is a competition that sets out to discover choreographic talents and provide opportunities for participants to create new and fresh dance ideas and notions.22 The winners of the competition have received prizes that included choreography training grants and showcases in the 02 Square Series.
Another platform initiated by Frontier to help develop aspiring dancers is the PULSE Programme, a year-long scholarship programme launched in 2010 in which young dancers are trained in various dance techniques and composition, and are mentored by professional dancers. Similar to Dancers’ Locker, the programme promotes the development of the contemporary dance scene in Singapore.23
1991: Three-Inch Golden Lotus, Singapore Dance Festival.24
1993: Five contemporary Chinese dances including Crossover.25
1998: New Dance Lab – Time + Pass = Years Pass, choreographed by Low Mei Yoke and Loke Soh Kim.26
1999: New Dance Lab III – Writings On The Wall, a combination of Chinese, classical Indian and contemporary dance moves.27
2000: Sharing I – The Coloured Ladies, three pieces portraying the multi-faceted role of women.28
2000: New Dance Lab V – Face 2 Face, choreographed by Low Mei Yoke, Loke Soh Kim and Fang Dong Kai.29
2001: Sharing III – Just a Piece of Meat, a collaboration with Nick Ng, multi-disciplinary artiste.30
2003: Arts in the City – Crying Earth.31
2007: Something Wrong, a collaboration with Rick Ng, theatre actor and director, and choreographer Albert Tiong.32
2008: The Master and Mistresses, a triple bill of contemporary dance.33
2009: Beg Your Pardon, choreographed by Albert Tiong.34
2010: Co-presented 3 From Singapore with T.H.E. Dance Company and The Singapore Dance Theatre as part of Contact 2010, featuring Second Chance choreographed by Albert Tiong.35
2011: Dancers’ Locker 2011 – Threading Frontiers of Creation, works by Albert Tiong and four budding choreographers.36
2012: One Show Only, a collaboration with award-winning Australian dancer and choreographer Byron Perry; performances in Melbourne and Singapore.37
2012: Double Bill: White, Blur, choreographed by Low Mei Yoke and French-American artist, Stefanie Batten Bland.38
2013: LEAP 2013 – Into New Frontiers, performed by dancers under the PULSE Programme.39
Joyce Y. Lim
1. Loon, W. M. & Tan, L. M. (1997, September-October). Slow dancing: The challenges facing dance education and a dance career in Singapore. Esplanade: The arts magazine. Singapore: Singapore Arts Centre Co. Ltd, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 791.095957 E year 1997)
2. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. About us. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/company.html; Lim, S. (2012, May 9). Singapore’s Frontier Danceland makes a move on Melbourne. Meld Magazine. Retrieved from Meld Magazine website: http://www.meldmagazine.com.au/2012/05/frontier-danceland-makes-a-move-on-melbourne/
3. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. About us. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/artistic-director.html
4. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. About us. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/management--board-of-directors.html#
5. Guan, L. B. (1993, March 19). In step with the masses. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Leong, W. K. (1994, May 10). Frontier Danceland for Jakarta Cultural Festival. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; SIF awards $20,500 in grants to 5 arts groups and artists. (1994, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; New frontier for Frontier Danceland. (1995, April 13). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. National Arts Council. (2011, March 30). NAC announces 25% boost in fresh funds for one-year major grant groups in FY2011. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2011/03/30/nac-announces-25-boost-in-fresh-funds-for-one-year-major-grant-groups-in-fy2011
8. National Arts Council. (2012, March 29). NAC Announces Recipients of Major Grants & Traditional Arts Seed Grants for FY2012. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2012/03/29/nac-announces-recipients-of-major-grants-traditional-arts-seed-grants-for-fy2012
9. Phan, M. Y. (1994, December 9). Four arts groups get new home under NAC scheme. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Goodman Arts Centre. About us. Retrieved from Goodman Arts Centre website: https://www.goodmanartscentre.sg/about.html
11. Tan, T. (2009, July 2). Dance retreat. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Fusing the best of Asian and Western arts. (1993, November 5). The Straits Times, p.16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. B. (1993, March 19). In step with the masses. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Cheong, J. (2008, March 3). Pass master. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Cheong, J. (2007, January 9). What’s right about Something Wrong. The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Leong, W. K. (1993, October 29). Chinese dance groups get outside help for arts fest. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Seah, L. (1996, November 29). Let’s dance, to Cui Jian’s rock. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Low, M. Y. (2011). Pursuing new frontiers overseas. DiverseCity 2011, p. 38. Retrieved from Singapore International Foundation website: http://www.sif.org.sg/files/diversecity-2011.pdf
18. Body-defying act. (2001, September 1). Today, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Low, M. Y. Pursuing new frontiers overseas. DiverseCity 2011, p. 38. Retrieved from Singapore International Foundation website: http://www.sif.org.sg/files/diversecity-2011.pdf
20. Footsteps from the past. (1998, October 29). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Wang, V. (2009, July 16). New frontier. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. National Arts Council. (2012). Sprouts. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/events/competitions/sprouts
23. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. Education. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/pulse-programme.html; Artsrepublic. (2012). LEAP 2012 – Let Your Heart Soar. Retrieved from Arts Republic website: http://www.artsrepublic.sg/leap-2012-let-your-heart-soar/
24. Singapore dance in Manila. (1994, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Fusing the best of Asian and Western arts. (1993, November 5). The Straits Times, p.16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Guan, L. B. (1993, March 19). In step with the masses. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Footsteps from the past. (1998, October 29). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Step out of the Wall and dance. (1999, January 28). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Colour this woman. (2000, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Face to face with new dance. (2000, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Body-defying act. (2001, September 1). Today, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. E. (2001, August 31). Stripped-down bodies, laid-bare souls. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.31. Arts in the city – Frontier Danceland: Crying earth. (2003, April 14). Today, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Cheong, J. (2007, January 9). What’s right about Something Wrong. The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Cheong, J. (2008, March 3). Pass master. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Tan, T. (2009, February 26). Before it’s too late. The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. LaSelle College of the Arts. (2014). Albert Tiong. Retrieved from Laselle College of the Arts website: http://www.lasalle.edu.sg/academics/albert-tiong/
36. Wang, V. (2009, July 16). New frontier. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Lim, S. (2012, May 9). Singapore’s Frontier Danceland makes a move on Melbourne. Meld Magazine. Retrieved from Meld Magazine website: http://www.meldmagazine.com.au/2012/05/frontier-danceland-makes-a-move-on-melbourne/
38. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. Archives. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/double-bill-white-blur.html
39. Frontier Danceland. [n.d.]. Archives. Retrieved from Frontier Danceland website: http://www.frontierdanceland.com/leap-2013.html
The information in this article is valid as at 8 April 2013 and correct as far as we are able to 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.