Dancer Spotlight: ADELENE STANLEY-CHEAH

In our previous article, A First Look at INALA: A ZULU BALLET, we mentioned that one of the reasons you definitely must watch INALA is because one of the original cast members is our homegrown dancer Adelene Stanley-Cheah! Well, as luck will have it, we had the  opportunity to chat with her on her dance career, the local dance scene and INALA itself. 

On Dancing As A Career

Dance was never Adelene’s choice. Calling herself “a tomboy” and “a very hyper kid”, she was often caught hanging off the bars at her sister’s ballet school during their open houses. Dabbling in both martial arts and sports were apparently not enough to tire her  as she got herself enrolled into ballet as well! What started as a whim to stave off the high energy turned into an avid passion which saw Adelene handing her parents a pamphlet to School Of The Arts (SOTA).

Back then, SOTA was still a brand-new school and were actively recruiting students from primary schools around the island. “I knew I wanted to be a dancer and go to this school. It was quite a new school so no one really knew what was going to happen, but I was quite certain this was what I wanted to do”, Adelene said, her eyes sparkling. As SOTA was such a new school, there will definitely be worries on admitting their child. Did her parents not object then? “Not really! I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family. They just let us try,” She mused: “If it works out it works out, but if it doesn’t it doesn’t.” Stating that if she never suggested SOTA to her parents, she would most probably be in Singapore Chinese Girls School (SCGS), where the environment would be drastically different. “The dance would probably not be as intense (as SOTA), and I probably would not have the same opportunities,” Adelene laughed, “But we will never know!”

At 17, Adelene had the opportunity to travel to the Rambert School in London to train. Being lucky enough to score an 8-minute solo for a performance, she chose to do improv – free-style movement – to challenge herself. “I really wanted to try and experiment with the structure of the improv,” Adelene said, mentioning she really immersed herself entirely into the performance that it felt almost supernatural.  After the performance, one of the audience members went backstage to meet her, and little did Adelene knew it was going to be the turning point in her dance journey. “She said, ‘I cried throughout the 8 minutes, your solo touched me so much’. In that moment, I realised that if this is the impact that I can bring to someone then that is power that can’t be bought,” Adelene smiled: “That was it, I knew i am going to do this for the rest of my life.”

And indeed it was. In her third year of school, she got scouted by the producers of INALA: A Zulu Ballet to perform in the first screening, and there was no looking back. Touring the country with more experienced dancers, Adelene considers INALA the highlight of performing overseas. Adelene smiled: “If I was still in Singapore, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same opportunities.” She even had the opportunity to perform at the Royal Variety Performance in front of British royalty, a rare honour for anyone in the world. “I got to share the stage with people like One Direction, Ed Sheeran and even Ellie Goulding. I never would have imagined that I would stumble upon this experience (through INALA),” Adelene said.

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“Alive, Happy, Grateful” – on how dance makes her feel. PC: INALA TIMEOUT

After her stint overseas, Adelene returned to Singapore in 2016 and joined Frontier Danceland as a resident performer. Now, she is a freelance performer with an inclination towards collaboration and creation with various art forms. “My goal is to collaborate more with visual artists, in museums, and musicians, bringing it closer to home. It’s so hard to say what is out there, so I just want to be open. Get out of my comfort zone and try something new. To grow as an individual, to grow as an artist.” She said, remarking that freelancing is very different from company life, where performances are pre-scheduled and dancers follow a set routine.

For all the dancers out there who dreams of pursuing their passion like you do, any words of advice or encouragement?

“First things first, I think the dancers now are very lucky now as it is a lot more open and there are a lot more opportunities. I think it’s important to be yourself. I think there is always a need to please, a need to fit into the mould. I need to be a certain way to get a job. But no, just be yourself. I mean, that was how I got into INALA. I am half Indian and half Chinese, my own mixture of whatever, and then I was doing my own dancing, and they chose me. So be yourself and don’t be someone else. Have confidence, know that whatever work you put into your training is going to pay off. Stay passionate about it.”

On Our Local Dance Scene

“When I left in 2011, there was no question about going overseas to train because that is where the opportunities are, but when I came back in 2016, I realised that things are starting to change in Singapore,” Adelene observed. Noting that the arts scene is growing,  and there had been a surge in audience appreciation for the arts in recent years, she believes that more can still be done. “Although there is a lot more diversity and appreciation now, it is still very hard to create something new and be accepted and be successful,” she said, “Hopefully as word gets out, and people become more receptive to new things, more new choreographers and artists will emerge and create a more diverse arts scene in Singapore.”

So what is the direction she hopes the dance scene will move towards five years from now? “I hoping to see more people being more willing to try new things and have more courage. It is so difficult because Singapore is so small, so the perception of new stuff will be a lot more concentrated. Hopefully there will be more people like dancers, screenplays, writers, musicians experimenting. In the dance scene particularly, I hope to see more collaboration between different art forms such as designers, musicians, film makers, videographers.”

Although it sounds simple, it is hard to implement. Adelene acknowledges this, suggesting that being open-minded is the first step to having courage. “I think so many people judge a book by it’s cover that they aren’t willing to immerse themselves,” she pointed out, suggesting that they should try it out as “you can choose if you want to accept it or move on from it after that”.

On INALA: A Zulu Ballet

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Adelene poses alongside Pietra Mello-Pittman (centre), co-founder of SistersGrimm and BBC young dancer Nafisah Baba(right) at the premiere. PC: INALA TIMEOUT

Being offered a contract straight out of graduation is a very rare opportunity, especially in the dance industry. For Adelene, it came as a surprise. “As a graduate student, you are just mentally preparing yourself to go auditions and stuff. You wouldn’t think this would happen. I am just so thankful.” This contract was INALA: A Zulu Ballet, still in its early infancy of production. Little did Adelene knew it would grow so big. “INALA has been such a big part of my life, and I poured so much into this project – well now it’s hard to call it a project because it’s getting somewhere.” Indeed, INALA is set to go on its first-ever World Tour with Grammy award-winning South African Soweto Gospel Choir, with Singapore its very first stop. Without a doubt, Adelene is beyond excited for people here to see it. “This is where I grew up, and everyone I know is here.” Furthermore, there is amazing music, great performances, what’s not to like?

Mark your dates as INALA will be premiering at  Marina Bay Sands from 19th June 2019 to 22nd June 2019. What are you waiting for? Purchase your tickets here!

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