Dancing On Air

One of Singapore’s top dancers and choreographers, Andy Benjamin Cai tells us about accidentally discovering his love for dance and his inspirations for Mama White Snake!

How did you realise you loved to dance? 

I was forced to join a CCA back in secondary school, as I was a mischievous kid who was a bit hyperactive in class. The Dance Club needed some male members, so I was roped in… I only came to love dance after that!

What did you do to get started as a professional dancer? 

I worked really hard and got some really good training. While on a scholarship with a local dance academy, I got to know Lionel Araya – my very first dance teacher. He taught me all the basics: from jazz and salsa to hip hop and locking and popping.

Lionel saw how much I loved dancing and told me that, if I wanted to make it as a professional dancer, I needed to have a strong foundation in dance. He advised me to study dance at LASALLE. So that’s what I did!

How did you start out as a choreographer yourself?

I was already juggling professional dancing jobs while studying for my Diploma in Dance at LASALLE College of the Arts. We were tasked to choreograph our own original works that, if selected, would be presented in our graduation show, Tabula Rasa. So I choreographed a piece called Out of Shape. It was the only student work that was featured in the show, alongside pieces by veteran choreographers, and was later performed at Tari 2005, Malaysia’s premier dance festival.

Who are some of your greatest inspirations? 

As a dancer, Sylvie Guillem – she dances so beautifully, and her technique is top-notch. Sadly, she retired recently, in 2015.

When it comes to the theatre, I’m really inspired by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez – who created the Broadway hit musical, The Book of Mormon. I love that show so much!

Fan Club! Andy demonstrates a move or two 
for Ivan Heng and Andrew Marko in the rehearsal room

Tell us about your choreography for Mama White Snake

When I choreograph, I first listen to the music for each number to get a feel for its rhythm and genre. That allows me to inject into my choreography the story, motivations and feelings that go with the music.

As Mama White Snake is a fusion of musical theatre and classical Chinese opera, I actually looked at a couple of Chinese operas for inspiration. I wanted to better understand the movement restrictions that the cast would experience while performing in their elaborate and heavy costumes.

I also incorporated a lot of classical Chinese opera movements into the choreography. I worked with the cast to make sure they hold themselves properly while executing basic moves like ‘running’ (圓場), ‘cloud hands’ (雲手) and ‘water sleeves’ (水袖).

What’s it been like working with this cast?  

There’s a lot packed into rehearsals for this show, from wushu training to running scenes, so my main challenge has been to teach the cast the choreography in the limited time we’re given. That said, it’s definitely been a fun process! The cast is great and they’ve developed a very good dynamic already.

I’ve also enjoyed working with the kids in the show – they’re all very talented and intelligent. But, kids being kids, it hasn’t always been easy to calm them down during rehearsals. At times, I’ve had to rely on the adult actors to help me discipline them in rehearsal!

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