Profile: Jeffrey Tan

Published on 11 November 2014

So you think you can Dance?

He only learnt ballet at the age of 21, but that didn’t stop Jeffrey Tan from pirouetting his way to the top

BY JO TAN

While he now teaches tots aged four and above to trot about in tutus, multi-award-winning dancer/choreographer Jeffrey Tan only began studying ballet at the ripe old age of 21.

“I failed the singing, acting and hosting auditions for the Singapore Armed Forces’ Music and Drama Company (MDC),” deadpans the rugged good-looker. “But they needed boys so they let me in and made me dance.”

That was Tan’s late but great beginning. He was quickly talent-spotted for a scholarship at the Singapore Ballet Academy (SBA), then left to study ballet in London. He joined Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) upon his return, rising to principal dancer, assistant ballet master, and even choreographer, and was given the Young Artist Award. Now 45, he is principal of SBA, where his ballet training began.

Don’t think being an educator means Tan’s ready to pass the baton to the next generation: The man continues exploring dance even beyond ballet. Last year, he was made associate artist at T.H.E Dance Company, Singapore’s leading contemporary dance group. He has also choreographed multiple National Day Parades and blockbuster musicals including Fried Rice Paradise and Cinderel-lah!, which included hip-hop, tap and even jazz dance, which Tan first learnt in MDC and later developed. Now, he’s working on two all-consuming projects for 2015: the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and SBA’s end-of-year concert.

(Photo: Mark Teo)

“I’ll be choreograping the opening and closing ceremonies for SEA Games 2015. It’s a massive project, and the first time an event like this will be done in the Sports Hub, so we are like the guinea pigs,” Tan says with a laugh. “The SBA concert I’m planning will be a full-length performance of The Nutcracker, involving about 500 kids in total. It’s important to me because Nutcracker was my first ballet, and the show commemmorates the 10th death anniversary of my mentor, Anthony Then.” (Then was one of the founders of SDT.)

“It was people like him who gave me opportunities to dance even so late in my life, and why I want to share what I’ve learnt with the younger generation.”

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