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Cecilia Hon

A renowed teacher and presenter in Singapore Ballet

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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The show must go on, no matter what, even if you don’t have dancers. If you have fixed a date for it, if you have booked a theatre for it, then no matter what, you must produce something for that night.

Cecilia Hon is the founder of the Cecilia Hon Ballet Theatre, one of the most established ballet schools in Singapore today. An alumni of and a highly acclaimed former ballerina with the Singapore Ballet Academy, she was awarded a Fellowship (with Distinction) from London's Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance in 1987 and has since become a renowned teacher and presenter in Singapore ballet. She has taken her company to dance festivals in Malaysia and Korea and has been an advisor to the Singapore Cultural Foundation and a member of the National Arts Council's Dance Advisory Committee.

Born to an Indonesian mother and a Malaysian father who lectured at the University of Singapore, Cecilia Hon grew up shuttling between Penang and Singapore and receiving her early education in both places. It was in Penang where she was first trained in ballet. Her mother had taken a five-year-old Hon to ballet school where an impromptu solo demanded by the teacher sealed her enthusiasm for the dance form. When her family later relocated to Singapore, she continued her ballet training at Frances Poh’s dance school.

Hon stopped her ballet training to focus on her academic studies, receiving her O and A level certificates at the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus, and subsequently beginning her time at university. She resumed her training with Frances Poh’s school and stayed on through its evolution into the Singapore Ballet Academy (SBA) and its eventual passing into the capable hands of the sisters Goh Soo Nee and Goh Soo Khim. When she left Singapore to pursue post-graduate studies in Physics at the University of Grenoble in France, she continued her training there at the Chris Chelsey Ballet Academy. Later on, she studied at the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and obtained her licentiate (and much later a fellowship) from the ISTD.

It was with SBA that Cecilia first started choreographing ballet pieces. Then, from 1969 to 1978, besides dancing as a lead dancer, she also choreographed SBA pieces for events such as Christmas ballets and their anniversary celebrations, as well as for television broadcasts. Four of her works were entered in the first Singapore Arts Festival and won prizes.

In 1979, Cecilia started her own dance company, the Havelock Ballet Group at the Havelock Community Centre. With the group, she choreographed and danced full concerts at venues such as the Victoria Theatre and Drama Centre, as well as on television programmes. She brought the group to tour Kuala Lumpur, Genting Highlands, Kuching, Perak, and Seoul for the Asian Dance Festival. The Havelock Ballet Group also presented Dancescapes in 1979 at the Victoria Theatre, followed by Danceworks in 1984 and Dancetera in 1986, as well as performed with Singapore Lyric Theatre.

The Havelock Ballet Group’s initial years were filled with many challenges. These included a lack of space, sponsorship, high production costs, and a lack of commitment and professionalism from part-time dancers who often withdrew from performances, occasionally at the last minute. For years, Cecilia struggled with these obstacles, on top of sewing her own costumes, making her own props, doing her own marketing, and creating and staging her works.

In the meantime, from 1981 to 1983, she also worked part-time at Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, teaching Modern Theatre Dance based on the ISTD curriculum and arranging for examiners to come to Singapore for local examinations and conduct teaching courses. She also taught in secondary schools—including Raffles Girls School, Katong Convent, Dunearn Technical and Toh Tuck Secondary—where she choreographed well-received dance items in various Youth Festivals. Productions such as the avant-garde piece Metamorphosis with Dunearn Technical Secondary School were performed to acclaim and later successfully restaged for the Malaysian Arts Festival.

After almost a decade with the Havelock Ballet Group, Cecilia decided it was time for her to stop dancing and focus her efforts as a full-time teacher of ballet. In 1987, after receiving her Fellowship (with Distinction) from London's Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, she opened her own ballet school, the Ballet Theatre Studio. She invited professional dancers from renowned ballet companies to conduct master classes at the school and, within a year of its establishment, sent students to perform at the 1988 Seoul Olympics Dance Festival and compete in the Asia Pacific Dance Competition in Japan. In 1992, after relocating the school to Cairnhill Arts Centre, she renamed it the Cecilia Hon Ballet Theatre Ltd.

Since then, Cecilia has been an advisor to the Singapore Cultural Foundation and member of the National Arts Council's Dance Advisory Committee, and has become a pillar of the Singapore ballet community.

Timeline

1960

Enrolled in the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus.

1966 to 1974

Physics teacher, Raffles Girls Secondary School.

1970 to 1983

Choreographed for Singapore Ballet Academy.

1979

Founded the Havelock Ballet Company.

1981 to 1983

Part-time dance teacher for Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

1984 to 1987

Choreographed for television programmes.

1984

Received a Fellowship (with Distinction) from London's Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance.

1987

Founded Ballet Theatre Studio.

1988

Invited by the Asian Dance Association to perform at the Seoul Olympics Dance Festival.

1992

Appointed Vice President of Asian Dance Association.

Ballet Theatre Studio relocated to Cairnhill Arts Centre and renamed Cecilia Hon Ballet Theatre Ltd.

Invited by the Asian Dance Association to hold the Asian Dance Concert in Singapore.

Invited by the Asian Dance Association to perform in Seoul for the association's 10th Anniversary celebrations.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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