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Making A Scene: Ballet, colour and diversity

NYCB’s Georgina Pazcoguin and SDT’s Mohamed Noor Sarman on the dynamism of inclusion


Published: 27 Aug 2021

Time taken : >15mins

The people who have thrived under the power dynamic and the structures that lift white bodies in this institution of classical ballet, they also need to realise that although they might have more competition, there is still room at the table for everyone.

Georgina Pazcoguin

Ballet is known for its long-held traditions that define its aesthetics and institutions.

In some ways, these traditions have historically excluded and marginalised particular groups of people. In this episode hosted by multidisciplinary artist and educator Susan Sentler, Mohamed Noor Sarman, ballet master of Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), and Georgina Pazcoguin, the first Asian-American female soloist of the New York City Ballet (NYCB) discuss how they view the issue of diversity and inclusion in ballet.

As a pioneering member of SDT, Mohamed Noor reflects that he was so focused on attuning to the discipline of ballet during his training that he did not realise there were few people who looked like him who were learning ballet. Georgina says she realised when she started her professional career that she would have to be exceptional to prove herself as a minority dancer. As a half-Asian dancer, she did not fit into certain ideal definitions of a ballet protagonist, and stresses the need to both expand these definitions and create new stories for the ballet canon. She also shares more about her advocacy work, including her participation in the process of advising NYCB to remove offensive racial stereotypes from the choreography of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker divertissements.

For Mohamed Noor, merit and skill should always be the criteria for hiring and casting. He believes that being in Singapore’s multi-cultural society, and being in a company with dancers of diverse nationalities, has created a culture of mutual respect and constant dialogue in SDT, where they are able to learn creatively from one another. Riffing on her experience in modern dance, Susan also asks both speakers to speculate on the ways diversity can expand the creative possibilities of ballet. 

Further explore

Final Bow for Yellowface, the organisation co-founded by Georgina Pazcoguin and Phil Chan

More about Georgina’s memoir, Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina

A profile of Mohamed Noor Sarman by Singapore Dance Theatre

Eisa Jocson’s work on Filipino bodies in dance, mentioned by Susan in the episode, include Princess (da:ns festival 2019) and Manila Zoo (da:ns festival 2021)


This episode of Making A Scene is commissioned by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay in conjunction with da:ns series, with the intent to open new dialogues on important issues in ballet today. This episode is produced by Wong Kwang Lin and Hong Xinyi. The theme music of the podcast is Angels by hauste.

Credit for theme music

Song: Angels
Artist: hauste (FB/IG: @haustesound)
Publisher: Maker Records (FB/IG: @MakerRecordsGrp)

Susan Sentler is an independent artist rooted in the field of dance/performance working as educator/lecturer, maker/choreographer, researcher, director, curator, dramaturg, mentor and performer. She has practiced globally for over 30 years. Susan began and has continued teaching in Higher Education since 1992, meriting Senior Lecturer from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and just recently completed five years of teaching with LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore.

As performer, she danced with the original second company ‘The Ensemble’ of the Martha Graham Dance Company in the 1980s and has returned to performance working in the past 10 years with artists such as Tino Sehgal, Xavier le Roy, Dora Garcia and Jerome Bel performing with the Candoco Dance Company in his seminal work The Show Must Go On in the 2015 UK tour as well as in 2017 for Le Festival d’Automne a Paris.

Susan’s practice is inter/trans-disciplinary, anchored by a honed expanded somatic relationship to image, interested in ideas of the choreographic/curatorial/performative woven with photography and the moving image of ‘the everyday’ and dissolving the indexical. She has an ongoing collaborative research rooted in concept of ‘the fold’ with colleague Dr. Glenna Batson originally coined Human Origami, now called The F/old as Somatic/Artistic Practice. Current publications include the chapter The Liquid Architecture of Bodily Folding for the DeGruyter issue Symbolism 2019 Special Focus: Beyond Mind and two co-authored publications with Dr. Glenna Batson, Human Origami: Uncovering meta-levels of corporeal embodiment through movement improvisation for Routledge and the article How visual and kinaesthetic imagery shape movement improvisation: A pilot study for The Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices. Another collaboration to note is that with musician, artist/coder and interdisciplinary scientific researcher Dr. Jamie Forth in the continuing research project MMCC (mediated/movement/choreographic/collaboration), initiated via a Goldsmiths-LASALLE Partnership Innovation Fund for the research. In 2013, she received an MACP (Masters in Creative Practice, Dance Professional Practice) from Trinity Laban in collaboration with Independent Dance, London (UK).

Susan focuses on gallery/museum contexts creating/co-creating on ‘responses’ or ‘activations’ within exhibitions as well as durational multi-media installations orchestrating moving/still image, objects, sound and absence/presence of the performing body. She has collaborated and worked with renown institutions such as the White Cube Gallery (UK), Whitechapel Gallery (UK), Hayward Gallery (UK), Museo del Tessuto (IT), National Gallery Singapore, ArtScience Museum (SG), Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, NTU Centre of Contemporary Art Singapore, and DECK (SG). Her work has been exhibited, screened and/or performed in the UK, USA, Europe, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Georgina Pazcoguin, also known as “The Rogue Ballerina,” was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania and began training at the age of 4 at the Allegheny Ballet Academy. Georgina joined New York City Ballet in 2003 and became the first Asian-American Soloist in NYCB's history after being promoted in 2013. Georgina is co-founder—with Phil Chan—of Final Bow for Yellowface, which raises awareness and promotes inclusivity through sincere representation of all ethnicities in the performing arts. Georgina is also the author of Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina.

Mohamed Noor Sarman joined Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) as part of its pioneer batch when the company was first established in 1988. In 1993, he was awarded a French scholarship for an attachment at IFEDEM Paris, academy for contemporary dance. He was also a recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 1995 for his contribution to dance. In 1996, his choreographic work, Living Greens, represented Singapore in the 8th ASEAN Dance Festival and was later performed in the Philippines (1998) and in Australia (1999).

Mohamed Noor was appointed Assistant Ballet Master in 1997 and was promoted to Ballet Master in 2009. He danced important roles in various productions including Vicente Nebrada’s Gemini (Pas de Deux), Anthony Then’s Schumann Impressions, Helen Lai’s Exits and Entrances and David Lichine’s Graduation Ball, Graham Lustig’s ApPassionato, Goh Choo San’s Romeo and Juliet, the title role in Petruschka and Goro in Madame Butterfly.

In 2005, he performed in Marie-Claude Pietragalla’s Les Noces, and played the role of the prophet in Rite of Spring. Mohamed Noor is also the choreographer for Stand Up For Singapore, a contribution to the National Day Parade in 2007, which was also performed at Ballet Under The Stars as a tribute to the nation’s birthday.

Mohamed Noor has been involved in several dance education programmes with schools such as the Ministry of Education’s National Student Leaders Dance Camp in November 2006. In April 2008, he conducted an intermediate ballet workshop for the Putrajaya Arts Festival in Kuala Lumpur. He has worked with many choreographers like Nils Christe, Val Caniparoli, Natalie Weir, Ma Cong, Edwaard Liang, Kinsun Chan, Timothy Harbour, Toru Shimazaki and Francois Klaus in recent SDT productions.

In celebration of SDT’s 30th Anniversary as well as for the nation’s birthday, Mohamed Noor recently choreographed the dance music video for NDP 2018 theme song We are Singapore.

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