Remembering Our Days; SDT Dance Pioneers
Mohamed Noor Sarman, who is affectionately known as Md Noor, is the longest-standing member of Singapore Dance Theatre.

“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” – Wanda Skyes

And that was exactly what Mohamed Noor Sarman (Md Noor) did as he sat in Victoria Theatre at ‘Beginnings’, the very first production by Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), in June 1988. “When I sat in the audience at that performance, I knew deep within me that I had to be up there on stage, and not sitting comfortably in the seats,” said Md Noor as he reached far back into his memory. Brimming with a new found determination and zeal for the stage, the 24-year-old jazz-trained dancer found himself knocking on the doors of SDT, irrespective of his lack in professional ballet training. Call it impulsive or pure bravery, but his voracity saw the door to his lifelong career being flung wide open as Co-Founders Anthony Then and Ms Goh Soo Khim offered him a place in the company.

Years before his entry into SDT, Sarman’s initial dancing days started with his younger sister’s malay cultural dance group, which led to his pursuit of a scholarship at Dance Arts Singapore, where he was given free jazz and ballet classes with Rose Borromeo and Tony Lacer, respectively. At the age of 16, Md Noor owned his first pair of ballet shoes, and he has never given up on them since.

Md Noor danced with the Singapore Armed Forces’ Music and Drama Company in 1982, where he continued to sit under the coaching of Tony Lacer; and in 1984, he earned a scholarship with Singapore Ballet Academy, where he had the opportunity to be under the tutelage of Ms Goh Soo Khim and the late Mr Then, whom he holds dearly to his heart. Md Noor was also a full-time dancer with the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in 1987, where he danced on the same stage as popular singers like Fei Xiang and on TV programmes like Miss Universe.

Md Noor’s transition from commercial television dancing to professional performance with SDT in 1988 was no doubt an arduous uphill climb. Surrounded by company dancers who were far more developed in their craft, Md Noor’s learning curve was a steep ascend. Trained in jazz dance, he had to trudge forwards against the tides of a less than familiar art form – ballet. It was pure grit and passion that kept his tenacity aflame. He had to pick up technical skills much quicker than others in order to catch up with others, and “missing one class felt like missing an entire year of classes” to him. But no matter how tiring it may have been, all the effort put in was neither burdensome nor dreaded; instead his eagerness to absorb as much as he could stem from a deep longing to learn and grow as a dancer. It was his intense fervor to give all that he had within himself into this art form that set his heart ablaze upon unchartered grounds.

He journeyed with the company through every mountain and valley, and bore witness to the coming together and furthering of our nation’s premier dance company in the past 27 years. From traveling with the company to Paris, China, Japan, amongst many other countries, to being a part of every milestone the company had. Just as he has seen SDT grow from its foundational years, the company has also seen him grown from an amateur dancer to the well-loved Ballet Master that he is today.

The highlights of his professional career are countless; they include dancing for the Presidents of Singapore, meeting Singaporean choreographer Choo-San Goh and taking his class, and receiving a scholarship from the French government to study in Paris, as well as the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 1995. He also had the opportunity to further his dance studies in New York, and attended a summer school in London.

He fondly remembers repertoires like Gemini by Vincente Nebrada, where he did a pas de deux with fellow SDT dancer, Jamaludin Jalil, and Remiscing the Moon at the opening of the Esplanade Theatre, where Boi Sakti incorporated water and other elements in his unique choreography. Md Noor was cast for four different roles in SDT’s first full-length production in 1995, The Nutcracker by Anthony Then; and his choreography, Living Greens, was staged across the world. Choo-San Goh’s Birds of Paradise and Goh Soo Khim’s children production, Peter and the Wolf, are also cherished memories for him, and so was flying across the stage with a harness in Sakiko Oshima’s Whose Voices Cries Out.

His journey is filled with many sentimental moments, far too many for him to count, but one lasting memory that runs deeper than all is the belief and support he has received from the pioneers of this company.

He was given the opportunity to help stage The Nutcracker in 1995, and was asked to be the Assistant Ballet Master in 1997 while still continuing as a dancer. He was later appointed as Ballet Master in 2009, and retired as a professional dancer. It was a transition where he had to change his perspective towards his responsibilities in the company, and he had to learn a different skill set of teaching and guiding younger dancers towards achieving their fullest potential.

These were significant personal turning points for him in his career. Never did the 16-year-old Sarman, who grew up in a traditional Singaporean Malay family, ever dare to dream of being a Ballet Master of Singapore’s national dance company, and much less the privilege to work alongside Mr Janek Schergen. Md Noor’s great respect for Janek is grounded in the years of coaching and guidance he received as a young dancer, and Sarman still finds it difficult to believe that he gets to sit and teach with Janek in rehearsals today. But here he is, fulfilling what he once told a news reporter who asked him what his idea of success would be, “to grow and mature with the company”.

1980 – Started learning dance at Dance Arts Singapore on scholarship
1982 – Joined Singapore Armed Forces’ Music and Drama Company as a dancer, actor, and singer
1984 – Joined Singapore Ballet Academy on scholarship
1987 – Joined Singapore Broadcasting Corporation as a full-time dancer
1988 – Joined Singapore Dance Theatre as a full-time dancer
1993 – Received a French scholarship for an attachment at I.F.E.D.E.M. Paris
1995 – Recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award
1996 – His work, Living Greens, represented Singapore in the 8th ASEAN Dance Festival
1997 – Appointed as SDT’s Assistant Ballet Master
2009 – Promoted to Ballet Master