Fash­ion spread

And for Mo­hamed Noor Sar­man, it is a pas­sion ful­filled.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Danc­ing is life.

With just one look, one prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to tell that Mo­hamed Noor Sar­man—or Md Noor as his friends call him—is a bal­let mas­ter. He’s care­ful with his move­ments and has a cer­tain grace that ex­pe­ri­enced dancers tend to have, ow­ing to years of un­der­stand­ing their bod­ies and how they move. But for a male bal­let prac­ti­tioner, Md Noor doesn’t vis­ually fit the bill; at least in the tra­di­tional sense.

“My height is the min­i­mum height re­quire­ment for a fe­male bal­let dancer,” he says, with­out any hint of shame or pride. It’s a fact he has ac­cepted but one that has never once put him down.

I first met Md Noor at the Sin­ga­pore Dance The­atre for a ca­sual chat a few days be­fore the shoot. He had just fin­ished teach­ing a class and we sat in a spa­cious con­fer­ence room with the mas­ter at the head of the table. If he was tired af­ter a long day, he didn’t show it at all. We spoke un­fil­tered (and off-there­cord) for about half an hour about his life and ex­pe­ri­ences be­fore he said: “I’m game. I’m up for any­thing you guys want me to do.”

On a Satur­day af­ter­noon, once again af­ter teach­ing a class, we meet for this in­ter­view and shoot at the Esquire of­fice. Md Noor sits up straight dur­ing the en­tire in­ter­view, pos­ture as per­fect as can be while he files his nails and talks. I find my­self straight­en­ing up when­ever I feel my back curl­ing for­wards as we speak. “I’m looking at the way you’re talk­ing and the way you’re mov­ing. Have you al­ways been this poised and ma­ture? Or has bal­let pol­ished those qual­i­ties that have al­ways been there?” our pho­tog­ra­pher Ron­ald Leong asks at the end of the in­ter­view. Md Noor seems a bit

puz­zled but replies: “Maybe. Maybe, to be­gin with, I’m a lit­tle bit soft [in man­ner­isms]. I don’t know ex­actly how but dance has def­i­nitely helped me in a lot of ways and that’s how I am now.”

Md Noor’s first in­tro­duc­tion to dance was through his younger sis­ter’s participation in a Malay cul­tural group, which he later joined. It be­came a hobby he en­joyed and led him to pur­sue a schol­ar­ship with Dance Club Sin­ga­pore where he learnt bal­let and jazz for free. He re­mem­bers hav­ing to ask his mother to buy bal­let shoes, tights and other dance para­pher­na­lia but with­out telling her or his father what he was into. Md Noor’s par­ents only fully grasped that their son was a dancer when they first saw his tele­vised per­for­mance, danc­ing in the back­ground for acts un­der the pre­vi­ously named Sin­ga­pore Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion. Even then, there was never a con­ver­sa­tion about it. Were they ashamed?

“Af­ter many years, my mum re­counted this in­ci­dent that hap­pened between my dad and his rel­a­tives who are quite staunch Mus­lims. They said: ‘What is your son do­ing? He’s earn­ing sin­ful money.’ To which my dad replied: ‘My son is not earn­ing sin­ful money. He earns his own hard-earned money; sweat­ing and work­ing hard for it.’” Md Noor re­calls, smil­ing at the mem­ory. “I was very touched.”

He was part of SDT’s pioneer batch when it was es­tab­lished in 1988 and Md Noor owes a lot of his finest ex­pe­ri­ences and op­por­tu­ni­ties to the com­pany. At 29, he trav­elled to Paris on a schol­ar­ship by the French

govern­ment to fur­ther his dance stud­ies at IFEDEM Paris. De­spite the lan­guage bar­rier, es­pe­cially dur­ing af­ter­noon lec­tures, it was an eye­open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for him. He re­alised that he wasn’t placed to dance at IFEDEM Paris be­cause he was con­sid­ered too old. Md Noor also heard of har­row­ing sto­ries of some friends who ven­tured out of Sin­ga­pore to pur­sue bal­let. “And there I was; a na­tional bal­let com­pany right un­der my nose and within my grasp,” Md Noor says.

He was ap­pointed as bal­let mas­ter in 2009, guid­ing the younger dancers as he had been guided by his pre­vi­ous men­tors through­out his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. Did he miss tak­ing on a more prom­i­nent pres­ence on­stage? “No be­cause I al­ready made up my mind to hang up my bal­let shoes. A few things hap­pened in my life dur­ing that pe­riod that I felt were signs for me to take on the role. In fact, I feel priv­i­leged and lucky to be able to do char­ac­ter roles when needed,” Md Noor shares. The only re­gret—if there was ever one—was that he didn’t start danc­ing ear­lier.

We pro­ceed with the shoot. There is si­lence as we first start out with­out mu­sic, en­thralled by the var­ied body move­ments Md Noor is mak­ing to the mu­sic in his head. It is as though he had chore­ographed this be­fore­hand; there is no dis­con­nect­ed­ness. This chore­og­ra­phy isn’t re­stricted to just bal­let. He takes on dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters based on the styling choices—disco danc­ing in a Dolce&Gab­bana suit and seam­lessly switch­ing from con­tem­po­rary to his Malay dance roots while wear­ing a skirt.

He laughs when I ask if he has ever thought that he had hit his phys­i­cal thresh­old. “If I can walk, I’d still do it,” he says. With that vast knowledge of dance un­der his belt, Md Noor con­fesses that he used to fre­quent clubs a lot back in the day. “Just nor­mal danc­ing lah. Just be­cause I’m a dancer, I don’t go all out; I’m not that kind of per­son,” he quips. And he doesn’t have to. It is ob­vi­ous that he can eas­ily turn it on and off like a well-oiled danc­ing ma­chine.

Cashmere cardi­gan, by Saint Lau­rent by An­thony Vac­carello; polyester tank, by Homme Plissé Is­sey Miyake; polyester skirt, by Pleats Please Is­sey Miyake; polyamide and elas­tane leg­gings, by Burberry.

Cot­ton suit, by Ermenegildo Zegna Cou­ture; wool and cashmere cardi­gan, by Prada.

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