Goh Choo San
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Goh Choo San (b. 14 September 1948, Singapore - d. 28 November 1987, Manhattan, U.S.), renowned choreographer and ballet dancer. An opportunity to work with the famed Mikhail Baryshnikov opened doors to other internationally recognised dance companies. His untimely death saw the establishment of the Choo San Goh & H. Robert McGee Foundation for young dancers.
Goh was raised in a traditional Mandarin-speaking Chinese family, the youngest child among ten children and the seventh son. His siblings worked mainly in the civil engineering, business and law fields. But he had three older siblings (brother, Goh Choo Chiat and sisters Goh Soonee and Goh Soo Khim) who were very passionate about and deeply immersed in ballet as a dance art form. The family's fascination and interest in the arts began in Indonesia, with the bangsawan, traditional dancing theatre. Goh's childhood ambition was to become an airline pilot but he abandoned this dream to follow in the footsteps of his three older siblings to pursue a career in dance. Goh himself started taking ballet lessons with his elder sister, Soonee, when he was ten at the Singapore Ballet Academy and started creating dances in his teens.
Education and career
Goh studied in Nanyang Primary School, then went to Chinese High for his secondary education before pursuing his pre-university education at Raffles Institution. He later entered the National University of Singapore and graduated in 1969 with a BSc. degree in biochemistry. Halfway during his honours year in 1970, Goh, then 22 years of age, decided to answer a magazine advertisement for a dance scholarship and went to Lausanne, Switzerland to dance with a Swiss student company for a brief period, before moving to Amsterdam to study British ballet on a two-year scholarship. He stayed on as a dancer, first as a corps de ballet member, then eventually as a soloist, with the Dutch National Ballet for five and a half years. During this term, he choreographed his first ballet in 1973.
He was awarded the creative arts grant for choreography by the Dutch government in 1973 and 1975 for putting together two ballets for Dutch graduates and a choreographer's workshop. Unfortunately, the Dutch National Company did not have any vacancies for a resident choreographer. Thus, in 1976, Goh went to America to work for the newly established Washington Ballet Company as a resident choreographer, where his works were very well-received. His style was perceived as containing strong Asian influences, blended with classical and modern movements. He later became the associate artistic director with the company.
Goh also worked with most of the major dance companies in the United States and abroad such as the American Ballet Theatre, Berlin Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and the Boston Ballet among others.
In 1981, when Mikhail Baryshnikov was the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, he commissioned Goh to create a work especially for him. Thus began a series of opportunities and works that placed Goh on the world's stage for dance.
He was Associate Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet and had worked with them since 1976, as a teacher, artist, choreographer and administrator. During his 11 years with the company, Goh created 14 ballets for them.
On 28 November 1987, Goh's career was sadly curtailed when he died of an AIDS-related disease, viral colitis, in his Manhattan home in New York, at the age of 39. In his will, Goh left a US$500,00 legacy to create the Choo San Goh & H. Robert McGee Foundation for young dancers and choreographers. The foundation was based in Washington and collected applications for grants and scholarships from choreographers and dancers from around the world. Henry Robert McGee was Goh's business manager and close friend, looking after his legal matters. He died of an illness six months before Goh's death. The money and fees for staging Goh's ballets have also been invested and the interest distributed as grants for choreographic works and scholarships.
1978 : Received choreography fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, USA. In this year also, at the invitation of the Singapore Ballet Academy for their 20th anniversary concert in August, Goh performed a solo, Spectrum, which he choreographed and danced in 1969 when he was a final year undergrad.
Jul 1983 : Received the choreography award in the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria for his work, Momentum.
10 Aug 1983 : A 35-minute documentary, The Art of Goh Choo San, was filmed at the second Singapore Festival of Arts. It traced the meteoric and successful career of Goh, from an unknown young dancer to an internationally acclaimed and sought after choreographer.
1986 : Awarded the Washington Mayor's award for excellence in the Arts.
Feb 1987 : Awarded the Singapore Cultural Medallion
Mar 1987 : One of the celebrity judges at the Miss Universe Pageant held in Singapore
Sep 1987: Goh was the Guest Director for the Hong Kong Ballet, directing the Hong Kong Ballet for one of his works, Moments Remembered, for the Celebration of Hong Kong Artists festival held in October 1987 in commemoration of City Hall's Silver Jubilee.
1988 : Goh's work, Beginnings, performed by the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) at the Singapore Festival of Arts, as SDT's debut performance.
Goh was also featured in several dance magazines such as Ballet News and Dance Magazine, as well as People magazine.
17 Jul 1973 : Untitled (Nel Roos Ballet School).
13 Feb 1975 : Impressions Passes (Dutch Ballet Workshop).
25 May 1975 : Octet + Four (Dutch Ballet Workshop).
7 Nov 1976 : Introducing... (The Washington Ballet).
20 Feb 1977 : Life in Dance (The Washington Ballet).
1 May 1977 : Variations Serieuses (The Washington Ballet),
12 Feb 1978 : Fives (The Washington Ballet).
25 Feb 1978 : For the 1st Time (Gus Giordano Dance Company).
12 Mar 1978 : Synonyms (The Washington Ballet).
25 Apr 1978 : Double Contrasts (The Washington Ballet).
19 Jan 1979 : Momentum (Joffrey II Dancers).
12 Apr 1979 : Variations Cocertantes (Houston Ballet).
17 Oct 1979 : Casella 1,3,4. (Pennsylvania Ballet).
26 Oct 1979 : Birds of Paradise (The Washington Ballet).
28 Feb 1980 : Celestial Images (Pennsylvania Ballet).
10 Apr 1980 : Interventions (Houston Ballet).
18 Apr 1980 : Lament (The Washington Ballet).
8 May 1980 : Casual Moments (The Washington Ballet).
15 May 1980 : Leitmotiv (The Boston Ballet),
6 Nov 1980 : Helena (Joffrey Ballet).
13 Mar 1981 : Destined (The Washington Ballet).
21 May 1981 : Due Pezzi Sacri (The Boston Ballet).
15 Oct 1981 : Configurations (American Ballet Theatre).
4 Dec 1981 : Spectrum (Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre).
10 Mar 1982 : In the Glow of the Night (The Washington Ballet).
16 Sep 1982 : Liantos Perdidos (New World Ballet of Caracas).
23 Feb 1983 : Scenic Invitations (The Washington Ballet).
2 Jul 1983 : Beginnings (Joffrey II Dancers).
17 May 1984 : Romeo and Juliet (three acts) (The Boston Ballet).
20 Feb 1985 : Schubert Symphony (The Washington Ballet).
18 July 1985 : Integral Dances (Bat-Dor Dance Company).
19 Sep 1985 : Pastoral Moments (Milwaukee Ballet).
21 Dec 1985 : Moments Remembered (Bat-Dor Dance Company).
6 Feb 1986 : Unknown Territory (The Washington Ballet).
17 May 1986 : Skiftende Billeder (Royal Danish Ballet).
26 Oct 1986 : Ballade (Goh Ballet Company).
Source: Schergen, J., & Goh, S. K. (1997). Goh Choo San: Master craftsman in dance (p.40). Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre.
Father: Goh Kim Lok, an oil manufacturer, the son of Chinese immigrants, having moved from Medan, Indonesia to Singapore before Choo San was born. He passed away soon after Goh began his dancing career in Europe in 1970.
Mother: Siew Han Ch'ng
Sisters: Soonee, founded the Singapore Ballet Academy in 1958 and headed the dance department at the Vancouver Music Academy in the 1980s. Soo Khim, studied in Australia and returned to teach at the Ballet Academy, eventually succeeding her sister as head. Soo Khim later co-founded the Singapore Dance Theatre in June 1988 together with the late Anthony Then.
Brother: Goh Choo Chiat studied in England and was the principal dancer and ballet master in the China Ballet of Beijing and in 1972, starred in The Red Detachment of Women, one of the few successful artistic works of the Cultural Revolution. He left for Vancouver in 1976 and established the Goh Ballet School there.
A local boy makes good - than better and best. (1978, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 12.
The ascent of Goh Choo San. (1984, June 5). The Singapore Monitor, TV Scene!, p. 19.
Ballet choreographer dies of AIDS. (1987, December 2). The South China Morning Post, p. 3.
Cheah, Ui-Hoon. (2000, November 25). Dancing in the spirit of Choo San. The Business Times (Singapore), Weekend Edition, Executive Lifestyles!, The Arts!, p. 3.
Choo Sans million-dollar gift to young dancers and choreographers. (1988, January 17). The Sunday Times, p. 1.
De Souza, J. (1983, December 10). Whats new, Choo San? The Straits Times, p. 38.
Lee, S. H. (1997, October 28). Special show as embassy honours Goh Choo San. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 2.
Love and memories flow at service for Choo San. (1988, January 21). The Straits Times, Home, p. 21.
Sullivan, M. (1984, March 16). In Singapore, a native son holds the stage. International Herald Tribue, p. 7.
Tan, S. E. (1998, September 14). Ballet by the stars - growing by leaps and bounds. The Straits Times.
Washington's elite attend tribute to Goh Choo San. (1997, October 30). The Straits Times, World!, p. 6.
Schergen, J., & Goh, S. K. (1997). Goh Choo San: Master craftsman in dance. Singapore: Singapore Dance Theatre.
(Call no.: RSING 792.82 SCH)
The Art of Goh Choo San [Videotape]. (1983). Singapore: SBC.
(Call no.: RAV 792.82 ART)
The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
Goh, Choo San, 1948-1987
Arts>>Dance>>Ballet and modern dance