Goh Soo Khim
Choreographer and co-founder of Singapore’s first professional dance company
Goh Soo Khim was, in 1964, the first Asian to be admitted to the Australian Ballet School. Two years later she graduated as the top student of her class. This was an impressive but perhaps unsurprising feat given that she was born into ballet. Her father had encouraged his 10 children to learn either music or dance. Soo Khim was the ninth child. Two of her elder siblings, Soo Nee and Choo Chiat, and her younger brother, Choo San, would become internationally well-known ballet dancers, choreographers and teachers.
As a child, Soo Khim loved dancing and was trained in ballet at the Singapore Ballet Academy (SBA) which her older sister, Soo Nee, had co-founded. Returning to Singapore after her training in Australia, she joined the teaching staff at SBA and was also its principal dancer. In 1971 she took over as the director of SBA when her sister Soo Nee left for Canada.
When she took over the running of the Academy, Soo Khim chose to focus on choreography and grooming young dancers instead of continuing to dance herself. She began to create original works, such as Temple Tone Poem, which married Western ballet techniques with contemporary Asian themes and aesthetic elements.
Soo Khim was one of the first locally trained ballet dancers to pass the advanced examination of the Royal Academy of Dancing. In 1984, she was appointed co-artistic director of the ballet group of the National Dance Company that the then Ministry of Culture had set up. She collaborated with dancer-choreographer Anthony Then on productions for the Singapore Arts Festival, and she and Anthony began to shape their idea of forming a professional dance company. They felt there was a need for a professional platform for young local dancers.
Soo Khim and Anthony started Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) in 1988. Initially, to keep costs low, they used SBA’s premises. In 1991, SDT moved into its own premises at Fort Canning and in 1995, it launched Ballet under the Stars, a popular annual event that continues today. Unfortunately Anthony died in 1995 and Soo Khim ran SDT by herself for the next 13 years. She stepped down as SDT’s artistic director in 2008.
For her contributions to the development of ballet in Singapore, Goh was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1981 and the Public Service Medal in 1989. In 2002, she received a Fellowship from the LASALLE College of the Arts. In 2009, she was a jury member for the Genee International Ballet Competition and was conferred Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Dance. She was Her World’s 2009 Woman of the Year.
"Art often acts like a window to the world and opens our minds to experience and accept differences in other people."