Unknown Territory

Choreographer: Choo-San Goh

Music: Jim Jacobsen

Costumes and Set Design: Carol Vollet Kingston

Lighting: Beth W. Newbold, recreated by Robert Neu

PBT Performance Date: March 1998


Program Notes (March 1998)
By Carol Meeder, former Director of Arts Education

The ballet Unknown Territory gives audiences a rare glimpse of Asian rituals and culture through the eyes of an Asian choreographer.  While many of choreographer Choo-San Goh’s works contain references to Chinese movement styles, Unknown Territory stands out because of its focus on Asian traditions.

Goh, whose first name, Choo-San, is Chinese for “coral reef”, was born in 1948 in Singapore to Chinese parents.  He began studying at the Singapore Ballet Academy at the age of 10, the fourth of his ten siblings to become a dancer.  He continued his ballet training through high school and college, while earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Singapore.   After graduating, he decided to pursue a career in dance and in 1970 joined the Het National Ballet in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  In 1976, he accepted an invitation to join the Washington Ballet as resident choreographer, where he created 14 works.  Goh later created ballets for other companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and the Royal Swedish Ballet.  His creation for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Configurations, has been presented in the U.S. and Europe.  In 1987, Goh received the Cultural Medallion of Singapore, the most prestigious award given by the government of Singapore to a citizen, in recognition of his contribution to the dance world.  Before his death in 1987, Goh established the Choo-San Goh/H. Robert Magee Foundation.  The Foundation awards grants to dance companies for the production of works by young emerging choreographers. 

Unknown Territory, first performed on February 6, 1986, by The Washington Ballet, portrays a primitive wedding ritual.  Much like Goh’s own parents, the Bride and Groom in the ballet have been promised to each other from a young age, but are strangers until their wedding.  While Goh was immersed in the Chinese culture from his infancy, Janek Schergen, a close friend of Goh and Artistic Director of the choreographer’s Foundation, emphasizes that the ballet is not meant to be Chinese, but Asian.  Schergen says, “People sometimes forget how big and multi-cultural Asia is.  The rituals and customs [Goh] invented to take place in this mythical territory are essentially fictional rites derived from factual sources.  They aren’t traceable to any one culture.  That is why it’s called Unknown Territory.”

The score for Unknown Territory is original music by the same name, created specifically for this ballet by composer Jim Jacobsen.