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It occurs to me that this blog is also a very good platform for voicing what we’d like to see of the Singapore Arts Festival in years to come. After all, the Festival staff do actually read it for shits and giggles.
So I’ll tell ya what I want, what I really really want:
You know we want Singapore artists to show off their skillz, so I recommend calling up:
1) Kumar. I’m serious. I want to show him off to the world a little more. And of course, he sells tickets. It’d be great to have him jam with a more avant-garde performer – keep his classic brand of comedy, but allow it to riff with a contrasting sensibility.
2) Wang Meiyin. This Singaporean theatre director has her own New York-based theatre company: Quality Meats. They do intriguing, intense, manic stuff – we should get t see it first-hand. Invite Alec Tok back too, sometime. (You don’t have to get Chay Yew back for a while.)
3) Ramesh Meyyappan. This mime actor was the cornerstone of HI! Theatre back in the day, and now he’s an acclaimed international artist and former winner of the Life! Theatre Awards 2008 for Best Actor. A real inspiration to the deaf community. He’s a hell of a nice guy, too.
4) Margaret Leng Tan vs. John Sharpley. That’s right: an internationally renowned Singaporean-turned-American avant garde composer, versus an internationally renowned American-turned-Singaporean avant garde composer.
Seriously, just more avant-garde music. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra is just not cutting it with their 18th century dead white men. We need a whole “appreciating contemporary music” learning series…
5) There is a Hong Kong-based Singaporean singer and composer named Mark Chan, a New York-based pianist and contemporary composer named Marc Chan, and a Singapore-based percussionist for SiXX named Mark Chan.
Therefore, I propose Mark Chan vs Marc Chan vs Marc Chan.
Actually, I’m just being nuts. But Marc number two is really cool. He once played an entire Bach concerto in alphabetical order.
1) Ovidia Yu’s “A Woman on a Tree on a Hill”, the W!ld Rice version. It was a universally acclaimed version of a Singapore classic, and a rare instance of this populist company venturing into experimental staging. And it’ll have been ten years. Why not?
2) Alfian Sa’at’s “The Optic Trilogy” – also first staged in 2001 by STAGES, and since then staged in Zurich, Berlin and Stockholm. It’s also just been published as part of “Alfian Sa’at: Collected Plays One”. If you wanna score extra wow-points, get one of the Teutonic troupes to perform it in Singapore.
(Yeah, of course I’d like “sex.violence.blood.gore” and “Asian Boys Vol 1″ as well, but I’m not gonna push too hard yet.)
3) Chong Tze Chien/The Finger Players’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. I’ve heard so much about this small-scale Life! Theatre Best Play awardee and it drives me nuts that I’ve never seen it.
4) Natalie Hennedige/Cake Theatre’s “Nothing”. Ditto from above.
5) Li Xie’s “VaginaLogue”, which is way better than Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” and also bears the distinction of having been censored through funding withdrawals. Her House of Sins is also awesome. DramaBox’s rendition of Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud Nine”, translated by Quah Sy Ren, would also be brilliant.
6) A scaled-down sit-and-sing version of “Chang and Eng” by Ekachai Uekrongtham and Ming Wong. Not because it was fantastic, but because I want people to remember. The Victoria Theatre ushers loved this one, remember.
7) Huzir Sulaiman’s “Atomic Jaya”. He counts as Singaporean by now, doesn’t he? But is it okay if we make fun of Malaysia in this incredibly funny play?
… I’m not sure what other concrete suggestions I’ve got, other than the fact that I’d love to see a Young-Jean Lee production performed here. But I’m sure you guys have ideas – including lineups that aren’t so heavy on queer themes.
By Beijing Paper Tiger Theater Studio
For the youth of today’s China, the English word “cool” is used to denote an attractive, stylish or innovative quality, whether it is in a person, a product or a way of life. In this performance, Beijing Paper Tiger Theater Studio sought to examine that culture of “cool” by exploring the connotations of its Chinese equivalent, “酷” (kù) – which also means “cruel”. Thus the question arises: is it cool to be cruel?
In response, the performance delivered an unrelenting barrage of visual imagery, conveyed primarily through intense physical theatre. The audience was continually confronted with the cruelty and violence, in its myriad forms, found in modern society. The harsh symbolism employed in its vignettes invoked the spectres of decadent excess and waste, societal one-upmanship and hypocrisy, commodification of art and culture, political persecution and terrorism – all of which were presented in extreme, expressionistic mise-en-scène.
The characters in the performance had no real identities. They were reduced to mere digits, trapped in the ritualistic routines of their daily lives, and endlessly complying with the demands of their society. Indeed, they appeared to be no better than inmates in a prison: repeatedly responding to the call of their respective numbers, unquestioningly carrying out their scheduled tasks, and frantically scrubbing themselves clean of all traces of abuse and torture.
In this way, the performance sought to re-sensitise the audience to the inherent ruthlessness and brutality which constantly simmers, near boiling point, beneath the surface of civilisation. However, there was also a codified and choreographic sensibility in the performers’ movements and gestures, which was often accompanied by a soundtrack of chilled, ambient electronica. The crux of the performance’s inquiry lay in that juxtaposition: why is cruelty cool? What human quality causes us to accept and adopt violence in our everyday existence?
Such an inquiry has a particular resonance in the context of contemporary Chinese society, in view of its dialectical contradictions and tensions, and its history of political oppression and violence. There is also growing concern and unrest in China over the social, economic and political problems which have arisen as a result of the country’s head-long rush into capitalism, and its rising prominence as a superpower on the global stage.
In that regard, one of the most poignant images in the performance was the hammer, which was used as a prop by the performers. Once a Communist symbol of proletariat power, it was wielded in this case as an instrument of pain. Another unsettling image was that of raw vegetables, the agricultural produce of the peasantry, being forcefully shredded, grated and chopped to pieces by the performers. Within a single generation, the ideological shift in China has been so dramatic – and so violent – that many of its people are struggling to understand and keep up with the resultant changes; and those images reflect their anxieties and distress.
During the post-show dialogue on 13 June 2010, certain members of the audience sought clarification from the director, Tian Gebing, as to the meaning of the performance. Each time, he essentially took the position that it was for the audience to arrive at its own interpretation. Tellingly, one of his final responses was that even if the audience did not comprehend the performance (“看懂”), it was nevertheless important for them to witness it (“看到”).
So observe and draw your own conclusions; do not succumb to apathy.
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You know, I’m not really ready to make a coherent judgment about this. And I’d hate my voice to seem like it’s speaking for the opinions of everyone on the blog.
So this will be an open thread for now. What was the best and worst of the festival? What was its personality like? What do we want next year?
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: academy of st martin in the fields, joshua bell
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields & Joshua Bell
Let me start by saying that Joshua Bell has really nice hair; soft and bouncy, like that of a child. It moved ever so delicately with each passionate tug of his 300-year old Stradivarius, the Gibson ex Huberman.
This observation, more or less describes my experience of being in the Esplanade Concert Hall on the 12th of June 2010, listening to the talented violinist cum director, together with the equally astounding orchestra. The set for the night included;
Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op 62
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64
Beethoven Symphony No 7 in A, Op 92
Casting aside the rather flat stage, lit with general overhead wash – that did no justice to the splendour of the performance (and was only a subject of interest to one who is accustomed to visual insinuation), the humbly house chamber-sized ensemble provided a graceful delivery, providing dimension to the intricacies of each movement. One could tell that each verse was cautiously executed, but at the same time suggested effortlessness.
Academy of St Martin in the fields, sounded like a play to me. Now, it is but an exquisite orchestration by skilful individuals. I particularly enjoyed their pizzicatos. Light as day.
Throughout the one and a half hour performance, I found myself frozen, afraid to disrupt the seemingly fragile line of music flowing through my ears. “Surreal” the lady beside me said as she stood up after the second piece. I could agree more.
Bell then graced us with, what I thought was a classier version of the theme song for Barney, the (now extinct) purple Dinosaur, a cheeky encore, just before the intermission. I was later told that it was actually the Yankee Doodle.
The second half was no less impressive and intense. So much so Bell jolted passionately on his concert master’s chair- almost trance like, what I thought was a physical aide memoire to the marvel that is Beethoven’s. Melody easing into another, notes hitting where it matters, lingering like butterflies in the fields proving that he is simply awesome, like his hair.
I end this review with a video of how I first heard of Joshua Bell.
PS: Thank you Jeremy
This one was a festival highlight. The star-studded crowd puller. Superstar ballerina Sylvie Guillem, celebrated choreographer Russell Malliphant (in his first appearance in Singapore) and just-as-famous theatre artist (acts, writes, directs et al) Robert Lepage. On the back end of this production, there were equally accomplished designers: the late Alexander McQueen on costumes & fabric, Michael Hull on lights & luminosity and Jean-Sébastien Côté on sound & music.
And it was lovely. About 90 minutes of wizardry and wit. Eonnagata wowed me thoroughly but also left me confused; more about the artists’ intentions than the Chevalier’s gender. They used the Chevalier d’Eon as a central point of reference to perform, as it were, gender and identity. But too often they found themselves tangled up trying to tell the Chevalier’s story, managing only anecdotes here and there. There was a wrestle between segments that tried to deliver (reconstructed) facts about the protagonist and the much more affective segments that managed to locate and exploit theatricality in the protagonists life. Ultimately, the wrestle left me tired; well entertained but unmoved.
I would not wish for any fewer collaborators on Eonnagata, only perhaps one (or one more) who could provide it a little more direction, some dramaturgy or even editing. That said, I cannot rant enough about the wonderfully creative products of the collaborations. Here are just a few.
- An evocative scene between Lepage and Guillem that transitioned from a spoken enactment (with a hilariously mis-timed laugh track) to a stylistic dance-theatre interpretation of the same(this time with beautiful music and dramatic gesture).
- A solo fencing scene where Malliphant takes on none less than the air around him, which in turn responded in flashes (Hull) and echoes (Côté).
- The poetic trio between Lepage, Guillem and Malliphant as they weild a massive table that has had its surface transform into a mirror to reflect one performer in the other, to embed one gender in another. A scintillating play of images and their people.
- Malliphant’s emergence from a giagantic Kabuki costume; at first being it (the female) and slightly later in duet (or bed) with it. McQueen’s vision in creating a counterpoint to the fluidity and muscularity of Malliphant’s frame was remarkable. The costume soothed as much with its colour and texture as it did intimidate with its size and sheer volume.
- McQueen worked a completely different magic with Guillem’s body. In a delicious play between being flamboyantly clothed and utterly exposed at the same time, a layered open robe was clung on her shoulders as he battled herself (the Chevalier of course). I wouldn’t think its easy to clothe the limbs of a Sylvie Guillem, only leotards could be least accused of being reductive/intrusive to an unadulterated experience of her movement. But McQueen manages to create echoes of her fluid lethal movements in the traces of fabric that linger on in the spaces that her hands and legs have just annihilated. Fabric of the colour and quality of desaturated, suspended streaks of blood.
With little knowledge of the story of the Chevalier d’Eon, I was intrigued simply by the artistry of the dead male fashion designer playing itself out through the limbs and body of this very alive ballerina. There was a duet, a ghost and some definite ambiguity on gender. So Eon or not, this rapidfire tag game of high quality artistic collaborations most certainly got on with the Onnagata. And may I also share a particularly awkward moment where I found myself staring ever so intently at Guillem’s crotch (I could swear that McQueen had stuck a sock in her leotard). But no sooner had I lodged my eyes on the area that it turned out to be the private property of Malliphant or Lepage. Hull’s lighting teased me more with its enhanced shadows and quick concealments, and Côté’s music just made me look silly doing this. So, I still don’t know.
I’ve been postponing this post (HAH!) about the rest of the visual arts displays at the Esplanade.
Look! It’s the rest of Moe Kasim’s costume exhibit at Library@Esplanade! These are costumes from Royston Tan’s “881″.
As I said before, it’s classier to use mannequins that don’t have painted eyes. Painted eyes look either tacky or unheimlich.
His name is Pichet Klunchun.
He is a master of Khon.
He says was intrigued by Vaslav Nijinsky’s take on Thai dance in the scarcely documented Danse Siamoise of 1910.
So he made Nijinsky Siam which premiered at the Singapore Arts Festival of 2010.
He was awesome.
He first showed us many old photographs. They didn’t have any colour, but were laden with stories. The first ‘company’ of dancers and musicians who took traditional Thai dance to Europe. Cut to photos of Nijinsky, the legendary dancer of Ballet Russes in an ornate costume and a presumably Thai hand gesture. A possible connection through Diaghlev, the founder of Ballet Russes who saw the Thai company perform in Europe. More of Nijinsky’s images. This time not just on photographs but also on shadow puppets (nang yai). The photographs were old, blurred, of poor resolution, limited by the technology available then. The puppets were crisp, intricate and alarming in detail, created by the craft that is still alive today. The puppets were ferryed on the shoulders of three dancers Phadung, Sunon and Pichet, while the fourth lay still in the photograph, Nijinsky. The four kindly introduced themselves by their first names. Then together they began suggesting, what would soon become a poignant story.
The three men began locating within their tradition, the images of Nijinsky’s interpretation of their tradition. An exercise in imaginative reverse engineering. Why couldn’t Pichet have taken on this task as a solo, since this is afterall his dialogue with Nijinsky? The question lingered even as the man exited the stage, leaving behind Sunon, Phadung and Nijinsky ofcourse, this time in a new photograph where he is captured in air, leaping. Sunon and Phadung sat cross legged facing eachother while Nijinsky faced us, frozen in his mid air accomplishment. The two other men decided to have a go at it too. What ensued was a stiff competition of alternate leaps, challenging eachother with height, effortlessness and some comedy while at it. The question of why Pichet couldn’t have done this by himself answered itself. Apart from the fact that the man might just look silly jumping up and down on stage by himself, he had summoned Nijinsky as a fourth dancer therby completing the set of four characters danced in Khon: the man, the woman, the demon and the monkey.
He was smart, and just as I realized this, as if patiently waiting for my personal ephiphany, Sunon and Phandung excused themselves from stage, Nijinsky’s screen was dramatically pulled away. And behind it, there he was again. Pichet Klunchun. He was beautiful. Framing himself in a captivating set of painting and residues of Nijinsky’s images, he danced a dance in resplendent garb and music. Not much lucid memory of that dance remains. I only recall a faint numbing feeling of awe. And then in the most humble and refined manner, he reminded us that his name is Pichet Klunchun.
[Ed: This review is up late due to uploading problems.]
Filmed at “Mega Line Dance” at Central Promontory on 13 June at about 6:30pm.
I also have photos of a 9 year-old girl who won a “neck massager” from SAF corporate sponsor, Action City. Surely a 9 year-old girl doesn’t know how to “massage” her “neck” yet?
Plus I have a video of Acting Minister for Information, Communications & the Arts Lui Tuck Yew dancing the electric slide. But maybe I won’t post that one, given that it would just strengthen the PAP’s political hegemony.
It gives me great pleasure to be ‘reviewing’ two musically-theme productions from the Singapore Arts Festival, Manganiyar Seduction and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields & Joshua Bell. Reviewing is in inverted commas as writing reviews is not really forte. As you can see my review for Manganiyar Seduction is thoroughly overdue, and after writing almost 5 drafts, I have given up being someone who I cannot be; impartial and void of biased perspective. Furthermore I am not musically inclined, not professionally at least but I will do my best, at honesty. So I invite you, with open arms, to have an open mind as you read what will transpire of this moment, pertaining past events.
19 May 2010
If you have read my previous post you’ve known that I accidentally on purpose, watched the trailer which left me rather informed of what I was going to catch. Relying on physicality and the concept of existentialist variation was risky, but all preconceived notions dissipated once the lights in the Esplanade theatre dimmed, and the first long note, of the khamaycha (bowed lute) ushered me from afar. (more…)
Margaret Chan as Emily in 1985. Picture taken from The Straits Times website.
Margaret Chan as Emily in 2010. Picture taken from the SAF website.
Emily of Emerald Hill, performed by Margaret Chan, in the Victoria Theatre, is above all, a highly symbolic production- Firstly, Margaret Chan was reprising a role that she performed a good 25 years ago. How many performers can say that? Secondly, this is the last production housed by the Victoria Theatre before it shuts down for a 3-year long renovation on Monday. As I was waiting for the production to start, I heard someone remark, “Tonight’s show very special. This is last time we’re ever gonna sit in these red old smelly seats leh.” The question for me is how do the symbolisms affect the play?
For one, Margaret Chan did an amazing job as Emily- She handled Emily’s emotional and psychological landscape finely, being wonderfully charming and engaging one minute and then controlling and manipulative the next. Despite the large space of the stage which threatened to swallow her physical presence whole, Margaret exuded ease and confidence on stage and she owned the space completely. Margaret the performer making the stage hers entirely paralleled and brought out the way Emily made the large piece of property, Emerald Hill, hers entirely. Margaret’s 25 years of life experiences (such as raising her children and watching them grow up and then experiencing not just motherhood but grandmother-hood) accumulated after having first performed Emily in 1985 has given her Emily of 2010 an increased depth. Margaret’s duality as performer and character thus becomes an advantage, for she could tap into those experiences in order to enrich her character.
When the show had ended and the applause had ceased, Margaret pointed to her son, Jonathan, who was amongst the audience and told the audience that when she first performed as Emily, she had been seven-months pregnant with him and now she dedicates the production to him. I could not help but compare her open pride and adoration for her son to Emily’s open pride and adoration for her “big strong son”, Keong. For me, the lines had blurred between performer and character.
Even though Margaret managed to own the stage as mentioned, I still felt that the size of the space made Emily very distant from me. She looked rather tiny from where I was seated on the first floor, and I thought of how much tinier she must be for those on the second floor. A smaller space would have been preferable- It would have made Emily not just literally but emotionally closer to the audience, and the audience would have been able to see Emily’s/Margaret’s every change of facial expression, gesture and voice more clearly. I felt that this was lost in the Victoria Theatre’s space, and it was a pity because Emily is such an extraordinary and complex character. It would have been great to watch her up close and personal and attempt to understand her in a more intimate space.
However, symbolism won over function and so the Victoria Theatre was chosen- One is made to relate Emerald Hill, a once glorious place for the rich not just in the play but in Singapore history; now erased after demolishing, creating and renovating (not necessarily in order) new houses over the years, to Victoria Theatre, a historically rich and grand old building that survived the air raids of World War Two and is about to be renovated. I must say that the symbolism does work – towards the end of the play, all of Emily’s children move out to stay in HDB flats and she sells all of Emerald Hill’s land, keeping only the house. There is the sound of construction noises and cars zipping along the newly made road right outside Emily’s house. The world is changing all around Emily, and she is being left behind. She says she doesn’t mind the noise; it sounds like people talking and laughing. This was such a poignant moment, full of nostalgia and melancholy. The Victoria Theatre was literally being filled with construction noises at this point- a simulation of what was to come- and I felt sad that it was going to be renovated. It made me think of all the other buildings in my childhood that have been renovated. The word ‘renovation’ makes it sound as though buildings simply go for a make-over and come out clean and improved. But more often than not, with each ‘renovation’, buildings are altered to the extent that they become unrecognizable. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen with the Victoria Theatre.
It can be said that in this production, Emily of Emerald Hill was ‘renovated’ (in a sense)- Margaret Chan gave the lines more conversational fluidity by throwing in colloquial lingos and a splatter of “lah”s at the back of sentences. She also made it a point to translate some of the malay words immediately after saying them so as not to lose the audience. The script was also edited for a shorter and more succinct performance, so the audience never got to see Emily’s little episode with her daughter, Doris, who marries an ‘ang moh’. It is inevitable that even a landmark play like Emily of Emerald Hill needs to be ‘renovated’ in order to cater to modern audiences. On the whole I think it worked well and made the production more interesting. My boyfriend remarked that watching the production only created a greater sense of distance from that forgotten era Emily belonged to- The more Margaret translates, updates, and attempts to connect to us- the contemporary audience- the more we are made acutely aware of the distance that separates us from that history of Singapore.
During the post-show talk, Co-Director, Jeremiah Choy, told the audience that during the initial formation phase of the production, they had grand ideas about what the set design and multi-media presentation should be. But after watching Margaret in rehearsal, he called Casey Lim, the multi-media designer, and told him that they had to take more than half of what they had planned out, for “Margaret is very powerful!” They were still taking things out a day before the performance. I thought that was a very wise and brave decision to make, for after so many productions of Emily of Emerald Hill, audiences may expect something new and different. I am glad that Jeremiah and Casey trusted Margaret- Her strong and magnetic presence on stage and her ability to tell a good story and bring the audience into Emily’s world simply by using her voice and body were more than sufficient. In fact, I found the batik-looking multi-media prints reflected on the screen doors of the set design rather unnecessary, even though they were very colourful and decorative. I felt that Sebastian Zeng’s set design of three screen doors with intricate details were decorative enough alone, and done in a thoughtfully subtle manner. The multi-media of little triangular patchwork quilts being added together was a nice tasteful touch though, as Emily sews on stage in a pensive mood.
I am also glad that ultimately, they trusted the audience to be able to visualize and complete Emily’s world for themselves. For it has been a good many years since the play was first written, and each generation and each individual relates to Emily of Emerald Hill in his/her own way. Each has his/her own personal version of Emily and Emily’s world in his/her mind.