Singapore Arts Festival Blog

SAF2010: preliminary thoughts by Ng Yi-Sheng
April 5, 2010, 5:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

1. The publicity posters.  Don’t like ’em.

All of them feature a pair of disembodied hands reaching out to clutch a person – very very creepy.   In the truncated version of this one, you can’t even be sure if the hands don’t belong to the lady herself; i.e. she is some deformed four-handed Kali-lookalike, carressing herself provocatively.

2. I miss the old programme.  Sure, we were all saying Goh Ching Lee needed to step down from managing the SAF after ten years in charge, and the new GM Low Kee Hong is a darling who started out as an artist before joining the administrative side of things, so we kinda sense that his hear’s in the right place.

But we had three years of clear development from 2007 to 2009 as the SAF figured itself out through its programming.  All these three editions featured Forward Moves and Full Frontal, commissioned presentations by exciting homegrown choreographers and theatre directors respectively.  We witnessed a shift from trying to cater to all tastes (folk music, classical works, and avant garde in 07) to a specific focus on the avant garde (the less than popular 08 fest) to a really well put-together edition of the fest in 09, that presented avant garde reinterpretations of classical themes with a consistent comparative lens… ah, let me quote what I wrote back on the Flying Inkpot page last year:

One thing I really appreciated this year was that there was a strong sense of a curatorial hand in the pairings of shows: two audiodramas, two North European ballet companies, two South African works, two Western classics interpreted by Asia maestros, etc.

In 2007 and before, people were regularly complaining that the Festival’s programming seemed pretty characterless: always a mix of avant-garde and mass appeal pieces. In 2008 Goh Ching Lee for once took a step towards establishing character by opting for a particularly avant-garde set of performances, which didn’t go down well with the larger audience.

The 2009 programme caters to a mix of tastes but, through its game of pairings, highlights the contrasts and resonances between the different works – e.g. Suzuki’s Electra resonates not only with Cherry Orchard but with Chia’s LIV, which was performed using the Suzuki method. It’s really very clever.

Ms Goh’s said she’s going to continue this winning formula. Still, I hope she slightly varies this concept of pairing – a lot of its appeal is its novelty, after all.

Oh, and a lot of the reason for good attendance was that tickets were cheaper. That’s an important factor these days.
This year, that line of programming’s gone a little astray.  What’ve we got instead?

3. I do not like this year’s thematic programming very much.  Not only are the usual commissions gone, but we don’t even have an avant-garde focus anymore.  Academy of St Martin in the Fields???  Cantonese Opera Showcase from Nanning???  Emily of Frickin’ Emerald Hill???

Instead of having a clear artistic direction this year, the Festival’s got a big community approach, trying to reach out to students and teachers and line-dancers etc.  Hence the theme, “Between You and Me”.  Safe, time-trusted accessible works are being served up.  Daring new commissions?  Not so much.  (True, there are new Singapore editions of Football, Football and Cargo, but that’s hardly going to take things off in a new direction.)

As an artist who got to know the arts scene in the 90s, when almost everyone was indie and experimental… Well, I feel kinda left out.  Yeah, I know there’s a development process at work in Open Studio, but I want one of the headline shows to be a crazy experimental local work.  I do.

I’m sure there are some very different perspectives on the SAF from our other bloggers.  Comments?

Ng Yi-Sheng