Singapore Arts Festival Blog

“11 and 12” by Peter Brook and Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord by Ng Yi-Sheng
May 31, 2010, 11:34 pm
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When I went to watch 11 and 12, I wasn’t expecting easy theatre. I expected something experimental, difficult, abstract maybe even inaccessible. It didn’t help that I read Adeline Chia’s review of the piece in the Straits Times the day before which insisted it was too quiet and too subtle.
I have to say I disagree.

Yes, there was no dramatic curve in terms of a climax and a resolution, and yes perhaps the only moment which really moved the pace up was the twenty seconds of violence depicted on stage, but I don’t think one can fault this play, or any play for that matter for being quiet. Theatre is allowed to be quiet.

I suppose if one felt that the silence and subtlety took away from the piece, then that might be a more valid point of view. I personally however, felt Brook’s meditative treatment worked beautifully. It resulted in a powerful message and a delivery that was profound on so many levels. For me the silence was almost uncomfortable because there was so much left unsaid about repercussions, violence, injustice and humanity that it made them resonate even more powerfully. They stayed within the space like giant white elephants. I thought the treatment was beautifully nuanced. It’s hard to inject humor into the kind of issues the play deals with and incredibly difficult to pull off two men playing drag without descending into it being camp, but somehow even through all of these very warm, funny moments, the play always managed to retain its gravitas. What I particularly loved was how poetic this piece was. For me, the best casting choice was Makram J. Khoury who inspired such pathos. His delivery of certain lines made my heart heavier in the way beautiful poetry always does. The line that stayed with me was “until my skin leaves my flesh, until my flesh leaves my nerves, until my nerves leave my bones and until my bones leave my marrow. And if my marrow left you, I would leave my marrow.” Toshi Tsuchitori’s musical accompaniment only enhanced this poetry for me, providing a beautiful undercurrent and a constant signpost to small moments that happened on stage for the viewer to explore. I have to disagree with the reviewer who complains about the lack of spectacle in this play. There were some incredibly simple and intelligent design aspects that I should think actually needs a high level of mastery to carry off. There is a vast difference between using red cloth with a cast member on each side and waving it up and down to create waves and shaping it in one swift movement to become a boat. The former being a stock feature of every school play, the latter, simply ingenious.

Similarly, the moment when the cast covered the three logs with the corners of the cloth to look like tombstones made me marvel at the intelligent simplicity of it all. That, in my opinion, takes more imagination than fireworks on stage. And if that wasn’t spectacle enough, well then there was always the moment when Tunji Lucas whipped his robe off to reveal the most stunning upper body I’ve seen in a while. This was a play I was thinking about long after it was over.

Pooja Nansi


Random shots of the Esplanade, Part 2 by Ng Yi-Sheng
May 31, 2010, 12:18 pm
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The Mango Dollies (featuring our very own blogger Pooja Nansi) will be doing their spoken word/music as part of Esplanade Flipside again! Monday and Tuesday, 7:15 and 8:15pm!

In honour of that, I think it may be time to ji seow the Esplanade again. Perhaps re: their logo for Flipside:

Little Pink Man: "Help me! I've been forced into a stress position!"

… which they’re plastering around all over the place…

(More photos after the jump, including something perverse.)

Continue reading

In the sanctuary-from-consumerism mood by szechan
May 31, 2010, 12:06 pm
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Woohoo! Like Yish I couldn’t resist the two red sewing ladies and their kooky charm.  It was only after I hopped on the bike for a good 15 minutes that I realised that this is also A REALLY SMART PIECE OF ART!

It must have been a specific decision that the performance was placed smack in the middle of a mall, and the bicycles carefully positioned so that while the tailors are working on your “surprise” garment (I got rapped for peeking one too many times) you pedal endlessly into either Forever 21 or Topshop.  I was lucky enough to get a go and I faced into Forever 21 and its current collection of mass-produced pseudo bohemia. And the contrast smacked me between the eyes.  In the middle of a mecca to consumerism, two independent ladies were pulling people off the shopping route to manually pedal-power their 1930s sewing machines and produce unique applique-art  whose raw materials were given for free, and the art created and shared for free.  At the end of each creation, they sew on their label – but it is a label that stands for something completely different. And maybe the best part – that this work is accessible on so many levels whether you’re shopping, five years old, or if you happened to be thinking about “art”.

Check out how they flower powered my camos!

The detail is just stunning.  My cat likes it too.

Some other creations from the first hour of the show:


LADY MACBETH by Theatre Moollee by gregalvang
May 31, 2010, 1:13 am
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Let me begin this post by saying that when I write this, I can’t pretend to represent anyone but myself. I was asked to write here in order to contribute a student/youth’s perspective to the blog, and though it is true that I am both a student and very youthful, I don’t think I can fairly claim that I am representative of most other people in my age demographic. Having said that, I am still a voice of youth if not the voice of youth, so here goes.

I chose to review Lady Macbeth because I didn’t want to get in over my head reviewing something I knew nothing about, like an art installation or Football! Football! (ha ha. No, seriously). My logic for choosing Lady Macbeth was as follows: I studied Macbeth last year, albeit a little vaguely. I have watched A Performance of Macbeth, the film of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s rendition, starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. I also watched a student production in the University of Chicago that I thought was pretty experimental. So I figured I had most of my bases covered. I could handle it.

Except not really. Aside from failing to watch Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood – which this production reminded me, I really need to rent soon – I don’t know if I failed to get Lady Macbeth, or if there wasn’t much to get in the first place. It was strange. I think I understood what director Tae-sook Han was trying to achieve, but that’s not quite the same as actually achieving it. Maybe I needed to be in a particular state of mind to click with the production’s very particular – and quite demanding – style. Unfortunately, today I just wasn’t feeling it.

One thing the play did well in was evoking eerieness. Acting on a three-sided traverse stage placed in the middle of  the Esplanade Theatre’s actual stage (with the audience seated onstage as well), the actors quite effectively used grotesque body language that was comparable to butoh. At certain points Lady Macbeth seemed like a (good) Japanese horror movie, using silence, slow movement and animalistic sounds to create a  palpably creepy atmosphere. However this atmosphere seemed limited to the very area that the actors were working in – the audience was small and I was a couple of metres away from the stage, but I felt unreached by the tension that I knew was hanging over the actors themselves. This is especially unfortunate because Ms Han, during the Q&A session, explained that one of her aims was to explore theatrical space. There’s no denying that her actors explored the space and sometimes walked up as close to the audience as possible, but the energy remained pretty contained.

The one actor that did manage to affect me was Joo-hee Seo, who played Lady Macbeth. Her face (which, a friend observed, was perfectly shaped for Noh theatre) and body managed to express currents of anxiety, panic and desperation under the weight of dazed lethargy. The use of her voice was extremely impressive, and she managed to stretch it out and slow it down to express her exhaustion and haunting. The fluency with which she shifted gears – especially important because of the fluid nature of Lady Macbeth’s damaged psyche – allowed shifts from indulgent and pleased to furious and terrified. She also handled a brief comic scene with aplomb, though it stuck out and felt tonally out of place from the rest of the play. Dong-hwan Chung as Macbeth/Royal Doctor did not fare so well, giving Macbeth a few too many vocal tics, and playing the Royal Doctor unevenly, vacillating too uncontrollably between demonic and sympathetic (though I understand his attempt to reflect the rockiness of Lady Macbeth’s reality). The other actors were really almost inconsequential, except for Il Won, who was probably the most effective in filling the theatrical space with his sinister music – at times sounding tribal, and at others imitating broken mechanical sounds.

The script was also not without its problems. I wonder if this is an issue with the actual writing itself or simply with the translated surtitles, these being in Korean and English respectively, but it was strange to see original Shakespearean verse followed by something so direct and artless as ‘Men enjoy playing for power, women enjoy playing with it.’ This might be immature, but I was also very distracted by some of the Engrish surtitles especially during the crucial scenes (i.e. ‘I’m sense of your guilty.’ ‘My…guilty…?’). Furthermore, using the Doctor and the Gentlewoman (here male and credited as ‘Chamberlain Object’) as ‘treatment’ in order to segue into Lady Macbeth’s flashbacks struck me as clumsy exposé.

This review makes it sound like I disliked the play much more than I really did. In truth, there were some pretty wonderful theatrical moments dotting the play. The onstage sculpting of King Duncan’s face (to torment Lady Macbeth as she soliloquyed about how the old king reminded her of her father) was both monstrous and magnetic. Filling the middle of the stage with a pool of clear water for Lady Macbeth to wash her hands in was fascinating and really quite beautiful, but most stunning were the final moments of the play: the curtain rose up and revealed a walkway thrust out into the middle of the empty theatre, and Lady Macbeth stumbled slowly offstage, her back lit by the theatre lights until she turned for one final look back at the audience. Moments like these made me want to see them in the context of a better, less uneven play. I don’t expect plays to be filled back to back with Moments of Pure Theatre – if so, they would no longer be moments. I just felt that the play wasn’t as affecting or intense as it could have been, and in that same vein, lost the power that its stronger moments could have had. For a production in its 11th year, it unfortunately felt less rich and layered than it should have.

Still, the next best alternative to feeling is thinking, and there is no denying that Lady Macbeth left me thinking, even though half the time I was thinking about what I should be feeling, and the other, thinking about what Theatre Moollee was trying to achieve. But theatre is subjective, and most of the audience seemed like they definitely felt something, so maybe it’s a fault on my part. If so, I admit that there is still so much I could learn, and Lady Macbeth succeeded very definitely in highlighting that to me. The great thing about a production like this one is that it draws from so many varied influences that you simply can’t be complacent when you’re watching it. You think about where you’ve seen this kind of movement before, or where you’ve heard these drums, or what this particular tableau reminds you of. And you want to know more.

Currently I’m trying to read about Korean theatre, though its Wikipedia page isn’t very helpful, telling me that “Korean theatre is theatre done on stage by Koreans or within Korea or by overseas Koreans. Korean theatre remains vibrant today.” Ha. Maybe I’ll have more success watching Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. And I’m doing that, right after this.


P.S. My sincerest apologies for missing O Sounds on Saturday; due to a screw-up on my part I missed the show, and I really deeply apologise to anyone who expected a formal review of the show.

May 31, 2010, 12:51 am
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As a performer, Tim Crouch does not respect the fourth wall. No, that’s putting it too mildly: Tim Crouch the highly popular British performer does everything he can to negate the existence of theatrical “fourth wall”. His brand of theatre is based on direct communication with the audience and interaction is a key part of the action in his shows.

For years, Crouch has been touring his one-man shows in which various characters engage in communication with those watching him perform. Indeed, at a post-show discussion at his Arts Fest performance in late May, Crouch told us that since he specializes in monologues and the only alternative to direct involvement with the audience is for the character to be wrapped up in his own world. And that, Crouch insists, is boring for both the performer and the audience.

The two shows that Crouch brought to this year’s Singapore Arts Fest were two extended takes on minor figures from Shakespeare: Malvolio, the dyspeptic steward from Twelfth Night and Peaseblossom, an even more minor character from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Crouch has admitted that, in putting together these two shows, he was largely inspired by Tom Stoppard’s breakout play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In that long work, two very minor characters from Hamlet take centre stage and the Melancholy Dane himself slips into the background to assume a mere walk-on role.

But Malvolio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are almost major players compared to Peaseblossom, who is one of Titania’s attendant fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream ultimately assigned to look after all Nick Bottom’s needs once he’s acquired the head of an ass and Titania duly falls in love with him. In the original play, Peasebloosom has a single, two-syllable chip of dialogue: “Ready”. In Tim Crouch’s version, the stage is all Peaseblossom’s and s/he has much to say. (As many have pointed out, the original Peaseblossom’s gender is ambiguous, though actor Tim Crouch plays him masculine all the way.)

Author-director-actor Crouch casts his Peaseblossom as a sensitive soul locked in eternal pre-adolescence, fearful of all that adulthood and its earlier stages entails. Meeting us in the audience just before dawn following the triple wedding celebrations in Athens, Peaseblossom questions the whole point of sexual attraction, marriage and sex itself. The questioning reveals not only skepticism but also dread. The fairy’s ruminations and recriminations (of nasty adults like Oberon, King of the Fairies) then explore Peaseblossom’s place in a world whose rules and operations come mainly from adults.
These ruminations are arranged in terms of six dreams that Peaseblossom has, introduced with titles like “Bee”; “Naked”; “Play”; “Scratching”; and “Death”. Each scene starts with the questioning fairy waking up from one of these dreams and then pursuing the theme suggested by the title.

But Crouch, a master of whimsical comedy and spontaneous quips, never allows these discussions to get too serious, even in that last section, “Death”. After all, this show was conceived as a children’s show and meant primarily to entertain kids. (Most of the audience at the performance I attended are still a few years shy of adolescence.)

And Tim Crouch is certainly a polished entertainer. Right from the opening moments, when he moved all about the stage blessing everyone and almost everything facing him, Crouch kept us entertained and engaged. (Not that easy a task when your audience is a mix of very young people with limited attention spans and adults with limited patience levels.)

To explain the background of his character and that character’s anxieties, Crouch recruited members of the audience to take on the key roles of his mistress Titania, her tyrannical husband Oberon, the young Athenian lovers, etc. He then used these “actors” to give a rather partisan account of who was what and who did what in the play our Peaseblossom was plucked out of. He also uses a clothes carousel of hand puppets to tell the tale of the Rude Mechanicals (Bottom, Peter Quince, Snug the Joiner, etc.) and their delightfully confused play-within-a-play.

This kind of theatre can become limp, deadly even in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to do it just right. But not only is Crouch an energetic, engaging performer, he knows how to pick out his recruits and keep them involved enough to make his brand of interactive theatre work well.

He had fun with the audience (towards the end, when he takes the doll representing the Indian orphan boy away from Titania and gives him to Oberon, he quietly snarls, “Hope you choke on it.”) And the audience obviously had fun watching Crouch deconstruct a character whose main task is subservience and whose main contribution to a classic children’s play is to answer “Ready!”.

When I read that the targeted audience for this show was children from six years up, I winced and thought that I was about to be feel most out of place here, a corrupt and jaundiced adult bored by the childish antics going on in front of me. But I was charmed and entertained throughout the just over one hour of Crouchy antics and felt I had learned something about how to do both monologues and interactive theatre.

“I, Peaseblossom” is neither great theatre, a stunning exercise in theatrical experimentalism or a clever comment on the human condition. In fact, it’s rough, seat-of-the-pants theatre that could easily be played on a street somewhere. But it is also solid entertainment, which is all its author-director-performer intended it to be. It helped me recapture part of the childish whimsy within me, and that alone made it worthwhile for me.

Richard Lord

Dance/Film/does/someone/have/calendar/dyslexia? by szechan
May 31, 2010, 12:33 am
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I am going crosseyed, sitting here trying to make sense of the scheduling of the Arts Fest dance-film programming.  It’s a series of five film screenings, two masterclasses and one forum, supposed to take place next weekend on 5 and 6 June at Cathay and Objectifs.

Here’s the deal: if you would like to attend the directors’ classes (5 June), you can’t attend half the films being shown.  If you attend Lee Yanor or Alex Reuben’s workshops on 5 June, you must choose between watching their work the next day (6 June 11am and 12.40pm), or talking about dance film the next day (6 June 11am-1pm) in the forum with Jason wee, danny k and Lim How Ngean.

One really shouldn’t have to be genius with a pen and a calendar to figure out that the limited dance film audience in Singapore will be spread thin with such parallel schedules. And that this schedule is simply a lot of wasted chances to allow that same limited audience to grow in their experience and comprehension of the subject.

What gives?!


Acoustic Evening & Sound System by Bryan Tan
May 30, 2010, 9:45 pm
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By Nitin Sawhney

Acoustic Evening

Between Nitin and Me

In the summer of 2000, I was in London for a holiday. After arriving there, I found out that Nitin Sawhney was having a concert at Shepards Bush Empire. Having been blown away by his breakthrough album, Beyond Skin, I jumped at the chance to watch him perform live.

Let me put it this way: I still have my ticket stub for that concert.

On 28 May 2010, I listened to those songs being performed again – this time in Singapore – together with other songs recorded by him in the last decade. The experience brought home for me, quite literally, the power, beauty and timelessness of his music.

After the performance and post-show dialogue (which I was delighted to conduct) at the Esplanade Concert Hall that evening, I showed him the date on the ticket stub that I had kept all this while: 28 May 2000.

Ten years, to the day.

Sound System


>> do you > do you remember > those nights we danced away our pre-millennial tension > the lights the heat the smoke the sweat > those outcaste flavas on our tongues > do you recall at all > on board flight ic408 with talvin as my co-pilot > do you dub dub dub dub > tabla ‘n’ bass and bhangra breakbeats > lost in some uk garage or indian jungle > do you recollect reflect respect > now i do fuck yes i do > do you >>

Bryan Tan