The O.P.E.N. 2016 – One Pass To See It All

The O.P.E.N. 2016 by Singapore International Festival of Arts grants visitors access to more than 40 arts programmes over 18 days – for only S$45.

There was an article published in The Straits Times last Monday titled Growing pains for Singapore art market. It is really not easy at all to be an artist or an art practitioner in Singapore when her arts climate is… not the most ideal, let’s put it that way. This also gives me a greater appreciation for the good work that the various art establishments are doing to boost the local arts scene.

Speaking of which, The O.P.E.N is back! The O.P.E.N. is Singapore International Festival of Arts‘s pre-festival of ideas to get people talking about the festival’s themes and issues before the main event that is SIFA (taking place from 11 August to 17 September 2016).  The O.P.E.N. was initiated by SIFA festival director Ong Keng Sen when he took over the reins of SIFA back in 2011 – thank you good sir.

After past themes like 2014’s Legacy and the Expanded Classic which looks at the past and 2015’s POST-Empires which looks at the present, this year’s The O.P.E.N. (and SIFA) will come full circle with the theme ‘Potentialities’ – looking into the future. This year’s pre-festival not only celebrates change agents from around the world, but also nudges and reminds visitors that we as individuals also have the same potentiality to be change-makers.

The O.P.E.N will take place from 22 June to 9 July 2016 and once again, for a flat rate of $45 entitles visitors to all of its programmes over 18 days (concession and single entry passes are also available). I’m really excited! Here are my top 10 picks for this year’s The O.P.E.N. RW

For more information on The O.P.E.N. click here. To buy your The O.P.E.N. pass, click here.

Editor’s note: Programmes’ descriptions and photos by SIFA. The theme ‘Potentialities’ was previously written as ‘Potentiality’. The error has since been corrected.

1. I Know Why The Rebel Sings

22 June, 7pm – 10pm (Opening day)
23 June through 9 July, Tue – Sat: 11am – 10pm ; Sun: 11am – 6pm; Closed on Mondays

Venue: 72-13

PHOTO & VIDEO EXHIBITION: I Know Why The Rebel Sings strikingly highlights the impressive range of Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian. Comprising photographs from her previous series, “Look”, “Listen” and “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, this comprehensive showcase includes previously unexhibited images of humanitarian tragedies around the world. It highlights the continuum in Tavakolian’s oeuvre, from art to photojournalism. With a focus on the portrait, these two genres are scintillatingly in conversation in her work.

Tavakolian’s talent for making the inner worlds of her subjects come alive is seen in her “Look” series. It captures the people in her building, each individual framed by a window and the detritus of everyday living. Her work refuses to fall into the clichés of expressing Iran today. Instead she gives complexity to these ordinary lives without resorting to narratives of oppression and freedom. This theme is continued in “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, in which she follows her peers through video portraits and photo albums from their daily lives.

2. Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes

SEO

30 June, 8pm (1hr 30mins, no intermission)

Venue: Drama Centre Black Box

PERFORMANCE: As an artist, how much of your life are you willing to share with your audience? “For eight years I’ve been trying to finish this play,” Marina Otero states. “This is yet another sketch of that incomplete, endless play. It’s made with parts of an old play, confused memories, past lovers and other things I already killed. I now open the doors to show those misplaced secrets, the archived documents, stolen pictures, and my first 30 years reassembled.” See Otero as a child, a teenager, a woman. See her as a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend. Then – a dancer, an actress, a playwright. Yet the query is posed, haunting, teasing: how much did she remember and how much did she invent? Weigh those questions against the undeniable honesty in Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes. Otero’s mashup performance reveals a woman stripped bare, dealing with raw emotions, fighting her demons and struggling to find meaning in this affecting play about her own life.

3. Archaeology of the Final Decade

28 June, 7.30pm (1hr 15mins (inclusive of Q&A))

Venue: 72-13

LECTURE: What is the potentiality of archives for the future? Explore Iran’s rich yet lesser-known artistic past with London-based curator Vali Mahlouji, who is a writer and adviser to the British Museum. Mahlouji founded Archaeology Of The Final Decade, a curatorial and research platform that brings back to life art and culture buried under revolution and social change.

In this enlightening lecture, Mahlouji explores Iran’s cultural legacies now lost by the chaos of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. With meticulous passion and investigative energy, he dissects these ideas through the use of two cultural reference points. The first is Iran’s “Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis” that ran from 1967 to 1977, a theatre, dance and music showcase with a unique focus on Asia and Africa. Black-and-white snapshots of this arts and cultural extravaganza reveal a rich diversity and cosmopolitan sophistication not often associated with the country. The second is the seminal photographic series, “Prostitute”, by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan. These haunting images of women from the red-light ghetto of Citadel of Shahr-e No represent an underbelly deliberately annihilated. The Citadel went up in flames as the revolution unfolded. Many survivors were imprisoned or culturally ‘reformed’; some were sentenced to death. What are the lasting ramifications when huge chunks of cultural memory are brutally erased?

What is the best way to reintroduce lost objects into the public domain, stimulate healthy discourse and encourage reconciliation? Join Mahlouji as he confronts these thorny issues of memory, history and reintegration that have lasting resonance for us all.

4. Riding On A Cloud

SEO

23 June, 8pm

Venue: 72-13 (1h 05min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: The brilliant performance auteur Rabih Mroué’s younger brother was shot in Beirut in 1987, as the Lebanese civil war was winding down. Although the 17-year-old Yasser did not die, the sniper’s bullet pierced his skull and caused partial paralysis and aphasia – the loss of the ability to understand and express speech.

It was this seminal moment that gave birth to Riding On A Cloud so many years later. This mixed-media theatre piece blurs the line between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, truth and subjective perspective, especially with Yasser himself at the centre as the sole performer.

Yasser as victim in a political struggle that riveted the world for decades, Yasser as actor in a fictionalised narrative, Yasser as a character invented by Mroué’s imagination, Yasser as victor in his struggle with language and meaning.

Through the flickering images on stage, the video clips and disjointed fragments of music, Mroué plumbs depth and meaning in shifting narratives, explores possibilities for a post-war Lebanon and, more universally, strikes the chords of memory, representation and the elusive search for truth in all of us.

5. Ibsen: Ghosts

SEO

8 July, 8pm

Venue: SOTA Studio Theatre (1hr 40min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: In Henrik Ibsen’s original “Ghosts”, the character Oswald asks his mother to help him commit suicide. It is this theme that German theatre collective Markus&Markus have chosen to focus on in their version of Ibsen: Ghosts. But don’t expect to see any acting. “We don’t want to see any more actors who pretend they want to die. So we cast a person who really wants to die as our Oswald,” explained the boundary-pushing group. With their radical political performances dissolving the lines between the stage and real life, this theatre company has been one to watch in Europe since 2011.

Markus&Markus find their own “Oswald” in 81-year-old Margot. She travels to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, to die on her own terms. They first meet her in April 2014, spending almost every day of the month with her. On May 1, they accompany her to an euthanasia organisation; they attend her funeral on May 22.

In Ibsen: Ghosts, Markus&Markus reanimate their deceased protagonist through videos, photos and letters. The work is a gut-wrenching and poignant reflection on life’s meaning. Does faithful documentation and ritual celebration of someone’s life ensure a kind of immortality? Maybe. As Margot says: “As long as my story is being told, I am not really dead.”

6. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)

SEO

2 July3pm (Part 1) & 6pm (Part 2)

Venue: The Projector (334 min)

FILM: Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel’s Homeland is a richly detailed, unsentimental and yet, unexpectedly cheerful depiction of the everyday hardships in his own family over the one-and-a-half years before and after the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq.Before The Fall (Part 1) focuses on a group of Iraqis, mostly members of Fahdel’s own family, on their fears and expectations of the coming war. After The Battle (Part 2) picks up after the American invasion and shows its harrowing consequences on the characters. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) won the Grand Prize at the Visions du Réel festival and Montreal International Documentary Festival, as well as the Award of Excellence and Citizens’ Prize at Yamagata International Documentary Festival.

7. A Syrian Love Story

SEO

1 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (76min)

FILM: Amer and Raghda met 15 years ago in a Syrian prison. They fell in love and, when released, got married. A Syrian Love Story tells the poignant tale of their family torn apart by the Syrian War. When British director Sean McAllister first meets them in 2009, Raghda is back in prison, leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone. But as the Arab Spring sweeps the region, their fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, the film charts their incredible odyssey to freedom. McAllister (“Liberace Of Baghdad”) received the Grand Jury prize at last year’s Sheffield Documentary Festival for this “Bergmanesque portrait of a relationship and love”.

8. Embrace Of The Serpent

SEO

3 July, 5pm

Venue: The Projector (123min)

FILM: Karamakate, a powerful Amazonian shaman, dwells in the jungle alone. Decades of solitude have turned him into a chullachaqui, an empty shell of a human, devoid of memories and emotion. His hollow life is shaken with the arrival of Evan, an American ethnobotanist searching for the sacred plant Yakruna, capable of teaching people how to dream. Together they embark on a journey into the Amazon in which past, present and future are intertwined, and in which Karamakate will begin to regain his lost memories. Since receiving the top Directors’ Fortnight prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Embrace Of The Serpent has continued to win acclaim, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

9. Invisible (Imbisibol)

SEO

6 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (132min)

This heart-wrenching film weaves together stories about undocumented Filipino workers supporting themselves and their loved ones in the Philippines with under-the-counter work in Japan. Middle-aged lovers Benjie and Edward fall for each other in Japan, but keep their love secret from their families. Ageing gigolo Manuel finds it difficult to make ends meet. The saintly Linda lives in Japan legally, but fights with her Japanese husband because she rents rooms to undocumented Filipinos.Imbisibol is directed by rising talent Lawrence Fajardo and produced by Cannes award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. It has swept seven awards, including prizes for Best Film and Best Director, at Sinag Maynila Film Festival before premiering at Toronto International Film Festival last year.

10. The Bacchus Lady

SEO

7 July, 7.30pm

VENUE: The Projector (110min)

Feisty 65-year-old So-young is a prostitute who approaches clients with Bacchus, a popular Korean energy drink and the offer of sex. With no savings or family, So-young is one of South Korea’s ‘Bacchus ladies’ – older women in South Korea who turn tricks to make a living. She meets little Min-ho and takes him in when his mother is detained by the police. The boy, who speaks only Tagalog, becomes kin to her, motivating her to work harder. When her disillusioned clients ask her for one last favour, So-young must decide whether she will help them. Never sordid or gratuitous, The Bacchus Lady tells a warm and humorous tale of South Korea’s controversial problem of senior prostitution.

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2016
The O.P.E.N

Multiple Locations

Opens 22 June to 9 July 2016

A pre-festival of ideas, The O.P.E.N. is a public engagement initiative from the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) that offers 18 days of exploration. It raises fascinating questions and offers eye-opening insights about our world and humanity.

The O.P.E.N. connects you with SIFA four weeks before the opening of the Festival. It directs you to consider a breadth of issues and perspectives inspired by SIFA’s annual festival theme. Styled as a popular academy, it presents a curated selection of events through diverse platforms.

Ticket Pricing: $10 (Single entry), $25 (Concession pass), $45 (All programmes pass)

Web Link: The O.P.E.N.

Six Characters In Search Of An Author: A Bizarre French Madhouse Play

Ironic, Bizarre, Provoking and Brilliant is Six Characters in Search of An Author.

By Abigail Tee

French dramatist Luigi Pirandello’s eccentric play, Six Characters in Search of An Author is part of a Singapore International Festival of Arts 2015 lineup. Staged by Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and his Parisian company, Theatre de la Ville, the play is performed at the Victoria Theatre from 10 to 12 September 2015.

Having read and studied this play, my anticipation for Six Characters In Search of An Author was pretty high. Coupled with the fact that I have learnt French, I thought that this play was the perfect opportunity to test my skills as a French student and feed my inner geek as a Literature student. Indeed, it went far above my expectations.

PHOTO: JL FERNANDEZ

PHOTO: JL FERNANDEZ

Premiered in Italy in 1921, Six Characters In Search of An Author is a play written by Luigi Pirandello, who won the Nobel Literature Prize. During its first premiere, the audience was so displeased that Pirandello had to leave through a side exit. This play has been considered by many, academics and avid theatre goers, as a perfect allegory for the theatre. Irrationally thoughtful, Six Characters aims to highlight the contentious relationship of reality and illusion.

The plot of Six Characters was bizarre. Kick-started with a stage manager mechanically painting a sky-like backdrop, I immediately felt an eerie and haunting vibe. Suddenly, this vibe was cut short with an outburst of people on the stage – the Actors. They were running around in preparation to stage Pirandello’s The Rules of the Game. With this, I was immediately cued to understand that this is a play within a play.

PHOTO: JL Fernandez

PHOTO: JL Fernandez

The music and lighting made me focused on the rustic, subpar but somewhat comical acting of the Actors who are trying their best to beat eggs. Out of the blue, the spotlight shined on Six Characters, standing in the middle of the stage ominously. They felt like dead people begging to come alive. One of the Six Characters, The Father, asked around for an Author to which, the disgruntled Director shooed them away. However, instead of going away, the Six Characters, began to slowly intrude the stage and establish their stage presence.

They launched to tell their tragedy and managed to convince the Director to be their Author to stage their story. Compelled by the exciting plot, the Director told his Actors to abort the initial rehearsal of The Rules of the Game and start afresh with the 6 Characters’ tragedy.

What left an impression on me in Demary-Motta’s interpretation was the stark portrayal of the paradox of the theatre. It became absurdly comical and confusing when the Actors mimicked the Six Characters in hopes of making their acting more realistic. However, when they tried to re-enact certain points of the tragedy told by the Six Characters, I realised what was real and illusory became blurred.

PHOTO: JL Fernandez

PHOTO: JL Fernandez

At that moment, Demary-Motta brilliantly portrayed the heart of theatre where actors and characters have to often bleed into one.  It was even more amazing when The Brother, one of the Six Characters, came off stage and ran near the audience. The fourth wall was broken and it struck me to think if I was truly an audience of this play.

If there were any downside to the play, it would be the surtitles. It was easy to follow when speech was slow but when the play was punched with heated exchanges between the Characters and the Actors, this was when I relied on my French so as to enjoy the scenes on stage.

With no intermission, this 2-hour play would give you a peek to an absurdist’s take on theatre. What is theatre? Who are really the actors? And who is really the audience? It was a fabulous brain-teaser for my upcoming long weekend which left me astutely questioning the reality of theatre and falling in love once again with the French language. AT

 Six Characters In Search Of An Author

Victoria Theatre

Opens 10 to 12 September 2015

Thoughtful and chaotic, real and imagined, spiritual and metaphysical, Six Characters In Search Of An Author asks fascinating questions about the ever-shifting relationships between authors, characters, actors and audiences. This dynamic, startling and emotional production from one of the most famous theatres in France makes its Asian premiere with a big bang.

Ticket Pricing:  $25 – $75

Web Link: Six Characters In Search Of An Author

Dementia: Taking One Hard Look At Senility And Our Morality

Thought-provoking Hungarian production, Dementia ‘prompts you to think about the endgame of human life’. 

Singapore International Festival of Arts presents visceral melodrama, Dementia. Directed by Kornél Mundruczó, the Hungarian production is staged in the Victoria Theatre from August 13-15. Dementia is performed by the Proton Theatre group.

The stage is set in the psychiatric hospital in post-socialist Hungary. The once world famous hospital which back in its heyday could accommodate up to 400 beds and patients has been reduced to just 4 beds and patients; operetta prima donna Mercédesz Sápi (Lili Monori), once brilliant mathematician Lukács Steixner (Gergely Bánki), communism regime survivor simply known as the Dentist (László Katona), and Lady Oci (Orsi Tóth). The hospital is run by neurologist Dr Szatmáry (Roland Rába) and his pretty nurse sidekick Dóra (Annamária Láng).

We get right into the action in the hospital’s Open House fundraiser event with Dr Szatmáry – who seems to be a little loony himself – entertaining the audience with his funny antics, and live performances by the ‘Dementia band’. Dr Szatmáry explains that his music therapy works; the music and the ‘scent of the mic’ triggers a familiar memory from even his most non-responsive patient, Mercédesz. The 10-time Kossuth Award prima donna smells the mic, gets out of bed, abruptly clears her throat, eyes lit up, and comes alive in her singing – as if by reflex.

Just then, a mysterious figure gets up from a paid seat and onto the stage, harmonising his crisp tenor vocals with Mercédesz. The Dementia Band were off to a flying start except mysterious figure János Bartonek (János Szemenyei) is really the new owner of the healthcare facility and intends to turn it into a money-making porn business. Bartonek calls on Dr Szatmáry to take his 5,000m² ‘vegetating’ somewhere else. Dr Szatmáry protests and claims that he has a guarantee from the Hungarian government with Bartonek retorting him that the law has been abolished.

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

The party balloons are burst and the Open House ended as quickly as it began. Just minutes earlier, the patients are getting better. But that belief is shattered before our very eyes right after the public event. The lights are turned off but the idiosyncratic patients aren’t.

Lukács dials his wife’s number and a English-speaking person picks up the phone. Dementia did not affect his language skills as he conversed fluently in English, demanding to speak to his wife. The dentist is tormented by his vivid traumatic memories of the communism regime and takes a bath in the middle of the night. Lady Oci struggles with imaginative sound and drinks blood samples from the fridge. Mercédesz speaks of her greatest desire which was “to clear the mailbox”.

But it’s not just the patients who were affected. Bartonek barges into the toilet to find Nurse Dóra taking a shower. He asks Dóra to give him a blowjob to which she obliges, saying she doesn’t get any sexual (and monetary) gratification in the hospital. Dr Szatmáry is envied and hated by his colleagues in the industry for his breakthrough music therapy but struggles to keep the hospital and his sanity afloat.

Dr Szatmáry later makes a deal with the devil Bartonek and attempts to get the patients to vacate the hospital by rigging their mental assessment tests and signing off their rights. Silence hangs in the air after he declares the patients healthy and orders them to leave the facility. But apart from the hospital, where else can the patients call their home?

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

Gorgeous Set and Ingenious Storytelling

The set of the mental hospital featuring a ‘functional’ bathroom was very detailed and well-thought. Fold the ‘walls’ in, and suddenly the hospital interior is transformed into the facade right before your very eyes. I particularly love the ‘night’ scene where the houselights were switched off and we witness the patients left to their own idiosyncrasies. There is no glamour in suffering from dementia and the show sought to present us with just that.

The use of camcorder to progress the narrative throughout the production was also genius and allows us audiences to feel as though we were observing the story from a first-person perspective. Despite the language barrier and having to look at the surtitles, the nuances and body language from the remarkably talented cast spoke volumes.

Freedom, Democracy and Death

Dementia mirrors the predicament of hundreds of mental patients who were evicted from the National Mental Asylum in Budapest in 2008. In essence, Bartonek’s sex vice business was a type of plot device to represent everything wrong about Hungary’s faux democracy, capitalism, social inequality and disparity. Being forgotten is one thing. But being evicted out of one’s home is another. “Re-appropriate mental facilities to make way for the nation’s economic progress?” There is only one outcome though. In one point, Mercédesz tells the audiences that “Only Death” invites their company.

Perhaps there is absolutely no gain from prolonging the lives of dementia patients, but to not do so is as good as murder. Perhaps, the preservation of their lives benefits us by preserving our own morality. Questions left unanswered.

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

Our Fragility

What Dementia did for me was to remind me that we all have a chance to suffer from dementia. According to World Health Organisation statistic (2015), the number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 47.5 million and is projected to increase to 75.6 million by 2030 and more than triple in 2050. In the hospital, we see people who were at the top of their fields losing their fight against the – as Lukács would put it – ‘Dead Cock Syndrome‘.

Once top Mathematician Lukács throwing away his first love, the keyboard aside was a powerful scene. It was a haunting moment in theatre as we are reminded that as neutrons are eaten away by nothingness, all that’s left of humanity’s best is but nothingness. Because dementia can strike anyone at any age, should we care for them in a dignified way since we could very well be lying on that hospital bed in the future?

But beyond the memory loss and disability for spatial thinking, dementia patients has not lost their personality and brilliance. Mercédesz could still do a solid soprano and Lukács could still remember phone numbers and speak in foreign languages. Perhaps deep inside our emptied consciousness, our true selves remains hidden unfazed by dementia and waiting for breakthrough in medical science.

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

PHOTO: Marcell RE¦üV

Mental Toll on Caregivers

Often, it’s not just the dementia patients who had it hard. Their caregivers and families are also suffering together with them. As with the case of Dr Szatmáry and Nurse Dóra, all is not well and the years of taking care of the patients has taken a toll on their own mental health. In one scene, Dr Szatmáry goes ballistic and shifts the beds and furniture around so that the hospital can ‘comply to the European Union’s standard’ and perhaps get that much needed funding for the hospital.

It is only humanity’s tragedy that the dementia patients and their caregivers are often forgotten and left for death while the nation prospers and progresses.

To sum it up,

The show comes to an emotionally-charged climax as patients and its caregivers suffocate in plastic bags while the flickers of the sparkles extinguishes one after another. Martyrs of capitalism they are. Watching Dementia was like taking one hard look at one’s own fragility and the degradation of our humanity. The politically-gripping, thought-provoking 2-hour production was engaging all throughout the show and left me at the edge of my seat.

Beyond cultures and geographical differences, dementia is something which trigger similar-opposing response from governments, healthy people and the patients themselves. And watching Dementia reminds us that our paths are all intertwined by this disease one way or another.

Many thanks to the organiser for the media invite. I highly recommend the Singapore International Festival of Arts’ Hungarian production Dementia. Ultimately, the production does not seek to give us definitive answers on what is right or wrong, leaving us to form our own narrative and discourse on dementia. And that’s what I love about Dementia. RW

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2015
Dementia (M18)

Victoria Theatre

Opens 13 to 15 August 2015

Welcome to the world of Dementia, in which Mundruczó uses a heady mix of music, dark humour and fantastic décor to bring spectators face to face with the difficult moral questions which we, the able-bodied, would prefer to ignore. What benefit can society ever hope to reap from prolonging the lives of mental patients? What is the point of helping those who are suffering – specifically those who are not even cognisant of their own state – and numbing them even further with modern medicine? In Dementia, you decide.

Ticketing Pricing: $30 – $60

Web Link: Dementia

NANYANG, The Musical: More Melodic Than Artistic

NANYANG, The Musical tells the story of Nanyang artists through music and lyrics.

This year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts opens with director Alec Tok’s NANYANG, The Musical. The musical marks Tok’s return to the Singapore stage after 15 years spent making theatre abroad and is loosely based on the lives of pioneering Nanyang artists. The musical is staged at the Drama Centre Theatre from August 6-8, in conjunction with Singapore’s jubilant celebrations.

Background of Nanyang artists under 1 minute: Singapore was known as Nanyang or 南洋 (Southern Seas in literal translation) in the late 18th century (artyii, 2011). Seeking their fortunes in the British colony, many Chinese immigrants made the arduous journey to Nanyang. Among the migrants were the Nanyang artists. Nanyang artists are Chinese painters schooled in both Western and Chinese painting art styles and whom were not concerned with embracing Western painting techniques to improve their craft. Thus, the Nanyang style was created. The four pioneering Nanyang artists were Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang.

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

The musical begins in 1930s Shanghai. Young artist extraordinaire, Chen Kang (Roy Huang) arrives at Xinhua Art Academy to improve his craft where he meets teacher Zhang Wen (Trev Neo) and fellow talented artists; Li Ying (Seong Hui Xuan), Yue Ping (Andrea Xing XiYu) and Ren Hao (Dennis Heng). Cupid’s arrow struck Chen Kang, and he falls in love with Li Ying. But Li Ying has to travel to America to be with her sick father. No sooner has he arrived, Shanghai becomes increasingly unstable with war, prompting the teacher and his artists friends to travel to Paris. There, the artists sought to support the Motherland’s war efforts against the Japanese by selling off their artworks.

The group reunited with Li Ying in Nazi-occupied Paris, and the auction was a success but love takes a hit as Chen Kang realises that Li Ying is in love with their teacher. The group make their way to Bali to get some inspiration where they learnt upon arriving that their esteemed teacher has secrets of his own – a wife and child. They finally made their way to Nanyang (conquered by the Japanese in the mise en scène) where they faced the death in the group.

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

There is nothing un-musical about NANYANG, The Musical. In fact, the music and its lyrics was its medium of choice to paint the story. With award-winning lyricist Xiaohan and composer Eric Ng – the powerhouse songwriting duo behind hit musicals “Liao Zhai Rocks” and “Lao Jiu”, and career-defining hits for A-Mei, Sandy Lam, Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and others – in the creative team, soulful tunes and stirring lyrics were unsurprisingly expected. In the opening scene, Roy Huang performs a song ‘Gun and paintbrush, which is tougher?‘ that broods over the spirit of the times.

I was very impressed by the musical’s intricate set by set designer Izmir Ickbal. The use of canvases and projectors to tell the story of the times in-between the transition of scenes was also clever.

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

What was unexpected was how unrepresentative it was as a supposed ode to Nanyang artists. Where the song and dance was thick in layers, the plot felt thin and underdeveloped.

Because the Nanyang artists were the cornerstone to Singapore and the region’s art movement, I was looking for visual cues of their struggles and endeavours through the lives of the made-up onscreen characters. Instead, the artists’ backstories were trivialised to that of simply, song and dance, love and passion. Nothing wrong with that if that’s what you are looking for.

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

PHOTO: Kevin Lee

The gratification I was looking for was kind of satisfied in the form of a martyred character, revisiting the musical’s opening theme song; ‘Gun or Paintbrush is stronger?’ Maybe I was misguided to have longed for a more granular and perhaps, coarse portrayal of Nanyang artists, but the vanilla musical is not the type of performance SIFA should be known for – pushing the envelope of society and culture.

Overall, NANYANG, The Musical isn’t the bold musical about the Nanyang artists and their art styles but you will still enjoy this pop-musical joy ride that it has successfully sought to be. RW

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS 2015nanyang-1.png
NANYANG, The Musical

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 6 to 8 August 2015

A stirring performance capturing the spirit and passion of our pioneer artists, NANYANG, The Musical marks director Alec Tok’s return to the Singapore stage after 15 years spent making theatre abroad. This soulful production reunites award-winning lyricist Xiaohan and composer Eric Ng – the powerhouse songwriting team behind hit musicals such as “Liao Zhai Rocks” and “Lao Jiu”, who have also created career-defining hits for A-Mei, Sandy Lam, Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and more. Together, they create a musical soundscape of passion and wonder, all exquisitely arranged by Goh Kheng Long.

Ticket Pricing: $25 – $75

Web Link: NANYANG, The Musical

Singapore International Festival of Arts: Pushing Boundaries and Questioning Relativity

After last year’s highly successful festival, SIFA is back featuring works by 12 of Singapore’s finest award-winning artists.

I love Augusts. It’s one of the best times of the year (after Christmas). Singapore celebrates her birthday in August (yay to holidays!), there are plenty of ‘national day’ deals islandwide, and there’s the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). From 6 August to 19 September, the public will get to watch and participate in as many as 65 free and paid SIFA shows.

For those who aren’t in the know, SIFA isn’t some ‘new kid on the block’. Rebranded as SIFA last year, the festival was previously known as the Singapore Arts Festival which really began as early as 1977. Singapore Arts Festival also brought to us highly acclaimed international acts like 2008’s opening show; Water Fools performed in the Singapore River by French group Ilotopie, and 2011’s opening show and by far Singapore’s largest outdoor theatre; When the Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched by Ishinha (which also happens to be one of my first encounters with highly-artistic performative art shows).

Today, SIFA continues to be one of the most-important, if not the gold-standard for arts festivals in the region. One of the best part about SIFA is; it always sought to bring in international acts to cultivate and enrich Singapore’s art scene. SIFA also provides a platform for local budding artists to experiment and create multi-disciplinary and cross-genre works – works that may not be commercial sellouts but one that pushes boundaries and challenges perspectives to traditional mindsets.

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This year’s theme is titled POST-Empires, and is curated by festival director and 2003 Cultural Medallion recipient, Ong Keng Sen. Coincidentally running in sync with the theme of Singapore Art Museum’s latest exhibition After Utopia, the festival looks at life after colonial regimes, and increased globalisation across countries and cultures.

After colonial regimes, after dictatorship, after communism, we witness a globalisation of life. What comes after the Empires from which we have emerged? How do we live with the global networks and monopolies of power which define the age we live in?… Can we rewrite the History that has been written for us? – SIFA

Mark down your calendars! Whether you’re just an ordinary Singaporean wanting to find out more about the arts, or a serious arts hobbyists looking to be awed, there’s something for everyone at SIFA. RW

My Top Three Picks

NANYANG, The Musical

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It’s Singapore’s 50th Golden Jubilee. So it’s forgiveable that we entertain a third production that’s have anything to do with Singapore (after the mega-disappointing Singapura: The Musical and the theatrical spectacular The LKY Musical).

Different from the other musicals, NANYANG, The Musical looks into the ancestry of the Chinese disapora through the eyes of painter Chen Kang prior to their resettling in Singapore. Kang is an up-and-coming painter who has had to uproot himself from his motherland for reasons of career development and impending wars.

Infusing experimental mix of style and techniques from Chinese pictorial traditions and the School of Paris (Singapore Infopedia, 2009), the 南洋 or ‘Nanyang’ style – directly translated as the Southern Seas and referred to the entire South China Sea region – unique to the region was born, with Singapore and Malaysia being right at the heart of it all.

Perhaps using the allegory of Nanyang style as a metaphor of sorts on the Chinese diaspora in Singapore, NANYANG, The Musical will be instrumental in filling in the untold stories of our Chinese ancestors who merge different cultures to form a unique ‘Singaporean’ style. The musical will be performed in Chinese and surtitled in English.

Date: 6 to 8 August 2015

Venue: Drama Centre Theatre

Web Link: NANYANG, The Musical

Ticket Pricing: $25 – $75

Dementia

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Dementia is real. And it is plain scary, considering for fact that dementia affects one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in six over the age of 80 (Alzhemier’s Society, n.d.).

Dementia is set in post-socialist Hungary, a world-famous psychiatric hospital is on the brink of being shut down. Only a handful of patients are left vegetating on the fourth floor, abandoned in the empire of amnesia. Directed by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, the show throws in some often-ignored big questions like “What benefit can society ever hope to reap from prolonging the lives of mental patients?”, or “What is the point of helping those who are suffering – specifically those who are not even cognisant of their own state – and numbing them even further with modern medicine?”

Hitting hard back home, the show challenges us to define our moral standpoint on how we should treat people suffering from dementia, and resulting actions that follow. I can’t help but think that exploring this theme will open up a can of worms and pandora’s box because tackling this theme could very well spill over to readdressing the issue of euthanasia and other related moral dilemmas.

Personally, dementia is a topic that is very close to my heart since my paternal grandmother also suffers from dementia. I am really looking forward to watching Dementia. Dementia will be performed in Hungarian and surtitled in English.

Date: 13 to 15 August 2015

Venue: Victoria Theatre

Web Link: Dementia

Ticket Pricing: $30 – $60

Six Characters In Search Of An Author

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All lit lovers would know or have at least heard of Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. The chaotic and metaphysical play takes an unadulterated look at the relationship between theatre practitioners, actors and their characters.

A dysfunctional family of six bursts into a rehearsal at a theatre with a curious claim: they are characters who have abandoned their author and are looking for someone who can complete their story. Intrigued, the director agrees to help. Along the way, everyone’s roles come into question. Who’s the actor and who’s the spectator now? Who’s the author? What’s real and what’s not?

Performed in French and surtitled in English, Six Characters in Search of an Author is one of the most famous theatre show in Europe which also won Pirandello a 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature. It will be interesting to see how us Asians comprehend and react to this rather unconventional and absurd play.

Date: 10 to 12 September 2015

Venue: Victoria Theatre

Web Link: Six Characters In Search Of An Author

Ticket Pricing: $25 – $75

Other Shows to Look Out For:

HOTEL

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W!LD RICE productions are always very warmly received and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t – with the likes of Ivan Heng, Glen Goei, Alfian Sa’at and their crazily-talented cast on board. HOTEL contrasts the intersecting dialogues between past hotel guests back in the days of colonnial rule, and present hotel guests in Singapore long since the British Empire has ceased to exist. HOTEL will be performed in English, Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Japanese.

Details: HOTEL

Versus

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Born from the desire to chart humanity’s passage from the beginning to its present state, Versus is a ferocious performance about our existence amidst all the wars we wage. We have learnt our lesson, or have we? Exploring the themes of war and humanity, Versus seems set to challenge our perspectives and blow our mind.

Details: Versus

Kumar’s Living Together

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Funny man Kumar is back! Kumar’s Living Together is a series of live stand-up comedy performances rooted in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-national housing landscape. Fronted by the witty and biting Kumar, these performances delve into issues that affect Singaporeans in the most personal and intimate of settings – their own homes.

Details: Kumar’s Living Together

Discounts

DANCE MARATHON BUNDLE (Till 5 September 2015)
30% off ticket purchases
Valid with a minimum purchase of 4 SIFA productions and 2 Dance Marathon productions.

PUNK BUNDLE (Till 5 September 2015)
30% off ticket purchases
Valid with a minimum purchase of 5 Dance Marathon productions.

SIFA BUNDLE (From 11 May 2015)
15% off ticket purchases
Valid with a minimum purchase of 4 SIFA productions

Singapore International Festival of Arts

Opens 6 August to 19 September 2015

The Singapore International Festival of Arts pushes artistic boundaries through strength, vision and courage to present quality performances that mark it as the pinnacle arts event in Singapore. Located and created with Singaporeans, with a strong global connection and image.

Web Link: Singapore International Festival of Arts