Let's Look at the Festival Guide (2016)! #1

Ng Yi-Sheng

July 23, 2016

It's hard to figure out how to divvy up this year's shows. The themes of The OPEN don't seem to apply so clearly anymore—what's from the Islamic world? Is there anything related to fashion?

I'll just go ahead and do what I did last year: start with the handful of Singaporean works first. Boy, I'm patriotic. But "Post-Empires" was last year's theme, wasn't it? This year, I can be parochial and claim I'm merely investing in local "Potentialities".

(See, Keng Sen? I can speak postmodernese too.)

I Am LGB, by Loo Zihan and Ray Langenbach
18, 19, 20 August 7pm 72–13 

I'm down for this because performance artist/archivist Loo Zihan, choreographer Lee Mun Wai and theatre artist Shawn Chua Ming Ren are my friends. I've also followed KL-based Ray Langenbach's career through the art criticism of Lee Weng Choy back when he was at the Substation, and admired his iconoclastic self-sabotaging post-ideological work. (He once volunteered as a Mormon missionary and preached against his own deeply held queer pride! He went to an American performance art conference and congratulated everyone there for being a tool in a CIA project of Western hegemony with a straight face!)

But let's get real: this is labelled as a four-hour durational performance. Which suggests the plot (regarding Langenbach's alter ego, a female Asian artist named Lan Gen Bah) is a mere figleaf of realism strewn over a morass of silent, movement-based wankery. It's not gonna be easy on viewers. In fact, I'm gonna go easy on myself and allow myself regular breaks to leave the theatre and just play with my phone.

The Last Bull: A Life in Flamenco, by Checkpoint Theatre, Huzir Sulaiman, Claire Wong and Antonio Vargas
25, 26, 27 August 8pm SOTA Drama Theatre B

Gee, I guess the "international" in Singapore International Festival of Arts means that every Singaporean production has gotta star a white dude...

I'm expecting to enjoy this, actually. Huzir's a great playwright, and I have some confidence that he'll spin Vargas's story into gold. Not that it'd be difficult: He's a Sephardic Jewish flamenco dancer who's lived in Morocco, Spain, Australia and Singapore! He starred in Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom and choreographed John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II!

I suppose this is another story of a "Singaporer": one of the many upper middle-class non-citizens in Singapore who were the focus of The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers last year. Again with these dancing immigrants. I wonder if he'll come on naked, like in the poster? Silver foxes are prized for their skins.

Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies, by Brian Gothong Tan and Ron Arad 
2, 3, 4 September, 9pm The Meadow @ Gardens by the Bay
Part of Ron Arad’s 720°, 2-11 September, 7-11pm

Speaking of Border Crossers, Brian's back! As is our moustachioed Mexican muchacho, Felipe Cervera. That's him on top, with Koh Boon Pin, Karen Tan and Edith Podesta in descending order. The two younger Chinese boys, I don't recognise.

I chatted with Brian about this project a little at the SIFA Press Conference. It's inspired by the naturalist writings of Sophia Raffles and Alfred Russel Wallace—something I'm kind of familiar with as well, since I wrote a play about Sir Stamford Raffles a while back.

We agreed that there's something quite wonderful about revisiting the colonial perspective of Singapore, because of its frequent focus on the British world vs. the Malay world. Chineseness, normally so all-encompassing in our country, is de-centred. So that's another advantage of an "international" festival: we can escape the hegemonic discourse of the national.

... Of course, you can also see this as a rehash of the previous multimedia tropical fantasias Brian created for the Night Festival and for Border Crossers. No, let's be kinder: it's a subject he's broached before, which requires further exploration.

Time Between Us, by Fernando Rubio and Oliver Chong
7-11 September, 108 hour durational performance, Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza

Once again, the accursed words "durational performance" darken our doorstep!!!... but not to worry: our time with Oliver will be limited. We have to buy tickets for specific slots of time when we may observe him, confined to his little house. (He won't even be exposed to the public all the time. No fair. Some of us would pay good money to see him poop.)

I have no idea what the performance consists of, mind you. Fernando Rubio (Argentina) has staged this work before, but I'm too lazy to check out the contents. Is there text? "A meditation on aloneness" could easily just be Oliver on the floor whimpering (which is also worth $10, I suppose).

There'll be two different works within this one: Everything By My Side and Time Between Us. Make sure you register for your slot at sifa.sg/sifa/show/time.

Sandaime Richard, by Hideki Noda and Ong Keng Sen
8, 9 and 10 September, 8pm, Victoria Theatre

Oh, Keng Sen, Keng Sen. You really can't stop yourself from curating your own productions, can you?

This ought to be good: it's the closest we'll get to seeing the legendary all-female Japanese theatre troupe Takarazuka Gekijou at our doorstep. (One of my cousins who studied in Japan had a lifelong ambition to bring these ladies to Singapore: now his wish has more or less come true.)

On the other hand, there's layer on layer on deferrals of meaning here—the play itself blends Shakespeare's Richard III with an ikebana intrigue, and KS is going one step further by casting only women, including Singaporean actress Janice Koh and Indonesian actress Jajang C. Noer, so that we're ending up with a trilingual production full of drag kings...

And I don't quite know why. What's the purpose behind this postmodernity? Is it just for aural and visual spectacle? The desire to capture a globalised world? Is there an intelligent idea behind it all, or just the potential of one?

  • 2016