Let's look at the Festival Guide! #4

Ng Yi-Sheng

August 2, 2015

While I’ve given my two cents’ worth about the Singaporean items in SIFA (see #1#2#3), I’ve been pretty quiet about the international acts that are coming to town. Let's go over them, shall we?

Dementia 

by Kornél Mundruczó and Proton Theatre (Hungary)
13-15 August

I know it's essentialist, but I can't help but see this as a tribute to your classic SIFA international programming. Why do I say this? Because in the days of Goh Ching Lee's artistic directorship (and she was in charge of the Singapore Arts Festival for ages), you'd always see a handful of theatre pieces from Eastern Europe. Folks told me she'd studied Russian history in university, hence the fascination.

This wasn't a bad thing, mind you. The theatrical voices of the ex-Soviet bloc are urgent, energetic and often quite political - like us Southeast Asians, they find themselves on the margins of political hegemony, torn between Russia and the EU. 

This piece is pretty explicitly political, being focussed on the fate of a psychiatric hospital crumbling in the wake of the fall of socialised medicine. A Post-Communist scenario fits the label of Post-Empires very well indeed, thank you. And raving lunatics tend to look good on stage, so we'll have something nice to look at.

But... is it something fresh and exciting to look forward to? Not really, by my book. We've seen stuff like this before, year after year.

dirtsong

by Black Arm Band (Australia)
20-22 August

This one I'm kind of stoked for, because while we've always had cultural exchanges with Australia, I don't think we've seen much work from their Aboriginal artists. And this isn't just going to be some monolithic tourist Dreamtime cultural show, either - it's gonna feature 11 different indigenous languages and "contemporary music" from Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

(Speaking of indigeneity, it's kind of a shame that there aren't any Malay arts or primarily Malay language performances as part of SIFA. From what I've heard, efforts were made, but projects didn't come through in the end. Alas.)

Cabanons

by Daniel Buren, Fabien Demuynck, Dan Demuynck & Buren Cirque (France)
2-6 September

This show's an honest to goodness circus act! And I am very much down to watch it - not because I've got fancy-schmancy theories about how the Rabelaisian carnivalesque must be reconciled with bourgeois concepts of high art, but because I've always had a great time at outdoor arts events. Think of Keng Sen's handling of the Singapore Night Festival 2010, when he resurrected the nostalgic ghosts of New World Amusement Park; think of the Low Kee Hong's Festival Village as part of SIFA 2012. Outdoor festival things are fun, man.

Revolutionary Model Play 2.0

by Wang Chong (王翀), Théâtre Du Rêve Expérimental & Lasalle College Of The Arts (China/Singapore)
2-4 September 

This one could be hit or miss, IMHO. I mean, I love the fact that an experimental director from China is collaborating with Singapore-based theatre students to re-examine a play from the Cultural Revolution. But these international collaborations can easily turn out all wrong-headed, even when they're headed by highly regarded foreign companies (I had to review East West Theatre's Football Football and Slung Low's They Only Come at Night: Pandemic a few years back, which were both dreadful). And a lot of Chinese experimental theatre I've seen just goes on and on without a very clear point, even if it's terribly beautiful and loaded with symbolism (I liked Zuni Icosahedron's 100 Years of Solitude 10.0: Cultural Revolution, which also involved SOTA students, but everyone else hated it. Does that count? It was a HK/Singapore collab).

The show'll be in eight different languages, by the way. Go multilingualism!

Winterreise

by Franz Schubert, Wiilliam Kentridge, Matthias Goerne & Markus Hinterhäuser (Austria/South Africa/Germany)
4-5 September

Schubert's songs from the 1820s combined with William Kentridge's post-apartheid shadow films, evoking the fall of great European empires...

I know this is going to be super-beautiful and all, and I've shelled out ticket money so my classical music-loving boyfriend and I can attend. But this is your classic Germanic white guilt in gilded form all over again. Not exciting. Sorry.

Six Characters in Search of an Author

by Luigi Pirandello, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota & Théâtre de la Ville (Italy/France)
10-12 September

You probably know this already, but Pirandello's Six Characters In Search of an Author is one of your classic, classic modernist plays. Textbook stuff, compulsory in any university syllabus about theatre history. Pioneered the whole trope of characters emerging from a fictional work to confront their authors (correct me if I'm wrong).

And yet I don't think it's aged well. When I read it, when I watched a LaSalle production of it (by students, but still), I found it pretty damn alienating. Said metatheatrical trope is now fairly clichéd.

But Keng Sen told me, ages ago, that this is one of the shows he was very proud of getting for SIFA. Because it does tally with our Post-Empire world: how do we determine our own destinies when our original author has disappeared? 

So I'm... cautiously?... optimistic for this production. We'll see.

Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel

by Wei Ying-Chuan (魏瑛娟) & Creative Society Theatre Group (创作社剧团) (Taiwan)
10-12 September

This last one's another weird one that nonetheless falls squarely into the Post-Empires category: it blends the national narrative of the formation of modern Taiwan (via the Chinese diaspora) with the tale of the mysterious 11th century fall of the Western Xia dynasty and a personal narrative of a protagonist named Tunick wandering through a vast decaying hotel...

I suppose this is programmed partly because we have a Singaporean production also about a hotel? But truth be told: I can't yet see a lot of correspondences between Singaporean and international work in the festival. The national outweighs the foreign to an unusual degree.

Perhaps I'll understand Keng Sen's curatorship better in a month's time, when the festival's in full swing?

Will update you when that epiphany comes!

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  • 2015