Get into Chinese arts and culture with Esplanade’s Moonfest and Chinese Culture Week

A photography display and a guzheng recital are part of the line-up to showcase Chinese arts next month, through Moonfest and Chinese Culture Week

From a fashion exhibition that features Singaporean and Chinese designers' take on the traditional cheongsam to the melodious strains of traditional instruments in Yue opera music, festivalgoers can immerse themselves in Chinese arts and culture at two themed events next month.

The Esplanade is holding the 12th edition of its annual Chinese traditional arts festival, Moonfest, between Sept 9 and 11; while the inaugural Chinese Culture Week runs from Sept 9 to 13.

The Esplanade's festival brings back popular Yue opera productions, a guzheng recital and activities such as a mooncake-making workshop.

The Chinese Culture Week will feature exhibitions on topics ranging from fashion to photography to calligraphy. Some of these will run till the end of the month.


Yue opera and mooncake-making workshops

From the hearty folk songs - composed to rally rugged northern Chinese warriors to resist foreign invaders - to the gentle, lilting strings of guzheng music inspired by China's rolling plains and rivers, audiences will be treated to a vast repertoire of music created by Chinese musicians through the ages at the Esplanade's annual traditional Chinese arts festival, Moonfest.

The festival kicks off with the Shanghai Yue Opera House staging of Couple Wings, a production about the famous Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin who must choose between his love for a beautiful woman, Wang Yunyan, and loyalty to his best friend, Linghu Tao.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, veteran opera singer Qian Huili, 53, who plays Li in the opera, says the script's depth gives the production a lot of tension as the characters face many dilemmas.

"On the surface, Li is torn between friendship and love. But in reality, everything he does is a test of his ethical bottom line."

She adds: "I'm constantly discovering more about this story."

Qian and fellow actress Wang Zhiping, who plays Wang, are long-time acting partners and winners of the Plum Blossom Award, the highest theatre accolade in China.

  • BOOK IT / MOONFEST - A MID-AUTUMN CELEBRATION

    WHERE: Various locations, The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Sept 9 to 11, various times

    ADMISSION: $25 to $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to www.esplanade.com/moonfest

The duo will return to the stage on the festival's last night to perform six excerpts from classics such as Butterfly Lovers, the legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai; and Chasing The Fish Spirit, a romance between a fish spirit and a Confucian student.

Qian says: "I was just a young woman in my 20s when I performed in Singapore in 1987. I believe our artistry has matured compared with 30 years ago and I look forward to reviews from the audience."

Guzheng player Ji Wei, 36, who is giving her first solo recital here, will present eight works ranging from the classic to contemporary, curated in line with the Mid-Autumn Festival theme.

One of them is a piece she collaborated on with Chinese virtuoso pianist Lang Lang, titled At Night On The Lake Beneath The Maple Bridge, which was well-received when it was released on Lang's 2006 studio album, Dragon Songs.

  • HIGHLIGHTS

    Couple Wings by Shanghai Yue Opera House

    Award-winning opera singers Qian Huili and Wang Zhiping star in this Yue opera production set in the late Tang dynasty, about a scholar who has to choose between his love for a woman and loyalty to his friend.

    Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 9, 7.30pm

    Admission: $25 to $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    Ji Wei Guzheng Recital

    Virtuoso Chinese guzheng player Ji Wei, known for marrying the traditional Chinese instrument with Western musical stylings, takes on classical and contemporary works.

    Where: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 11, 5pm

    Admission: $35 from Sistic

    The Magic Lantern by Paper Monkey Theatre

    This children's theatre production is based on a Chinese folk tale about Chen Xiang. The offspring of a human and deity, he embarks on a quest to rescue his mother who has been imprisoned under a mountain.

    Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    When: Sept 9 to 11, 10.30am and 2pm (Friday); 2 and 6pm (weekend)

    Admission: $22 from Sistic

Ji, who has recorded several albums and is an associate professor at China's Central Conservatory of Music, says: "One can learn to appreciate the beauty of Chinese traditional music and guzheng through education and being immersed in the music over a long period of time."

A younger generation of under-30 Chinese folk singers such as Du Peng Peng, Chang Yan Ni and Zhang Hong Li will evoke the spirit of their homeland in a medley of folk songs.

Du, 28, comes from northern Shaanxi, central of the sprawling Loess Plateau in north-west China, which was a revolutionary base for the Communist Party of China. Some of these songs were written as a call to peasants living there to take up arms against Japanese aggressors, he says.

"In northern Shaanxi, people's happiness, anger, sadness and joy are all expressed through folk songs. Whether you're standing atop a mountain, walking along its winding paths or travelling on the plains, you will be able to hear melodious voices in the wind," he adds.

The festival also promises to be a family-friendly one, featuring a children's theatre production and activities such as workshops for parents and children to learn about Chinese opera and make mooncakes.

Festival programmer Desmond Chew says: "Over the years, Moonfest has garnered loyal fans and we continuously engage new audiences, especially the younger generation and young families with their little ones, so that they have the opportunity to learn more about traditional Chinese arts."


Fashion and photo exhibitions

Organisers of the inaugural Chinese Culture Week, which runs between Sept 9 and 13, hope to bring Chinese culture and history to audiences here through a series of themed events, mainly exhibitions.

Some highlights include a fashion exhibition featuring both Singaporean and Chinese designers' take on the traditional Chinese cheongsam dress and a photography exhibition of the Silk Road trade route by acclaimed American photographer Michael Yamashita.

There will also be a calligraphy exhibition and other invitation-only events such as a forum to discuss contemporary Chinese culture and a cheongsam masterclass.

The initiative is led by the Camellia Culture & Business Centre, a private club for business networking and cultural learning, set up by Shanghai-born businesswoman Jennifer Li, who is in her 40s.

It is supported by other partners such as the China Cultural Centre and DesignSingapore Council.

  • BOOK IT /CHINESE CULTURE WEEK

    WHERE: Various locations

    WHEN: Sept 9 to 13, various times

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.chinesecultureweek.com

  • HIGHLIGHTS

    Fashion Tales From The Orient

    See how Singapore and Chinese designers interpret the cheongsam.

    Where: National Design Centre, 111 Middle Road

    When: Sept 10 to 28, 9am to 9pm daily

    Admission: Free

    One Belt, One Road - The Silk Road Journey exhibition

    American photographer Michael Yamashita has shot for National Geographic for more than 30 years and this exhibition takes viewers on the Silk Road trade route that olden-day merchants took through regions such as Xinjiang.

    Where: China Cultural Centre, 217 Queen Street

    When: Sept 14 to 28, 11am to 6pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

    Admission: Free

"We see it as a platform to introduce the rich tapestry of Chinese heritage and history, and to promote cultural exchange, development and trade," said Ms Li at a press conference last month to unveil details of the event.

It opens with Fashion Tales From The Orient, an exhibition curated around the cheongsam, which will feature works by Chinese designer Lan Yu as well as Singapore names such as Kevin Seah, Chi Chi Von Tang, Time Taken To Make A Dress and Something Old Something New.

Lan, 30, has her own fashion brand, Lanyu, and is known for her haute couture wedding dresses. She was in Forbes China's 2014 30 under 30 list. She will be showcasing Mom's Art, a haute couture collection she unveiled in Paris last month.

"I'm applying a Chinese folk art - paper cutting - into our designs for the first time. Besides lace, we are also using a delicate type of chiffon from Japan. With that as a canvas, Suzhou embroidery artist spent weeks to create floral patterns. Decorated with real pearls, the design will highlight the softness and elegance of women," she tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.

Yamashita, who is known for his work for National Geographic magazine, retraces routes taken by explorers such as Marco Polo and Zheng He on the ancient Silk Road through his photograph series, titled One Belt, One Road - The Silk Road Journey, which will be held at the China Cultural Centre.

Yamashita, who took the shots over eight years, calls them "a celebration of the spirit of exploration and cooperation that exemplifies both these men and is still alive today".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'A brush with Chinese culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe