Singapore International Festival of Arts

For the Hipsters

Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan (far left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (left). (Left, from main picture) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.
(Above) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.PHOTO: CHEN YOU-WEI
Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan (far left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (left). (Left, from main picture) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.
Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons(above) and Cabinet Of Curiosities.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PHILIPPE CIBILLE
Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan (far left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (left). (Left, from main picture) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.
Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities (above).PHOTO: CHONG YEW
Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan (far left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (left). (Left, from main picture) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.
Versus is written by Michelle Tan (left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (right). PHOTO: CAKE THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS
Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan (far left) and directed by Natalie Hennedige (left). (Left, from main picture) Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dream Hotel, Cabanons and Cabinet Of Curiosities.
Versus (above) is written by Michelle Tan and directed by Natalie Hennedige. PHOTO: CAKE THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS

You are the arts lover who catches the cool wave before it breaks on the shore. Here are four cutting- edge productions that take exciting risks with their source material and go in bold new directions.

VERSUS

By: Cake Theatrical Productions

Earth's battlefields - both physical and emotional - are retold in this psychedelic, ambitious piece. Stamped with Cake's over-the-top visuals, the production features evocative masks, daring costumes and a 3m-tall scaffolding set. This festival commission, starring an ensemble of 11, is an allegory about war, how history repeats itself and the people trapped in between.

Where: School of the Arts Drama Theatre

When: Aug 20 to 22, 8pm

Admission: $25 to $45

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

By: Margaret Leng Tan

Singapore's "queen of the toy piano" returns to celebrate her 70th birthday with the instruments she knows best: pianos both large and small, and trinkets including an amplified tea set, an electric kettle and an alarm clock.

Her bewitching programme includes an Alice In Wonderland- inspired Hatta from English composer James Joslin, as well as the commissioned work Curios by Chinese- American composer Phyllis Chen, a multimedia work that draws audiences into the bright, bizarre world of the carnival.

Where: School of the Arts Studio Theatre

When: Aug 27 to 29, 8pm

Admission: $50

CABANONS

By: Daniel Buren, Fabien Demuynck, Dan Demuynck and Buren Cirque

This intimate, minimalistic circus by French installation artist Daniel Buren caters to just 150 audience members, who can see up close the experience of vulnerable individuals overcoming physical challenges. Three brightly coloured circus tents - or cabanons - become art objects, each filling up with aerialists, tightrope walkers, acrobats, jugglers, hoopers and musicians.

Where: Open field opposite Bugis Junction at Tan Quee Lan Street

When: Sept 2 to 6, 8pm

Admission: $80

TAIWAN DREAMS EPISODE 1: DREAM HOTEL

By: Wei Ying-chuan and Creative Society Theatre Group (Taiwan)

Walk the line between reality and fantasy in Dream Hotel, Wei Ying- chuan's theatrical response to the novel Xixia Hotel by Taiwanese author Luo Yi-chun. Protagonist Tunick journeys through a crumbling, labyrinthine hotel, as he searches not only for his loved ones, but also for his roots and identity. Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

When: Sept 10 to 12, 8pm

Admission: $45

Info: Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles


In the spotlight: Versus' director Natalie Hennedige, 40, and playwright Michelle Tan, 28

What were your initial artistic responses when you received the festival commission and how did your early ideas evolve from that starting point?

Tan: When we first talked about it, we were clear we wanted to create something that encompassed a very large scope - not simply drawing from one historical event, but thinking about how drawing from one specific source informs the cycles of history that keep perpetuating themselves.

We knew that was the kind of breadth we wanted to go after. It's evolved to become a larger allegory on war, the world as it is, the cycles that repeat themselves and, most importantly, the human individuals who are caught in these cycles.

Is there a story arc that you will be following?

Hennedige: Everything builds up to a critical moment in the piece when a prisoner is killed. We build up to this moment and that takes us to the end of the first part, where we go into a fantastical turn of events that takes us into the past... Then we pick up right from where we left off and we see how things spin into a sort of finale.

The characters are drawn from history, but each character is drawn from perhaps two or three different historical characters. As you're watching the piece, you'll find clues about them.

What were some of the influences the creative team drew from to create the production's striking visuals?

Hennedige: Once the text is ready in a Cake work, that's the seed. Once that's built, we very quickly start to build the other vocabularies. We were keen to create vivid pictures that would contain symbol and metaphor.

For instance, Michelle had written a scene about house plants. We were experimenting initially with how to create these house plants and Nizam (from design collective neontights) put a couple of tiny feathers on a stick like a mohawk - and then it just grew. Then it's connected to a performer and, suddenly, the house plant has a sassy attitude. The performers, in the end, are front and centre. They embody the extreme physical and emotional highs and lows that the piece needs to uncover.

How did the title, Versus, come about?

Hennedige: A starting point was to look at creation versus destruction within the context of the world, and then within the context of each person - the creativity and the destructiveness that each individual is capable of.

It was a way of looking at the world in terms of this huge creative entity that we're all part of, and then also these destructive forces that we're part of and often responsible for.

What do you hope audience members will take away from this production?

Tan: Versus is a created world but, at the same time, I hope people will see something of this world, the one that we live in, in the piece.

We're trying to speak of every possible thing that we might have felt, this entire range of human emotions and also what it means to be human.

Corrie Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'For the Hipsters In the spotlight: Versus' director Natalie Hennedige, 40, and playwright Michelle Tan, 28'. Print Edition | Subscribe