Fringe fest gets under the skin

Black Box becomes a domestic setting in Si Ti Kay by Noor Effendy Ibrahim's collective Akulah BIMBO SAKTI (I am the MAGIC BIMBO) (above) and Liz Atkin drawing charcoal sketches on newspaper and then gives them away.
Black Box becomes a domestic setting in Si Ti Kay by Noor Effendy Ibrahim's collective Akulah BIMBO SAKTI (I am the MAGIC BIMBO) (above) and Liz Atkin drawing charcoal sketches on newspaper and then gives them away.PHOTO: TUCKY/CAKE THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS

Next year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival will explore intimacy and identity curated under the theme Art & Skin

How much would you reveal to a stranger? Singaporean dancer Ming Poon will challenge one participant at a time to literally bare all along with him in Undressing Room, a highlight of next year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

Intimacy and identity are explored in 14 events from Jan 5 to 14, curated under the theme Art & Skin.

The 2017 festival is designed to push viewers' comfort zones, with explorations of racial and national identity, and the organisers expect quite a few shows will be rated R18.

These include a burlesque performance by a newly developed Singapore troupe and a performance lecture about the history of the naked female body in art where Canadian Thea Fitz-James strips before the audience.

Festival director Sean Tobin, 44, says performance art is often about vulnerability and intimacy.

Black Box becomes a domestic setting in Si Ti Kay by Noor Effendy Ibrahim's collective Akulah BIMBO SAKTI (I am the MAGIC BIMBO) and Liz Atkin (above) drawing charcoal sketches on newspaper and then gives them away.
Black Box becomes a domestic setting in Si Ti Kay by Noor Effendy Ibrahim's collective Akulah BIMBO SAKTI (I am the MAGIC BIMBO) and Liz Atkin (above) drawing charcoal sketches on newspaper and then gives them away. PHOTO: LES NEWMAN

"The Fringe for me should be about upholding and celebrating a very exciting practice."

The performers come from nine countries, including Singapore. Festival events are grouped under the categories Fringe Highlights, Live Fringe and the brand-new Fresh Fringe for works in development.

The Fresh Fringe is a four-hour presentation of three works mainly from artists in Singapore.

The show on Jan 14 at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio is ticketed at $12. Other shows are priced at $25 or $19, slightly higher than last year's maximum of $22 because of rising costs.

Fringe Highlights include the opening act Labels from Worklight Theatre in the United Kingdom on Jan 4 and 5 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. It charts the story of Joe Sellman-Leava, a Brit whose family has Indian ancestry and who grew up in rural England in the 1990s. He changed his surname to the unique hyphenated monicker to evade stereotyping.

Identity politics and immigration also inspire Skin In SIN, a new burlesque troupe produced and mentored by Singapore's Eugene Tan (whose alter ego is Becca D'Bus) and artist Madge of Honor from Boston will perform at the Esplanade Recital Studio from Jan 5 to 7. Most of the 18 members are novices and have been expatriates at some point.

Tan, 38, a plus-sized drag performer, says Skin In SIN is about diversity - literally, in terms of body types on stage - and making space for each other in crowded Singapore.

Since he returned here six years ago after his studies in Boston, his accent and less-than-perfect Mandarin have had taxi drivers questioning his nationality.

"I'm constantly feeling the tension bubbling. People who have been immigrants, or returning Singaporeans, might have a lot to say about how we might get along."

Live Fringe includes Singaporean actress Tan Liting's Pretty Butch, about five characters who defy traditional gender descriptions.

Then there is the quirky art of London-based Liz Atkin. She channelled her compulsive skin- picking habit into the compulsively drawing of charcoal sketches on newspapers in the London train system. Look out for her on the MRT from Jan 4 to 15. She hands her drawings out for free.

From Jan 4 to 6, the Centre 42 Black Box becomes an intimate domestic setting the audience walks through in Si Ti Kay by Noor Effendy Ibrahim's collective Akulah BIMBO SAKTI (I am the MAGIC BIMBO).

Art & Skin is the 13th edition of the fringe festival started by The Necessary Stage (TNS) and the third helmed by Tobin. His tenure has been extended for another three years.

TNS general manager Melissa Lim says: "Sean has been instrumental in forging new connections with various Singapore artists and partners and has brought a wonderful breath of fresh air to the festival's artistic direction. We look forward to him continuing these dialogues with stakeholders - particularly through the Fringe themes which cast a spotlight on seminal Singapore artists and artworks as inspiration for new works."

From 2018, the festival is likely to focus on pioneering performance art from Singapore, Tobin says.

"We have enough of a history to look at who were some of the forerunners and fringe artists and highlight how their works were relevant."

•Tickets from $12 to $25 available from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic. com.sg). For details, go to www.singaporefringe.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Fringe fest gets under the skin'. Print Edition | Subscribe