Malacca's arts festival celebrates city's spirit

Australian artist Lisa Dethridge performing by the Malacca River at last year's festival, which drew over 35,000 people.
Australian artist Lisa Dethridge performing by the Malacca River at last year's festival, which drew over 35,000 people.PHOTO: MAPFEST

The three-day annual festival in Malacca includes dance, performance art and exhibitions

Most people associate Malacca with charming shophouses and street food, but every November, the Unesco World Heritage site draws a different kind of visitor - art lovers.

This is thanks to the Melaka Art and Performance Festival, a three-day event that includes dance, performance art and exhibitions.

It runs from Nov 27 to 29, mostly taking place in the vicinity of St Paul's Hill in the heart of the city centre. All events are free.

Highlights include Eulogy For The Living, a multimedia performance with artists from different disciplines, including an opera singer, a Javanese shaman, a hip-hop artist and a ballet dancer.

The piece, to be staged on Nov 29, explores the idea of memento mori, a Latin reminder of mortality, and incorporates live music and projections.

  • VIEW IT / MELAKA ART & PERFORMANCE FESTIVAL

    WHERE: Malacca, around the vicinity of St Paul's Hill

    WHEN: Nov 27 to 29, from 10am

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.melakafestival.com

  • GETTING THERE

    BY CAR

    The route spans about 230km. Have your GPS handy.

    Cost: About $30 for toll fees one way

    Duration: About three hours without stops

    BY BUS

    Take a bus from various points in Singapore to the bus terminal at Malacca Sentral. Book online at ww.easybook.com or buy tickets from any bus company at Golden Mile Complex.

    Cost: Between $22 and $45 one way

    Duration: About four hours

The festival's creative director is Malacca-born performance artist and choreographer Tony Yap, 60, who is now based in Melbourne.

He was inspired to start the festival in 2009 when he was working in Singapore in Past Caring, a play by The Necessary Stage. He decided to visit his hometown on a weekend with two other performers in the show.

"The city had a strong sense of spirit. I realised that it was a great place to have a festival," he said.

He roped in his nephew Andrew Ching, managing director of events management firm E-Plus Entertainment Productions, to start an arts festival in the city.

Yap said the festival had grown "like a monster" since. It attracted over 35,000 visitors last year. What sets it apart from other festivals in the region is its small scale.

Unlike Penang's month-long George Town Festival, it runs only for three days and mainly features independent artists or small companies.

All performances are site-specific and are located in the vicinity of St Paul's Hill, a place of historical significance as the administrative centre during the days of Parameswara, the founder of ancient Malacca, in the 15th century.

This year there will be 45 artists participating in the festival, from countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Italy and the United States.

One of the three Singaporeans who will be taking part is Ezzam Rahman, this year's President's Young Talents art competition winner .

On Nov 28, he will present an installation and performance art piece titled I Am Coming Home For Him at St Paul's Hill. The title refers to his Malacca-born father, who died five years ago.

The 34-year-old has not decided how the performance would go, preferring to be inspired by the venue. He said: "Location is key to my practice. I'm not so sure of the outcome yet, but I hope I will do justice to the space."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Arts festival celebrates city's spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe