Arts pioneers and stars share works in progress this weekend
As the curtain rises on the revamped Singapore International Festival of Arts this week, the organisers are also offering a sneak peek at next year's line-up, billed as the best of home-grown artists and arts groups.
Among those commissioned by the festival to present new works in Singapore's jubilee year are dance pioneers Goh Lay Kuan and Santha Bhaskar, comedian Kumar and theatre company Wild Rice. All will talk about their works in progress this Saturday and Sunday at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road.
Attendance is free for the sneak preview titled Singapore Prepares!, and members of the public are welcome to attend and give feedback to the artists.
Festival director Ong Keng Sen hopes the public discussions will help audience feel a greater connection to local artists and to the arts festival.
"It's also a statement that artistic commissions take a long time, that there needs to be time given to artists. I realise people still enshrine the idea of an 'instant noodle' culture."
He held discussions with about 50 artists and arts groups last year before settling on the line-up of at least 12 productions and programmes. Selections were based on artist responses to next year's theme, Post-Empire.
Some $2.5 million have been disbursed on local commissions. Those picked include multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan; classical musicians from the T'ang Quartet; theatre groups Cake Theatre, Teater Ekamatra and Drama Box, as well as Lasalle College of the Arts, whose students will restage the revolutionary dramas of Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, with Wang Chong, artistic director of Beijing-based experimental theatre group Theatre du Reve Experimental.
Ong, 51, says staging the commissions, including theatre rental and crew hire, is likely to cost the festival that same amount again.
He says: "I wanted to give artists the chance to do something they wouldn't do in a normal season. I asked, 'What would happen if you were given the chance of making a larger production and not have to worry about the box office?'"
Among the most expensive productions next year is the one choreographed by Cultural Medallion recipient Goh, 75, who created groundbreaking works with her late husband, dramatist Kuo Pao Kun. Homing Fish, which echoes her trademark piece of the same name from the 1990s, will combine elements of Chinese lion dance, Malay dikir barat and Indian bharatanatyam dance. It is budgeted at roughly $350,000.
Another major dance production comes from Bhaskar Arts Academy and revives an epic work of kathakali dance theatre shown in Singapore in 1954 at a then newly revamped Victoria Theatre. Mrs Bhaskar, 75, will work with students from Kerala Kalamandalam, which put on the older production as well.
On Saturday, she will talk about the art of kathakali and the rigorous training its exponents endure. "I think it will be an eye-opener for Singapore students. Kathakali dancers have to learn language, literature, dance, music and how to put on make-up, it's not only dance," she says, comparing kathakali to Chinese opera.
Comedian Kumar is planning to engage audiences at HDB void-decks next year, while Wild Rice will stage Hotel, a new drama written by Alfian Sa'at which shows Singapore from 1915 to 2015 through the changing staff and guests at a grand hotel.
Festival director Ong will work with Singaporean designers and film-makers, including multimedia artist Tan, to reproduce old photos of Singapore pioneers with the help of new migrants.
The work was created for next year's Singapore Season in Paris, a bilateral event organised by Singapore's National Heritage Board and France's international agency for culture policy, Institut Francais. It will debut in France in March before returning home to be shown again at the arts festival.
The T'ang Quartet is planning two concerts, one featuring the work of avant-garde composer George Crumb, and another using 19th-century instruments, with pianist Melvyn Tan.
They also equate the theme of "post-empire" with "post-T'ang Quartet" and as part of next year's programme, are seeking four-strong ensembles to mentor, from primary school children to retirees.
"It's not only about us," says cellist Leslie Tan, 50, who is looking forward to discussing this idea with the audience on Saturday.
"When we do something for the audience, we like to get feedback from the audience. What do they think, what would they like to see? It's very, very interesting."