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Tightrope act across the waters the highlight of Singapore River Festival

From a booming reggae performance to a quiet disco, from daredevil tightrope-walking stunts to wow-inducing bubble shows - these are some of the diverse highlights of the Singapore River Festival happening tonight and tomorrow.

The annual event aims to set the three quays along the Singapore River - Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay - abuzz with performances and activities .

At Clarke Quay, French tightrope-walking duo of Underclouds Cie will walk a line suspended between the riverside promenade just outside hotel Swissotel Merchant Court and the foot of Read Bridge.

Along the riverside by the entrance of Clarke Quay Central, bubble expert Caroline Cornelius- Jones, or CJ the Bubble Girl, will weave air balls into various shapes and sizes.

Over at Robertson Quay, catch the local film anthology 7 Letters at an outdoor screening tomorrow evening at the quayside. Hammocks will be hung and popcorn and candy floss will be available.

Around the area, there will be silent disco parties, where festivalgoers put on headphones playing music; and fitness workshops, such as kids' yoga and barre classes.

The Boat Quay area will host a mini festival called Circular Spectacular, with most of the activities taking place in Circular Road, which will be closed to traffic tomorrow afternoon and evening.

The carnival is organised by Hyphen, a non-profit company which is behind multi-disciplinary arts projects.

In the line-up are live music performances, art installations and a barter market.

Look out for music collective Lion Steppaz Sound's impressive 2.7m-tall homemade sound system as it blares out groovy reggae beats.

In addition, artist Samantha "Sticker Lady" Lo will stencil a 170m-long "My Grandfather Road" on the road.

Most activities in the Singapore River Festival, staged to the tune of more than half a million dollars, are free, but some require online registration. Organised by Singapore River One, the place manager for the precinct, the festival attracted more than 100,000 visitors last year despite the haze.

This time, the organisers have condensed the activities into two days, unlike the last edition's three.

Ms Michelle Koh, Singapore River One's executive director, says: "The intensity remains the same, but we wanted to pack it in so visitors just hop from one event to another within the day."

Once Singapore's centre of trade and commerce, the 3.2km-long Singapore River continues to be "a source of life", but in different ways, says Mr Stan Lee, executive director of experiential marketing agency Muse Inc, the creative producers behind the festival.

"We want to remind visitors of the connections we all have to the river, whether we go to the quays to hang out with friends or family, or treat the places as after-work venues," he says.

• More details at www.srf.sg


Lovers on a tightrope

Two lovers will dance on a tightrope over the Singapore River tonight. They will inch towards one another on a 50m-long synthetic tightrope suspended 6m in the air. As they meet in the middle, a passionate dance is ignited as one pushes and climbs over the other.

This is Crossings, the highlight act of this year's Singapore River Festival and the first time a tightrope has been set up over the river.

Taking place tonight and tomorrow evening, the aerial spectacle is by French performance group Underclouds Cie, comprising real-life couple Mathieu Hibon and Chloe Moura.

The tightrope is extended from the riverside promenade outside Swissotel Merchant Court to the foot of Read Bridge, closer to the entrance of Clarke Quay.

Inspired by the festival's theme of River Connections, the duo have created an original piece inspired by the bonds they have built as a couple.

  • VIEW IT / CROSSINGS BY UNDERCLOUDS CIE

  • WHERE: Read Bridge, between Clarke Quay and Clarke Quay Central

    WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow, 8 and 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.srf.sg/Headline_Act.html

Through a French translator, Hibon, 37, tells The Straits Times that a lot of trust is needed to execute death-defying feats on a tightrope. "We have to be one as this is a matter of survival," he says.

The adoration the couple share is palpable. "It was love at first sight," says a blushing Moura, 31. They have a nine-month-old daughter, but are not married.

"We have to first find a priest who will marry us on the tightrope," says Hibon with a laugh.

They met 10 years ago and is each experienced in different mediums. Hibon is a self-taught tightrope walker while Moura is a wire acrobat who picked up her skills at French circus school Academie Fratellini.

The pair started Underclouds Cie in 2011 and focus on balancing acts in the air. Their last major performance together was Funambus in Europe, where they walked on a tightrope attached to a moving bus.

This is the first time Underclouds Cie is performing in South-east Asia. They have travelled to various parts of Europe, including Spain and Poland, as well as Uzbekistan.

On the rope, they are obliged to "be in the present" and not dwell on the past or wonder about the future, says Moura.

Hibon concurs, adding that this is particularly poignant nowadays as the world is moving "so quickly". "The rope teaches us to think only about the present."


Hear reggae boom from a homemade 500kg sound system

Dissatisfied with the sound quality in most local nightspots when it comes to reggae beats, three deejays decided to build their own reggae sound system.

After a year of planning and research followed by months of construction, Araya Yuichiro (better known as Yooh The Vibration), Darren Tan (Darren Dubwise) and Ken Ito (Selecta Ken) created a mammoth 500kg, 2.7m-tall tower of six speakers built into wooden boxes and topped with two amplifiers.

The system was completed in May last year and has been the booming centrepiece at parties since. It will make a stop at street carnival Circular Spectacular, which is part of the Singapore River Festival, on Saturday evening in Circular Road. The DJ trio will play two sets at 6.15 and 9pm. There is no cover charge.

Music pounds through the beast of a speaker so hard - the sound is especially rich and heavy - that it reverberates through the entire space and even to the space next door.

A grinning Yuichiro, 36, tells The Straits Times: "We have had complaints before that it was too loud.

"Now we make sure the place we set up at has no residents nearby."

The group, who call themselves Lion Steppaz Sound, have played in bars such as The Training Shed and The Great Escape in Golden Mile Tower. They focus on reggae - from roots reggae to dancehall to dubstep - as they enjoy the genre.

Tan, 35, is Singaporean, while Yuichiro and Ito, 35, are Japanese. The group have two new Japanese members who joined this year - deejay Shingo Sakano, 32, and Toshikazu Miyanagi, also 32, who handles public relations.

Yuichiro and Ito note that the reggae culture is huge in Japan and they hope to grow it in Singapore as it is still a very niche interest here.

It takes about an hour for the group to set up the system, alongside a PA mixer and turntables.

While transporting the giant speakers might be backbreaking, the group have no plans to find a permanent home for their homemade system, says Tan.

"We don't want to be stuck in one place. Instead, we want to bring the party to the people."


Claiming 'My Grandfather Road' for a day

Artist Samantha Lo, better known as "Sticker Lady", is resuscitating her infamous installation using the Singlish slogan "My Grandfather Road" and this time, it is legal.

As part of street carnival Circular Spectacular, she will stencil the words on a 170m-long stretch of Circular Road using chalk paint. The carnival will take place tomorrow and is one of the programmes under this year's Singapore River Festival.

Four years ago, she had also stencilled "My Grandfather Road" on several roads, as well as stuck tongue-in-cheek stickers with slogans such as "Press Once Can Already" on traffic light buttons. She was eventually sentenced to 240 hours of community service.

Given her history, using the phrase "My Grandfather Road" is like "saying hi to an old friend", says Lo, who is single.

The words were apt for the festival too. "Since they will be closing the street, we could actually claim it back and for just one day, it is our collective grandfathers' road."

Compared with her original 2.1m-long stencil, this will be bigger and is, in fact, her largest artpiece so far.

She says her run-in with the authorities and the resulting publicity have opened many doors for her and she has even come to embrace the alias Sticker Lady, which she used to hate.

Now she is a full-time artist with a range of extra-curricular activities. Last year, she founded collaborative platform Indigoism. One of the events that it organises is The Barter Market, a social initiative where attendees barter goods and services with vendors without money. The seventh edition will be held at Circular Spectacular and features a tarot card reader, a barber and illustrators.

Art-wise, she is also going places. She staged her first solo exhibition in August last year at The Substation Gallery, showcasing artworks sparked by the outpouring of emotions after Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's death.

A second exhibition, called Greetings From Singapore, will take place in January at One East Asia gallery, featuring photographs of her past works along with some new ones.

Lo, 30, will also launch her first book at the event, comprising postcards depicting her artworks.

As for her piece tomorrow, she hopes the public "will smile and see the humour in it".

"I want them to take away the feeling that we are all the same and public spaces are ours."


The bubbleologist who calls bubbles divas

Ms Caroline Cornelius-Jones blows bubbles for a living. "I'm a bubbleologist," she says with a straight face, before adding: "The word isn't in the dictionary yet, though."

But she can certainly create magic with bubbles. Whether they are big bubbles stretching 10 to 15m long, small bubbles, bubbles within bigger bubbles or a cluster of bubbles that looks like a dragon, the pint-sized Singapore permanent resident will blow them up. She can envelope a person - child or adult - within a bubble too.

The Briton is the "CJ" behind CJ Bubble Productions - the firm to contact if you want to watch a bubble show or attend a bubble workshop - and her stage alias is CJ the Bubble Girl.

Ms Cornelius-Jones, who is attached and declines to reveal her age, will perform at two free outdoor bubble shows as part of the Singapore River Festival's Riverfront Carnival.

Catch her at the open area of Clarke Quay Central, next to the Singapore River, tomorrow evening.

Her skills have landed her in the Singapore Book of Records twice. In 2010, she enclosed eight people in a bubble before breaking that record last year with 15 people.

Her obsession with these "living sculptures", as she calls them, was ignited after she watched the bubble antics of a busker in the early noughties. She headed straight to toy store Toys "R" Us to buy a bubble kit and tried it out herself. But she could not reproduce the tricks she saw.

She then trawled the Internet for recipes to make bubbles, but none proved successful.

"I realised the ingredients found here were different from the ones in the West and Europe, so I had to experiment and make my own bubble solution."

After many months of trial and error and 18 recipes, she succeeded in concocting a suitable bubble solution.

"People think it's just bubbles, but there is a lot of science behind it," says the interior design graduate.

Ask what the ingredients are and she whispers that they are a "secret". However, she relents and reveals that the two main ingredients are glycerin and dishwashing liquid, specifically the Joy or Fairy brands produced by Procter & Gamble. She sells bubble kits in various sizes - prices start at $5 - through her company website.

Armed with the right bubble solution, she then had to master creating bubbles in various weather and environmental conditions.

"Bubbles hate air-conditioning and love humidity. And you have to work with the wind and sun when outdoors too," she says.

During the outdoor photo shoot for this interview, she moved to a spot that was less windy and hot - to prevent the bubbles from popping too fast.

"Bubbles can be such divas, but they bring me a lot of joy," she quips.

Her favourite part of the job is the reaction from the audience - particularly the adults'.

"They have forgotten how to be a kid, then they see a bubble and go 'wow'. They see a cube-shaped one and go 'oh my god' and, suddenly, they believe in magic again."


Take a walking or bike tour

Did you know there was once a filthy public toilet in the middle of a roundabout in Clarke Quay?

Near Jiak Kim Street, where nightspot Zouk stands, there were once squalid houses on stilts that stood over the Singapore River.

Glean these colourful tidbits about life around the Singapore River from two history tours led by licensed guide Leonard Loo, 57.

The former finance manager set up tour agency Yafi, which cheekily stands for You Asked For It, in 2014 and has primarily been conducting customised private tours.

The two tours are being launched for the Singapore River Festival and will be available at a discount - the Colonial Era Bike About will be conducted twice a day and cost $60 (compared with the normal rate of $80); and the Twilight Singapore River Tour will run three times a day and cost $15 (compared with the normal rate of $30).

  • BOOK IT / COLONIAL ERA BIKE ABOUT

  • WHERE: Meet at Clarke Quay

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 9.30am and 2pm

    ADMISSION: $60 on festival days, $80 otherwise INFO: Register at www.sgbikeabout.com or e-mail sgbikeabout@gmail.com


    TWILIGHT SINGAPORE RIVER TOUR

    WHERE: Meet at Raffles Place MRT station

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 1, 3 and 5pm

    ADMISSION: $15 on festival days, $30 otherwise

    INFO: Register at www.sgwalkabout.com or e-mail sgwalkabout@gmail.com

The Colonial Era Bike About is a 31/2-hour, 10km journey that starts at Clarke Quay and goes through Boat Quay, the Civic District, Beach Road and Robertson Quay. There will be pit stops at three parks - Fort Canning, Esplanade Park and Empress Place. Foldable bikes will be provided.

Mr Loo's commentary includes the historical and economic significance of the Singapore River, as well as fun facts he gathered from his memories or stories told to him.

The public toilet in the middle of a roundabout is where the fountain square in Clarke Quay now stands.

Mr Loo says: "It was so filthy that women would rather turn blue controlling their bladders than use it."

The area was rejuvenated in the 1980s when Clarke Quay was turned into a recreation and entertainment venue.

Mr Loo knows of the houses on stilts near Jiak Kim Street because he had been inside one as a child. "My great-grandfather's house was once there and I used to visit him."

The houses were torn down in the late 1970s to make way for the clean-up of the Singapore River.

The twilight walking tour around the Singapore River begins at 5pm and offers a glimpse of how the area transforms once the sun sets. Unlike the bicycle tour which covers more ground beyond the precinct, this 11/2-hour, 1km tour hones in on the three quays.

Mr Loo prefers to keep the tour groups small and will take up to eight people for each bike tour. For the walking tour, the optimal size is 20, but if demand is strong, he will enlist the help of other guides and accept up to 30 participants.

He says he wants to "show off Singapore" in his unique, personalised way.

"The facts are all there, but it's how the stories are presented."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2016, with the headline 'River of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe