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Theatre/Dance/Visual arts

Endurance art: Five memorable marathon performances

Published on Aug 14, 2014 5:41 PM

This weekend, Indian performance artist Nikhil Chopra embarks on his sprawling 50-hour piece titled Give Me Your Blood And I Will Give You Freedom, as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Extended durational shows are not new in the performance art world and Singapore has been seeing more such shows in recent years. Renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic has presented a 700-hour performance piece titled The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010, and a documentary on her life and times was shown at a film festival here in 2013.

We take a look at Chopra's upcoming piece and revisit other durational theatre and dance pieces staged here.

1. Give Me Your Blood And I Will Give You Freedom

Over two days, two nights and two hours, Chopra will be blending elements of performance, live art, theatre, painting and drawing in his piece, which is a festival commission.

The artist, who has performed at major arts festivals and museums as well as notable art biennales around the world, has done even longer durational performances. His piece revisits the year 1943 when India was in the midst of a war to free itself from 200 years of British rule. The title comes from the charismatic anti-colonial leader Subhas Chandra Bose’s rallying cry: “Give me your blood and I will give you freedom”. A group of women responded, forming the all-female combat army, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.

Bose was leader of the Indian National Army, a Japanese-backed army in Singapore comprising Indian soldiers who originally fought with the British. He emerged as a controversial figure during World War II, photographed shaking hands with Hitler and giving allegiance to the imperial Japanese army as it made inroads into Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Chopra says he used all this as the backdrop for his piece “because being an Indian is such a short phenomenon... I was drawn to Bose because he is a very ambiguous figure. It is not entirely clear where his politics lay”.

Apart from fleshing out the passage of a bloody battle, he will assume the character of a fictional female warrior, Jhansi. To seek her freedom, she must be prepared to transform, shed her skin and “spill” blood. Give Me Your Blood will also see him create a live painting and in the climactic finale, emerge as a black monster, a queen, proclaiming her victory with her blood over a darkened stage. Everyday actions such as washing, eating, sleeping and dressing are woven into his performance, and viewers can come and go during the 50 hours.

Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road
When: Friday to Sunday, starts at 7pm on Friday and ends at 9pm on Sunday
Admission: $35 from Sistic (Call 6348-5555 or go to


2. A Dream Like A Dream

Hailed as a landmark Chinese-language play, the eight-hour epic A Dream Like A Dream by renowned Taiwanese dramatist Stan Lai was staged here in February. Part of the Esplanade’s annual Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, the production started in the afternoon and was broken up by two 20-minute intermissions and a 2 1/2-hour dinner break, finishing at close to midnight.

Twenty-seven actors play nearly 100 roles and go through 400 costume changes in this epic production. Stories unfold within stories and the audience is led on a journey through time, place and cultures, into the life of a 1930s Shanghai prostitute who marries a French diplomat and moves to Paris. The dramatic stage design had the audience sitting in the centre of the stage with animated scenes unfolding around them.



3. Gatz

This six-hour-long rendition of American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby - the classic 1925 novel about the tarnishing of the American dream - was part of the Singapore Arts Festival in 2010. Gatz was created in 2005 and presented by New York ensemble The Elevator Repair Service. Set in a modern-day office, it juxtaposed an unglamorous setting with the glitzy world of the rich portrayed in the novel. The production begins with a desk-bound employee opening the book and starting to read it. As he reads every word in the 1995 Scribner Paperback version – for six hours – his co-workers metamorphose into different characters in the novel.


4. Memory II: Hunger

Performed by Beijing's Living Dance Studio, the seven-hour Memory II: Hunger was staged at the Singapore Arts Festival in 2011. It saw performers drawing from personal memories and stories of survivors of China's Great Famine (1959-1961), the outcome of both government mismanagement and natural disaster. Through film and live performance, the production took the audience on a dark and distant journey fuelled by hunger. Audience members were encouraged to fast before the epic eight-hour production to fully experience this powerful piece. It was created by international dance sensation, Tao Ye, known for his unparalleled dance vocabulary, stretching the boundaries of the flesh to rediscover the body's unknown possibilities.


5. The Peony Pavilion

In its original form, the 16th-century epic about unrequited love runs into 55 scenes and 20 hours. A shorter, sexier version of the classic Chinese opera was staged at the Esplanade in 2009. Even the short version was nine hours long and played over three nights at the Esplanade. The Peony Pavilion is the most famous opera from Kunqu, a 600-year-old art form that has influenced virtually all other forms of opera in China, including the better-known and newer Beijing opera.

Kunqu is said to be more refined and aristocratic than the energetic, folkloric Beijing opera, and combines poetry, song, dance and martial arts. It is also listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco in 2001. This version of the classic premiered in 2004 in Taipei, and has since toured China, the United Kingdom and the United States.