Concert review: Striving for beauty in a time of ugliness

(From left) Pianist Bertram Wee, Sabrina Zuber (dancer) and violinist Kailin Yong at Resonances by Bellepoque. PHOTO: XAVIER KEUTCH PHOTOGRAPHY



Esplanade Recital Studio, last Saturday (July 10)

The pandemic has inspired musical endeavours such as the Compassion series of chamber concerts, which went online last month as part of this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Resonances, a double bill by home-grown musical theatre company Bellepoque, seemed like a logical extension of this, but turned out radically different in its execution.

Rather than a concert proper of listed set pieces, it comprised two separate and seemingly unconnected works of performance art that nevertheless formed an aesthetically pleasing whole.

Multidisciplinary in nature, the works combined music, movement, spoken word and film.

The first part, Resilience, was a 20-minute composition by Singapore-based Belgian Robert Casteels - who, true to form, defied the conventions of concert music.

Known for his unclassifiable creations, Casteels worked with electronics and pre-recorded material. He was partnered with pianist Bertram Wee and violinist Kailin Yong, who improvised for the most part.

Bellepoque founder-director Sabrina Zuber provided the element of dance, but was eclipsed by the lighting design of Yeo Hon Beng and stunning filmography of Tejas Ewing and Deepesh Vasudev.

Theirs was a kaleidoscopic treatment of subjects, including filmed musicians, nature and cityscapes. This allegory of healing and rejuvenation was emphasised by the music closing in the reaffirming key of E major.

The second part, Lotus Fugue, was almost double the length of Resilience. Excerpts from the letters and lecture scripts of legendary local artist Georgette Chen were neatly wrapped up as a story engagingly told by veteran writer, playwright and actress Verena Tay.

The accompanying music was more traditional, with sung melodies by Gabriel Faure and Claude Debussy (pre-recorded by Zuber, now doubling as soprano); piano solos by Erik Satie and Debussy; and improvisations by pianist Tabitha Gan.

These better reflected Chen's Impressionist lotus paintings, which merged Western techniques with Eastern sensibilities.

The more substantial dance segment was helmed by Mohd Sharul Muhd, exhibiting a rare grace and athleticism in a white frock.

His moves were sometimes mirrored by the ubiquitous Zuber, who flitted on and off the stage in a subsidiary role. The accompanying visuals were again on point, but it was Chen's words that rang with the most resonance.

At a time when people are questioning the role and value of artists in society, the late painter has provided the answers. In Tay's reading, she echoed Chen's words that art is "a labour of love" and that alone was the "eternal driving force".

As a parting shot, she added: "When a lotus blooms, its beauty drives out all ugliness in the world."

In that spirit, Resonances strove for beauty in a time of ugliness.

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