The Once And Future
Yeo Siew Hua
Singapore International Festival of Arts
Esplanade Theatre, June 3, 8 pm
Suppose you were to imagine a movie experience enhanced by a laser show and live music. It is likely that you might picture a science-fiction epic or rock musical - an adaptation of H. G. Wells' alien-invasion drama The War Of The Worlds, perhaps, or something from Broadway maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber's repertoire.
In this work, Singaporean film-maker Yeo Siew Hua swings in the opposite direction. Instead of going big and bombastic, the tone here is hushed and stately, often quasi-religious. Instead of pop harmonies, there are the thick chromatic chords of modern symphonic music.
On a screen with an ultra-wide aspect ratio, there is a film that at first appears to be a free-form collection of scenes.
The images, sometimes shown in split-screen for contrast, illustrate ideas of growth and annihilation. Yeo considers the fleshy nature of earth's creatures - especially humans - and the way physical bodies connect with and sometimes consume each other.
The production does not aim at sensory overload; rather, it sneaks up on the viewer, delivering a string of unexpected pleasures.
The audience is asked to bear witness, but to what is never made explicit. It is best to not worry about narrative and let the production's textural thrills wash over you.
Filmed by Yeo in Argentina, the visuals range from god-like aerial views of cities and forests to scenes featuring characters eager to shed their solitude, for the rest of their lives or for only a few minutes.
Lasers, choreographed into sinuous lines, searing dots or room-filling matrices, appear to depict a higher mind scanning Earth's geophysical contours.
Composer Eugene Birman's score - as interpreted by the ZeMu! Ensemble Berlin, a unit comprised of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and conducted by Stanley Dodds - throbs with unresolved longing.
Librettist Anandi Bhattacharya, singing and speaking the part of the artificial intelligence addressing the audience, handles Birman's complex lines with otherworldly agility and expressiveness, as do the percussion, woodwinds, strings and brass of the Ensemble under Dodd's direction.