Arts off the beaten track

Noor Effendy Ibrahim, part of C.O.P. (Cult Of Personality), performing in Cake Theatrical Productions' Running With Strippers: Thou Shall Not.
Noor Effendy Ibrahim, part of C.O.P. (Cult Of Personality), performing in Cake Theatrical Productions' Running With Strippers: Thou Shall Not.PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY

Running With Strippers: Thou Shall Not takes the audience into an unknown parallel world where art is given space and freedom



Cake Theatrical Productions

Secret location

Last Saturday

What happens when you give artists space to improvise? Viewers find out in an industrial carpark somewhere in Singapore.

Close to 11pm last Saturday, performers from C.O.P. (Cult Of Personality) perform a crazy catwalk on stark white runways. They play with water, chalk, rice, dolls, ropes and their own bodies, improvising movement theatre in time to the club beats offered by artist collective Syndicate.

Sometimes the experiment works. Jean Ng and Julius Foo are in sync, moving with echoes of their recent collaboration in Being Haresh Sharma, also created by the night's host, Cake Theatrical Productions.

Sometimes it fizzles. Expressive Nora Samosir wins laughs as she literally drags Noor Effendy Ibrahim into her performance by his heel - but Effendy is happiest in solo, often in masturbatory motion.

The experiment is unpredictable, self-indulgent, unappealing to some and heady for others. It is art given space and freedom, physically and metaphorically set aside from the well-trodden stages in the civic district.

Running With Strippers is a site-specific, multidisciplinary arts festival first hosted by Cake in 2015 to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The location then was Goodman Arts Centre, where Cake occupied a subsidised space in a building deliberately set up from top down as a place for artists to network and gather.

Cake has moved since then and, last Friday and Saturday, took its audience along.

Those who register for the evening meet outside the Drama Centre Theatre at Victoria Street. Instead of entering a favoured main stage, they get into a bus that heads into the wilds of Seletar. During the 40-minute journey, a recording plays of theatre-maker Sean Tobin reading from George Orwell's 1984. The message is clear: This will be a trip into an unknown, parallel world.

The industrial carpark at journey's end is an incubator of hallucinations, courtesy neontights (space design) and Artfactory (technical installations). Members of C.O.P. pose on tube-lit runways. Wine and juice chill in ice-buckets. Viewers - who pay by donation only - are fed, watered and led from C.O.P.'s crazed catwalk into a series of rooms, each housing an intimate performance.

Movement artist Rizman Putra condenses his history into a self-deprecating yet energetic dance-lecture titled Trip The Light Fantastic. Poet Cyril Wong sings movingly to his own recorded voice in Disassembly.

Zulkifle Mahmod's installation March On is a percussion piece played by sheets of paper pulsed by electromagnets. The military beats are a commentary on the pace of progress, on the lack of interest in recalling or recording the past - and hypnotic. One is tempted to lie down on the velvet floor of the red-lit room and dream.

Running With Strippers: Thou Shall Not lets collaborators turn some of their dreams into reality. A showcase in the 2015 edition eventually became Cake's play Ophelia, nominated for set, sound design and best actor at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards. Maybe this year will lead to something equally intriguing on a main stage in the civic district. Maybe it will not. That is not the point.

By luck or design, Running With Strippers: Thou Shall Not ran at a time when space at arts centres funded by official entities is at a premium. Cake is funded by the National Arts Council's major company scheme but, in this festival, has carved out a niche of space and time entirely its own.

Running With Strippers is a gift to collaborators and those viewers who came along for the ride. Maybe more will be inspired to venture off the beaten track.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Arts off the beaten track'. Print Edition | Subscribe