Arty way to sell Singapore

The Necessary Stage's one-woman show Best Of, starring award-winning actress Siti Khalijah Zainal (left), is travelling to the Brisbane Festival as well as the New York showcase Something To Write Home About.
The Necessary Stage's one-woman show Best Of, starring award-winning actress Siti Khalijah Zainal (above), is travelling to the Brisbane Festival as well as the New York showcase Something To Write Home About.PHOTO: ALAN LIM
DJ Kiat, who performed at the Syndicate Subsessions in London (above, centre), will be part of the Singapore: Inside Out showcase in New York.
DJ Kiat, who performed at the Syndicate Subsessions in London (above, centre), will be part of the Singapore: Inside Out showcase in New York. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD
Theatre practitioners Noorlinah Mohamed (left) and Claire Wong (right) in Recalling Mother and Jesse Sharp and Janet Song in A Book By Its Cover.
Theatre practitioners Noorlinah Mohamed (left) and Claire Wong (right) in Recalling Mother and Jesse Sharp and Janet Song in A Book By Its Cover. PHOTO: CHECKPOINT THEATRE
Theatre practitioners Noorlinah Mohamed and Claire Wong in Recalling Mother and Jesse Sharp and Janet Song (both above) in A Book By Its Cover.
Theatre practitioners Noorlinah Mohamed and Claire Wong in Recalling Mother and Jesse Sharp and Janet Song (both above) in A Book By Its Cover. PHOTO: GROVE THEATER CENTER
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show (above), Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System.
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show (above), Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System.PHOTO: MICHAEL DAMES
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show, Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest (above) and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System.
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show, Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest (above) and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WILD RICE
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show, Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System (above).
The showcase in Brisbane will include Margaret Leng Tan’s one-woman show, Wild Rice’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the 7 Letters film anthology, which includes Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Positioning System (above).PHOTO: COURTESY OF KELVIN TONG

Three festivals putting the country in the spotlight will take place in New York and Brisbane next month

CREATIVE ON THE INSIDE

From the sprawling Singapore Festival in France to a cultural showcase in Mexico, an unprecedented number of international festivals are putting Singapore in the spotlight this year.

So far, at least five such festivals have taken place, with another three coming up next month. And while many of these arts events are organised by the Government, others are led by passionate individuals.

There Is Something To Write Home About, an intimate multidisciplinary festival by a group of New York-based Singaporeans, runs from Sept 12 to 22 in the Big Apple; followed by Singapore: Inside Out, a city-hopping showcase of creatives and artists presented by the Singapore Tourism Board - its New York leg runs from Sept 23 to 27.

On the other side of the globe, the Brisbane Festival, running from Sept 5 to 26, has a special Singapore Series as part of its line-up.

Damon Chua, a Singaporean playwright who has lived in the United States for about 18 years, says: "There's only so much you can do in saying, 'Come to Singapore, it's clean and you can go shopping.' These festivals are another way of showcasing Singapore... People are still discovering the arts that is in Singapore, I think there's a lot of potential."

He will be participating in Something To Write Home About and was involved in last year's Singapore Literature Festival in New York, where Singaporean writers came together for readings and discussions.

Each of these three upcoming festivals represents Singapore's arts and culture in different ways.

Something To Write Home About is a cosy festival with small-scale events, including The Necessary Stage's one-woman show Best Of, starring award-winning actress Siti Khalijah Zainal. It will take place on the premises of La MaMa, a prominent experimental theatre company in the city.

The event was started by ceramics artist Wee Hong Ling, a scientist- turned-artist based in New York. She had organised a visual arts group exhibition of Singaporean artists in New York 10 years ago and wanted to do a showcase in tandem with the Golden Jubilee celebrations - this time with several art forms.

Dr Wee tells Life over the telephone that the festival was built through word of mouth with artists and volunteers generously giving their talent and time.

Chua, 49, feels the fact that this was a grassroots festival meant that artists were free to "define the scope and content of the festival".

The event received about $110,000 in direct funding - about a third of it went to booking venues. Some arts groups were supported by organisations such as Singapore International Foundation and some sponsorship was in kind, such as air tickets from Singapore Airlines.

Dr Wee, 47, says: "I've been away from home for 23 years, but I still want to celebrate SG50. There are many of us here who feel the same way. In this big birthday bash, it's also an opportunity for us to show our friends and family, the nonSingaporeans especially, what Singapore is about."

Of a more official bent is Singapore: Inside Out, which is being orchestrated by the tourism board to showcase Singapore as a "vibrant and creative nation to augment our established business- city credentials".

The event travelled to Beijing in April and London in June. The New York edition next month will take place at Madison Square Park before it returns to Singapore in November.

With its roving performances and interactive art installations - including an edible art creation by pastry chef Janice Wong - the showcase has garnered positive feedback in Beijing and London.

For instance, professor Xu Ding Zhong, from Beijing Dance Academy, told the tourism board that "the amalgamation of traditional and modern elements ignited a spark and allowed me to see Singapore in a new light, as a creative city".

Artists who participate in Inside Out also feel that the event is an effective showcase of Singapore's creative scene.

DJ Cherry Chan, 36, co-founder of the audio-visual collective Syndicate, which have performed at every leg of the showcase, says the festival "works better than a magazine telling you what Singapore is about".

She adds: "It's like how seeing an artwork in a catalogue and looking at the art on the wall right in front of you are two very different things."

Some audience members were so intrigued by the performances that they exchanged contact details with the artists in the hope of future collaborations.

Where possible, Syndicate collaborate with local artists at every stop. Their London set included a British DJ, Kidkanevil, who sampled Singapore's beeping traffic lights as part of his mix.

For the New York leg, Syndicate are flying over five-piece Singapore band Octover, which Chan describes as "electronic soul with some jazz influence, which we felt was suitable for that New York sound".

Organisers say the challenge of such Singapore showcases is to make sure that these events do not feel like a one-off burst of activity or a thinly veiled marketing programme to boost tourism to Singapore.

Former Singapore Arts Festival director Goh Ching Lee runs arts management and consulting agency CultureLink, which is co-producing the Singapore Series at the upcoming Brisbane Festival.

She says: "Too often, we do a big bang and disappear afterwards... Personally, I'm in favour of working with local festivals, working in partnership with local organisations, which will be the parties presenting our artists, rather than a direct presentation by the Government."

CultureLink signed an agreement with Brisbane Festival to continue bringing in Singapore artists and groups over three years.

The festival's artistic director David Berthold is also keen to collaborate with festivals such as the ongoing Singapore International Festival of Arts. Two arts festival acts - T'ang Quartet and pianist Margaret Leng Tan - will travel Down Under for the Brisbane festival.

Mr Berthold says: "We know about Singapore as a business and economic powerhouse, as a business centre, and most of Australia's engagement with Singapore is very much on that level... It's probably the arts and culture of Singapore that we know the least about.

"But in the last few years, Singapore society has opened up enormously and that's really what I wanted to help show."

Singapore's contemporary dance and music are a few things on his radar.

The art created by Singapore artists living abroad often bears a touch of longing, of missing home.

Jamie Lewis, a Singaporean artist and performance maker living in Melbourne, has created an autobiographical performance called Saltwater for the Brisbane Festival. Each show is limited to 15 audience members, who will help her prepare a homemade meal as they have conversations and hear stories about her life.

Lewis, 29, who migrated to Australia about 51/2 years ago and is married to an Australian musician, says: "We're Singaporeans, so we love food. The biggest thing I've missed in the past few years is home-cooked meals. Your memories of home are tied to those things. And it's not just the things you can find in Asian restaurants - it's your mother's congee."

Meanwhile, over in New York, Dr Wee created 50 small ceramic houses for Something To Write Home About, reminiscent of the HDB blocks she grew up in.

She says: "They're a little bit different, but they're similar; there's conformity, yet each estate is individual. Singapore culture is about striking that balance."

Ms Goh says that while responses to Singapore art have been varied, ranging from "standing ovations" to the "lukewarm", "I do believe they do go some way in changing or updating international perceptions about Singapore".

She adds: "They would have an appreciation of the Singapore paradox - that is while we may have strict rules and censorship, our artists have not lost their creativity."

•Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan


Something To Write Home About New York City, Sept 12 to 22

FIVE SHORT FILMS CURATED

BY KIRSTEN TAN

Fom the anxieties of a boy on the cusp of entering mandatory military service (Boo Junfeng's Homecoming/Keluar Baris) to the end of an era in Mandarin radio (Sun Koh's Singapore Panda), these five short films paint an intimate portrait of Singapore that may be less familiar on the international stage. The films also include Autograph Book by Wee Lilin, Curry Fish Head by Srinivas Bhakta and The Longest Distance Relationship by Lee Sin Yee.

Where: La MaMa (66 E 4th Street), Ellen Stewart Theatre

When: Sept 14, 7.30pm

Admission: US$12 (S$16.90) from somethingtowritehomeabout.splashthat.com

LETTERS FROM HOME: AN EVENING OF DANCE BY MAYA DANCE THEATRE, SINGAI TAMIL SANGAM & YUN-CHUN CHUA

The traditional and the contemporary in dance and music collide in this performance directed by Kavitha Krishnan, which features artists from Singapore and New York. The performance will be followed by an Indian food reception by chef Larry Reutens.

Where: La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Theatre

When: Sept 15, 7.30pm

Admission: US$24 from somethingtowritehomeabout.splashthat.com

A READING OF THREE WORKS BY

SINGAPOREAN PLAYWRIGHTS: DAMON CHUA, HARESH SHARMA AND HUZIR SULAIMAN

Watch and discuss three works by some of Singapore's most prominent playwrights. A Book By Its Cover (Damon Chua) brings together long-lost cousins - one Chinese American and one from southern China - for a family reunion that soon unravels into misunderstandings and conflict. Poor Thing (Haresh Sharma) takes a pointed look at road rage and the "ugly Singaporean". The Weight Of Silk On Skin (Huzir Sulaiman) examines privilege and romance from the point of view of an affluent Singaporean.

Where: La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Theatre

When: Sept 17, 7.30pm

Admission: Free, but registration is required at somethingtowritehomeabout.splashthat.com

RECALLING MOTHER

BY CHECKPOINT THEATRE

Two women tell stories about two very different mothers who are, in some ways, the same: one is Cantonese-speaking and impetuous, the other speaks Malay and is quietly stubborn. Recalling Mother celebrates the joys and challenges of mother-daughter relationships and is written and performed in English, Malay and Cantonese by Claire Wong and Noorlinah Mohamed.

Where: La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Theatre

When: Sept 21, 7.30pm

Admission: US$12 from somethingtowritehomeabout.splashthat.com

CLOSING NIGHT & STORYTELLING:

CURSED EARTH BY VERENA TAY

Seasoned storyteller Verena Tay brings to New York four tales about Singapore - tales about black magic, ghosts and evil beings.

Each covers a different era in Singapore's history and incorporates various supernatural motifs and urban legends prevalent in South-east Asia. This closing event will feature a Chinese food reception by chef Larry Reutens after the performance.

Where: La MaMa, Ellen Stewart Theatre

When: Sept 22, 7.30pm

Admission: US$24 from somethingtowritehomeabout.splashthat.com

Info: Performance advisory is 16 years and above

•For more information and a full list of events and activities, go to www.somethingtowritehomeabout.nyc


Singapore: Inside Out New York City, Sept 23 to 27

SINGAPORE RESTAURANT WEEK

Food and beverage outlets across New York will be participating in Singapore Restaurant Week with a spread of Singapore-inspired cuisines and cocktails.

Establishments include DB Bistro, Streetbird, The Clam, Illili, Market Table, Spice Market, Red Farm, Kin Shop Delicatessen l, The Red Cat, Amor y Amargo, The Meatball Shop, Lavo, Tao, Kobricks, Musket Room and Chomp Chomp. Their menus will be unveiled at a later date.

Where: Various venues in New York

When: Sept 18 to 27

THE NATURE SHOP

BY ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI

Singaporean artist Robert Zhao's pop-up "souvenir shop" delves into Singapore's natural history as he re-imagines a relationship with the city's landscape and nature through an installation that focuses on its flora and fauna, along with the development of its landscape over the last 50 years.

The art installation will have the look and feel of a curiosity cabinet, prompting audiences to imagine what Singapore could be like based on the display and reorganisation of everyday objects.

Where: Madison Square Park

When: Sept 23 to 27

PERMISSION TO SPEAK, SIR

BY T.H.E. DANCE COMPANY

Dancer-choreographer Lee Mun Wai has put together a dance performance that brings together fashion designer Elyn Wong (Stolen), architect Chang Yong Ter (Chang Architects) and audio-visual collective Syndicate.

Together, they aim to move away from stereotypes of Singapore and showcase the various complex layers that make up the country's culture and society.

Where: Madison Square Park, daily scheduled 15-minute performances

When: Sept 23 to 27

AUDIOVISUAL SHOWCASE, SYNDICATE SUBSESSIONS

Audio-visual collective Syndicate has put together a showcase of artists at the cutting edge of experimental music, including Nada (Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari), five-piece electronic soul band Octover and the collective's DJs Kiat and Cherry.

Where: Madison Square Park

When: Sept 26, 7 to 10pm

•For more information and a full list of events and activities, go to singapore50usa.com


Brisbane Festival Sept 5 to 26

BEST OF BY THE NECESSARY STAGE

The Necessary Stage's popular monologue, performed by award-winning actress Siti Khalijah Zainal, makes its Australian premiere. A young Malay-Muslim woman is going through a divorce. Her day begins at a prison and ends in a hospital. In between, she wrestles with prejudice and her own hopes and fears. This show will also travel to New York's Something To Write Home About festival.

Where: La Boite Studio (Theatre Republic, QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Kelvin Grove)

When: Sept 8, 7pm; Sept 9 to 12, 7.45pm

Admission: A$20 to A$25 (S$20.60 to S$25.80)

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

BY MARGARET LENG TAN

The "queen of the toy piano" celebrates her 70th birthday with a one-woman showcase blending music and multimedia. A teapot, an alarm clock and a 16-piece toy orchestra - nothing's too weird to be an instrument for Tan, who is performing a diverse series of work, including the Alice In Wonderland-inspired Hatta by James Joslin; Ge Gan-ru's Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! bringing together Peking Opera and toy instruments; and the evening's centrepiece, Curios, by Phyllis Chen, which takes a trip into the bizarre world of the carnival.

Where: Cremorne Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

When: Sept 9, 8pm

Admission: A$25 to A$30

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST BY WILD RICE

Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of errors gets a makeover with an all-male ensemble. This production, which won big at the 2010 Life Theatre Awards including Production of the Year, has also played to full houses at the 2014 Macau Arts Festival.

Where: Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

When: Sept 11, 7.30pm; Sept 12, 2 and 7.30pm; Sept 13, noon

Admission: A$35 to A$48

SALTWATER BY JAMIE LEWIS

Join theatre-maker Jamie Lewis for an intimate evening of storytelling, conversations and comfort food, including her take on devil's curry. As she prepares and shares a meal, she speaks of migrating from Singapore to Australia, memories of childhood and lessons learnt from her mother.

Where: La Boite Studio

When: Sept 22 to 26, 5.45 and 9.30pm

Admission: Limited tickets from A$20 to A$25

SINGAPORE UNBOUND: A SINGAPORE CINEMA SHOWCASE

This collection of films takes a journey through Singapore's film history. It includes Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979) - famously banned in Singapore for a period of time - which follows an American hustler trying to make his fortune in 1970s Singapore, to 7 Letters (2015), an anthology containing short films by directors including Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong.

Other films include The Naked DJ (2014) by Kan Lume, about veteran DJ Chris Ho (X'Ho), as well as Daniel Hui's Snakeskin (2014).

Where: Cinema 1, Griffith Film School

When: Sept 22 to 26, 6pm

Admission: A$10 and A$15 (closing night)

•For more information, ticketing and a full list of events, go to www.brisbanefestival.com.au

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Arty way to sell Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe