Theatre Veteran Danny Yung on intercultural dialogue

Indonesian dancer and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok (far left) and Chinese Kun opera expert Wang Bin in a triple-bill of intercultural performances co-directed by Danny Yung (above).
Indonesian dancer and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok (left) and Chinese Kun opera expert Wang Bin in a triple-bill of intercultural performances co-directed by Danny Yung.PHOTO: EMERGENCY STAIRS
Indonesian dancer and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok (far left) and Chinese Kun opera expert Wang Bin in a triple-bill of intercultural performances co-directed by Danny Yung (above).
Indonesian dancer and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok and Chinese Kun opera expert Wang Bin in a triple-bill of intercultural performances co-directed by Danny Yung (above).PHOTO: EMERGENCY STAIRS

Hong Kong director Danny Yung returns with his stage metaphor for a dialogue between artists

Twenty years ago, veteran Hong Kong director Danny Yung, 74, put one table and two chairs on stage for a performance that was also a dialogue between artists from different traditions.

This month, the co-artistic director of experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron is in Singapore to devise and direct a play for a new intercultural arts festival held from today to Dec 24 at The Arts House.

Southernmost: 1 Table 2 Chairs Project 2017 is inspired by his intercultural philosophy. It features eight artists from various Asian countries working and performing together. Some are exponents of Javanese or Thai dance. Others are masters of Chinese opera.

All are brought together by Singaporean director Liu Xiaoyi and his new company, Emergency Stairs.

The 1 Table 2 Chairs project comes from the simplest stage set of Chinese opera, where one table and two chairs are moved around for different scenes. There are only two performers and the work is 20 minutes at most.

1 Table 2 Chairs is also a metaphor for dialogue between artists, which Yung champions at every level. For example, during a Skype call, he expresses concern that China's Belt And Road initiative will lead to wholesale export of Chinese culture around Asia, rather than "mutual cultural development".

"China has to accept that the one table, two chairs are the same size. When you do intercultural interaction, all sides are equally important and you have to be respectful."

  • BOOK IT / SOUTHERNMOST: 1 TABLE 2 CHAIRS PROJECT 2017

  • WHERE: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Today to Dec 24, various timings

    ADMISSION: $78 festival pass allows access to open rehearsals, panels and art showcases, plus entry to an evening of the triple-bill. Single ticket to the triple-bill is $48. Go to peatix.com/event/307541

Yung's new work will be part of a triple-bill also featuring Liu and Japan's Makoto Sato in the director's seat.

The programme this month includes workshops, open rehearsals and performances accessed via a $78 festival pass. There is also a $380 masterclass in physical theatre taught by Liu, Kun opera master Wang Bin from China and choreographer Didik Nini Thowok from Yogyakarta. The class has room for 25, but is half-full now.

"Don't worry about the box office," Yung tells Liu. "The most important thing is that we have a chance, a platform and we learn from each other."

Liu, who used to helm The Theatre Practice's experimental arm, met Yung six years ago at a masterclass. Asked to comment on three generations of Singaporean theatre, Yung laughs and makes no distinction between younger and senior practitioners. "We look over one another's shoulders," he says.

Southernmost is an important platform for discussion between artists of different backgrounds - and Yung says it is vital that it be set apart from a festival that serves the public.

"It's so important to have an arts festival for artists, by the artists. Most of the arts festivals are for consumers, so there's a certain kind of constraint."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Back with 1 table, 2 chairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe