To attract younger Singaporeans to Chinese art forms and culture, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre’s inaugural Cultural Extravaganza is using holographic images and 3D projection-mapping in a musical showcase of folk tunes and nursery rhymes.
Elsewhere, a hip-hop artist raps in English alongside a Mandopop singer-songwriter.
Such collaborations are what you will get at the eight-day festival that kicks off next weekend.
Helmed by award-winning film-maker Royston Tan and Chingay Parade artistic director Fan Dong Kai, the festival will present traditional Chinese art forms in entirely innovative ways.
Tan’s multimedia theatre presentation Voyage– his first foray into stage work – will incorporate modern 3D projection-mapping technology and holographic imaging into a musical featuring re-arrangements of familiar Chinese songs such as Ke Ren Lai (We Have A Guest).
He has also produced the Chinese dialect-heavy omnibus film 667, which features emerging film-makers such as Kirsten Tan and Eva Tang helming shorts about the search for their Chinese cultural roots.
Meanwhile, Fan is overseeing the Sing.Lang concert, which pairs xinyao veterans such as Liang Wern Fook and Jiu Jian with younger artists such as rocker Alfred Sim and rapper Thelioncityboy, in updated performances of classic xinyao songs.
Tan, 40, says: “With this extravaganza, we wanted to preserve traditional Chinese art forms, but at the same time package them in new ways to appeal to younger audiences.
“I hope the programmes which we have put together herewill be a good entry point for all Singaporeans to be immersed in Chinese culture and appreciate its beauty.”
The festival is held at the premises of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, a new $110-million, 11-storey building at 1 Straits Boulevard that is envisioned as a space to cultivate a deeper understanding, broader appreciation and long-lasting love of Chinese culture.
Facilities include a 530-seat auditorium, a 500-seat multi-purpose hall, a 150-seat recital studio, a visual arts gallery, an activity concourse and a 2,000 sq m roof terrace garden.
Besides the three main shows, visitors can also look forward to workshops on puppetry, Chinese opera, crosstalk and performances by local arts and culture groups, most of which are free of charge.
The five Singapore film-makers helming the anthology film 667 got a lot more out of the project than just making a new short film each. They also learnt more about their own cultural roots.
The omnibus film, which is commissioned by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and produced by film-maker Royston Tan, features five separate stories about how one makes Singapore home.
The segments are directed by Eva Tang, 45, director of xinyao documentary The Songs We Sang (2015); Kirsten Tan, 36, director of acclaimed movie Pop Aye (2017); Liao Jiekai, 33, who made coming-of-age film Red Dragonflies (2010); He Shuming, 32, director of short film And The Wind Falls (2014); as well as new film-maker Jun Chong, 26, who makes his debut with 667.
Each segment is told in a different Chinese dialect: Tang's The Veiled Willow is in Cantonese; Tan's Wu Song Sha Sao is in Teochew; Liao's Nocturne is in Hokkien; He's Letters From The Motherland is in Hainanese; and Chong's Ke is in Hakka.
He, whose short is a documentary featuring excerpts from actual letters between his father and his father's cousin in Hainan, says that he has come to appreciate the Hainanese language.
BOOK IT / 667
WHERE: Auditorium, Levels 9 and 10, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, 1 Straits Boulevard
Info: There will be English subtitles. There are no plans to screen 667 beyond the festival
"Growing up, I used to think that the sound of Hainanese was too loud and dreaded it.
"I never understood why my father placed such importance on what Hainan island meant to him, either.
"But going through these letters, I was simply enthralled."
Meanwhile, Kirsten Tan's segment takes the classic Teochew opera play, Wu Song Sha Sao (Wu Song Kills His Sister-in-law; Wu Song is the fearless tiger slayer from the Chinese literary epic Water Margin), and stages it in a modern-day bar in Singapore.
She says: "I'm Teochew and I've always been fascinated by Teochew opera, but I never understood the plays. I just found the sets and costumes so beautiful and the performances so exciting, so I was eager to explore a classic Teochew opera play for this project.
"In updating it in a modern setting, I'm hoping it will allow new audiences to discover this wonderful art form. I certainly learnt much more about it after making this film."
As for the anthology's title, Royston Tan - who is known for naming his films using numbers, such as 881 (2007) and 3688 (2015) - explains that the number 667 represents the average size of an HDB flat in square feet.
"The HDB flat is something that most Singaporeans are familiar with. It is home for many Singaporeans and has brought people of all walks of life together to form a single community," he says of the omnibus work, whose budget he declines to reveal.
"As this film is meant to be about how people find their roots and make homes for themselves in Singapore, I thought that the HDB flat would work as a good symbol here."
He adds: "667 tells the stories of traditional Chinese cultures through the lenses of next-generation film-makers who are passionate in what they do. I believe their stories will resonate with Singaporeans of all ages."
Film-maker Royston Tan makes his foray into stage production for the first time with Voyage, a multi- media theatre presentation.
While the medium may be new to him, the show will likely be a feast for the eyes, knowing Tan's strength in visual design as showcased in his colourful films such as 881 (2007) and 3688 (2015).
For the 75-minute Voyage, he has incorporated 3D projection mapping and holographic imagery, believed to be the first time such technology is being used in a Singapore stage production.
BOOK IT / VOYAGE
WHERE: Auditorium, Level 9 and 10, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
WHEN: May 21 and 22, 7pm
ADMISSION: $18 and $38, available from Sistic
Holographic imagery is the construction of 3D images using light, while 3D projection mapping is the technology of projecting video images onto irregular surfaces
"So, for example, we will have real-life dancers dancing with holographic dancers. It will be quite a trippy show," he tells The Straits Times with a laugh.
The vision for the show came to him in a dream, he says.
"I dreamt of this colourful scene, with all these fantastical lights and images, and I was sharing that with the production team for this show. And they told me that it was possible with the help of technology."
Not that it was easy.
He says: "We have to time everything precisely so that the real-life dancers do not miss their cue when dancing with the holographic dancers."
The entire show is strung together by nine music pieces made up of familiar folk songs and old Chinese nursery rhymes such as Ke Ren Lai (We Have A Guest) and Tian Hei Hei (Dark Sky), all rearranged by instrumental group The Teng Ensemble.
"As with the group's other works, all of these songs will have both East and West vibes," he says.
There will be a few familiar faces in the show too. Home-grown actor Desmond Tan will open the show with a Chinese drums act, while veteran actress Li Yinzhu and getai singer Lee Peifen will collaborate in a poetry-cum-prose presentation in which Li will share her life story.
Royston Tan says: "I believe such a unique presentation of Chinese traditional art forms will encourage audiences to see Chinese culture in a new light. It will be a magical journey."
Popular home-grown singer Gentle Bones will sing in Mandarin for the first time, while rapper Thelioncityboy will collaborate with Mandopop singer-songwriter Jacky Chew.
The Sing.Lang concert aims to present Chinese-language music in fresh and unique ways - something that the show's artistic director Fan Dong Kai believes will help make Chinese music "appeal to a greater audience".
The "lang" in the show title means "wave" in Chinese and when read together with the word "sing", it sounds like the Chinese term for "new wave".
VIEW IT / SING.LANG CONCERT
WHERE: Concourse, ground level, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
WHEN: May 27, 7pm
Fan tells The Straits Times in Mandarin: "There are two goals I wish to achieve with this show. One, to challenge all the singers involved and two, to let the Singapore audience enjoy a very different kind of musical showcase."
Gentle Bones, whose real name is Joel Tan and who is known for his English-language hits such as Save Me and Until We Die, will perform his take on Singapore Mandopop star's JJ Lin's The Song Not Written For Anyone.
Chew and Thelioncityboy, whose real name is Kevin Lester, will perform home-grown singer-songwriter Juno Lin's Battle.
Another big part of the two-hour concert, which is free, is the marrying of traditional xinyao music, the popular Singaporean Chinese folk music movement of the 1980s, with modern sounds.
Xinyao icons such as Liang Wern Fook and Jiu Jian will perform their xinyao tunes, which have been re-arranged by the show's music director, Goh Kheng Long.
For example, Jiu Jian will sing xinyao classic Another Face Of Time alongside home-grown rock singer Alfred Sim, while fellow xinyao pioneer Pan Ying will perform Moonlight In The Town with acclaimed a cappella group Micappella.
Fan says of the concert line-up: "We wanted to feature Singapore singers who best represented the music scene of their generation.
"Xinyao songs will always be considered classic in Singapore and who better than to invite pioneering xinyao performers for this.
"For the new generation of artists, we wanted to include singers who are active in the music scene and willing to take on the challenge of performing a mix of both classic and contemporary Mandarin tunes.
"With a gathering of artists spanning different generations and a line-up of songs from the 1980s to today, the Sing.Lang concert will appeal to both younger and older crowds."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Tradition goes hip'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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