From fire bicycles to lightning duels, Singapore Night Festival gets 'in your face'

A lightning duel by Britain-based group Lords of Lightning, where performers battle using shards of lighting atop two Tesla coils at Cathay Green in Dhoby Ghaut.
A lightning duel by Britain-based group Lords of Lightning, where performers battle using shards of lighting atop two Tesla coils at Cathay Green in Dhoby Ghaut.PHOTO: BEN DAURE
Deabru Beltzak, which will make their Singapore debut next weekend, have performed all over the world and they stress that "the public is an important part of the show".
Deabru Beltzak, which will make their Singapore debut next weekend, have performed all over the world and they stress that "the public is an important part of the show".PHOTO: PABLO URKIOLA
Giant, 3.5m-high inflatable glowing white horses will be gallivanting around downtown Singapore, making their way through the open spaces outside Capitol Piazza, the National Museum of Singapore and parts of the Singapore Management University.
Giant, 3.5m-high inflatable glowing white horses will be gallivanting around downtown Singapore, making their way through the open spaces outside Capitol Piazza, the National Museum of Singapore and parts of the Singapore Management University.PHOTO: COMPAGNIE DES QUIDAMS
Aquatic Dream, an art installation by local agencies Lekker Design and Auditoire, depict a glowing underwater forest with jellyfish on the lawn of the National Museum of Singapore.
Aquatic Dream, an art installation by local agencies Lekker Design and Auditoire, depict a glowing underwater forest with jellyfish on the lawn of the National Museum of Singapore.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Unlike previous editions of the Singapore Night Festival, this year's edition is less about the big blockbuster acts and more about smaller, unexpected encounters scattered throughout the Bugis-Bras Basah district.

This year's festival, the 11th edition, opens on Friday night (Aug 17) and will run until next Saturday.

During that time, there will be 52 performances in various genres.

One of them is a lightning duel at Cathay Green in Dhoby Ghaut by Britain-based group Lords of Lightning, where performers battle using shards of lighting atop two Tesla coils.

This year's acts are more "in your face", says festival programme director Jervais Choo.

Acts such as France's Fiers A Cheval will take over the open spaces around the Capitol building in City Hall and part of the Singapore Management University campus with giant, lit-up, inflatable horses.

"We don't want the audience to just stand behind a line and watch," Mr Choo says. "We want the performers to be in their midst."

This also has the side benefit, he adds, of avoiding large groups clumping around certain attractions, which had happened in previous years.

"We would like to make the experience more comfortable."

Last year's festival drew more than 700,000 people.

Fewer are expected this year, partly because the festival space is more constrained due to construction and the closing off of areas such as Armenian Street.

Mr Choo says the festival highlights professionals who come from non-artistic backgrounds yet find time to create art, such as local collective Starlight Alchemy, former accountant Teng Kai Wei or engineering firm Hope Technik, which will be working with troupe EV Dance to jazz up exoskeletons normally used for heavy lifting.

National Museum of Singapore director Angelita Teo, who helms the festival, describes this year's acts as "edgy and elemental".

"There is an artist in all of us," says Ms Teo, adding that she hopes the festival can become a platform for local acts to land opportunities abroad.

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM NIGHT FEST 2018

The Duel by Lords of Lightning:

Like knights from mediaeval times, UK-based group Lords of Lightning wear heavy 10kg chainmail suits, but that is just about where the similarities end.

There are no lances or horses here. Instead, they stand atop Tesla coils and do battle by seemingly tossing bolts of electricity at one another.

Their high-voltage show, called The Duel, is coming to Singapore for the Night Festival next week.

The entire performance is "pure physics in action", says Mr Jeb Hawkins, technical manager and electrician on Lords of Lightning. Around four million volts of electricity are produced when the biggest sparks are flying.

"I think everyone has a fascination with lightning from the first time you see and hear a thunderstorm as a child," he says.

Performers are typically from a dance, circus or aerial background, and each of them has to learn a meticulous choreography for the main elements of the performance, as they manipulate the volatile power of electricity.

  • The Duel by Lords of Lightning

  • Where: Cathay Green

    When: Thursday to Aug 25, 7.45 to 7.51pm, 9.15 to 9.21pm, 10.30 to 10.36pm

"But they add their own flair and freestyle elements to further amplify and dramatise the performance," Mr Hawkins says.

While the chainmail suits they don acts as a Faraday cage, keeping the electric field away from the body, sometimes the lightning creeps in.

"If every condition is perfect - weather, ambient temperature and fitness levels of the performers - then we don't feel anything, but every so often the lightning reminds you how real it is," he says.

"Sometimes you feel tingles as sweat from performing conducts electricity.

"And sometimes you get a shocking jolt from exposed damp skin or exposed hairs sneaking through the chainmail."

Su a Feu by Deabru Beltzak:

One of the more up close and "in your face" experiences at this year's Night Festival involves Basque group Deabru Beltzak.

Like a menacing drumline with painted faces and black outfits, they take to the streets with rhythmic percussion and pyrotechnics.

  • Su a Feu by Deabru Beltzak

     

  • Where: Cathay Green

    When: Thursday to Aug 25, 7.51 to 8.21pm, 9.21 to 9.51pm

The group, which will make their Singapore debut next weekend, have performed all over the world and they stress that "the public is an important part of the show".

"We always say that we have one hand on the drum and another in the provocation (of the crowd)," says a spokesman for the company.

"Just as there won't be the same audience every day, we will change small things in each performance."

For their Singapore show, they will be collaborating with Motus, a 15-piece home-grown batucada band.

Fiers A Cheval by Compagnie des Quidams:

Giant, 3.5m-high inflatable glowing white horses will be gallivanting around downtown Singapore next weekend as part of the France-based outdoor theatre troupe Compagnie des Quidam's performance at the Night Festival.

  • Fiers A Cheval by Compagnie des Quidam

     

  • Where: Various locations

    When: Thursday to Aug 25, 7.45 to 8.15pm (Capitol), 9.15 to 9.45pm (National Museum Singapore/SMU School of Economics & Social Sciences), 10.30 to 11pm (SMU School of Infosystems/Queen Street)

For the show, called Fiers A Cheval, the troupe is bringing three of their puppet-costume hybrid "horses".

"Of all the animals close to humans, the horse is certainly one that has most nurtured dreams and fantasies, as part of legends and mythology", says a spokesman for the company. The show was originally created by the company for the Year of the Horse in 2014.

Their show at the Night Festival will see the horses making their way through the open spaces outside Capitol Piazza, the National Museum of Singapore and parts of the Singapore Management University (SMU).

"The route will be different each time, but as the audience is different each time, so is the interaction with them," says the spokesman.

OTHER NOTEWORTHY INSTALLATIONS

Visitors to the Singapore Night Festival can try setting fire to the rain, so to speak, by riding a bicycle.

In local collective Starlight Alchemy's installation Ember Rain, pedalling a bicycle linked to a machine will transport charcoal up a 5m-high tower topped with an iron lotus, from which showers of embers will fall.

The installation is the biggest built from scratch by the group, who work with fire, LED and ultraviolet technology and who first participated in the festival five years ago.

They find it "strangely therapeutic" to watch embers float and fall, and hooked up a bicycle because they want audiences to experience the thrill of making sparks fly.

Ember Rain is one of 14 installations spread out across the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct.

Renowned Singaporean artist Suzann Victor, 58, has constructed a glittering pavilion from 1,600 magnifying lenses in A Thousand Skies.

She created the work last year on a residency with the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan, where it was shown in juxtaposition with the ancient Jyotenji Temple.

It now sits within a different kind of temple - "a temple of consumerism", she quips - inside Raffles City mall.

The work was meant to be outside the mall, but, surprisingly, strong winds forced her to move it indoors. "The viewer becomes part of the spectacle," she says.

"You can see the work and see out of it through apertures between the lenses, but you are also being seen. The lenses fracture your view of the world, juxtaposing altered vision with actual vision."

On the lawn of the National Museum of Singapore, a glowing underwater forest with jellyfish and a swirl of fish has sprung up.

This installation, Aquatic Dream, is by local agencies Lekker Design and Auditoire, which want to pay tribute to the beauty of the marine environment and remind visitors of how precious water is as a resource.

"Visitors are invited to experience the magic and mystery of being underwater," says Lekker designer Puja Shome, 21.

"We hope for people to enter and pause within the kelp forest to appreciate how water is life."

Accountant-turned-artist Teng Kai Wei, 31, asks visitors to take a Leap Of Faith in his installation of the same name outside The Cathay mall, in which honeycomb-shaped panels light up when hopped on.

It is inspired by his own leap of faith three years ago, when he left his stable job after taking a course on risk and reward - realising exactly what he was willing to risk to be rewarded with happiness. He took a 70 per cent pay cut to pursue his passion for art.

"Am I happy now?" he asks, watching passers-by bound across his installation, filling the night with light.

"Yes. So happy."