More theatre productions target babies

Independent dance artist Bernice Lee (left), 30, interacting with seven-month-old Ashley (foreground) as six-month-old Elyas watches on.
Independent dance artist Bernice Lee (left), 30, interacting with seven-month-old Ashley (foreground) as six-month-old Elyas watches on.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Several infants cry during the theatre performance and no one bats an eyelid. At least two mothers breastfeed their young ones. One baby grabs the hand of a dancer close to him, while another reaches up to touch the strips of tulle that hang overhead.

Welcome to Baby Space, a multi-sensorial production that is part of an emerging genre of baby theatre in Singapore.

Targeted at babies newborn to about 12 months old, Baby Space incorporates music and dance, as well as soft lighting in pastel colours. The music, composed by musician and sound designer Serene Tan, 37, has Asian influences such as the sounds of the Indian flute or bansuri and Indonesian gamelan music.

Baby Space is produced by The Artground, a children's art centre, and based on a work by Mrs Dalija Acin Thelander, a choreographer based in Sweden. Mrs Acin Thelander staged her own production of Baby Space at the same venue - the WhiteBox at Goodman Arts Centre - in July last year.

Theatre for babies is "based on the understanding that a child learns from his or her environment at any age", says Ms Luanne Poh, 38, director of The Artground.

"It aims to create an environment where parents and babies can be at ease," says Ms Poh, who worked for 10 years at the Esplanade, where she was involved in its children's programmes such as Playtime! which is meant for two-to four-year-olds.

Veteran theatre actors and observers, whom The Straits Times spoke to, say there have been no significant works of baby theatre in Singapore in the past. Few works are specifically created with babies in mind, though baby theatre has been performed in places such as Europe and Australia, arts practitioners say.

When Ms Poh saw Mrs Acin Thelander's production of Baby Space in Okinawa, Japan, in 2016, she invited the Swedish artist to perform in Singapore.

"I felt that baby theatre was something that we don't have and should have (in Singapore)," says Ms Poh.

Mrs Acin Thelander first put up Baby Space as a choreographed installation in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2011, and has taken the production to other countries.

Speaking to The Straits Times recently on a video call from Tokyo, where she was visiting for work, she says: "I made the work completely intuitively. Babies need sensorial and kinesthetic stimuli. In Baby Space, babies very soon start to react to the stimulus of movement (of the dancers). I've had parents tell me their baby rolled on its belly for the first time while watching the production."

Ms Ellison Tan Yuyang, 29, who attended a conference involving Mrs Acin Thelander last year, subsequently decided to create a baby theatre production with Ms Myra Loke, 28. Both are freelance theatre-makers.

The production, You Can Reach The Sky, ran in December last year at The Artground. It is about a dandelion reaching upwards and was inspired by Ms Tan's two baby nephews, whom she had observed reaching up to touch things that were held out to them.

Ms Loke says: "Baby theatre could be a useful tool to experiment with bringing new experiences to babies. There's a limited amount of materials that they are exposed to at home."

To this end, You Can Reach The Sky made use of handmade items using materials that can be found at home, such as bubble wrap, a paper accordion and Tupperware with a light inside.

Ms Loke and Ms Tan created their piece taking into account parents' feedback, gathered from snippets performed during the creation of the work. They even went to infantcare centres to try out some of the scenes.

Ms Tan says: "We think it's valuable to have interactions, not just between the actors and babies, but also between babies and their parents. There's a communal sense. Everyone is seated around (the performance)."

Ms Loke adds that she saw babies crawl towards one another during the production in December.

Baby theatre has had a warm reception from audiences in Singapore so far.

Veterinarian Yeumee Song, 33, watched Baby Space at The Artground last week with her six-month-old son Elyas.

"All the white colour in the performance space helps the babies focus on the people and music. There was nothing too loud or overly stimulating," she says.

It was relaxing for her and enjoyable for her baby, she adds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Baby theatre an emerging genre in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe