Mandala is a search for the meaning of life

Home-grown group will restage meditative piece that draws a 3m-wide mandala with rice grains

The cast will portray the cycle of human life in Mandala, set against a live soundscape. -- PHOTO: IN SOURCE THEATRE
The cast will portray the cycle of human life in Mandala, set against a live soundscape. -- PHOTO: IN SOURCE THEATRE

A contemplative piece about searching for meaning in life has come full circle - quite literally.

Home-grown physical theatre troupe In Source Theatre is bringing back the circular symbol of the mandala in its comeback production, also titled Mandala.

It will run at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box from Oct 9 to 12.

The group has gone on a hiatus for several years while its founder, Beverly Yuen, completed her doctorate in communication studies, with a focus on the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung.

Incidentally, Jung's theories feature in Mandala, where In Source Theatre's performers will eventually complete a drawing of a 3m-wide mandala using grains of rice.

The 20th-century psychoanalyst believed that the mandala was a part of the individuation process, whereby individuals distinguish and differentiate themselves from society at large.

In Source Theatre's new artistic director, Jacklyn Kuah, who is also directing Mandala, says she is "very emotionally attached" to the meditative piece, which is more than an hour long.

She had performed in two of its previous incarnations, in 2007 at the 12th Theatre Confrontations International Festival in Poland, and a year later at Seoul's 3rd Physical Theatre Festival under the title of Ma, Do You Remember?.

Kuah, 35, says: "It's about an urban man in search of spirituality. He's searching for his inner self in this very busy and stressful urban life."

This man will be played by theatre practitioner and educator Sirfan S. Sulaimi.

The other performers include Bernice Lee, Eng Kai Er, Shana Yap and Sonia Kwek, set against a live soundscape by musician and sound designer Chong Li-Chuan.

Together, they will portray the cycle of human life on stage.

Gestures, movement and visual tableaux tend to take precedence in physical theatre pieces, and Mandala is no exception.

One of the dancers will be whirling continuously on stage, a symbol of the passing of time as one goes through different stages of life, from childhood to adulthood.

The experimental genre of physical theatre can be deeply visceral and powerful, drawing from the primal physicality of the human body. But it also tends to be too quickly shunted aside as too abstract for mainstream tastes.

But Kuah feels that Singaporean audiences are "definitely more receptive to physical theatre now".

More groups have been incorporating elements of physical theatre into their work, she says, giving an example of using "a physical theatre element perhaps for a nightmare scene".

"But if the whole thing is physical, some of the audience members still might not be able to accept it," she adds.

In this vein, there is still room to grow. She hopes that In Source Theatre will be able to find a permanent home - it has been renting a space at the Goodman Arts Centre for rehearsals - to provide long-term training for an ensemble instead of rehearsing on an ad-hoc basis.

She also hopes to create one original work a year and take productions on tour to other countries.

She says: "In this society, in Singapore, a place so commercialised and urban, there is an art that I want to pursue. How am I going to continue to do it while surviving? I don't want to compromise too much - but I want people to understand it. So there's a balance I have to strike.

"In directing Mandala, there was a lot of that need to balance. I would go, 'I want this, this is so strong. But it's a bit too abstract for the audience sometimes'.

"So I have to strike a balance. I cannot force people to like something if they don't know about it yet."

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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