France to host three-month festival of Singapore arts and culture

Performance excerpts by Frontier Danceland, who will present a new work at Singapour en France - le festival in Paris next year. -- PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Performance excerpts by Frontier Danceland, who will present a new work at Singapour en France - le festival in Paris next year. -- PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Performance excerpts by Frontier Danceland, who will present a new work at Singapour en France - le festival in Paris next year. -- PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Performance excerpts by Frontier Danceland, who will present a new work at Singapour en France - le festivalin Paris next year. -- PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

A six-hour site-specific performance starring 30 new Singapore citizens will open the three-month Singapour en France - le festival (Singapore Festival in France) in Paris next year.

Conceived by Ong Keng Sen, the artistic director of the ongoing Singapore International Festival of Arts, the durational piece will be hosted at the Palais de Tokyo, a major contemporary art space in Paris.

It is part of a large-scale festival running from March 26 to June 30 that aims to showcase the best of Singapore contemporary arts, culture and heritage on invitation from France. The festival will be held in cultural institutions in several French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Lille and Nantes.

Singapore artists participating in the festival include mime artist and theatre performer Ramesh Meyyappan, classical conductor Darrell Ang, dance group Frontier Danceland and traditional Chinese music group Siong Leng Musical Association.

Former Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui, now group director for programmes at the National Heritage Board, is the artistic director for the festival.

He said at a press conference yesterday: "There is something about Singapore that is very interesting - we are Asian, yet we are very, very contemporary. We have the ability, because we are a multicultural society and because of our location, to hold separate kinds of cultural ideas together.

"For countries that have a slightly more homogeneous culture, the weight of tradition as reflected in the art forms they inherit is much stronger, more structured. So they find Singapore very fascinating because we seem to be able to leapfrog, to mix, and to hold things that are very contradictory."

The festival is one of the outcomes of the cultural Memorandum of Understanding signed between France and Singapore in 2009.

The Palais de Tokyo will also collaborate on Secret Archipelago, an exhibition of new contemporary art from South-east Asia co-curated by the Singapore Art Museum. There will also be an exhibition of South-east Asian contemporary art titled Open Sea at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon, which will present a mix of 30 existing and newly-commissioned artworks and performance art pieces.

Singapore audiences will have a chance to catch Ong's The Singaporeans, which will be returning to Singapore for next year's Singapore International Festival of Arts. His impetus for the piece was Singapore's burgeoning population, and the influx of new migrants into the country.

The theatre director and Cultural Medallion recipient drew on ideas from British theatre luminary Peter Brook, who pared down theatre to "the empty space", one that could then be filled with anything; and the late Singapore theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun, who lamented that Singaporeans were "cultural orphans".

Ong says: "I see Singapore as this empty space where we invite different individuals from the world to join us, and where in the end, our culture is configured from all these fragments."

He adds: "Because we are 'cultural orphans', we can then adopt any identity, and that is a complete freedom which you cannot get if you have a determined cultural background or roots behind you."

The piece will look at Singapore's past, present and future, concluding in a Singapore of 2065, and blend archival photographs from the Lee Brothers Studio (famous for its family portraits done at the turn of the 20th century), videos and films. The 30 new Singaporeans will mingle with audience members throughout the piece. Ong will work with Singaporean designers and film-makers, including multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan, to reproduce these old photos of Singapore pioneers.

Other acts at the festival include Butterfly by Meyyappan, an adaptation of Madame Butterfly which will run at Paris' International Visual Theatre; and Soul Journey, a multi-sensory and multi-disciplinary nanyin concert by Siong Leng Musical Association, which will open at the iconic Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, affectionately known as "Peter Brook's theatre" after the theatre giant. Both these performances premiered in Singapore earlier this year.

Frontier Danceland will showcase a new work, Akalika 7, in collaboration with the French-Laotian dancer-choreographer Ole Khamchanla. There will also be a retrospective of Singapore cinema at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, a concert by the Orchestra Symphonique de Bretagne conducted by Darrell Ang and a staging of TheatreWorks' Lear Dreaming, directed by Ong and co-presented by the renowned Theatre de la Ville in Paris.

Ms Elaine Ng, a member of the festival programme committee and director for sector development (traditional arts and dance) at the National Arts Council, says: "This is really not about us exporting shows just like that... The approach is highly collaborative and we work in partnership with the local venues. We spent a lot of time together with Institut Francais to identify suitable venues, and shows that fit into the venues.

"We also work with groups that already have existing relationships and collaborations with some of the French groups... We want to go in and work in partnership with them so that we can better reach the French audience there."

She feels that the festival lineup is "really a reflection of where we are today".

Other exhibitions include the family-friendly Art Garden at Gare Saint-Sauveur, a former train station in Lille. It will feature interactive artworks such as the popular inflatable rabbit Walter designed by Dawn Ng. DesignSingapore Council will be presenting 1000 Singapores, a refreshed incarnation of an exhibition presented at the 2010 Venice Biennale. It will be showcased at Paris' Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine.

The festival is co-organised by the heritage board, arts council and Institut Francais. It is supported by Singapore's Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and Ministry of Culture and Communication. More shows and specific details about the artists will be revealed closer to the date.

The festival organisers are also putting out an open call for more projects that can be presented under the umbrella of the festival. These "partnership projects" should be "original and innovative" and have "the potential to make a significant and lasting dialogue between Singapore and France".

Interested applicants can go to

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