Singapore River festival's performances marry traditional arts with technology

T.H.E Dance Company will present Silences We Are Familiar With at the River Nights festival.
T.H.E Dance Company will present Silences We Are Familiar With at the River Nights festival. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Third edition of festival celebrating the Singapore River kicks off tonight

A festival blending traditional artistry with modern technology will enliven the surroundings of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and Empress Lawn for four days starting tonight.

Among other performances, River Nights will feature a classical Japanese Noh (musical drama) show that uses three-dimensional technology; a dance featuring high-tech colour-shifting umbrellas; and a 360-degree sound art performance. All events are free.

The festival, which was created three years ago to celebrate the Singapore River’s changing identitythrough the years, is organised by the ACM in partnership with the National Arts Council, and runs tonight and tomorrow, as well as next Friday and Saturday.

The first weekend of the festival heavily features home-grown acts, such as Nanyang Philharmonic Percussion Ensemble and Siva Mayam Urumi Melam presenting All Things Percussion; and T.H.E Dance Company, with its piece about love and life, Silences We Are Familiar With. There will also be an electronic dance music party led by local DJ Koflow tonight and tomorrow, from 10.30pm on the Empress Lawn.

Singapore artists say the festival’s interplay of tradition and change resonates with them.


  • WHERE: Area around Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place

    WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow and Oct 28 and 29, 7 to 11pm



Poet Tan Siok Sun, 67, who wrote the text for the sound art performance, Soundscape: The River, based on the story of the Singapore River, says: “It’s not meant to be a complete symphony. We have snippets of sounds and music and we want the audience to use its imagination to complete the experience.”

During the 20-minute performance, musicians will play instruments such as the sanxian (Chinese lute) and didgeridoo, alongside drum beats, opera singing and recitations of the spoken word. They will perform on multiple stages on the Empress Lawn, creating a 360-degree concert set against the revamped Victoria Theatre.

The second weekend presents the premiere of Yugen. The innovative production, held on the ACM Green, is billed as the world’s first Noh play to incorporate 3D technology. The audience will watch the performance wearing a pair of 3D glasses affixed onto a Noh mask.

Yugen is directed by Japanese director Amon Miyamoto, the first Asian director on Broadway with the musical Pacific Overtures.

Another highlight is Umbrella Project, an interactive performance involving 100 Singapore Polytechnic students wielding LED-lit colour- changing umbrellas. The work is a collaboration between American dance company Pilobolus and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s distributed robotics laboratory. The laboratory created the hand controls on the umbrellas which change colour.

The second weekend also marks the return of ACM After Dark, a night event at the museum. Held on Oct 29 and organised in conjunction with Halloween, the programme includes indoor moviescreenings of horror movies, craft workshops and face-painting.

The Singapore River has long been lauded for its historic importance as a source of life in the country’s early economy. But River Nights is intended to remind one of its magical properties too – the festival’s theme of Phantasmagoria conjures up dream-like, shape-shifting imagery.

Festival director Lim Chye Hong says: “The idea of illusion came about because of the bright lights of the city reflected in the water. There is this crossover between reality and the dream world.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Return of River Nights'. Print Edition | Subscribe