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Chinese opera singer Qian Yi plays the lead in the visually-stunning Paradise Interrupted.
Flamenco superstar Vargas, now living in Singapore, recounts his fascinating life story in The Last Bull.
Black Sun, choreographed by Indonesian artist Sardono Kusumo, addresses the global refugee issue.
A canopy of menacing clouds hangs over the dancers in Still Life, a work that comments on the Greek crisis.

A feast for the mind and senses

Now in its fourth week, SIFA continues to push boundaries with its provocative, genre-crossing shows
Sep 2, 2016 5:50 AM

Paradise Interrupted

Composed and conducted by Huang Ruo. Directed and designed by Jennifer Wen Ma. Featuring singer Qian Yi and T'ang Quartet

PARADISE Interrupted, now playing at Drama Centre Theatre, takes its title from Milton's Paradise Lost, the lengthy 17th epic poem centred on the biblical story of the Fall of Man and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Hot young Chinese composer Huang Ruo has taken the story and spliced it with kunqu opera Peony Pavilion, also a lengthy epic work about young maiden Du Liniang who falls in love with a man she sees in her dream.

The result is a virtuosic work that combines exquisite poetry and contemporary opera music - albeit compressed into just 80 stylised minutes.

It follows an unnamed female character (a cross between Eve and Du Liniang) who wakes from a dream of an enchanted romance. She is drawn to a garden filled with lush vegetation, a metaphor for her desires. But as she attempts to fulfil them, she reaches a painful realisation.

Director and visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma, famous for designing the visual effects for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has created an extraordinary setting for the opera, filled with massive flowerbeds made out of paper that can be folded or expanded like origami.

Indeed, the visuals alone may be worth the price of admission - especially since the kunqu style of singing is alluring but opaque to those unaccustomed to it.

The central character is played by Qian Yi, whose kunqu opera performances are renowned in China. Her high-pitched, tremulous voice is excellently supported by bass-baritone Ao Li, countertenor John Holiday, baritone Joo Won Kang and tenor Yi Li.

By Helmi Yusof

  • Paradise Interrupted is playing at the Drama Centre from now till Sept 3, Saturday. Tickets are still available from Sistic

The Last Bull

By Checkpoint Theatre, Huzir Sulaiman, Claire Wong and Antonio Vargas

FEW Singapore productions this year have been as satisfying as The Last Bull: A Life In Flamenco. When the play ended, several audience members rose to their feet and roared out their appreciation.

Blending theatre, dance and live music, The Last Bull delivers on all fronts. It is written by Huzir Sulaiman and directed by Claire Wong, and tells the extraordinary life story of Antonio Vargas, an international flamenco star who was born in Morocco to a Spanish-Jewish family but has lived in Singapore since 2008.

In his seven decades of dancing the flamenco, the 75-year-old has worked with top companies, started his own and collaborated with big names such as The Beatles, Baz Luhrmann for Strictly Ballroom and Tom Cruise for Mission: Impossible II.

But The Last Bull isn't just interested in the fantastic life of Vargas. It also ponders the meaning of being an artist, the precariousness and rewards of living one's dreams, and the peripateticism of going where the work is - which, in Vargas' case, implied leaving behind a marriage.

Vargas, for the record, has married and divorced a few times. The performed memoir is punctuated by moments of poignancy and heartbreak as Vargas himself, performing on stage with eight young actors and two live musicians, recalls the end of love.

Unexpected grace notes also come in the form of confessions by the eight young actors, all Singapore-based, of their own anxieties about being artists. Seong Hui Xuan admitted to leaving home because her father chafed against her profession. Tan Shou Chen wonders how long one can sustain an arts career.

When the last scene comes in the form of a group dance by the young cast and then a solo by Vargas, it is rapturous, profound and cathartic. In those few intoxicating moments, at least, the artist's life is thoroughly and unequivocally vindicated.

By Helmi Yusof

Black Sun

The Sardono Retrospective

THE dancers crawl into the arena-like performance space like little tortoises - bodies covered with a round metal bowl, like a giant wok. After some timid moves where they traverse the floor and bob up and down like armoured bugs, there is one long moment of incubation, like they are biding their time, before they finally flip over, one by one, and burst into kinetic action.

But, for about 30 minutes, all the action is carried out by the Papuan dancers in their individual round "boats", as a rich visual imagery of refugees out in sea.

The action alternates between frantic (with a lot of jerking of body and muscles) and athletic (as they try to balance on the edge of the boat) and even contortionistic (as they turn inside and flip the boats around, but never lose a hand or a foothold on the vessels).

Black Sun, choreographed by Indonesian artist Sardono Kusumo to address the global refugee issue, is a tightly controlled and paced piece that's not so much about the dance choreography but the movement-based tale it tells. The lengthy time each dancer spend in their boats grates on you, as they give an ever-so-tiny inkling of a refugee's long, uncomfortable journey out at sea. Poetry is in the lamentative singing and the tug-and-pull rope play between the female dancers; the sense of desperation, fear, and hope as the male dancers eagerly look for land, to be confronted with gun-toting powers in their destinations.

Black Sun is inspired by an eclipse Sardono witnessed - a bad omen in most cultures - and this is his movement-based ode to these times. Such are the bleak, last days for many a refugee in the world.

By Cheah Ui-Hoon

Still Life

Dimitris Papaioannou

CREATED by famous Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, Still Life draws inspiration from the myth of Sisyphus to comment on the current Greek crisis and its impact on the working class.

Set under a huge transparent canopy of billowing smoke, the dance involves seven performers executing somewhat repetitive movements to underscore the futility of their labours - no amount of toil or sweat will improve their worsening fortunes.

At the start, the dancers take turns emerging out of or boring into a wall of faux-concrete. As large slabs of plaster flake and fall off the wall, the dancers find their heads, torsos and limbs merging with one another. These extraordinary images hark back to past Papaioannou works that show his uncanny ability to conjoin and dismantle the human body.

Once pried apart, however, the dancers began to undertake various repetitive activities. A man repeatedly holds up a rock, drops and catches it before it hits the ground. Another man tries to climb higher on a flimsy structure of bricks with no foundation. Later, all the dancers gather on stage to pull tapes out of the floor - but to what end?

At last a warm orange source of light descends upon the stage as a symbol of hope. But its brightness is obscured by the cloud-like canopy hanging from above. A man tries to lift the canopy just high enough so the light may shine through, but invariably the canopy droops down to cast a pall again.

The dance ends with everyone converging at a table for a meal. It is a simple one - no meat; only bread, cheese, fruit and water. But they partake of it in good spirits - its frugality made up for with the warm smiles, friendly chatter and good company.

The government and economy may have failed them, but the pride of the Greek people remains indomitable.

By Helmi Yusof