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'Our skin protects us but also imprisons us' (Amended)
WOULD you enter a room alone with a performer who proceeds to undress you? Fancy a lecture instead where the lecturer undresses herself as she narrates the history of female nudity in art? Or how about a politically progressive burlesque troupe made up of members of various minority groups and subgroups?
The annual M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is returning in January 2017 with a dozen sexy shows, some of which have performers disrobing for a cause. The festival theme is "Art & Skin". It examines the issues of beauty ideals, body shame, skin colour, discrimination, gender identity and others pertaining to our bodies.
Canadian performance artist Thea Fitz-James, for instance, will look at how the female nude is both celebrated and stigmatised in art, politics and pornography. In her performance-lecture titled Naked Ladies, she will gradually undress herself before the audience in an attempt to further the discussion on gender and sexuality. Naked Ladies received glowing reviews at the Montreal Fringe 2016.
In a similar vein, Singapore writer-director Tan Liting will also examine how women's bodies and identities are viewed in her play Pretty Butch, which brings together stories of women who society constantly harasses because they appear more masculine than other women.
Tan says: "I want to raise awareness of people whose bodies don't conform with how society expects their bodies to be, and the kind of social pressures these people experience daily ... There is so much more to a person than how she carries herself. We need to learn to see past the exterior and see everyone as human."
While most works at the festival examine the issues from a distance, at least one forces you to come in direct contact with them.
In the case of Ming Poon's Undressing Room, you are asked to participate in the silent act of undressing him as he undresses you.
Poon, a well-known Singapore dancer, will perform this act in private with you whether you are a woman or a man. It can last up to an hour, depending on how long you wish to be in the room with him.
But that experience - be it long or fleeting - is expected to induce self-questioning in the participant: "What does it mean to have a strange man undress me? How do I feel about the human body? Why does it attract or repel me?"
For festival director Sean Tobin, the upcoming edition of the festival is one of its most provocative yet: "The Undressing Room with Ming Poon, for instance ... I don't think that's ever been done in Singapore before. Generally, the works in the festival are very bold and confronting. Of course, all of them have a reason for being so. Being provocative doesn't mean being irresponsible or careless. A lot of thought and research have gone into each work.
"Our theme is 'Art & Skin'. And I think of skin as having various favourable and unfavourable connotations: it brings pleasure and also pain, it can be something beautiful but it loses its beauty as it ages, it can be a source of pride and vanity but it also brings shame and limitations, it protects us but it also imprisons us."
Now into its 13th year, the upcoming festival features 14 events from nine countries, running from Jan 5 to 14, 2017. They take place at various locations including The Esplanade, Centre 42, Lasalle College of the Arts and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
- For more details, go to singaporefringe.com. Tickets are on sale at Sistic
Top picks for M1 S'pore Fringe Fest '17
Jan 7-8 Jan, Centre 42
Why has the female body been at the centre of so much admiration and controversy? Performance artist Thea Fitz-James engages in storytelling and striptease to narrate the history of the female body as it is represented in art and the media.
Skin in Sin
Jan 5-7, Esplanade Recital Studio
Performers Eugene Tan and Madge of Honor are assembling a brand-new burlesque troupe. Picking fresh talents from various sexual and social minority groups, they will create a rude, risque, boundary-bashing revue that examines discrimination and other topical issues.
Jan 12-15, Centre 42
Would you dare let a stranger - in this case, dancer Ming Poon - undress you, as you undress him? The private one-on-one session will last up to 60 minutes - or shorter, should you feel embarrassed and decide to leave before the session is up. But make no mistake: if you are a good girl or boy, this experience will be unlike anything you've ever done.
Jan 11-13, Centre 42
Writer-director Tan Liting looks at how women who appear masculine to society are discriminated against on a daily basis. The play assembles three women and two men to dissect the idea of masculinity.
Fight! Palast #MembersOnly
Jan 6-7, Esplanade Theatre Studio
Inspired by the novel and film Fight Club, this play looks at how we live and interact in the Internet age - squeezing kickboxing, hashtags and contemporary politics into one heady experience.
By Helmi Yusof
Amendment note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the burlesque troupe is being assembled by Becca D'Bus and Madge of Honor. It is in fact Eugene Tan and Madge of Honor. The article above has been revised to reflect this.