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T'ang Quartet (above) will be one of the headliners at the arts festival in August 2015

Comedians Shane Mardjuki, Zalina Hamid, Kumar, Koh Chieng Mun and Sharul Channa will perform stand-up comic routines at four HDB estates

Acclaimed baritone Matthias Goerne will be performing Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle Winterreise, against the backdrop of animated images by South African artist William Kentridge

S'pore arts fest: Local stories come to fore

A musical about Nanyang artists leads the charge in local-centric line-up of works at the Singapore International Festival of Arts.
Feb 27, 2015 5:50 AM

THE historic 1952 Bali visit by Singapore's famous Nanyang artists will be retold in music at the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), part of whose line-up was revealed this week by festival director Ong Keng Sen.

Nanyang - The Musical centres on five artists - Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen - who went to Bali in search of a visual expression that was truly South-east Asian. The experience invigorated and shaped their painting styles, helping them become giants of the Singapore art scene.

Nanyang - The Musical is written by Chinese pop composer Eric Ng and lyricist Xiaohan who wrote hits for Stephanie Sun and Tanya Chua, among other music stars. And it is one of the highlights of the festival's line-up, of which two-thirds are by Singapore artists as part of the festival's efforts to commemorate Singapore's 50th anniversary.

Art comes to the heartlands

Besides the musical, dance pioneers Goh Lay Kuan, Som Said and Santha Baskhar are also joining forces to present Homecoming, a contemporary work that draws from the vocabulary of traditional Chinese, Malay and Indian dance forms. The work is budgeted at roughly S$350,000 and is one of the most expensive of the festival.

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Moving into the heartlands, comedians Kumar, Koh Chieng Mun, Zaliha Hamid, Sharul Channa and Shane Mardjuki will perform stand-up comic routines at four HDB estates - marking the first time a live stand-up comic show in English is performed in the heartlands.

Meanwhile, collaborating with People's Association's PAssionArts, 25 ordinary living rooms in various parts of Singapore will be transformed into mini-theatres where performances will be held - another effort by the festival to bring the arts out of the city centre and into homes.

On the classical music front, Singapore's T'ang Quartet will attempt to recreate a "period concert" by eschewing modern instruments and turning towards the harpischord, fortepiano and other period instruments instead. The concert is titled Guts & Steel because, in old days, many instruments used animal intestines (known as "catgut") as strings.

Local works aside, the international acts will be led by acclaimed baritone Matthias Goerne who is performing Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle Winterreise, against the backdrop of animated images by renowned South African artist William Kentridge.

Playing in New York three months ago, Winterreise received glowing reviews. The New York Times raved: "(Goerne's) voice is strong, dark and rich. Though he can easily summon chesty power and chilling intensity, he can also bend a phrase with tenderness and focus his sound into streams of ethereal lyricism."

Also exciting is the dance marathon across 16 days involving seven Japanese and seven South Asian dancers, engaged in a complex exchange of dance idioms; as well as hard-hitting Hungarian play Dementia which addresses the impact of the death of communism and the rise of capitalism on the Hungarian people.

Multiple perspectives

Festival director Ong says that each work was selected because it dealt variously with the festival's broad theme of "Post-empire". He adds: "It is not just a theme for Singapore as it celebrates 50 years of independence, it's a theme that applies to the whole world. 'Post-empire' is about decentralising, the idea of seeing multiple perspectives and giving value to a kind of heterotopia.

"Hence, we're bringing Kumar to the heartlands, turning ordinary living rooms into performance spaces, interweaving dance practices - all so that we can open up different ways of thinking in different spaces."

The Singapore International Festival of Arts will take place in August and September. Tickets go on sale in April, when more details of the programme will be revealed