Horses dancing on the Istana’s lawn

5 11 2014

One of the memories that connects me to Tanah Merah, a magical place that I dearly miss by the sea, is of seeing what had first appeared to me to be grown men at play on cardboard horses. Tanah Merah was a wondrous place to me, not just because of that little moment of magic, but also due to its physical landscape. Set along a coast marked by cliffs from which the area derived its name, it a naturally beautiful world into which I could in my childhood, often find an escape in.

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Four decades now separates me that memory. The place has long been discarded by a Singapore that has little sentiment for its natural beauty, but what I remember of it, the horsemen I saw at play,  continues to be a source of fascination for me, play a dance that is surrounded by much mystique.

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The dance, known as Kuda Kepang here in Singapore, is thought to have its origins in the animistic practices of pre-Islamic Java and part of the mystery that surrounds it are the spirits invoked in joining man with the horses they stand astride on. The trance the horsemen fall into provide the ability to do what science cannot explain.

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I revisited these memories of what I had witness as a young child from the safety of the side of the road at the village of Kampong Ayer Gemuroh in Tanah Merah. With the familiar strains of the dizzying gamelan-like accompaniment playing, I watched, enthralled, as men possessed pranced on their two-dimensional horses in the shadows of a former royal palace .

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The palace, once the Istana Kampong Glam, is now a centre to promote the history and culture of the Malay community of which the descendants of the Javanese immigrants in Singapore have largely assimilated into. Known as the Malay Heritage Centre, it was on its now well manicured lawn on which I was able to catch what today is a rare performance of the age-old dance.

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Where it had once been quite commonly seen, especially at happy occasions such as weddings, performances in public have become few and far between as a change in lifestyles, social perceptions, and religious objections, have seen such ritual practices having been all but discarded.

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While I have in fact put up a post on the dance, sitting through an entire performance does mean I have a newer and more photographs of the dance to share in this post. My previous post does however contain a more complete description of my first impressions of Kuda Kepang and on the dance itself, and should you wish to visit it, it can be found at this link.


Before the performance

Prayers offered before the performance.

Prayers offered before the performance.

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Preliminaries

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During the Dance

Smoke from the kemenyan (incense) being breathed in.

Smoke from the kemenyan (incense) being breathed in.

Men becoming one with the horse.

Men becoming one with the horse.

The performers are obviously in a trance-like state.

The performers are obviously in a trance-like state.

Drinking from a bucket of water.

Drinking from a bucket of water.

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The horses are whipped, apparently without any pain being felt.

The horses are whipped, apparently without any pain being felt.

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The Barong

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Performers being brought out of the trance

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Divine faces in the dark

22 08 2014

Take a walk on the dark and somewhat mysterious side of the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct this weekend (and the next), and you might stumble upon a few surprises, all of which, if you are lucky enough, have nothing to do with the time of the year from the perspective of the Chinese calendar.  The precinct plays host to the annual Singapore Night Festival that brings life and colour to the streets and greens of the area along with a wonderful show of light in Night Lights.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore's Armenian Church.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore’s Armenian Church.

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (** Ryf's Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (Ryf’s **Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights this year has installations that range from one inspired by a giant jellyfish inspired to the divine. The enchanting line-up of lights, include some of which I got to have a glimpse at last night. Standing out, not just among the installations, but also among the trees is Clement Briend’s Divine Trees found just east of the National Museum of Singapore. While seeing Briend’s projections, which leave ghostly like faces of divine figures imprinted on the leaves of several of the trees by the National Museum, can be initially a little disconcerting; it would certainly leave the view in awe as to how alive the seemingly three-dimensional projections seem. The installation is an attempt by the artist to “blur the divide between reality and imagination” and “a study of the divine and the spiritual in the world made visible by projection onto objects of nature”.

Divine faces in the dark.

Divine faces in the dark.

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Over at Singapore’s oldest church building, the Armenian Church, we see more ghostly figures, this time set among the gravestones of the exhumed graves of the church’s yard.  The figures, glowing in a ever changing change of colours, are dresses woven from 40 kilometres of fibre optic cable. Dresses of Memory is all the work of Taegon Kim,  the glow-in-the-dark figures are intended to convey the celebration of “being in love” and having “a lover’s silhouette imprinted on the webs of one’s memory”.

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The Armenian Church is also where a rather enjoyable installation, Scenocosme’s Alsos*, can be found. The installation, at first glance seemingly nothing more than a illuminated tangle of twigs, is one that invites the visitor to interact with it. By shinning a light on its flowers, and altering the light’s intensity, the visitor creates his or her own set of sounds with each flower filling the air with a different sound.

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A surprise very different and with a far less mysterious flavour awaited me along a narrow alleyway. That was where a bunch of some rather tough looking characters, ones you wouldn’t really want to mess with, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. The fight the tough dudes were looking for were fortunately not with us, but among themselves – they would be meeting in a wrestling ring that would be set up right on on Armenian Street next weekend (29 and 30 August) in the Singapore Pro Wrestling event as part of the exciting line-up of events for the Singapore Night Festival.

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to the alleyways ...

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to as alleyway …

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For more information on how to catch the wrestlers in action, the light installations, and the rest of the excitement at the Singapore Night Festival do visit the festival’s website at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer. Do also refer to a previous post Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it for more photographs and an introduction to this year’s festival.


A second look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature at SAM for #SGNightFest

Through once familiar archways ...

Through once familiar archways …

... another look at WeComeInPeace's Spirits of Nature.

… another look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature.

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Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it

21 08 2014

Bold and Beautiful – in line with its theme for this year, the ever so magical Singapore Night Festival, is back! This year’s festival, on for two Fridays and Saturdays on 22 and 23 August and 29 and 30 August 2014 across the arts and cultural Bras Basah. Bugis Precinct, sees it being organised around five key zones, that will include for the first time, a Festival Village at Cathay Green – which will not be short of delectable offerings, entertainment and shopping opportunities. Two venues will also feature for the first time at the Night Festival, with the historic Armenian Church seeing two Night Lights installations and the National Design Centre (the former St. Anthony’s Convent), which will see a mini interactive exhibition with a ceiling of white illuminated helium filled balloons as well as two light installations.

The Singapore Night Festival is back - bolder and more beautiful.

The Singapore Night Festival is back – bolder and more beautiful – and sure to pull-in the crowds.

The highlight of this year's Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum's front lawn.

The highlight of this year’s Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn.

The highlight of the festival has to be the William Close performing on his Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn – one of several spectacular performances being lined up for the Pretty Arty festival zone based at the museum. The Earth Harp Close creates for the Night Festival, sees the huge harp strung across to the National Museum’s façade – the use of architecture as part of his harp, is inspired by a quote “architecture is frozen music” from Frank Lloyd Wright. Close, who was a second runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent, will collaborate with several local and international  artists such as Singapore’s drum group ZingO and songstresses in the form of Sound of Sirens as well as the fire and lights of Austrian collective Phoenix over both festival weekends.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Close close-up.

Close close-up.

ZingO - a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

ZingO – a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

The festival sees the return of Singapore’s very own Starlight Alchemy, playing not so much with fire this time, but with light and acrobatics beside the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Information Systems in a zone intended to reach out to Young Hearts around SMU Green. The acts will include AcroYogis – an acrobatic partner yoga presentation in which the audience can participate in, as well as Illuminated Playtime in which participants will be invited to play with LED lights.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

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Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

The 10 DJs on stage.

The 10 DJs on stage.

Always a crowd-pleaser, Night Lights, will also return – this time doubling in scale – with installations spread across the festival’s zones. Night Lights never spares the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a building I always enjoy seeing bathed in light – like outstretched arms its wings are always welcoming as it had been when I went to school there all those years ago. This year the façade of the SAM will be see a nature inspired multi-media presentation, Spirits of Nature, by WeComeInPeace from France.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design's Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers ...

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers …

... the installation requires one to pause - only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

… the installation requires one to pause – only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

Greenhouse Effect - another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Greenhouse Effect – another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Other eye-catching Night Lights installations I got to see a preview of include Cyanea, inspired by the Cyanea capillata – one of the largest jellyfish in the world, spread across Cathay Green. The installation, illuminated by a set of colour-changing lights, with smoke and sounds for effect, is being put up by Cumulus Collectif also from France.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Back to the SAM, where the Roundabout Midnight zone is based around, there are several installations to look out for. These include, The Cloud of Unknowing  by Ho Tzu Nyen in the Chapel on 29 and 30 August, 2014 – a cinematic exploration of the cloud as image, metaphor and carrier for divine illumination; a NOISE Weekend @ SAM on 22 and 23 August at 8Q Plaza, SAM at 8Q that will feature emerging bands and musicians from NOISE Singapore’s Music Programme; Darker Than Wax DJs at SAM on 29 August; and The Local People x SAM Night Market on 30 August, 2014 – where visitors can eat, listen and shop at the art market along Queen Street.

Cyanea from its inside.

Cyanea from its inside.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

The last zone, Block Party @ Armenian Street, will see a wild and happening Armenian Street where parties to late will be taking place. The parties will include one that will see much excitement with a ring put up on the second weekend right in the middle of Armenian Street (which will be closed to traffic from 8 pm to 2 am on festival nights). The ring will see wrestling bouts that will pit stars of Singapore Pro Wrestling – another first at the Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

A performance that might be worth catching at Block Party is How Drama ‘s Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap, in Something Borrowed, Something New at The Substation Theatre, which will probably have you in stitches – not just because of the speed performance of 31 plays in an hour by the Singapore based improvisational performers, but also for their rather amusing take on current happenings. The performance, which will see the audience determine the sequence, has the audience laughing at the funny side of issues such as the much talked about Singapore Tourism Board’s “Honey, Look!” video advertisement as well as the National Library’s tango with the removal of children’s books from the shelves.

Honey, Look!

Honey, Look!

Admission to the Singapore Night Festival (including to the participating museums) is free. More information, including the festival guide, details of the performances, installations and also the artists, can be found at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer.

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Poor Thing: A typical day in the Singaporean social media space

26 02 2014

Yes, another typical day in Singapore and another incident on the roads that leads to a reaction that is overblown through photos and videos of it finding their way onto social media platforms … only this time, it isn’t for real, but staged – for the stage.

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Poor Thing, a rather clever production by local theatre company The Necessary Stage that is inspired by what goes on on social media sites such as the rather infamous local so-called “Citizen Journalism” site STOMP  and popular platforms such Facebook and Youtube opens today at The Necessary Stage Black Box. The one-hour long production, written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan, may not be your typical theatre production in that the audience is free to move and even interact with what goes on on stage and through the social media by befriending one of the characters, but certainly examines the typical reaction of Singaporeans to such incidents when aired on social media.

The production, for which a script was only developed after a first series of rehearsals, does also see the actors exercising some degree of improvisation as they go along – making it all a rather interesting experience not just for the audience but also for those on stage. Poor Thing, which sees Siti Khalijah Zainal, Sharda Harrison, Dwayne Lau and Joshua Lim deliver rather intense performances on stage, runs from 26 February to 2 March and from 5 March to 9 March and limited tickets are still available at http://poorthing.peatix.com/.





The Singapore 2015 launch party

17 02 2014

Photographs from the grand party held at the Gardens by the Bay’s Meadow on Saturday to launch Singapore 2015 (the 28th SEA Games and 8th ASEAN Para Games). The event was graced by Guest-of-Honour, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and attended by athletes past and present and saw the unveiling of the games mascot Nila as well official songs for the games performed by various local artistes. The line-up of the artistes included Daphne Khoo, a survivor of a rare form of Ovarian Cancer, who performed ‘Greatest’ and Tabitha Nauser performing ‘Unbreakable’.

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The Feast of Fools

24 12 2013

A scene that is one of several that celebrates the musical Notre Dame de Paris, currently playing at the MBS MasterCard Theatres, is possibly The Feast of Fools. Accompanied by the confused frenzy of movement, it is at this point that sees the introduction of Quasimodo, the well-known character of the tale behind the musical many would be familiar with from their childhoods, who in the scene is crowned the King of Fools.

Belle, one of three scenes presented during a media preview of the musical.

One of three scenes presented during a media preview of the musical, during which the popular song, Belle, was sung. The musical features Matt Laurent as Quasimodo (L) and Alssandra Ferrari (R) as Esmeralda.

It is not the Quasimodo that in the wake of Disney’s retelling of Victor Hugo’s novel that many would recognise. The same can unfortunately be said of the storyline or the lack of it in its musical version. Except for a few popular music numbers such as Belle, it would probably be better remembered for what has to be said, was a impressive display of dance.

Another scene shown during the preview - Refugees - which again was more about the dancing rather than singing.

Another scene shown during the preview – Refugees – which again was more about the dancing rather than singing.

Certainly for me, the musical did not quite live up to the hype that surrounds it. Whatever my impressions are, the musical is still quite a watchable one and certainly one that does provide some entertainment value – that is if you need some extra to distract you this Christmas season. The musical, which opened on 17 December 2013, will see its run in Singapore extended to 11 January 2014. For more information and also for ticketing, do visit the Marina Bay Sand’s page for the musical, or the SISTIC website.

Esmeralda (Alessandra Ferrari) in Live.

Esmeralda (Alessandra Ferrari) in Live.


More on the musical (from a press release from its Singapore opening):

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Singapore – 17 December 2013 – The musical spectacular Notre Dame de Paris, which has become a phenomenon around the world cutting across generations, opens tonight at the MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands, Grand Theatre. Performed for the first time in Singapore in English this majestical show tells the story of Quasimodo the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Esmeralda the Gypsy girl, in one of the most powerful love stories in history on par with Romeo and Juliet.

Since premiering in Paris, France in September 1998, the musical has attracted audiences of more than 4 million in France alone and broken box office records in Canada, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and South Korea surpassing 10 million spectators while combined sales of soundtrack and cast albums have reached the 10 million mark.

Notre Dame de Paris has been staged over 4000 times in 20 other countries, including Italy, Great Britain and the United States, receiving standing ovations every night.

Faithful to Victor Hugo’s classic novel Notre Dame de Paris, the show tells the emotionally charged story of the unfortunate Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral Bell Ringer, the hunchback Quasimodo, and his hopeless devotion for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. Phoebus, the untruthful soldier and Frollo, the priest torn between his faith to God and his desires will compete for Esmeralda’s love. While Clopin, the leader of the refugees or underclass, and Gringoire the poet will try to save Esmeralda.

The musical spectacular is the creation of lyricist Luc Plamondon and composer Richard Cocciante, whom have both won numerous awards for their work and is directed by Gilles Maheu. The English lyrics were written by Will Jennings, Oscar-winner for “My heart Will Go On” from the smash-hit film Titanic.

“It’s a well-known story which stands up on its own and doesn’t need to be explained. That’s why there are at least a dozen films based on the Victor Hugo novel, from the silent era to the recent Disney animation,” said Luc Plamandon.

Reminiscent of The Beauty and the Beast and presaging The Phantom of the Opera, Notre Dame de Paris remains a poignant and powerful myth with some of the interwoven storylines being more relevant today than ever: asylum-seekers, racism, the role of religion, the fear of the unknown and man’s place in an ever-changing world.

Riccardo Cocciante beautiful melodies will leave a long lasting impression on local  audiences. Featuring more than 54 vivid arias of operatic beauty and rock resonance, the characters are brought to life through stunning vocal performances and visual spectacle – courtesy of the show’s seven principal artistes and 24 dancers and acrobats.

The show will feature acrobatic contemporary dance choreography by Martino Muller, renowned modern dance visionary, contrasting with a beautiful love story moments to create an audience experience reminiscent of French cirque. Dancers appear to be flying across the stage under fantastic arcs, freely incorporating gymnastics, contemporary and even break dance moves into their repertoire – at one moment whirling across the floor in a series of pirouettes, and the next tumbling from a bungee rope high above the stage.

The show will be presented on a grand scale at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. The modern impressionistic stage set features a 12 metre high ‘climbing wall’ representing the façade of the grand cathedral of Notre Dame as well as the famous Bastille prison in Paris. This amazing edifice is also the platform for a series of stunning acrobatic routines that will leave the audience breathless.

Notre Dame de Paris, the musical spectacular, stands out because of the masterful staging and artistic integrity of director Gilles Maheu, who has revived the 170-year old story with contemporary touches and deft inspiration incorporating choreographies by Martino Muller and costumes designed by Fred Sathal and set by Christian Ratz.

The English language album, featuring the main stars of the London production, also features guest star Celine Dion singing “Live for the One I Love”.
Hit musical, rock-show, opera, concept-album or gothic melodrama, Notre-Dame de Paris retains traditional theatrical elements while using modern staging techniques and choreography to present eternal, universal, mythical tales and themes.

About Notre Dame de Paris

  • First opened at ‘Palais des Congres’ theatre in Paris in September 1998
  • Based on the novel ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ written by Victor Hugo in 1831
  • Sell-out tours in France, Canada, England, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, America, Italy, Monaco
  • 4000 performances over 20 countries and seen by more than 10 million people.
  • The most sensational and successful musical in France, Italy, Belgium and Russia
  • Taking Europe by storm, “Notre Dame de Paris’ opened in London at the Dominion Theatre on 23 May 2000, following previews which opened on 15 May 2000.
  • According to the Guinness Book of Records, Notre Dame de Paris still holds the record as the show with the most successful first year of any musical ever produced.

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Promising a splashingly colourful start to the new year

22 12 2013

Touted as Asia’s Largest Beach Countdown Party, the highly anticipated Siloso Beach Party returns this year and promises to bring in 2014 with a splash of colour. Happening from 6 pm on 31 December 2013 and stretching to 6 am on 1 January 2014, the party, which is expected to draw a crowd of 20,000 to it, will offer five party zones, a giant foam pool and a sandy dance floor, as well as an opportunity for party goers to get splashed with colourful paint (all of which is water based and will be washable). For ticketing and more information on what looks to be another exciting countdown party do visit the Siloso Beach Party’s website.

 A sneak peek at what promises to be a splashingly colourful start to the New Year:

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