A magical final weekend at the Singapore Night Festival

30 08 2013

To look out for on this, the second weekend of this year’s edition of the Singapore Night Festival, has to be two death-defying mega stunts that will be attempted by “the sexiest woman in magic” – Singapore magician, Magic Babe Ning. The stunts which will take place in front of the National Museum of Singapore will see Ning attempt two Houdini-like escapes – one submerged in water and the second, one that involves escaping from a strait-jacket whilst suspended in mid-air by a burning rope together with the other half of a pairing The Straits Times had referred to as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” J C Sum.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be "the sexiest woman in magic" Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be “the sexiest woman in magic” Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

The first stunt The Water Vault, which will take place on Friday (today), 30 August 2013, at 10 pm in front of the National Museum of Singapore. For this, shackled at the neck, wrists and wasit, Ning will be submerged in a locked and chained steel vault which will be filled to the brim with water – and all she has is two minutes with which she can hold her breath, to escape from all that!

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

The second stunt, is definitely one that is going to be a lot more spectacular – and visible! Also taking place in front of the National Museum of Singapore, this time at 10 pm on Saturday 31 August 2013, the stunt, Ultimate Inversion, will be a huge first and one for the record books – if successful, it will the first time a tandem upside down strait jacket escape will be done! The stunt will see both, trying to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended by ankle boots from a bar attached to a single burning rope over the museum’s dome … a stunt which does carry huge risks – there are many factors which can impede the escape – including the hot and humid conditions which does make the strait-jacket stick to skins a lot more! Plus, there will not be any safety nets! The stunt will also be witnessed by the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records. Speaking to Magic Babe Ning  last evening – I realised that how risky the manoeuvre would be – seeing that the only preparations the pair were able to do is to practice escaping from a strait-jacket upside down!

5 Streams.

5 Streams.

Besides the magic of the two stunts – there were two other magical installations that I got a sneak peek of last evening. One is 5 Streams – which will see three different dance sequences by Ibrahim Quraishi of BamBam Projects – all to a haunting and as the festival guide describes, hypnotic mix of video streaming, live percussion and base guitars.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The other installation I did get to see is what should be a delightful animated projection onto the façade of the National Museum of Singapore by local company OICsingapore – accompanied by original music. The projection, MoonGrazing is described as a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore.

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The Water Vault (Magic Babe Ning)

Friday 30 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Asia’s female Houdini and “the sexiest woman in magic” (Magicseen Magazine), ‘Magic Babe’ Ning will attempt a spectacular underwater escape from The Water Vault. Shackled with chains and locks around her wrists, waist and neck, Ning will be completely submerged in a steel vault filled to the brim with water that is, in turn, locked and chained tightly on the outside. Ning will have less than two minutes to free herself from The Water Vault before she runs out of breath.

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Ultimate Inversion (J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning)

Saturday 31 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Witness history being made as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” (The Straits Times), J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning, attempt the world’s first ever tandem upside down strait jacket escape! They will both be strapped up in two regulation strait jackets each and suspended upside down by their ankles, one person below the other, high up in the air from a single burning rope. If the rope burns through or if they make one small mistake, they will plummet to the ground 50ft below.

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5 Streams (Ibrahim Quraishi / BamBam Projects)

Friday 30 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

8.45 pm, 9.45 pm & 10.45pm

MAIN Ground

Explosive sounds, vocals, intense dance sequences, video streaming, live percussion and base guitars are combined to create a hypnotic performance where dancers appear as installation: space transforms into living architectural symbols, video projection immersed in nature and the abstraction of geometry. Sound trembles through the body before it’s heard and the audience is invited to wander and meditate in an interactive installation of a synthetic forest with each its own interactive sonic mix: this cross media performance / installation includes an extraordinary international team of artists (Ibrahim Quraishi, Norsq, Marc Perroud aka Tzed, Gabriel Smeets, Katrin Blantar, Walid Breidi, Jule Flierl, Martin B. Hansen, Olivier Hüe, Nicolas Lelièvre, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Naseem Abbas Malik, Ewan A.S and Aziz Bekkaoui. Nico Van Der Vegte and Kieu Voung)

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Moongrazing (OICSingapore)

Friday 30 Aug 2013 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am (OIC live music & drawing: 7.30 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm & 11.30 pm)

National Museum of Singapore façade

Set to an original piece of music- MoonGrazing is a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore. Throughout the two nights, the façade of the National Museum of Singapore will be transformed into a canvas for local artists to showcase their playful creativity. To add to the spontaneity of the moment, for twice each night, illustrators and indie musicians will jam together live. Each performance is unique as lines of music and drawing meet and improvisations happen on the most random note.

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The Singapore Night Festival final weekend is on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:


A dancer, an iron bed, and a war heroine

9 10 2012

And what has a dancer, an iron bed and a war heroine have to do with each other? Come Friday 12 October 2012, the dancer, award-winning dance choreographer, Tammy L Wong will give a ten minute self-choreographed performance which is an interpretation of a war heroine’s personal struggle and faith as she faced repeated acts of torture at the hands of the occupiers of Singapore during the Second World War. The piece features in a collaboration between five local dance choreographers who have had an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene entitled SideBySide.

A look of anguish on an iron bed … Tammy L Wong shares a very moving personal with a bed borrowed from SJI International in a 10 minute piece for the Esplanade’s 10th Anniversary programme.

SideBySide is part of a weekend programme that is being lined-up for the anniversary weekend of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay which celebrates its tenth anniversary on 12 October 2012. The anniversary programme, part of a year-long celebration, Dedicated to You, is one that is dedicated to the arts and to Singapore artists, featuring performances specially commissioned for the occasion with invited local artists sharing their personal journeys. Also featuring Joavien Ng, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu who will perform a piece together, and also Daniel K, SideBySide will see a presentation of short dance pieces, each, a tribute to a personal inspiration.

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay celebrates its tenth anniversary this weekend.

Thanks to the Esplanade, I was able to catch a rehearsal of the piece that Tammy L Wong’s will present, entitled Andante, a ten minute long piece that will take the audience into the darkness that accompanied war heroine Mrs Elizabeth Choy’s internment by the Japanese during the Second World War.

Andante is Tammy L Wong’s interpretation of a first-hand account of Elizabeth Choy’s darkest moments during 200 days of torture when she was interned by the Japanese during World War II.

The imagery provided by the iron bed is a powerful one that transports the audience into the late Mrs Choy’s tortured soul, tortured not just by the repeated acts of savagery that she was inflicted with, by also by time that in the circumstances, would have seemed to pass all so slowly, as is suggested by the title of her piece.

The iron bed is one that immediately transports the audience into the torturous solitude that Elizabeth Choy found herself in.

No attention to detail had been spared, even for the short piece. The bed is one that took some finding – with Tammy having to borrow the right one from SJI International for the performance. The music that accompanies includes a hymn which does not only represent Mrs Choy’s deep Christian faith which she drew on to find the strength and courage to survive where many others would not have. Her moves on and off the bed, speak also of anguish and of solitude and of a body broken by torture.

The dance moves and music are ones that tells of the pain and suffering as well of Mrs Choy’s deep faith.

On the evidence of what I was able to see during the rehearsal, the piece would certainly be a very moving account of Mrs Choy’s struggles condensed into ten minutes. It is however Tammy’s account of her personal encounters with Mrs Choy that had to be the most stirring part of the session which included an opportunity to speak to Tammy.

Besides the insights Tammy shared about the piece, Tammy also spoke of her encounters with Mrs Choy herself, all of which started with a letter that Tammy had sent to her driven by a desire to seek the strength that Mrs Choy had demonstrated.

Tammy also spoke of that first encounter connected the two of them, and of how Mrs Choy had without hesitation, taken out photographs taken of her in the nude, when she had posed as a model for sculptor Dora Gordine.

Tammy at the end of the rehearsal.

What is remarkable to hear of is the matter-of-fact manner with which Mrs Choy related what must certainly have carried a lot of pain. That she did feel it, was however evident – the sessions often went on into the evening when Tammy would often find herself listening to Mrs Choy in the dark. Mrs Choy, had, as a result of the numerous occasions during which she was tortured with electrical shocks, developed a fear of anything electrical, including turning on the lights.

Sharing a lighter moment.

The poignant account is one that certainly puts the piece into context and one that will be the subject of Tammy’s second book which will be published next year. It would certainly be interesting to see it on the day of the performance – alongside with the other pieces, each with an equally interesting story. The hour-long SideBySide will play at the Esplanade Theatre Studio at 8pm on Friday. More information can be found at the Esplanade’s page on the SideBySide.

About SideBySide:

By Daniel K, Joavien Ng, Ming Poon, Scarlet Yu and Tammy L Wong

Date: 12 Oct 2012, Fri, 8pm
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

SideBySide presents five established and independent dance choreographers who have made an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene. The evening features new short works, with each piece created as a tribute to a personal artistic inspiration.

In a celebration of real and imaginary champions, Tammy L Wong creates a moving tribute to Singaporean war heroine Elizabeth Choy in Andante, while Joavien Ng ventures to make her very own superhero, in a salute to caped crusaders and the hero in all of us, in My Superhero.

For the first time, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu perform together in a duet about the serendipity of encounters in The infinitesimal distance between two bodies, while Daniel creates a solo for arts practitioner Low Kee Hong who becomes his own cheerleader in The Cheerleader.

(1hr with short breaks)


All Secondary Schools, Junior Colleges, Centralised Institutes and ITEs may use the Tote Board Arts Grant to subsidise up to 50% of the ticket price.

Dances with urns

31 05 2012

With the two week long Singapore Arts Festival drawing to a close on 2 June 2012, there still are a host of interesting happenings in and around the Festival Village to catch. One installation which I found rather intriguing – after watching a full dress rehearsal, is one that will take place at the Open Lawn (just next to the Lim Bo Seng Memorial) on just two evenings at 8pm (tonight 31 May and tomorrow 1 June). The installation, Dream Country – a lost monologue, involves some 41 women – the six collaborators behind it and 35 women of age 17 to 58 years, interacting with 35 clay urns. The performance is inspired by Dream Country, a monologue written by Malaysian playwright Leow Puay Tin. In this piece, the monologue is lost, living on in a dance which sees a depiction of birth, life and death during which interaction involves not only the urns, but also some elements such as water and earth – leaving the rest very much to imagination of the audience. More information is available at the festival’s page on the installation DREAM COUNTRY — a lost monologue.

Dream Country – a lost monologue involves scenes depicting birth, life and death as 41 women dance with 35 urns.

Elements such as water and earth are very much a part of the installation.

More scenes from Dream Country – a lost monologue:

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About The Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival began in 1977 as a national showcase celebrating the local arts of Singapore’s diverse communities. Over the last three decades, the Festival organised by the National Arts Council, has played a symbiotic and catalytic role in the development of the artistic and cultural life of Singapore. It has influenced the work of artists and generated a growing public demand for the arts, spawning new capital platforms, events and movements that help underpin the lively cultural scene in Singapore.

The Festival saw its turning point in 2010 as it embarked on a new phase of development under the leadership of Low Kee Hong. Key changes and initiatives include turning this international arts platform into a Creation and People’s Festival with a vital year-long participation programme, continuing to sustain the Festival’s engagement with the public beyond individual shows staged during the Festival period. The commune events and activities are tailored for four groups: new audiences — people who may not have encountered the arts; arts lovers — people who buy tickets to performances; arts makers — artists and teachers who inspire their students through the arts; and arts volunteers — people who have the heart to make a difference.

The Singapore Arts Festival has now become an international showcase of ideas, art and discourse with a distinctive Asian flavour, known for its bold and innovative discussions between vernacular and contemporary art.

Singapore Arts Festival 2012: Our Lost Poems

The 2012 Festival will be held from 18 May – 2 June 2012. This edition of the Festival completes the trilogy of themes set out two editions ago – Between You and Me (2010), I Want to Remember (2011), Our Lost Poems (2012). Over these 16 days, the city comes alive with an infusion of performances at the Festival’s hub – the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park and other key venues. There is something for everyone this year, from ages 1 to 100.

A Bangsawan revival by the river

16 04 2012

The Singapore River has played a vital role in the settlement and early development of Singapore, long-serving as a gateway for the arrival of influences which has given Singapore its rich cultural diversity. While that role has since been minimised by the shift in the means by which people arrive to our shores as well as with the cutting-off of the river from the sea, it is nice to see that it still, as a venue, has a role to play in keeping the traditions that it previously played a role in bringing in, alive with an initiative ‘Regenerating Communities at Empress Place’. The initiative, conceived by The Old Parliament House Limited which runs The Arts House at Empress Place saw a three-instalment programme curated by Jeremiah Choy that featured performances of fading performing art-forms which were once common on our streets. This included a Chinese puppet theatre show and in its third and last instalment, a very rare Bangsawan performance by Singapore’s last exclusive Bangsawan troupe, Sri Anggerik Bangsawan at the ACM Green.

The third instalment of the first series of the 'Regenerating Communities at Empress Place' initiative saw a rare performance of Bangsawan or Malay Opera.

The first series of 'Regenerating Communities at Empress Place' was curated by Jeremiah Choy who is seen introducing Noor Azhar Mohamed of the Sri Anggerik Bangsawan troupe.

A Bangsawan performer before the performance.

Bangsawan or Malay Opera, is an art form that has its origins in commercial 19th Century Parsi theatre, arriving first in Penang at the end of the 19th Century via travelling troupes coming from Bombay. The name ‘Bangsawan’ is a combination of two words, ‘bangsa’ which means ‘race’ or ‘a group of people’ in Malay, and ‘wan’ which is a reference to ‘stature’. Being performed purely for entertainment, Bangsawan was always an evolving form that adapted very much to the taste of the audiences it attracted and at the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, drew audiences which included those from the other races across society. The typical Bangsawan performance would include both dialogue and song and dance segments which incorporates influences across several cultures and involves very elaborate stage sets, make-up and costumes, making the performances a very colourful and musical experience.

Bangsawan involves very elaborate stage sets as well as make-up and costumes - and requires quite a fair bit of preparation prior to each performance.

A performer having her make-up applied.

The clasped hands of a performer waiting for her make-up to be done.

The performance over two evenings over the weekend was of an excerpt from Dang Anum, the retelling of a touching tale which revolves around the unfortunate Dang Anum, the daughter of Sang Rajuna Tapa – a Minister in the court of Sultan Iskandar Shah (who ruled Singapore from 1399 to 1402). The performance was a special one for the troupe, Sri Anggerik Bangsawan, which traces its origins to 1986, when its founder, the late Haji Hamid Ahmad, formed it with the aim of preserving what was already then a vanishing art form. The performance of the excerpt represents a comeback for the troupe which took a two-year break due to Pak Haji Hamid’s(as he is affectionately known) illness and eventual passing last year. The performance, though brief, required much love and effort to put together, was one that the troupe dedicated as a tribute to their late founder.

Performers in full costume.

On the evidence of the thoroughly enjoyable performance, it would be certainly be a wonderful experience to be able to see a full performance of Dang Anum, which the troupe has previously performed twice – once in the early 2000s and a second time as part of a larger performance in 2007. The troupe which does not have any immediate plans to stage a full performance, does hope to be in a position to put what must be an ambitious attempt at a large scale in one to two years. It one we are told that which will be very elaborate, featuring a Javanese epic tale that was written by Pak Haji Hamid, and one on which the troupe certainly would require support of various bodies and groups supporting the performing arts, as well as sponsors on.

The opening of the performance.

Scenes from the performance.

More scenes from the performance.

The audience was captivated by the performance.

Grown men prancing on cardboard horses: Kuda Kepang

14 06 2010

See also: Horses dancing on the Istana’s lawn

It may have been just a coincidence, but it was really uncanny that having just got back from a break, just before which some recollections of the first Kuda Kepang performance I had witnessed some forty years back came back to me, that I stumbled upon one that was taking place below a block of flats in a part of Woodlands that I had not until yesterday visited. It was as if the spirits that are said to possess the performers had led me there to feed the memories I was starting to recall of that first moment that I had seen a Kuda Kepang dance. Kuda Kepang is a traditional dance that is performed by members of the Malay community in Singapore using painted cut-outs in the shape of horses. The dance is believed to have some of its origins in the retelling of stories from the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in Java, is performed accompanied by the dizzying strains of a Gamelan orchestra. It was at one time, a popular feature at Malay weddings, especially in the kampongs, and it seemed to me to have disappeared from Singapore together with the kampongs that had once been a feature of Singapore life – or so I had thought …

A Kuda Kepang performance seen in Woodlands – my first experience of Kuda Kepang was more than forty years ago in the setting of a coastal Malay kampong that has long disappeared.

Masks that are used in the later part of the performance.

The very first time I had come across the dance was when I was maybe three, in a part of Singapore that we have long lost – the Tanah Merah area, on which I was trying to piece some memories together on. It was a part of the world that I would on occasion pass through – my parents were fond of taking holidays in the government bungalows that were available in the area. What had defined the Tanah Merah area was the hilly ground which overlooked the sea and besides the Malay kampongs present, there were also some magnificent villas, including one owned by David Marshall. It was, passing through one of the kampongs, Kampong Ayer Gemuruh, that, while peering out of the open window of my father’s Austin 1100, what seemed to be grown men playing on what would have appeared to be toy horses caught my eye. My father pulled the car over so that we were able to get out and observe the performance from the side of the road from where we could glance down towards the sandy clearing where there were indeed grown men on painted white horses that seemed to be made of cardboard or plywood. We could see them prancing and twisting around to the strains of the Gamelan that we could faintly hear, each astride a cardboard horse of which my first impression was that they were like the stick horses I had seen at the Robinson’s toy department.

My first impression of Kuda Kepang was that it was grown men engaging in child’s play.

I had, through much of my childhood, been intrigued by the Kuda Kepang. My maternal grandmother, who I was very close to and had originally come from Java, had herself held a fascination for the dance and there were several occasions when we stopped to watch a performance when we did see one in passing by a Malay wedding. That was despite a friend of hers warning us that we shouldn’t watch it. The friend, who we referred to as “Bibik Boyan”, “Bibik” being a term used to address a senior lady, much like the term “auntie” is used in Singapore, and “Boyan” due to her ancestry being traced to the Boyanese as folks from Bawean Island off east Java were referred to, would drop in a few times each week to keep my grandmother company as well as to help her out with the laundry. It was through her warnings that I first heard of the association of spirit possession with Kuda Kepang. This somehow only served to heighten the sense of intrigue that I had for the dance, and it was only when going to school kept me busy that I stopped taking notice of it, and slowly over the years, the memories I had of it had been stored away until the recent recollection that I had.

Dancers are seen to go into a trance like state and make movements that seem to be guided by another force.

Watching a performance of the dance, it isn’t difficult to imagine it having a spirit possession dimension. The dance involves movements that have symbolic values that would have originated from the animistic practices of the people of pre-Hindu Java. Throughout the dance, the performers seem to move in a trance like state, their movements guided seemingly by a force other than their own. It is said that in some of the forms that Kuda Kepang takes, dancers are fed with pieces of broken glass, grass and other objects which do them no harm. In some cases, the dance is said to even be able to heal the sick. Whether or not this is true, the dance is certainly mysterious as it is captivating and watching a little portion of it yesterday, I felt like that three year old boy again, staring down at the fascinating scene before my eyes.

The movements of the dancers is guided by the dizzying strains of the accompanying gamelan.

A few more photographs of the Kuda Kepang performance that were hastily taken in the rain:

A change of view in the glow of pink

12 06 2010

Pole dancing is perhaps finding it difficult to gain social acceptance and the respect it deserves as a dance form and as a great workout, given the negative connotations that are associated with it. The perception we have of pole dancing is very much influenced by how the mass media has chosen to portray it. Much of what we see of pole dancing in the movies, immediately gives us the impression of gyrating scantily clad women taking off their clothes on a dimly lit bar top or floor, such as was the case in the 1996 movie Striptease starring Demi Moore. More recently, the recent exposé stirring the controversy surrounding this year’s Miss USA, Rima Fakih, revolves around the perception that is created by such movies, however innocent it may have been.

Defying gravity around a pole: Pole dancing as a dnace form suffers from the negative portrayal of it in the mass media.

Pole dancing routines require dancers a great deal of strength and dexterity.

I recently had an opportunity to have my own perceptions changed of the dance form, having been invited to do a photo shoot of a group of graduating pole dancers. So, armed with my trusty camera, I braved my way around the swirling mass of women who seemed to defy gravity with their every move in the pink glow of the studio. On another day, the pink glow may have masked the blush that would have been brought about by the embarrassment of being in the company of women with muscles in places where I did not seem to have any, but the distraction offered by the sight of the fluid and graceful movements around the pole was enough to make me forget about my embarrassment. While there is an element of sexiness in some of the moves that were made by the women, much of the routines they did would certainly require a great deal of skill and strength, as is evident in the well toned bodies of the pole dancers that would be the envy of many. I was told that many who do join in the classes, do it for the great workout pole dancing provides – especially for the abs and upper body.

Pole dancing does wonders for your abs and upper body.

Interestingly, pole dancing has been growing in popularity in Singapore, something that was quite ignorant about, and featured in last year’s National Day Parade (not without controversy)! There certainly isn’t much I can find wrong with men (yes men do it too!) and women in figure hugging and what some would say, skimpy outfits, dancing around a pole. If we are to see this as a sleazy activity that should be confined to adults only bars, then I guess we shouldn’t be watching sports such as diving, gymnastics and even beach volleyball as well. There would be those who would be inspired by the great bodies that you see in the photographs, and if you are, you can certainly work your way towards it too! You can sign up for lessons at Bobbi’s Pole Studio, which is at the former Catholic High School building in Queen Street. Do visit their website for further information: www.bobbispolestudio.com.sg. For those who are need a little convincing, one hour trial lessons are also offered at the studio.

Bobbi's Pole Studio at 222 Oueen Street offers pole dancing classes.

Poetry in motion at Bobbi's.

More photographs from the pole dancing classes at Bobbi’s …

Warming up for a pole dancing revolution?