Tanjong Pagar after dark

27 08 2015

It has been a little more than four years since the lights went out on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Left to the ghosts that are said to haunt it, the former station sees the occasional return of the living, as it did on Tuesday evening, when I got to see it again after dark with its ghosts scared off by the lights, sounds and action of the first of a series of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) Dance Marathon nights being held at the station.

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The evening, which had Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi hosting a small reception and introduce Archivist-Choreographer Mikuni Yaniahara as a Japan Cultural Envoy, saw two dance performances, starting with Yaniahara’s Real Reality at the main hall and followed by Yukio Suzuki’s Lay/ered on the tracks. The double-bill was the first of four dance evenings that are being held at the station. The three other evenings are on 28 August31 August and on 4 September.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

The former station, intended as a grand terminal and a gateway to oceans, was built in 1932 and is thought to have been modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station. Gazetted as a National Monument in April 2011, it has been left empty since the Malayan Railway’s moved its southern terminal to Woodlands in July of the same year. The building, once the property of the Malaysian government through the Malayan Railway or Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in more recent times, bears many reminders of the links Singapore had to Malaya throughout much of its history.

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The future of the well-loved monument, at least for an interim twenty year period before the port nearby begins a journey to the west (port operations are being moved to Pasir Panjang and eventually to Tuas), is now on the drawing board. As one of two special interest areas, for which a concept design proposal is being sought under Stage 2A of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor, the five teams shortlisted are required to suggest an interim re-purposing of the former station. The former station is seen as a gateway to the Rail Corridor, and it is a requirement of the RFP that any proposed reuse will allow the public to have “unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings”.

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Submissions for the stage should have already been made. We should have some inkling of what the teams have in mind with a public exhibition of shortlisted submissions scheduled for October this year. More information on this can be found at the Rail Corridor RFP information site.

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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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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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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)

$10

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.