15.2.08

dry season

rain (雨)

It hasn't rained at all since Chinese New Year on 7 Feb.

But at the Esplanade's Huayi Festival, there was thunder and a chorus of falling rain during Sound seed, Taiwanese actor/musician-composer Lim Giong's collaborative performance with a sound engineer and 3 young Singaporean lighting designer, interactive designer and installation artist. As Lim Giong himself hinted at, this attempt to create an immersive aural, visual and spatial experience of positive energy could have worked better in a museum/gallery than as a 1 hour performance. [left: cover of Lim Giong's latest CD insects awaken]

The next day, J and I watched renowned Taiwanese director Stan Lai's thoroughly enjoyable and admirable new production Like Shadows. Much has been written about it in the papers, so I won't go into any details about the play.

Walking out of the theatre after one of the better post-performance discussions I've attended, the intellectual and emotional energies the play obviously inspired from the audience lingered. I asked J's opinion of what he thought were necessary to achieve a production as accomplished and almost faultless as Like Shadows, say, compared with many of the lesser works we have seen from our fellow-islanders.

J's immediate response was this: "no shouting." [Our constant complaint after many Singapore plays we watch is the amount of shouting that goes on] Prompted to elaborate, he explained that it was not just literal, but a general sense that playwrights and directors were shouting their "messages" at audiences, pounding a singular perspective and vision across to an audience that somehow the playwright/director mistrusted - maybe even disdained. This is a generalisation, of course. Lai's work should also not be assumed to be representative of the state of Taiwanese theatre and arts scene. But thinking back on many of my experiences in our theatres, I could not help but agree with J.

How I enjoyed the open-ness of Lai's play, the respect it had for its audience's ability to wander around its characters and ideas, to form connections. I enjoyed too the particularity of the play's context - Taiwan's Sun Moon Lake, the practice in Taiwanese cinemas 10-20 years ago of playing the national anthem before each screening, the superstitions and Taoist rites that China would have lost after the Cultural Revolution - and its ability to reach also beyond its particular context to communicate the universal doubts, questions about desire, violence, immortality, death, imagination.

For me, the other reason is that every single aspect of the production was equally excellent - every actor in the ensemble cast; the set and lighting designers; the stylists; the music... For this, you need talented professionals working in every single aspect of the production - and not 1 sensitive playwright or 1 visionary director or 2-3 impressive actors. As in a dance, no 1 dancer could afford to be out of step.

joy (樂)
days of being young!

Maybe it would only be a matter of time. We would only need to wait for our artist(e)s - literally - to age.

And alongside this, Sound Seed reminded me that there should always be room for and a need for experiments, learning, growth and failure in the arts. For all the weakness of Sound Seed as a performance, I respected and also learned from Lim Giong's gracious acceptance of criticism at the post-performance discussion with his younger collaborators. It was an experiment, he pointed out, and we would work towards something better.

7 comments:

orangeclouds said...

I feel the same way about Like Shadows -- although some of my colleagues found its plot points veered into the melodramatic and predictable, I saw it more as a complete theatrical experience which entertained as well as gave much food for thought, in classic Stan Lai fashion, and which was rooted in the particular as well as the universal/philosophical.

I think J's point about 'no shouting' is a really good one. I think you've put your finger on a kind of gap between theatre practitioners and audience and the shrillness of the performances (and scripts). I think there's a certain insecurity there, maybe the maturity that comes with time is the answer, and maybe not.

Saw you guys from afar at the Stan Lai post-show discussion *wave*

ampulets said...

In the middle of the play, I must admit I grew a little impatient with the plot and pace - unlike his earlier Peach Blossom Land which, despite how many times I've watched the movie, still managed to surprise. But just as I almost gave up, the play moved on to a new gear - and for me, that was when I thought it was brilliant that Stan Lai actually had something more to mine from the stories, that he had somehow kept the various layers alive and slightly in tension with each other, including the melodrama.

I had said once to someone, half-jokingly, that it was almost tiresome how S'porean plays seem to be directed at 1 absent audience - the PAP or "the government" or everything it represents. Hence, the angst, the shouting, the tendency towards political allegory as a predominant mode, the need to assert and sometimes, insult.

I can also think of some great work from S'pore groups that probably have the same potential to expand and travel like Stan Lai's plays - Furthest North, Deepest South for example... or KPK's Mama or LaoJiu. Practice's adaptation of Aesop was brilliant...

[heh, didn't see you - it was actually a crowded talk!]

. said...

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ampulets said...

Wah, of course! We are laying out our "goodbye time" book, but yes, let's meet over dinner :>

Anonymous said...

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l&g

ampulets said...

l&g - yah, but you are shameless! classic l&g design.

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