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.
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.