Did you hear wailing about this year's festival programme being crammed with avant-garde work from unheard-of post-soviet states? Well, wail on.
Maybe it was with a knowing wink that this year's festival began with a Requiem. If you could imagine artistic insanity, it might well comprise an orchestra, a full choir, five vocal soloists, and two major ballet companies in swimwear. Also liberal silence, two divergent requiems and four black couches.
Yet all of it came together in impossible, dark genius. Choreographer Edward Clug harnesses the force of Mozart's requiem and migrates the conventions of beauty into a totalitarian state. Gradually, he strips all human comfort away: off with the skirts, the jackets, the couches. The fifty odd corps de ballet disrobing at dim centre stage formed a lump in my throat. They were just that reminiscent of preparation in a concentration camp. The dancers were transformed into a proletarian swimsuit parade, sweeping in mechanical ranks across the stage.
Out of such brutal uniformity, the ballet strives to remind you that in this cruel arena, we are still beautifully human. Such a soaring, exuberant Dies Irae. Lyric duets conceived in boxing rings for butterflies. Finally, the corps(es) struggle towards you to collapse in a plastic massacre. In the aftermath, a girl in white floats solemnly through, dispensing shining arcs of baptism water. Another dancer discovers her existence half-submerged in a fishtank.
Clug is well aware that his work is steeped in religious and political imagery, and insists that you must take away your own interpretation. But to explain its genesis, he admitted in the post-show dialogue that he wanted to turn the music around, create a requiem for the living, a purgatory, a rebirth. That this was his response to a childhood in Ceausescu's Romania, and his own realisation of a desperate need for freedom.
He found much resonance in Singapore. At curtain call, the audience were springing to their feet in applause. I guarantee you three theatres-full of Singaporeans can now identify Slovenia on the map.
-The Architecture of Silence by the Slovene National Theatres Opera & Ballet Maribor and Ljubljana/ Singapore Festival Orchestra (Slovenia/ Singapore) blew me away on 30 May 2008, The Esplanade Theatre