Monday, 23 May 2011

I want more people to remember - Singapore Arts Festival 2011

The Arts Fest has just begun, but already I feel like I've been running a marathon. Back to back with the Singapore Biennale, overlapping with the World Dance Alliance's free dance events of Singapore Dance Week, and the Esplanade programming of the Hungry Stones smack in the middle of the Arts Fest programme. It's a crazy amount of art to take in (and give out)!

Sadly, I've had to give away half my tickets because of my production schedule, so I'm counting on friends and blogs to tell me about the rest of the shows. I also don't have the time to churn out full length reflections on everything, so am giving the arts fest blog a miss. I will however be posting snippets here on what I've seen.

Apart from my rant about the festival website, my overall feeling is that the arts fest programming is quite interesting this year. The theme is simple but has the personal, sociological and conceptual dimensions. I have been surprised at the number of non-artist friends who have actually noticed the festival theme this year, and told me that they like it very much. There's a good mix of accessible and experimental work this year, which I am enjoying, and if I had more time I would definitely have caught the selection of free programming and public-friendly work. Choir Karaoke and Filem Filem look brilliant! The outdoor festival village has a nice energy to it after the post-show crowds start coming in at 103opm, although I am disturbed that the main feature of the village seems to be the Shiraz bar and kebab stand, and that from the exterior, the outdoor theatre has the feeling of a fortress against the un-ticketed.

So what happened to the ticket sales? It is painful to go to the dance performances and see the Esplanade Theatre and even the smaller Drama Centre at 50% house, when the performances have been excellent. I can imagine how tough it must be for the performers to look out into rows of empty seats, even if the other half of the house is moved to a standing ovation. On the other hand, what I hear from the music and theatre programming (that I had to give away my tickets to, bleah) though, is that the houses are doing just fine.

I actually like the concept of this year's dance programming - tributes to three dance greats Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham and Kazuo Ohno - and thought it would work well with audiences by banking on the names of the inspirations while bringing audiences to new work. This as opposed to the blockbuster-type programming we had last year with Sylvie Guillem and Cloud Gate. But it wasn't to be. It can't help that right now there is an esplanade publicity bombardment for the Nederlands Dans Theatre and the Mariinsky Ballet in the next few months, which aren't part of the arts festival (or dans festival, for that matter). I suppose that a large part of the Singapore audience, both local and expat, have yet to mature from the celebrity recognition phase. It's like visiting Paris so that you can show off your photos of the Eiffel Tower - and whether you liked Paris doesn't have to matter very much - but the Belgian or Cambodian experimental interpretation of the tower isn't going to interest you very much. And god forbid that you have a Korean superstar concert to compete with at the same time... my mum would have taken over my ticket for the Living Dance Studio from Beijing, but she was watching Rain. Of course.

A part of me hearkens a little to the sleepy arts scene of the 1990s, when it was possible to see pretty much everything in town, of all artistic disciplines. I love that we have such vibrancy today and a much larger audience base overall, but it really feels like all the events are cannibalising each another.

I sincerely hope the dance film component is doing better. I shall see next week!

On a tangent about Pina Bausch memorials. I enjoyed Ballets C de la B's Out of Context very much (snippet on the way), but I did wonder why we couldn't have gotten Pina's own Tanzteater Wuppertal, which is currently on its memorial tour around the world. I saw them in Hong Kong in March, and realised what a waste it is that the dance audiences of Singapore have never seen them here. Not when she was alive and the company visited Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2008, either.

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