• Golden Horse winning actor Anthony Wong as the Fairy King in Cantonese production of
  • China's Haya Band immaculately fuses jazz and Pingtan. Photo courtesy of Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay
  • Taiwan's internationally acclaimed playwright and director restages his most popular work

The rooster catches fire

ASEAN+ January 30, 2017 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation

3,208 Viewed

The Esplanade rings in the Chinese New Year with performing arts

We don't know yet how President Donald Trump will deal with China, but we do know that China is a force to be reckoned with. That’s not only from an economic and manufacturing point of view – Chinese mobile phones take much better selfies than the American and Korean ones – but also in terms of performing arts. Foreign stage works, like films, are trying to break into the world’s largest market and at the same time Chinese works today have a strong presence at festivals worldwide. 

That increasing dominance is confirmed by Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay producer Delvin Lee. 

“Over the last 14 editions of ‘Huayi—Chinese Festival of Arts’, one development we’ve seen is the increasing collaborations between artists not only from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Singapore, but also beyond. Part of this is simply the result of the ease of travel and communications. There have also been more arts centres and festivals in the wider Asian region, in line with economic growth and urban rejuvenation for some; and in Mainland China alone, there are now concert halls and theatres in almost every city, big or small. So there has been a growth in opportunities to tour, exchange ideas and collaborate. With greater confidence, artists in the region are also able to venture out, challenge traditions, and add to the diversity of programmes.

As an example, Lee points to the “Pingtan x Jazz” concert by China Music House being staged next Wednesday, and this Saturday’s “Migration–A World Music Concert” by Haya Band. 

The former, he adds, “essentially comprises outstanding jazz musicians from China, who are obviously influenced by jazz music and have created a unique fusion of jazz music and the centuries-old art form of ‘Pingtan’ (a traditional Chinese storytelling form often found in teahouses). The result is a very edgy and contemporary sound that retains the authenticity of both art forms—jazz and Pingtan.

“Haya Band draws on a range of Mongolian traditional instruments and musical techniques such as throat singing, the Mongolian horsehead fiddle, and shaman drums, and blends its music with modern elements. And, interestingly, they term their music ‘world music’ as opposed to ‘Mongolian music’ or ‘Chinese Music’. That shows how the worldview of artists in China has also evolved.”

As the curator for “Huayi”, Lee tries to balance imported works and local ones. “One tenet of programming for the festival has also been to allow audiences to experience works that they may not normally see in the Singapore arts calendar,” he explains.

“These include large-scale productions usually from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” he says, citing Cloud Gate 2’s ‘Triple Bill’ next Tuesday and Wednesday and Performance Workshop’s highly anticipated 30th anniversary edition of ‘Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land’ next weekend as well as Dionysus Contemporary Theatre’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ this weekend.

“At the same time, Esplanade has always believed in working with, and helping to develop Singapore artists. Naturally, there will always be local |productions of various genres presented in Huayi, whether through commissioning or collaborating with our partners to produce new work. For example, we’ve been collaborating with Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) to co-produce new programmes at ‘Huayi’ every year since 2003 which has allowed the SCO and Maestro Yeh Tsung to try out new ideas while showcasing the creativity and capabilities of the SCO to a wider audience.”

SCO’s ‘Wuxia–Theme Songs from Martial Arts Movies and Serials’ is next Saturday. Other commissioned local highlights include a rework of anti-play classic “Offending the Audience” by the latest recipient of National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award Liu Xiaoyi next weekend and 30-year-old theatre company The Necessary Stage's “Actor, Forty”. This new work by SEA Write laureate playwright Haresh Sharma and Cultural Medallion director Alvin Tan features Golden Horse Award-Winner Yeo Yann Yann.    “With Esplanade’s support, these Singaporean artists are able to take their artistic practice further and are given the space to focus on creating the work. This means that the local Chinese arts scene will continue to grow in diversity, as artists become more aware of the type of work that they want to create.”


 - “Huayi-Chinese Festival of Arts 2017” is from Friday to February 12 at the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay in Singapore. 

- A lot of free admission programmes can be enjoyed at various corners.

- For ticketed ones, book online at www.Sistic.com.sg. 

- For more details, www.HuayiFestival.com.


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