The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
A look at the Singapore arts scene, invigorated in recent years by new theaters and festivals
*The Association of Asian Performing Arts Festivals
This organization was established in June of 2004 for the purpose of promoting international cooperation in the field of performing arts festivals in the Asian region and establishing networks for cost sharing and joint communications. The establishing members include the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Jakarta International Arts Festival: JakArt, and today its official membership has expanded to 13 organizations including the Tokyo International Arts Festival.

*Singapore Dance Theatre
This dance company was established by the late Anthony Then and the present Artistic Director, Ms Goh Soo Khim. The company also has strong ties with the Asian contemporary dance scene, as exemplified by collaborations with artists such as Boi Sakti of Indonesia.

*Theater Works
This is a theater company led by the internationally active artistic director Ong Keng Sen. The company is actively involved in international collaborations developed from Ong’s artistic network. It is also involved in cross-genre projects with artists from the fine arts and film worlds, such as the “Flying Circus” that was performed at the Yokohama International Triennale of Contemporary Art in Japan.

*Projects with Akram Khan and Ea Sola
In connection with the 2004 Singapore Arts Festival, a 2-week residency was offered to the UK-based company of Akram Khan, which resulted in the creation of a new work titled Ma. This work was performed as the opening event of the festival, after which it toured to London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and New York. In 2006, the Vietnamese choreographer Ea Sola did a re-interpretation of the 1995 work Drought and Rain, which deals with the war-time memories of the elders of a village in northern Vietnam. The participation of the Vietnam National Ballet dancers gave this work a two-generation perspective.
Malaysian director and playwright, Huzir Sulaiman staged his Occupation at your 2002 Festival. It was a story about the lives of the people in Singapore during the Japanese occupation.
We had a number of productions with historical themes. Huzir’s is one example and others include Opiume, a piece of Chinese Opera about the Opium War by Checkpoint Theatre and Sandakan Threnody by Theatre Works, both from Singapore in our 2004 Festival. In the earlier years, we had one work about Sun Yat Sen, One Hundred Years in Waiting, by TNS and the late Kuo Pao Kun’s Theatre Practice.
There was an interesting piece about the identity issue. A collaboration between London-based Motiroti and New York-based The Builders Association titled Alladeen, was a story about a call centre in India. The operators there are trained to mimic Americans—the American customers call to ask questions about products and they believe they are calling somewhere in America, but actually it is India. It was about the crossing of identities and this particular piece was very interesting because of its innovative use of multimedia.
When I organize the festival, I seldom realize how interesting it actually is. Of course I know it’s interesting, but… I really don’t see how the programs are interconnected. Only after a few years do I realize how interesting the entire festival was!

It is interesting for me to see that recently the Festival has been becoming a space for the creation of new works rather than just inviting established works. For example, you offered the Akram Khan Company of UK a 2-week residency for the 2004 Festival to create a new piece.
Yes, and after Akram Khan, we had [a residency] for Wim Vandekeybus from Belgium. This year we have Ea Sola from Vietnam/France. We couldn’t make their performance during the Festival an international premier, but we commissioned her working with two generations of Vietnamese. We learned a lot from our neighbors and our counterparts. We have been able to create our own tools and practices based on what we have known and learned and eventually they became our policies.
After NAC was established, I think, there were more conscious efforts to implement all these policies. We can use certain events as a tool or an engine for paving the way for new developments. So, the festival is not just buying the shows and presenting them in turn. Rather, it is really a platform to try to deepen the audiences’ understanding of the arts, to keep abreast with what’s happening in the world and, very importantly, to develop our artists. Developing them by commissioning new works is important, but at the same time, bringing international shows in is also important to offer new ideas to our artists.
And then, it is also true that the festival can develop international links. I’m not sure I can claim this, but I think Singapore has always been very active in the region. In fact, that’s why I am chairing the Association of Asian Performing Arts Festivals, a new organization just set up.

In terms of new creation, international collaboration can be an important method. In this year’s Festival, two out of three theatre productions by the Singaporean companies are international collaborations. How do you find the possibilities for these collaborations?
When I took over the Festival in 2000, there had been several international collaborations already. For example, we commissioned Ong Keng Sen’s Desdemona, which he created with the Japanese playwright/director Rio Kishida. We also had commissioned a new work by Robert Wilson. Gradually, over the years, we built up certain relations with other international festivals such as Australian and Hong Kong festivals. And after that, we started even more international commissioning, like the Akram Khan project.
The idea was to originate works and reverse the flow. There was a one-way flow in the earlier times, which was just importing existing works by the artists. Now we want to give the artists the opportunity to broaden their horizons, and we also hope to do a kind of matchmaking with the regional artists and partners.

There was a very impressive collaboration between Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) and H. Art Chaos of Japan, which was presented in your 2003 Festival. H. Art Chaos was invited to the Festival for the first time in 2001 to perform their own piece and came back two years later. How did this project come about?
There were some shifts in the programming. In the 80s and 90s when arts were still growing, the festival was a very important tool for developing the audience. So, the program was more mixed for appealing to a broader range of audience.
But, by the time I took the [directorship] position in 2000, the arts scene had grown and there were many other players besides NAC. Many international events came to Singapore on their own. So, I thought the Festival needed to be something else, and that was the year we stepped into the new millennium and we wanted to create a festival for the future.
Therefore, we titled our 2000 Festival “New Inspiration.” In that year’s Festival, we introduced a lot of contemporary works and very clearly focused on Asian artists. Since then, more than 50% of our contents actually come from Singapore and other Asian countries. It is very clear that we want to develop new creation—first by our own artists. So, previously all the works by Singaporean artists were new commissions. But what I thought important for them was to work with regional artists. And to get other festivals to support them.
So, in the case of H. Art Chaos, we thought it was very important to develop the relationship with the artists. Previously, we had to keep bringing in the new things to stimulate the audience. But then, we thought it was time to follow up with particular artists and their works. Now we consciously invite foreign artists who can be possible collaborators in the future. Our audience can have the chance to get to know their work, and a few years later, we invite them again to work with local artists.
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