The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Speaking with the Director of Programming for the grand-scale arts and culture centre Esplanade, the symbol of Singapore's
I La Galigo
I La Galigo
Reminiscing the Moon
Reminiscing the Moon
Reminiscing the Moon
I would like to ask about your relationship with other countries and overseas organizations. At the moment, Singapore is almost the only country in Southeast Asia which has the capabilities to host international productions on a large scale. However, it is also true that we can see some developments in the neighboring countries recently. Do you see any possibilities to collaborate with your regional counterparts in the future?
Definitely. Actually, we have had an experience working in a project called “Little Asia Dance Exchange Network” before. It was a collaboration among small venues in the region, such as the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the Sydney Opera House Studio, SIDance of Korea and the Taipei Dance Forum. We produced a small studio production and they toured with this new work.
Another example was the big-scale collaboration on I La Galigo, which was directed by Robert Wilson and premiered in 2004. It was an international collaboration project, which was realized with support from Change Performing Arts of Milan and the Bali Purnati Center for the Arts. I La Galigo, which is based on an epic poem of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi, featured more than 50 performers and toured to the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Italy. We do collaborations both on the big-scale and small-scale. We are always looking for partners. Of course, several issues always matter, such as timing and budget and it should be a project that meets the expectations of the audience, too.

International collaboration seems to mean a lot for Esplanade. It was symbolic that the performance for the grand opening of the theatre in October 2002 was Reminiscing the Moon, a collaboration between Singapore Dance Theatre and the Indonesian choreographer, Boi Sakti.
Yes, it was a symbolic production because it was a kind of “official statement” on the identity of Esplanade. As a new arts centre in Southeast Asia, it was important for us to open the doors to the public with this kind of performance. It was an effective way to show who we are, where we are and what we are.
Singapore Dance Theatre is a contemporary dance company while Boi Sakti emphasises the traditional element. So, it meant everything for us – the region, our past and heritage, and at the same time, the contemporary situation.
During the Opening Festival in 2002, we had several other collaborations too. Singapore Repertory Theatre’s very successful musical, Forbidden City was a collaboration with the UK and in the field of music, and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra collaborated with a Chinese soprano. We are still keen on commissioning international collaborations.

Talking about the Opening Festival, the presence of Japanese artists was also significant. Gekidan Kaitaisha became the very first group to perform at the Theatre Studio, and a series of concerts titled AlterZone: A State of Mind featured Japanese artists in three productions out of six. How do you find the Japanese arts scene? And, how do you collect information about it?
In Asia, Japanese theatre has a longer history than that of most of other countries. I understand the arts in Japan are quite developed in every field – theatre, music and dance. We expect that we can get more from Japanese performing arts and will continue to look for good productions.
Regarding information collection, each of us in charge of programming has an area we are responsible for. We regularly let our staff members go out of the country to build our international network.

And Esplanade host the Asian Arts Mart for the fourth time this year (June 1-3, 2007). This is another of Esplanade’s initiatives in the networking area, isn’t it?
That’s right. In fact, this year’s Arts Mart was rather different from the previous ones. It was more focused on the artists. We created more opportunities for artists to get to know each other. We consider the artists to be delegates too, which is not very common in arts markets – usually only the presenters become the delegates and artists are there just for showcases.
In Asia, this new strategy should be useful. Most of our artists are emerging, developing and new. They can develop themselves by exchanging views and it will be mutually beneficial. We want the artists to have more interaction among themselves to watch each other’s works. This concept is something we are pioneering in the field of arts markets. Of course, we also want the presenters to know the artists and their works.

Asian Arts Mart is held during the period of this year’s Singapore Arts Festival. Esplanade hosts several Festival productions, but at the same time you have your own programs “in conjunction with Singapore Arts Festival” – Mechatoronica by Japan’s Maywa Denki is one of them. What is your relationship with the Festival?
We are an independent company with no direct relationship with the National Arts Council, which is the organiser of Singapore Arts Festival. So, in cases where Singapore Arts Festival uses our venues for their programs, the Council is considered primarily as a hirer. However, because both of us share the national goal of making Singapore a culturally vibrant city, the actual preparations are done through close consultation with the National Arts Council. That is why we produce shows in conjunction with the Festival to create a festive ambience at Esplanade which will enhance the general festival buzz in the city at that time. These shows will have a lighter and quirkier character, and most of them take place for free at our open areas such as the concourse and the forecourt with some choice presentations at our indoor spaces as well. This year we featured Japanese group Maywa Denki. We hope that with all the bustle of activity, people who come here will feel, “Oh, this is the month of the Arts Festival.”

It has been almost five years since the opening of Esplanade. What do you think has been your major achievement? And what do you expect in the future?
I think one of the biggest achievements is that we have helped to create an annual “arts calendar” in Singapore. Now people can expect specific kinds of arts events at specific times of the year. By introducing the “da:ns Festival,” an annual international dance festival last October, we completed a yearlong calendar of the arts. Thanks to this development, I believe we have been making strides in introducing the arts to quite a broad range of people who previously had not attended arts performances, and brought them to Esplanade. We have built a strong relationship with our local artists and the communities.
About the future… we are looking for many things. Although we have been working hard, we are still looking to develop further both the capabilities of artists and the sophistication of our programming. We hope especially to develop educational programs – programs for school children. You might have seen a lot of school children in Esplanade because one school visited us today. We have this kind of school visits regularly. However, there is still some room to enhance things further. For example, we can have more performances presented specifically for school children. It is very important, I think, to be familiar with theatre performances at the early age. With that kind of experience they can become regular theatergoers and supporters of the arts in the future.
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