Day 9: Continuing the Conversation

posted 15 May 2018, 02:47 by Unknown user   [ updated 17 May 2018, 23:45 ]

The Points of View 2018 cohort!

Day 9 Activities:

- POV Public Forum

- SIFA Performance: Nico Muhly Speaks Volume

All good things must come to an end. The participants of Points of View 2018 came together for the final day of the programme on 12 May, where they shared their experience and presented their findings in a forum that was also attended by members of the public.

In the opening address, Lim How Ngean began by giving an introduction to how the Asian Dramaturgs’ Network (ADN) and POV came about, and Jobina Tan, the head of programming at The Arts House, followed by framing the POV programme within the wider context of what SIFA 2018 hoped to do: to complement the performances with discourse.

Charlene Rajendran then briefly described how the programme was structured and facilitated, before handing the floor over to five POV group representatives - Irfan Kasban, Loh Anlin, Tan Liting, Shanice Nicole Stanislaus, and Desmond Soh - who outlined some of the topics that they had been discussing with their fellow participants in the last two days. These ranged from the notion of the festival and the programme as a place to gather and talk, to the question of what it means to be a performance writer and maker in Singapore today.

The public was then invited to join any of the five groups to further the conversation, which carried on in various spaces around Festival House. Below are the accounts of what each group discussed during the 30 short minutes that they had together with their new friends, written by the five representatives:

Group 1: Presented by Irfan Kasban

Irfan Kasban's group shared their POV journey with members of the public.

"Our group focused on the idea of a festival being a place of ‘gathering’ – having a shared experience in a specific space and time. We started with introductions and the shows that we caught or resonated with in SIFA, never limiting the conversation to just the POV programme as we wanted to demonstrate how our dialogues occurred in the last nine days, instead of describing them.

"The ‘public participants’ were naturally curious and guided the conversation to whether SIFA has succeeded in living up to its namesake. From then on there were no clear distinctions between POV and public participants, as we allowed the conversation to organically unfold, chiming in to shed our perspectives.

"Looking at the festival director’s promise of ‘there is something for everyone’, points of discussion include ticket prices, regional work, theatre size/venue, content, curation, and supplementary programmes (i.e. dialogues with artist), amongst many other terms of engagement. During the conversation we briefly also mentioned how difficult it is for a curator to be neutral or impartial in selecting works, as individual taste comes to play. Taste which is guided by experience, prejudices, and instincts, differs from one individual to the next.

"The conversation ended with an awareness – of how a work(/festival) is perceived in a myriad of ways, which is essentially reliant on many factors including our own biases, and terms of engagement. We closed the forum by thanking everyone for being part of the gathering."

Group members: Akanksha Raja, Casidhe Ng, Dominic Nah, Gabbi Wenyi Ayane, Lakshmana KP, and Valerie Lim

Group 2: Presented by Loh Anlin

Loh Anlin's group discussed the positioning of local versus international works in different contexts.

“The greatest gift we’ve received in the last two days of POV was to have an open space to discuss the controversial, the awkward, and the personal with our fellow participants, all in good faith and with utmost generosity.

“With merely 30 minutes to create that same environment with our new team members in the public forum, we decided to jump straight into the deep end. One group member began by sharing how she felt there was an uncomfortable hierarchy and stratification of the local versus the international here in Singapore. It was a difficult subject to be thrown into. Nonetheless, both our team and our guests managed to share, in good faith, our genuine perceptions. We discussed how Singaporean works tend to be presented overseas versus within a local frame, and, conversely, how international works are sometimes brought into Singapore to represent only a part of their country or city of origin. Some of our guests then gave us some insight into the kinds of decisions, including budgeting, that go into programming a festival, and how those decisions may affect how the works are perceived.

“By the end of the 30 minutes, we were left with a better understanding of each other and a desire to continue the conversation, because that free exchange of ideas really only just started.”

Group members: Chong Gua Khee, Ethan Chia, Iwani Zoe Mawocha, Lim Si Qi, and Shristy Das Roy

Group 3: Presented by Tan Liting

Tan Liting's group talked about how to form a diverse, inclusive community within the arts.

“In reflecting the past nine days of POV, my group talked about the community that it had built up. The programme allowed for more personal and practical discussion, and also encouraged time for listening. This led to more clarity of thought, which then led to a more nuanced understanding of other points of view outside of our own, ranging from the academic to our personal experience. It gave us a better understanding of the surrounding structures in performance, and has allowed my group members to consider these circumstances both in making and writing about performance.

“This in turn led to a discussion about action. We asked ourselves about the structures that allowed us all to gather to have these conversation, and we were concerned with whose voices were missing in our little echo chamber. What actions could we take to reach out and invite other points of view? So the questions we wanted to ask at the forum were these: How do we create safe spaces for people who are keen to speak and keen to learn? And how do we encourage a conversation that takes into account diverse points of view, and allows for an unpacking of the larger issues at hand?

“The group discussion did not come to a conclusion given the time frame, but one thing that was clear is the need to give ourselves and each other time and space. This is not merely in the physical sense, but also in terms of creating room for overcoming language and cultural barriers and having the patience to negotiate these structures. That forms the ‘contract’ of having conversation, which will eventually pave the way for more voices to be heard.”

Group members: Amanda Leong, Alfonse Chiu, Nathaniel Tan, Pooja Mohanraj, and Victoria Chen

Group 4: Presented by Shanice Nicole Stanislaus

Shanice Nicole Stanislaus's group discussed why they do what they do as artists.

“We shared how the POV programme and our critical dialogues have made us think more precisely about why we as practitioners make work, and question why we do what we do in terms of engaging with art. We got to discover for ourselves the kind stories we want to tell, and the choices we want to make on how we want to tell those stories. Through these dialogues, the artists we met have reaffirmed the answers to those questions through the sharings of their own experiences and philosophies.

“Community was an important aspect of our discoveries in terms of locating ourselves within the artistic ecosystem in Singapore. It was heartening to learn from the group discussions how each individual benefitted from having a community to work alongside, in order to inspire their own work. We also discussed what kind of industry we want to create and what our responsibilities are as practitioners. Most of the individuals shared what a festival meant to us, and how we can better engage with festivals as well.”

Group members: Jaclyn Chong, Ng Sze Min, Sabrina Sng, Teo Xiao Ting, Zac Denver Lee

Group 5: Presented by Desmond Soh

Desmond Soh's group considered how to develop a voice for both artists and festivals.

“With the various topical reflections on the POV programme, one key idea that had emerged was the development of a voice. We drew particular attention to the difference between an opinion and a voice, and how the POV programme provided conditions that allowed this development to happen. A sense of openness, coupled with the rigour and faith contributed by the participants, sharpened the thinking and questioning processes without reducing the diversities of thought. The back-to-back nature of the SIFA performance schedule augmented the depth of issues discussed, although there were also talks of how breathing spaces could have helped the experience, to prevent fatigue from settling in.

“Questions of ownership, sustainability, and the continued search for a voice were raised in the group discussion with public members, by looking at SIFA through a broader lens. We explored and considered the ways that SIFA can develop as a festival in itself, not just by curatorial choices but by curatorial processes. For instance, there were questions related to the power and limitations of a single artistic director. Further explored were questions of how SIFA stands in a larger landscape in the world. The notion of ‘cultural diplomacy’ as a function of festivals was brought up by a member of the public, which we then considered alongside issues of accessibility and cultural development. Perhaps, SIFA as a national-level festival has and will continue to deal with considerations that are very pronounced, which we link back to the earlier idea of a ‘voice’. Relational, ever-challenged and influenced, the ‘voice’ of both the artists and the festival can hopefully be developed through continued dialogue.”

Group members: Cara Ann Lee, Chia Xin Ying, Ke Weiliang, and Shannen Tan

POV's co-facilitators Charlene Rajendran and Lim How Ngean addressed participants and members of the public in the POV Public Forum.

At the end of the 30 minutes, everyone congregated back in the Festival House Living Room for one last time to share their final thoughts. The closing address was first delivered by Centre 42’s company manager, Ma Yanling, who shared upcoming events and platforms that both Centre 42 and other communities in our ecosystem are involved in, for participants to continue their artistic development and dialogue. Jobina Tan then concluded the session by saying that: “We can leave [this room] knowing that there’s more to look forward to, that the conversation should never stop, and we should always connect and listen to each other.”

After the Public Forum, the POV participants then headed to SOTA Drama Theatre to watch Nico Muhly Speaks Volumes, a concert by the American contemporary classical composer.

The performance marked the end of this year’s SIFA, and also the end of POV 2018. But even though it’s farewell for now, we’re heartened to see that a community has been built here over the last nine days. We hope that this is only the beginning, and that the dialogue will continue from here for our performance writers, makers, and everyone else within the arts ecosystem.

UPDATE (15 MAY 2018, 7.05PM): Minor corrections.

UPDATE (18 MAY 2018, 2.45PM): Summary of Group 1's discussions.

POV Days 7 & 8: Their Points of View

posted 11 May 2018, 21:45 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 11 May 2018, 23:57 ]

POV Group Seminar
A light moment during the group seminar.
Day 7 Activities:
- Group Seminar
- Dialogue with Tobias Veit 
- Dinner party

Day 8 Activities:
- Group Seminar/Closing Dialogues
- In Conversation with Thomas Ostermeier
- SIFA Performance: An Enemy of the People

After almost one week on their two separate tracks, it was time for the 30 young performance writers and makers to congregate and consolidate their shared experiences in the Points of View (POV) programme and Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), and to distill and reflect on the lessons they had learnt along the way.

More importantly, the group seminar was an opportunity for the participants to exercise a criticality that had been honed over the past six days, as well as a generosity to consider multiple perspectives on the same issue.

In the Centre 42 Black Box, the POV participants were first tasked to discuss, in smaller breakout groups, the SIFA performances that had watched in terms of performance and programming.

Reconvening, the groups shared their discussion points, which largely fall into two main areas of concern – about what makes a ‘good’ work and how a work is framed.

POV Group Seminar
"Welcome back to the Big Circle," facilitator Charlene Rajendran said.

Markers of a Good Performance

With the many SIFA shows the participants had watched, the first area of concern for them was what constituted a ‘good’ performance.

Casidhe Ng’s group, in comparing TAHA with 1984, wondered whether it was about the connection between the stage and spectator. Ng shared, “TAHA is a stripped down, a one-man monologue. The simplicity of the performance seemed in opposition to a work like 1984 that just seemed to have a lot of unnecessary elements that were somewhat distancing, as opposed to going back to the relationship between the theatrical and the performer.”

Likewise, Sabrina Ng’s group talked about the two dance performances they had seen – OCD Love and The Blues Project – and how the latter was more accessible than the former. She said, “They’re both dance performances. How different were the responses? For OCD Love, [we] came out and said, “I don’t know how to see this. I’m not a dance person.” Versus The Blues Project when [we] went, “That made me feel great – I was so energetic and happy!”

Desmond Soh reported that his group had touched on leaving room for audience interpretation. They had discussed 0600, specifically their dissatisfaction with how the work had handled the topic of capital punishment: "If you come across a performance that is very heavy-handed in its message to you, what do you do about it? Maybe it allows for very little interpretation of things. Maybe you feel like you're not allowed to interpret the artwork. That's a very tricky part for the audience. And for, obviously, the performance maker."

For Tan Liting and her group, these discussion points raised concerns in creating work: “The larger question we started thinking about was – is there a set of rules or basics of performance that we all adhere too? For example, is there something about tempo that we expect? Do we expect the tempo to constantly change to keep us engaged? Is there a set of checkboxes you can tick?

Facilitator Lim How Ngean cautioned the participants about having set guidelines for making performances: “There is always that danger that when you tick boxes then it becomes this standard, this quantitative standard. But here the checking of boxes then relies actually on a very qualitative way of dealing with it.”

Framing Performances

The POV participants also considered how the categorisation of a performance can affect audience experience, especially how the audience make come to understand and view the work. Over the six days, they had been exposed to a wide range of performances with labels like “music, “dance”, “site-specific” and so on.

Sharing on behalf of his group, Desmond Soh said, “When we say it's a dance piece or a theatre piece or a site-specific piece, all these classifications will inform the audiences in some way – which is not a bad thing. But the question comes in when we are only limited to a certain reading before the performance even starts.”

A performance cited  to illustrate how labelling a work might affect how it is experienced was Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Within the SIFA programmes, the work had been listed under the category “Music”. However, Parable was adapted from a novel, implying a strong narrative element, and, as the participants pointed out, the word “parable” in the title suggested some sort of storytelling.

But in the participant’s dialogue with director Eric Ting, Ting shared that Parable had previously existed as a concert of songs. Its next incarnation was in its current form, intended to be an opera.

The participants felt the narrative and theatrical elements of Parable were unsatisfying, and overshadowed by the music. But they were also wary of these many labels used to try and label the work, described in the SIFA programme as “genre-defying”.

Soh concluded with a learning point: “How do you try to articulate what is your form or your art to other people? Because when you guide the audience with a label, you're also limiting the interpretation of the work."

How a performance is framed then begged the question – who is responsible for it?

Ethan Chia said, “This question of responsibility – it goes up. Not just to performance makers, but also programmers and festival director, for the audience as a whole and how they receive that work. Why do you we need something to be labelled?  Do we need to consider what it is that [performance makers] need, and then what it is that the audience needs to meet us somewhere in the middle?”

Summing up this thread of discussion, facilitator Lim How Ngean shared what late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun used to say to his performers backstage before a show opened: “We are giving a gift to the audience. What kind of gift do you want to present to your audience?”

Sharing his observation of the discussions, Irfan Kasban said, “Everyone had a different production they wanted to talk about... that was the beauty of the conversation we had, that we all had different leanings and that’s okay.”

The group seminar was followed immediately by a dialogue with Executive Producer Tobias Viet from Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre company. Schaubühne would be presenting their adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which the POV participants would attend the next day.

[To find out what happened during the dialogue session, as well as a second session with Enemy of the People director Thomas Ostermeir the next day, check out our An Enemy of the People blog coverage here.]

The POV participants then adjourned to the Centre 42 Courtyard for a night of food, drinks and rich conversation.

Dinner party in Centre 42
The courtyard party at Centre 42.

The group seminar picked up again the next day at the Festival House Living Room. This time round,  the breakout groups were to draw the lens further back and discuss their concerns as performance makers and writers about SIFA as a national festival with an international lineup, as well as the purpose of festivals at large.

East vs. West

At the large group sharing later that afternoon, Iwani Zoe Mawochi led the charge.

“[SIFA] doesn’t feel like an international festival, it feels like a Western festival,” Mawochi claimed. “Where’s South America? Where’s Africa? Where’s the rest of Asia represented in the works here?”

Continuing, she said, “Western as equivalent as high-brow is another problem I have with... We treat [these Western shows] with such reverence and deference that, by implication, everyone Singaporean is beneath that in standard... There are so many talented people here, but it's almost like ‘Western’ is the highest level of attainment.”

“This festival seems like a way for Singaporeans to just consume Western content, versus a festival in which international people would come here and get to see Singaporean things at the forefront.”  

Alfonse Chiu echoed Mawochi’s sentiments: “There is this pervasive sense of cultural insecurity. And the fact that there are these social, economic, political considerations that go into, not just programming, but also the deliberate choice to consume certain works.”

“A lot of this is shaped by a distinct label politics, because Singapore is pretty much Anglophonic. There are certain subscriptions to certain models and certain understandings of what a ‘mainstream’ should constitute.”

0600 was brought up again, because it was  one of the two Singaporean works the POV participants had seen during the programme, and also because they thought the new work fared poorly next to its international counterparts in the SIFA lineup. 

Victoria Chen said, “To see a Singapore work at that standard, and then the other international works programmed at that standard, it leaves an impression on what it means to have a ‘Singapore’ work and an ‘international’ work.”

The discussion then segued into what constituted a ‘Singaporean’ work.

Irfan Kasban offered an alternative view: “I think as Singaporeans we need to get over that – are we Singaporean enough? It’s hindering us because we are from Singapore. And I don’t see the need to differentiate between ‘international’ and 'Singapore', a global city.”

POV Group Seminar
The POV participants putting together their final thoughts in the programme.

Facilitator Charlene Rajendran, while recognising the criticality of the participants’ perspectives, also had to contextualise their view of an east-west, local-international divide in history, and the regional and the international landscape.

“This is not a new frustration,” Rajendran said. “This is a frustration that’s more frustrating because it’s not a new frustration. But there are certain power structures in place to keep a certain kind of mainstream in place... And this is not just local to Singapore. This is a hang-up in many parts of Asia.”

“These are struggles that don’t just emerge from one year, certainly not one person, one committee, or one organisation. These are frustrations that involve all kinds of re-thinking, to be become even aware of what we’re imbibing. Sometimes, you aren’t even aware this is what’s happening to me because it’s so overwhelmingly easy.”

Rajendran advised the participants to not just maintain a critical lens on their work and the context in which it is made, but also to learn as much as they could about what else was happening in the region and around the world.

 “Make the effort to then inform yourself about what else is going on,” she concluded.

POV concludes on Day 9 with a public forum with presentations by the participants.


POV Days 7 & 8: A Company of the People

posted 11 May 2018, 16:41 by Unknown user   [ updated 11 May 2018, 23:19 ]

The Schaubühne's production of An Enemy of the People made its Southeast Asian debut at SIFA 2018.

Day 7 Activities:

- Group Seminar

- Dialogue with Tobias Veit

- Dinner party

Day 8 Activities:

- Group Seminar/Closing Dialogues

- In Conversation with Thomas Ostermeier

- SIFA Performance: An Enemy of the People

[This blog post only covers the dialogues with Tobias Veit and Thomas Ostermeier from the Schaubühne, as well as the company's production of An Enemy of the People; all activities were attended by both Performance Writers (P/W) and Makers (P/M). Find out about the discussions that took place at the group seminars and closing dialogues over the last two days from this blog post.]

Tobias Veit was chatting with the POV participants in an exclusive dialogue session at the Centre 42 Black Box yesterday (10 May 2018), and frankly, the numbers that he was casually listing out were hard to visualise. Veit is the executive director of the 56-year-old Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz theatre in Berlin, Germany, and he was telling us that that his company stages about 500 shows in its theatre space, and another 100 shows internationally, each year. That includes a contemporary, edgy adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which debuted in France in 2012 and opened in Singapore today.

We soon found out that those kinds of stats were only possible because almost every aspect of the Schaubühne’s theatre production is done in-house - it hires 240 staff members, including 35 full-time actors who form an ensemble and star in all of its shows. Some of them have been with the company since 1999, when Thomas Ostermeier took over from Peter Stein as the prestigious company’s artistic director.

“Having this structure enables [us] to work on a continuous basis with certain actors, and [we] can develop a certain language, because we don’t have to begin from zero [like] when you have a different cast,” Veit explains.

It quickly became apparent that the Schaubühne’s top priority is its people, and Veit told us that they would constantly check in with their artists to ensure that their views are heard and discussed. When the POV participants heard from Ostermeier at a public SIFA talk before the show today, he reiterated the importance of building the right team and the right culture at the company. And while his primary concern as a director is for the actors to improve their skills, it is also important for everyone to have fun.

“When we were rehearsing here yesterday, instead of talking about the water (a contentious issue in An Enemy of the People), the actors were improvising on stage, [making fun] of the new haircut of the main character,” he recalled with a grin. “Sometimes you have to be precise and nuanced [in rehearsals], but it is sometimes good to give back the freedom to the actors and also challenge them to be fast to react.”

The POV participants heard from Thomas Ostermeier, the artistic director of Schaubühne, at a SIFA artist talk.

The Schaubühne’s ethos of putting its people first extends to how Ostermeier, Veit, and their team create shows that are first and foremost for their community. Despite the fact that so many of their productions tour all over the world - Ostermeier said that Singapore is the 39th country they have brought An Enemy of the People to - the starting point for their work is always local.

“A lot of people believe that I am a global theatre-maker, which I would always deny,” said Ostermeier. “I am 100% a local theatre-maker, which means I’m trying to talk about issues which I [know about]. I am part of the bourgeoisie guys that you’ll see on stage [at An Enemy of the People].”

Veit had expressed similar sentiments on the importance of creating work based on the "local". “If you want to tell a story, the best [thing] you could talk about is yourself - your surroundings, your city, your society, your country,” he said. “But if you tell a good story, a story that matters to you, it often happens that this story relates to an audience in other countries as well. Maybe [even exactly] because it’s so local.”

The POV participants had found these talks enlightening, as Veit and Ostermeier both gave valuable insight into how a theatre company - especially one that is so large in scale - can be structured and run in Germany.

“I found it very helpful to hear Tobias’ description of how the Schaubühne worked - its structures and processes, the way they tour, the way they make work, and that sense of responsibility to his larger team. That was very, very illuminating and humbling to hear from a producer's perspective,” said Loh An Lin (P/W), who is also a young independent producer herself.

"[The talk with Tobias] was for me the most informative talk so far. His company embodies the type of multilevel/interdisciplinary style of theatre that reminds me of the efficiency and rigour of the Hollywood system, where studios can churn out work because they are fully set on infrastructure," said Nathanial Tan (P/M). "That's wonderful, but I don't think Singapore will have that for now, since we lack.... the audience? The government? The resources? The care? Regardless, it reminded me of the necessity to consider the economics behind the work as performance makers, and the awesome potential of having a theatre company run like a giant conglomerate hiring hundreds of people. That is the dream."

“[Ostermeier] talked about ‘essence’ and ‘spirit’ a few times during the talk, which are abstract terms, but it says a lot about the trusting relationship the team (and even their society) has in each other to allow growth in their craft and carrying out the responsibility to tell meaningful stories to the audience,” shared Lim Si Qi (P/W).

“[The talks] gave me an insight into the cultural landscape in Germany and the rich infrastructure supporting the theatre ecology there,” added Akanksha Raja (P/W). “It was interesting to me how they have a set number of shows with long runs - in Singapore there's a huge pressure to keep producing new work with runs as brief as one weekend, to three weeks at the most. The histories and contexts of Singapore and Germany are vastly different of course, but there's a lot we can learn from each other.”

The POV participants also heard a different perspective of how a theatre company can be run from Tobias Veit, the Schaubühne's executive director.

After hearing so much about the Schaubühne, the POV participants finally watched An Enemy of the People at the Esplanade Theatre tonight. Their responses to the show are mixed.

"I think Billing [the character played by Moritz Gottwald in the production] was 100% gimmick and it felt like he was aware of that. I like that he took it an ran with it. He was the most alive out of everyone on stage. Well, him and the dog - who really didn't need to be there," quipped Irfan Kasban (P/M). "The problem is this gimmick or farce did not pan well in the context of the play. All the other characters felt undecided, and so it did not work. I also had a problem with the surtitles [and its] timing. And all the actors had the same register so the first half was confusing on top of being too draggy."

“I was extra stoked to watch An Enemy of the People after listening to Tobias’ humanistic description of Schaubühne’s internal working processes the day before. The play did not disappoint,” said Ke Weiliang (P/W). “On the one hand, it was empowering to see audience members actively reacting to Dr. Stockmann’s speech, especially given the sense of propriety that is typically associated with with the Esplanade Theatre. On the other hand, I was touched by the amount of trust that Thomas Ostermeier placed in his cast members to improvise that entire scene according to the audience’s reactions. I hope this will not be the last time that I get to watch a Schaubühne play!”

Shannen Tan (P/M), meanwhile, felt that she learnt more about her own country from the participatory segment. "This performance helped me clarify what “Singaporeaness” is - it is the guy downstairs just wanting to talk about the water."

UPDATE (12 MAY 2018, 2.20PM): Minor corrections, and more participant responses to An Enemy of the People were added.

P/M Day 6: The Art of Relationships

posted 9 May 2018, 15:08 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 9 May 2018, 19:36 ]

The Performance Making group after the last P/M workshop.

- P/W Workshop with Corrie Tan
- P/M Workshop 3
- SIFA Performances: The Blues Project / 0600

An art maker and an art critic are often caricaturised as mortal enemies, an adversarial relationship in which the former creates work and the latter seeks to tear it apart.

But in today’s performance writing workshop conducted by arts writer Corrie Tan, an actor met her critic. And the moment was beautiful.

A few participants from the Performance Making (P/M) track decided to drop in on their Performance Writing (P/W) counterparts in the workshop; Shannen Tan was one of them. In a discussion of whether performance makers actually used feedback in a review, Shannen revealed that one of the P/W participants, Casidhe Ng, had reviewed her performance in the lead role of a campus production of Furthest North Deepest South in 2015.

“[National University of Singapore] is not an actors’ school and I wanted to be an actor,” Tan said. “I was like, oh my god, I think this will help me decide if I want to make it in the theatre industry as an actor, because I don’t know if I can make it.”

“And then, Casidhe wrote my first review.”

Ng was reviewing the production for Centre 42’s Citizens’ Reviews programme. The two had never met before.

Corrie Tan Writing Clinic
A more somber moment during Corrie Tan's writing workshop.

Tan continued, “He wrote this little snippet of me... and it brought me so much joy. I didn’t say I was an actor, [but] he called me an actor!”

“And he compared me to [the actor] Fanny Kee and I was like –” She gave a yelp of joy and the room burst into laughter and cheers.

Ng told his side of the story: “I was in my final year and I was doing a paper on The Finger Players.” The Finger Players is the theatre company that had created and produced Furthest North Deepest South in 2004.

“I saw a recording of [the 2004 production] and tied it to Shannen’s performance.”

“That’s even better!” Tan exclaimed. “He knew what he was talking about!”

“I think this interaction has just pointed out a symbiotic relationship where an actor is feeling legitimated by a critic, and then the critic is also legitimated by the actor,” facilitator Corrie Tan summed up. (To find out what else happened during the workshop, see the P/W blogcoverage of Day 6.)

Later that day, the P/M participants met in a workshop to examine their relationship with something more abstract – space.

In a warm-up activity, facilitator Charlene Rajendran had the group on their feet in a circle. The task was for one person to walk up to another person in the circle, with hands cupped together, and offer that person a word. That person would then locate another person and pass on another word, and so on and so forth.

Warm-up activity at the Performance Making workshop.

Rajendran changed up the rules for subsequent rounds. First, she allowed the group to use only words associated with a space they would visit to rejuvenate themselves. Words then became statements to complete, statements about their relationship to the city, for example, “My city is...”

Thoroughly primed to think about space, the group then embarked on four rounds of intense discussion, interrogating performances spaces and Singapore as both performance makers and audience members. Grounding the session was the concept of the city – as explored in Carol Martin’s article titled Performing the City – as a simultaneously material and imagined space, influencing the creation and consumption of performances, and shaping audience behaviour.

The performance maker’s relationship with the audience emerged as one significant discussion thread, among many, for the young performance makers. “How much responsibility do we want to give to audiences, not in co-creation of the work, but in bringing a presence that is rich [to the performance]?” Rajendran prodded. Below are a few selected responses:

“There needs to be more audience competence for theatre,” Nathaniel Tan responded. “But with that, what is the onus of the theatre maker to create art that caters to different levels of the competence?”

Tan Liting said, “At least for myself, I want to go [into a show] with a curiosity. And I hope my audience has that curiosity too. Is it our responsibility as performance makers to create that curiosity? I don’t know...  It’s difficult to expect things of audiences, but I think the bare minimum would be some interest or curiosity.”

“What are the rules? Who are the rules for? Is it for audiences? Or to protect the performers?” Chia Xin Ying questioned.

Iwani Zoe Mawochi said, “Sometimes I feel we’re so reverent to the work that we create or the work of others that we place these chokeholds, that respect is tantamount to a good performance. I don’t think that’s necessarily normal.”

“Are we confusing or conflating the idea of respect from the audience with obedience and compliance from the audience?” Victoria Chen said.

The end of the 3-hour workshop marked the last time the P/M group would meet on their own, for the final three days of the Points of View journey would be undertaken together with the P/W participants.

To sum up the vast array of ideas and experiences the P/M participants had been through together over the past six days, Rajendran said: “Being in touch with different points of view, no matter how different or similar, hopefully makes us aware of the different points of view inside us. That there is that questioning, that there is that capacity to disagree with ourselves, and to not be too worried about it.”

Over the past two evenings, the P/M group watched the site-specific production 0600 at the National Gallery, and American music and tap-dance performance The Blues Project at Victoria Theatre. The POV participants will further discuss the former work in an upcoming seminar, but here are some initial thoughts from a few of the participants about both productions:

Irfan Kasban on 0600: “I think the romanticising of 'site-specificity' needs to be reevaluated. The work was at most 'site-inspired' or 'site-reliant' as specificity entails acknowledging the current site, not what it used to be.

Gabbi Wenyi Ayane on 0600: “I felt it hard to empathise with most of the characters because their monologues lacked nuance, or because they weren’t telling me things I didn’t already know. I felt like as a piece of theatre, its job wasn’t to give me facts (I can Google what!) but to help me empathise with both sides of the argument and I thought the piece failed in that respect. I didn’t need to be given statistics, I needed to hear the humanness in both arguments.”

Ng Sze Min on The Blues Project: “I enjoyed seeing and hearing tap shoes as an instrument, especially the call and response between the singer and shoes. The singer would present a melodic motif that the tap dancer would pick up rhythmically. Then the dialogue would begin. Different parts of the shoe also had different timbres, so a different movement had to be made to change timbres.”

Pooja Mohanraj on The Blues Project: “It was for me a celebration of the spirit of coming together and being together. More than the craft itself, I saw a spirit of sharing and it is always amazing to watch performers loving what they do. That is why I loved the work. I felt replenished.”

POV continues with Day 7's joint-track activities.

UPDATE (5 MAY 2018, 10.15AM): Minor corrections.

P/W Day 6: The Role of the Critic

posted 9 May 2018, 14:16 by Unknown user   [ updated 9 May 2018, 21:04 ]

Some of the Performance Making participants were invited to attend Corrie Tan's workshop-seminar on the role of the critic.

Day 6 Activities:

- P/W Workshop 5

- P/W One-on-One Clinics

The artist and the critic have always been in a love-hate relationship with one another. The tension is perhaps inevitable, given the fact that they serve very different purposes within the same ecosystem. In her POV Performance Writing (P/W) workshop today, Corrie Tan facilitated a thought-provoking discussion about the role of the critic from a more academic standpoint. The session was especially insightful as eight of the Performance Making participants were also in attendance, so both groups were given an opportunity to hear each other’s points of view.

Prior to this workshop, Tan had sent a few essays on arts writing and criticism to the participants to read through and analyse. Some of the ideas explored in these essays - which were written by the likes of Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, William McEvoy, and Andy Horwitz - served as entry points and helped to inform the ways that the group approached the discussions today.

Tan made it clear from the start that the idea of the critic is constantly evolving with the times. She explained that the term “critic” was derived from a Greek word - krinein - which means “to judge”, and many critics from yesteryear did often take on this stance. She continued to say that being a critic can mean many other things these days - after all, with so many new platforms for writing and publishing, “print is no longer king”.

In the ensuing discussions, P/W participant Casidhe Ng cited McEvoy’s description of “an embodied, reactive spectator” as one role of the present-day critic, while Alfonse Chiu (also from P/W) brought up the idea of a critic as someone whose job is to tell their readers whether or not to go for a show.

However, Tan is also acutely aware that “the critic no longer holds the power”, as word of mouth and social media has become much more effective means of spreading the word about a production today. She then suggested that in the future, there may be more of a need for roles such as an embedded critic (who is attached to a particular company and takes on an almost dramaturg-like position), “a moderator for thoughtful discourse”, or a rapporteur or respondent at shows and festivals. She cited local arts writer Ng Yi-Sheng as an example of someone who is already beginning to do that in Singapore.

But some of the most enlightening and meaningful discourse took place when the P/M participants generously shared their personal experiences of encountering reviews about their own work.

For instance, dance artist Shanice Nicole Stanislaus said that she received a negative review for her first performance, and admitted that “it hurts, but as a practice it’s nice to see how you are seen by other people - [even if] it did take some time”. Another lovely moment that occurred was when actor Shannen Tan recalled how receiving positive recognition from a review of her first work encouraged her to keep on acting - and that the review in question was written by the same Casidhe Ng who is in the P/W group. For Ng, it was also reassuring and exciting to hear that his writings were read, and had such a wonderful impact on a practitioner.

For two hours, Tan and the participants covered a wide range of topics, including the different styles that critics write in; how a critic's background would influence his or her artistic tastes and experiences; Barthes' notion of how someone who’s reading a work would approach it very differently from someone who is writing about it; why so many theatre reviewers in Singapore stop writing after a few years; among others.

But at the end of the day, while there were no easy answers or solutions to most of the issues at hand our P/M and P/W participants did reach one mutually agreed conclusion: that there are no bad reviews as long as they are written in good faith.

"I am glad that the Performance Makers were present to share their opinions and experiences as arts practitioners. It was especially illuminating to hear about how they have dealt with reviews (both good and bad) of shows they have participated in," said Ke Weiliang. "While the room was not able to come to a consensus about the kinds of critical feedback that arts practitioners find useful, the discussion nevertheless was a timely reminder that the practice of arts criticism is – at the end of the day – is a two-way social process that can affect both artists and reviewers on a very personal level."

Ke Weiliang (right), one of the P/W participants, discussed a review he wrote with Corrie Tan (centre) and Gwen Pew (left).

After they digested those intriguing and complex ideas together over lunch, the P/M group headed off to their own workshop. Meanwhile, Tan began a series of 30-minute one-on-one clinics with each of the P/W participants, where she gave each of them individual feedback on an unedited review that they sent her. While we will not go into individual comments in the blog, this is a list of general points that Tan made to the writers:

  • Use simple language wherever possible

  • Use an active voice wherever possible

  • Consider your word choices carefully to ensure that they reflect your intentions

  • In general, it is better to state your point before describing the scene, citing examples, or explaining how it made you feel

  • It is helpful to paint a “stage picture” for your reader to describe what you saw onstage - this is especially the case for dance performances

  • When in doubt, frame the situation/critique from your own perspective

  • Details of the performance are vital, but sometimes it’s good to also consider the wider framework - either the social/cultural/political context of the piece, its place within a festival, or its purpose as an adaptation

"I think it's very rare/difficult to have someone go through your writings and give feedback sentence by sentence, so I feel really privileged to be able to have the session with Corrie!" said participant Lim Si Qi. "It also helped to clarify my understanding of what goes into reviews."

"Corrie’s feedback was useful in challenging me to flesh out opinions that I subconsciously had at the back of mind, but did not managed to commit pen to paper to for whatever reason," said Ke. "And above all, I am grateful for her generosity in sharing her knowledge/experiences and being so patient in trying to help unpack doubts and queries that I had towards arts writing in general."

"Watching the process of her going through my writing / clarifying my ideas gave me a better understanding of how I should edit my work," added Amanda Leong.

The P/W and P/M tracks will all regroup together for the final three days of the programme from tomorrow onwards, as they gear up towards the POV Public Forum that will be taking place on Saturday 12 May. Find out more and register here.

UPDATE (5 MAY 2018, 12.05PM): Participants' reflections added.

P/W Day 5: From Moderators to Marketeers

posted 8 May 2018, 13:04 by Unknown user

Arts writer/editor Corrie Tan asked Performance Writing participants to try their hand at creating a press kit in today's workshop.

Day 5 Activities:

- P/W Workshop 4

- SIFA Performance: The Blues Project

On the first day of the POV programme, Lim How Ngean emphasised the fact that this track is titled “Performance Writing” - as opposed to “Performance Reviewing” - because the intention is to explore other kinds of writing, too. Participants got their first taste of that at the workshop on Day 3, when they began considering how to approach feature writing. At that same session, having just attended In Conversation with Michelle Dorrance earlier on in the day, participants also had a discussion about the art of pre- and post-show moderation.

Today’s workshop session delves further into this. It was led by guest facilitator Corrie Tan, and one of the exercises she set the participants was for them to put themselves into the shoes of a moderator who has to do a pre-show artist talk. It’s a chance for them to put into practice what they had previously discussed. Group 1 (Amanda Leong, Akanksha Raja, Alfonse Chiu, Loh An Lin, and Teo Xiao Ting) were tasked to come up with questions for Tobias Veit (executive director of Berlin’s Schaubühne), and Group 2 (Jaclyn Chong, Ke Weiliang, Lim Si Qi, Casidhe Ng, and Valerie Lim) had to do the same for Thomas Ostermeier (artistic director of Schaubühne).

It’s a practical challenge, as participants will indeed be attending artist talks with both directors, who are in town for their production of An Enemy of the People as part of SIFA, in the coming days. Tan’s hope is that they will really be able to put some of the questions they come up with to the artists.

After some brainstorming, Group 1 decided that they would like to focus on addressing the wider context of the work with questions like "What does it mean to create a work like Enemy in the context of Berlin?", and "What has it been like to bring Enemy on tour, and what are some of the audience responses to this 'canonical' work?".

Group 2's questions, meanwhile, included: "You have directed six of Ibsen's plays over the years - why?", and "You have referred to yourself as a 'traditionalist' in previous interviews - what do you mean by that (since you're known for adapting classical plays)?"

Tan went through each group's ideas and gave a series of practical advice, including the importance of over-preparing questions in case interviewees don't open up much; how basic information about a work should be framed as context rather than questions; and how it’s often advisable for moderators to send a list of talking points to the artist beforehand.

"It works against a more journalist [approach, where you put someone on the spot],” says Tan. “But if you want everyone [in the audience] to have a good experience, then sometimes you do prep the person you're talking to, so they're not caught off-guard for certain questions."

The participants found this to be a fruitful exercise, as moderation as an art form is rarely considered in depth.

“I am so glad that Corrie put us through this exercise, because it made me realise how much the art of pre/post-show moderation is taken for granted,” Ke reflected after the workshop.

“It was a good opportunity to work in groups for this exercise because some group members had experience moderating such conversations, so they shared their approaches,” added Raja.

It was all about group work in today's workshop!

The other form of writing that Tan asked the participants to examine is the press kit, which she refers to as “inverse of feature article” because it serves to provide features writers with the information they need. She first went through an example of one by Checkpoint Theatre (used with permission from the company), and invited participants to share points that they found interesting. They were then split into three groups and asked to come up with points that they would include in a press release about 0600, which they watched last Saturday.

By and large, all three groups came up with similar points to highlight, such as the fact that it's a SIFA festival commission, that it's by a new collective (Ground Z-0); that it's a site-specific/experiential work; and include a quote by the work's creator. Tan agreed with these, but also pointed out that they must also remember to explain what the work is about - in this case, the death penalty - because it's easy to forget to mention the basics. One thing that most participants struggled with was to be objective in their writing, as they had already watched the show and were used to approaching performances from the point of view of a reviewer.

“It’s a world of a difference from what we’ve been working on the past few days, which involved a lot of analysis and deconstruction and attention to the nuances of a work,” reflects Raja. “Criticism is about unpacking a production after it is staged; today’s session was about how to package a production long before it opens.”

“What I found most interesting about the press kit session was when Corrie and Gwen [Pew from Centre 42] mentioned that the marketeer's intention is to pique the interest of the journalist so they are compelled to fill in the gaps created through personal interviews with the artist,” said Ng at the end of the session. “[Centre 42’s company manager Ma] Yanling also mentioned the principle of ‘staying true to the artist's vision’ in description and writing, zooming into elements that the artist will definitely examine, so there isn't a discrepancy in how the work is portrayed.”

After attending a talk with American tap dancer Michelle Dorrance, participants finally got to see her work, The Blues Project, tonight.

Post-workshop and post-dinner, the group then headed to Victoria Theatre for The Blues Project, which Dorrance co-created with Derick K. Grant, Toshi Reagon, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards.

“I think after the talk with Michelle, I was definitely looking out for ways in which she was pushing the conventions of tap dancing. I was particularly intrigued by the sequence where they swapped out their tap shoes for soft sole shoes, and let the drums take centre-stage in music-making,” said Jaclyn Chong after the show. “We talked a lot about the musicality in tap dance, and so shifting my focus to just seeing them dance, without hearing them as distinctly, made me realise that there is still a physical form to tap dancing in which the musicality could be recognised in their movements.”

Tan will be bringing discussions back to critical writing in tomorrow's seminar, but today's session hopefully gave them a sneak peek into what other forms arts writing can take.

P/M Day 5: From Idea to Art

posted 8 May 2018, 11:32 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 8 May 2018, 22:46 by ADN Admin ]

Dialogue with Jean Low
Dialogue session with multidisciplinary artist Jean Low (centre).

- Dialogue with Jean Low
- SIFA Performances: 0600 / The Blues Project

“At the end of the day, it’s about ideas. And if you have a good idea, figure out how to execute the idea.” This was the advice graphic designer-turned-multidisciplinary artist Jean Low had for the Performance Making (P/M) participants, which she herself had received from friend and photographer Lenne Chai.

Low was with the P/M group in the Festival Living Room sharing about how she had conceived the idea that was to become SKY KAVE, an installation which helps visitors ‘feel’ sound.

The idea first came to Low in August last year when she was at a concert by American ambient pop band Cigarettes After Sex at the Capitol Theatre. The floor of the venue was hollow to store the theatre’s seats, and so conducted the bass and drum sounds very well. Low decided to do the best idea that came to her at that moment – she lay down on the floor.

“It was amazing to just lie down [there], feeling the vibrations. And then I looked up – and the ceiling was very uninspiring,” Low said to laughter from the group. “So I thought, ‘If only there were a huge projection above, that’d be really quite amazing.”

And that’s essentially what SKY KAVE is about. Sited in The Arts House Play Den, the space is dark, solely lit by the glow from a projector casting videos on a large screen overhead. The floor is filled with what looks like blocky, wood deck chairs. Visitors lie on the chairs, feeling the vibrations caused by the audio playing coursing through their bodies.

The SKY KAVE setup.

But SKY KAVE would not have happened until Low had one more ingredient – purpose. 

“What is the point of sending people to [the artwork]?” she said, explaining why she had sat on the idea for some time. “What is it I want them to take away?”

Purpose came to her in a Buzzfeed article featuring a profoundly deaf music fan who enjoyed pop concerts through the vibrations produced. For Low, SKY KAVE could help build bridges between the deaf and able-bodied “hearing-centric”, by demonstrating to the latter how the former experiences sound.

The first prototype for SKY KAVE was a flat wooden platform which transmitted sound frequencies through embedded tactile sound transducers. Her first test audience were the deaf members of hip-hop dance club Redeafination, who promptly commented how uncomfortable the flat surface was.

But they also had one more request which Low told the P/M group: “Could we feel the different layers at the different parts of the body?”

This informed SKY KAVE’s current form – individual wooden recliners with some cushioning, and transducers placed at different locations transmitting different frequencies, from high frequencies at the palm rests, to low frequencies at the foot rest.  

 “I felt like I was floating in SKY KAVE,” Tan Liting said about visiting the installation prior to the dialogue session. “I appreciated that it allowed me to engage my other senses while experiencing a work. The reverb quite literally shook my core.

“The discussion led me to question what collaboration means, and the power structures involved in collaborating with others.”

Tan was referring to a discussion about disability and ethics towards the end of the session, sparked off by Victorian Chen and Shannen Tan who were working with disabled people in art projects. With Low, the group talked about the unequal power relationships in artistic collaborations with the deaf and disabled communities, and how to negotiate them sensitively and with the intent to empower.

Cara Ann Lee was left pondering after the dialogue session: “What are the ethics surrounding such collaborations and how do we then critique the result?”

But Low seemed clear with the intent of her work. “There’s a very fine line between pity and empathy,” she declared.

With SKY KAVE, Low hopes to help able-bodied people understand how the deaf navigate the world. She said, “Art is such a good medium. It’s about communication. It creates a conducive environment for discussion.”

In the evening, the P/M group divided and conquered - half watched 0600 at the National Gallery, and the other half were at Victoria Theatre next door catching The Blues Project. They swap shows tomorrow evening.

UPDATE (09 MAY 2018, 1.45PM): Added final paragraph on the SIFA performances the P/M group watched.

Get To Know the POV Participants

posted 7 May 2018, 02:23 by ADN Admin   [ updated 7 May 2018, 02:28 by Unknown user ]

Casidhe Ng

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Hopeful, Inquisitive, Passionate, Silly, Young.

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I joined POV as it seemed like an excellent platform to learn, grow and better understand the performance writing needs of Singapore. I hope to grow as an individual passionate about the arts as well as a fellow writer and reader, and I hope to have meaningful and productive conversations on what is required of an arts writer, so as to attain growth.

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
I'm looking forward to watching and discussing the SIFA performances, but also the one-to-one clinics, sessions, and lectures by Corrie Tan.

Ethan Chia

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Why here and why now?

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I don't have a definitive answer to either of these questions. Which I suppose is the best place to start. The unknown factors surrounding a group of people, regardless of background, discipline, experience etc. have thus far proven to be fertile ground for new possibilities. So I'm looking forward to finding out what I don't know to disprove what I think I know. 

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
I travel around quite a lot because of work, and Singapore has more often than not become a rest stop to sporadically catch up with friends who have equally hectic schedules. So POV, by virtue of its own existence, gives me a reason to come home, and consistently be surrounded by a group of people. Even if it's for a short time.

Gabbi Wenyi Ayane

Describe yourself in 5 words.
I had lunch for breakfast.

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I felt out of touch with the local theatre circuit and really wanted to understand where theatre is right now. I'm hoping to learn lots about art in Singapore and gain a clearer understanding of my relationship with it.

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
Learning from the incredible facilitators and participants! And I won't lie -- the thought of free tickets made me grin to myself on the train.

Ke Weiliang

Describe yourself in 5 words.
"Saikang Warrior of the Arts", or 'SWOTA' for short.

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I am especially interested in work that challenge the authority of binaries – including (but not limited to) ‘good or bad’, ‘right or wrong’ and ‘male or female’, just to name a few. We live in an increasingly diverse world where people and things (the arts included) can no longer be definitively categorised. Because of this, my philosophy as an arts practitioner is to not only remain open to change,but be bold enough to delve into unchartered territories and navigate grey areas that tend to be oft-shunned due to fear of failure. 

While I primarily work in the theatre scene, I have recently developed an interest in the multidisciplinary as a result of my aforementioned interest in challenging the authority of binaries. The variety of SIFA performances that the POV programme exposes me to will be invaluable in broadening my worldview of the arts. On the one hand, the POV programme will acquaint me with art forms that I may not be familiar with, or even performances that cannot be realistically assigned hard and fast labels like ‘dance’, ‘music’, and ‘theatre’. On the other hand, it will shed light on how these art forms interact with one another to form hybrids that we are subconsciously exposed to, but are not consciously aware of. 

As an arts administrator/manager, I am in a position where I have to wear different hats depending on the context(s) I find myself in, and the demands/needs of the projects I am involved with. Even though I do not see myself writing for a living, I am nevertheless confident that the rigour of the POV programme will go a long way in increasing my versatility in working across art forms.

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
Picking the inimitable Corrie Tan's brain, even if it is only for a day or two.

Nathaniel Tan

Describe yourself in 5 words.
My sentences are short and

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I reckoned that this was the best way to partake in SIFA, as it is an absolute privilege to enjoy shows and talk about them later. POV2018 offers the best of both worlds: as a theatre student, this was an opportunity I could not pass up. 

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
Meeting and learning from all the people I will be meeting in the coming days, and this includes the artists, the workshop instructors, and the participants! 

Victoria Chen

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Interdisciplinary, collaborative, curious, direct, determined (or are you looking for physical descriptions like short, Chinese, petite, loud, etc?)

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
At the heart of my practice is exchange and collaboration. These are facets of POV, and having these elements tied into intellectual discourse is crucial to deepening my artistic practice. Having spent the past three years in Europe working with artists from various practices and cultures there, I now intend to do the same with Singapore’s artistic community. I believe that the artistic practices in Singapore deserves a space for discourse, and that there are various practitioners who, like me, would value the opportunity to have their perspectives widened and challenged. I believe that POV will also allow me to establish connections with artists here, having been disengaged from the community for so long, and to build a network with those that share the same attitude towards performance creation. I would love to be included and immersed in this discussion, as I would like to contribute effectively to Singapore’s cultural landscape.

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
I'm looking forward to learning from other participants on the program and have my perspective stretched, challenged and enhanced.

Zac Denver Lee

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Versatile artist lusting for knowledge

Why did you join POV2018, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I join POV2018 to extend my learning and understanding of the world of performance arts as an artist. I hope to experience an off book set of learning that will belp make me a better artist.

What are you looking forward to most in POV?
For me I really want to network with wonderful people, gain as much knowledge and definitely put myself out there for people to know me as an emerging artist!

P/W Day 3: Pushing Boundaries

posted 6 May 2018, 13:20 by Unknown user   [ updated 7 May 2018, 03:52 ]

American tap dance artist Michelle Dorrance was in conversation with Sinclair Ang as part of a SIFA public talk this afternoon.

- In Conversation with Michelle Dorrance
- P/W Workshop 3

- SIFA Performance: OCD Love

Michelle Dorrance’s passion for tap dancing was apparent and infectious. Even though she had landed in Singapore at 7am today and went straight into teaching a SIFA masterclass, the award-winning American artist still visibly lit up as she discussed her craft with Sinclair Ang at the public talk this afternoon. Both groups of POV participants attended this, as they will be watching her work, The Blues Project, next week.

The talk was both inspiring and eye-opening, thanks to her enthusiasm and her frankness. As a white tap dancer who is recognised for her work in a genre that originated from the black community, Dorrance is acutely aware of her privileged position - something that she wasn’t afraid to openly address. During the talk, she continually stressed the importance of taking every opportunity to acknowledge tap’s history as a black form, and she sees it as her “responsibility to honour [her] ancestors and the backs that [she stands] on”.

On top of educating the public about the form’s roots whenever she gets the chance, she shared that she also tries to honour its traditions in her own practice by always striving to push boundaries. “You have to be yourself to honour other people. No one did something so that after them can do it exactly the way they did it,” she said. “Tap is one of the most cutting edge forms on stage.” To that end, she is currently working with the American Ballet Theatre to create new works inspired by both dance forms.

Dorrance also discussed the blurred lines between dance and music, and introduced some of the masters who had taught or inspired her (including Cholly Atkins, Dianne Walker, and Steve Condos). At certain points, she even got up from her seat to demonstrate specific techniques. It made for an interesting talk, and gave participants some insight into her work and approach to tap.

“I am unfamiliar with tap and while the talk didn't exactly provide a primer into the form, it was insightful to learn about Michelle's personal relationship with it, how she works with dancers in her company, her thoughts on the cultural politics [and] musicality of the form, and the idea of tap being as much a musical instrument as a style of dance,” said Performance Writing (P/W) participant Akanksha Raja.

“I felt that Dorrance's talk [was] illuminating towards the end because it showed more of her own attitude and philosophy with regards to her place in the tap-dancing world, as well as how she went about carving her niche,” shared fellow participant Alfonse Chiu. “I got a clearer picture of her as both a dancer and an artist, especially when she illustrated her points with live demos of the specific movements.”

The P/W participants were divided into groups to brainstorm ideas for a feature article based on the talk with Michelle Dorrance.

After the talk, P/W participants headed back to Centre 42 for their third workshop. They began the session with a general chat about how they felt the programme was going so far so far, which segued into the realisation the that many of them were not very familiar with "dramaturgy" - a term that had cropped up in exchanges over the last couple of days. So Lim How Ngean gave a brief introduction of the word's roots in sociology (as Irvin Goffman theorised that the human behaviour is scripted and performative), and explained that it was first used in the theatrical setting by German practitioners, such as Bertolt Brecht, to refer to the structure and flow of the play-text. Today, however, dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturg have how expanded to encompass a lot more. For instance, a dramaturg could be working with a director or choreographer to develop the concept, structure, and vocabulary for a work (which may or may not be text-based), but he or she may also take on a more research-based role. Lim thus stressed that it is important for writers to be clear about what aspect of dramaturgy they are referring to should they use the term in their work.

Discussions then moved on to the participants' thoughts on the talk with Dorrance earlier, with a particular focus on the role of the moderator. For instance, some felt that Ang's line of questioning was too technical for those who were not familiar with tap dance to follow, while others thought that more time should have been spent discussing The Blues Project.

"I don't think I've ever considered the art of moderation ([for] pre- or post-show talks) with as much criticality as we did during this workshop session," said Raja later on. "It reminded me that moderators - or interviewers - have a responsibility to the artist and to the audience."

Building on that, Lim then set an exercise for the participants to consider how they would cover the talk as arts writers. They were split into three groups and given half an hour to come up with an angle for a potential feature article, decide on five points that they would include in that story, and jot down five questions that they would asked Dorrance if they were to interview her.

It was a challenging task as most of the participants have never pitched a story to an editor before. As a result, they encountered some difficulties in trying to come up with a clear and strong angle, and understanding how to differentiate between stating their points and making an argument.

Still, they soldiered on and gave it their best shot. In the end, Group 1 (comprising Amanda Leong, Loh Anlin, Teo Xiao Ting, and Valerie Lim) settled on exploring the historical influence of tap dance on Dorrance's practice; Group 2 (Akanksha Raja, Alfonse Chiu, and Lim Si Qi) had the idea to explore Dorrance's passion for the musicality of tap dance; while Group 3 (Casidhe Ng, Jaclyn Chong, and Ke Weiliang) hoped to delve into the “constant resurgence” of tap dance, referring to a point that Dorrance made during her talk about how there has been a perception that “tap is coming back” for the past two decades.

“What I find most interesting from today is [how] difficult [it was] to think simply and clearly about a point sometimes,” said Chiu as he reflected on today's workshop. “By going back to the basics and the 'how's of things, one gets a clearer sense of what makes better writing.”

Ng agreed, and said: “[From the workshop,] I realised the importance of thinking through ideas and organisation in crafting the artists' profile. More often than not, what I thought was a ‘point’ turned out to be an uninformed perspective, or as How Ngean said, ‘an argument for the point’, as opposed to the point itself.”

Even though they are not required to go on to write the actual article, the exercise encouraged the participants to step beyond their comfort zone and try something new. It wasn’t easy, but it was wonderful to see them bouncing ideas off each other, and helping one another out whenever anyone was stuck.

After a brief dinner break, which most of the group enjoyed together, they headed to SOTA Drama Theatre for a dance performance titled OCD Love by the L-E-V Dance Company from Israel.

Tomorrow will be a reading day for everyone, but we will meet again on Tuesday 8 May.

Update (7 MAY 2018 6.50PM) - Minor corrections, and added the day's activities, more information about Lim How Ngean's introduction to dramaturgy, as well as the participants' discussion about talk moderation.

P/M Day 3: The Role of the Artist

posted 6 May 2018, 12:17 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 6 May 2018, 21:27 ]

In conversation with Michelle Dorrance
Sinclair Ang (right) in conversation with American tap-dance artist Michelle Dorrance (left).

- In Conversation with Michelle Dorrance
- P/M Workshop 2
- SIFA Performance: OCD Love

While yesterday seemed to be about the role of art in society and in the world, today had the Performance Making (P/M) participants thinking deeply about the role of the artist.

For American tap-dance artist and choreographer Michelle Dorrance, the role of the artist is that of a custodian of tradition, or “living historian” as she put it in a public dialogue on Sunday with swing dance teacher Sinclair Ang at the Festival House Blue Room. Dorrance is in Singapore for The Blues Project, a dance and music performance at SIFA 2018 which the P/M group will watch next week.

Clearly knowledgeable and reverent about the roots of tap dance, Dorrance continually emphasised the need for artists to know and respect the history of their art form. But with tap dance’s origins in the African slave trade, Dorrance was quick to acknowledge the danger of cultural appropriation.

“I’m a white girl,” she said matter-of-factly. “You have to take every opportunity to say ‘I am part of the community’.”

Dorrance reiterated that an artist needs to not only be aware of the form’s heritage, but also to protect its legacy: “We are responsible for our history. We are responsible for telling their stories. We are responsible for getting the next generation to tell their stories.”

But she was also quick to point out that it’s possible to respect technique and tradition while finding room for individuality and pushing boundaries: “You have to be yourself to honour other people. People don’t want rip-offs.”

Dorrance’s words struck a chord with several of the participants.

 “It was very resonant for me when Michelle Dorrance spoke of the roots of breaking not only being aligned with tap, but also expanding on the early history of the dance in the late ‘60s,” Dominic Nah said. “As a b-boy myself, I was nerding out. In the breaking context, I try to learn the history of the dance, have had the privilege to travel and the luck to meet some of the OGs of the dance in the Bronx, but I ask myself what then do I do now? It did feel like the more I've gone out to learn and connect with breaking culture, the more the art form gives to me in terms of priceless experiences and there is a gratitude and responsibility that arises from that which I carry forward with me.”

Gabbi wondered about the history of spoken word poetry: “It got me thinking about my own work because I work quite a bit with spoken word poetry and although it’s not a Black art form, it has been quite heavily influenced by Black culture. And I did wonder what my role is. Michelle Dorrance pointed out the importance of honouring the backs you stand on, but what if your art form is an amalgamation of various influences? Is it your responsibility to honour all of them? Is there a cultural slapback when I fail to do so?”

The P/M group continued with their introspection back at Centre 42 in their second workshop with POV Facilitator Charlene Rajendran.

P/M Workshop 2
The second workshop for the Performance Making track.

Rajendran opened the workshop with a discussion about how an artist talks about his or her work, in the context of the artist dialogues the group had attended over the past three days. She asked provoking questions like, “When an artist speaks about a work, is that the definitive perspective?” “How do you ask an artist questions and why do you ask the questions?” “Why are some questions evaded?” “What are some questions you would evade?”

Rajendran’s next workshop activity for the P/M group was based on Kwok Kian-Woon’s essay The Bonsai and the Rainforest: Reflections on Culture and Culture Policy in Singapore, which explores the role of arts and the artist the city-state by examining the use of gardening metaphors in State discourse on culture.

She had each of the participants create a glossary of terms that have informed their work as performance makers, words that they have accepted and words they resist. The exercise was an examination of the personal vocabularies associated with their art-making practice, therein revealing how they define their role as artists in society.

“The exercise was very hard,” one of the participants quipped. During the sharing afterwards, Lakshmana KP admitted that he had some of the same words in both the Accept and Reject list for different reasons. Dominic Nah said that some terms were so impactful that a list could contain several variations of it.

The second activity was about answering the question: What expressions have worked for you and what haven’t? Rajendran wanted the young performance makers to think of an instance in their past work which they thought was successful and one that did not meet their expectations. They were to think of success on their own terms and not what their audiences thought.

In the sharing afterwards, Irfan Kasban, citing a particularly exceptional performance, worried about consistency in delivering successful performances. Rajendran’s answer, hinting at the ephemeral nature of performances, was simply: “Learn to let go”.

In the evening, the POV participants headed to the School of the Arts Drama Theatre to catch OCD Love, a contemporary dance performance by Israeli dance company L-E-V.

As is the convention in the performing arts, Monday is a day of rest for the POV participants (and this blogger). But not before Rajendran had assigned the P/M group some homework - they were to go, by themselves, to a location which "replenished" them. While in this rejuvenating space, they were to consider their relationship as performance makers to this particular space and to the larger Singapore city.

It has only been three days, but the group of young performance-makers have been quick to bond.

“The past three days have simply been very blissful – perhaps our group is a product of the Universe's happy accidents! I am thoroughly enjoying our thoughtful conversations,” Shannen Tan said. “As Charlene mentioned, it is rare nowadays to have deep and long conversations so these discussions are very precious. I enjoy how it extends beyond the meeting rooms and we all have intertwined conversations on how it relates back to our own projects we are working on and helping each other resolve our own struggles as a performance maker.”

Victoria Chen echoed these sentiments: “I am stretched, challenged and inspired by the contents of the workshop, and we communicate with a lot of care and respect towards each other and the issues presented. It’s marvellous.”

POV activities  will resume on Tuesday.

Update (5 MAY 2018 11.55AM): Minor corrections and added Activities list.

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