May 18, 2009 / 9:08 AM / 10 years ago

Arts bridge East and West in Singapore festival

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - East is East and West is West? Not at Singapore’s annual arts festival, where cross-cultural collaboration is taking center stage.

A member of arts troupe La Compagnie Malabar of France, suspended from a 9m tall replica of an insect, performs during their piece "Helios II" in Singapore May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

The month-long event is an initiative aimed at promoting the arts to the increasingly globalised masses, whose appetite for fusion performances is growing.

“The West is recognizing there is a lot of richness in the East. In terms of cultural power, things are now less one-sided,” explained Audrey Wong, artistic co-director of The Substation, an independent arts center.

Leading the East-meets-West drive is Sutra, a breathtaking spectacle featuring Shaolin warrior monks choreographed by a Belgian artist.

Combining elements of martial arts and dance, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui created the concept together with the monks during his spiritual retreat to their temple in China two years ago.

“They were very open to expressing their philosophy, their lives in other ways... We tried to be respectful to Shaolin and bring it forward to something contemporary,” said Cherkaoui, who is of Flemish-Moroccan descent.

Besides Sutra, art-lovers will be treated to a Chinese reworking of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s classic, “The Cherry Orchard,” and a French-choreographed dance inspired by tangram, an ancient Chinese puzzle game, called “Les Sept Planches de la Ruse.”

Crossing boundaries of a different sort is Etiquette, where the line between the performers and audience is blurred, or rather does not exist.

Guided by taped instructions issued through headphones, two members of the audience sit across from each other in a cafe and act out scenes with props such as chalk, notepads and even vials of “blood” in the production by British group Rotozaza.

In a city eager to shed its image as a cultural wasteland and where most people are content to just observe, responses for the half-hour performances has so far been encouraging.

Amid Singapore’s worst ever recession, organizers have attempted to make the festival more accessible by reducing prices by up to 20 percent and increasing free outdoor performances.

“We understand that many people are facing problems because of the financial crisis... The wish among a lot of Singaporeans is to not let this recession deprive them of an enjoyable and fun time,” commented Goh Ching Lee, the festival’s director.

The Singapore Arts Festival will feature more than 2,000 performers from 22 countries in 26 ticketed productions and more than 400 free outdoor performances for a month until June 14.

For more details see

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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