Singapore Arts Festival 2009 Opening

artsfest_opening_helios
Image courtesy of the National Arts Council

And so it begins…
By: Kellynn Wee

The fireworks lofted themselves into the air and exploded, showering man-made stars trailing glitter and gold dust, lighting the upturned sea of faces at the Marina Barrage.

As a Festival Assistant it was not my job to look up at the fireworks, though there was no denying that we all raised our heads and stole glimpses; rather we were to keep an eye on the crowd that gathered for the opening performance of the Singapore Arts Festival.

I was oddly grateful for the chance to survey the crowd instead: the transfixed wonder and open smiles that the onlookers wore were a little like a fireworks display in themselves.

The opening performance Helios II by La Compagnie Malabar depicted the legendary Sun God through the parade of a giant metallic preying mantis and acrobatic displays capped with a beautiful pyrotechnics show at the end. After 3 shows, La Compagnie Malabar showed no signs of slowing down.

Pre-show excitement

In the late afternoon just before the pre-show performances at 6pm, the curve of the Barrage framed about twenty kites flitting hummingbird-like, across to hundreds of eagerly waiting eyes. The Festival Assistants and volunteers were heading to our places, fanning out in order to answer queries, hand out brochures and programmes while maintaining crowd control.

If there was any concern about the arts reaching every demographic possible in Singapore, this concern was neatly – for the moment, at least – put to rest at “Helios II”. I met what felt like the entirety of Singapore as I spoke to passersby and handed out programmes of the Singapore Arts Festival – everyone ranging from elderly couples to whole families of six children (complete with harried-looking parents), from the chic artsy types coming in pairs of cool sunglasses to European and American and Indian tourists to teenaged couples and many foreign workers.

Everyone was curious about the show that was to come. Many came avidly excited about the fireworks display that would end the night. “Got fireworks right? What time ah?” someone would demand of me and then satisfied with my answer would drift off again into the crowd.

The pre-show carnival atmosphere was a treat. Mimes roamed the crowd on imaginary motorcycles and blew huge invisible balloons for everyone they saw. There was face paint on many plump cheeks and arms of the children while magicians performed with gusto on makeshift tables and under towering hats.

Making 2009 Memorable

This year’s Arts Fest seems particularly engineered to bring the arts to the heartlands, with the closing ceremony held in a field in Yishun and street performances planned for incongruous places such as the Amoy Street Food Center, and it was heartening to see that it was already working. This year, the Arts Fest seems to leap away from the avant garde Architecture of Silence by Edward Clug that was featured on the festival programme covers. Turning to a jovial and light-hearted side, festival covers now don brightly coloured nymphs.

Dusk was already falling when local drum troupe Zingo! took the stage and astonished onlookers gathered around the fountain, waiting for the performance to begin.

Its green eyes began glowing, terrifyingly surreal as the giant preying mantis emerged wreathed in smoke. Made out of an old elevator and parts of a trunk it is a strange figure. Men on stilts led the way, clearing its path by swinging red torches and lamps. In the dark it was a dream of smoke and light and sound – wondrous and frightening all at once.

Everyone was mesmerized by the odd spindly grace of this metal insect, with an odd kind of worship as befitting the concept of the birth of a mythological sun god; when it bent down, pincers extended, parents lifted their children to touch them reverently.

Everything seemed close and almost dangerous, although it was perfectly safe and the stilt walkers made sure to keep the crowd at a berth. It seemed that a part of all of us, yearns a magical touch, something that is illogical and inexplicable.

The fireworks display ended the dreamlike performance fittingly. The performers waved the audience off while the giant preying mantis folded back into itself with a sigh of dull metal. It was a promising beginning to the Singapore Arts Festival of 2009.

Were you there too at the opening performance? Tell us what you think!
The Singapore Arts Festival runs until the 14 June.

[Pictures from the opening – COMING SOON to ArtZine]

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