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7 Jan 2009

Fringe and the family

The shows in this year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival are all about love and family - estranged love and alternative families, that is. Fridae previews the line-up.

Every year, the fine folks at The Necessary Stage put together a festival of small, off-kilter works: drama, dance, art and music from Singapore and abroad, ranging from accessible pieces for theatre virgins to weird happenings that make your head hurt.

From the top: Fallout by San Francisco-based dance troupe RAWdance, Museum of Broken Relationships by an ongoing project by Croatian artists Olinka Vi�tica and Drazen Grubi�ić, Raised as a Pack of Wolves by local artist Genevieve Chua, Mutsugoto by the mixed Japanese-Scottish team of Tomoko Hayashi, Stefan Agamanolis and Matthew Karau and Co-Artistic Directors for the Fringe Haresh and Sharma Alvin Tan (right).

This year, the works are all tied together by the theme of "Art and the Family", and of course - this is Fridae.com, after all - there's a queer side to that. What's being portrayed are either families that are alternative in some way, or conventional families which are being torn apart by the strange forces that reside in all of us.

For instance, San Francisco-based dance troupe RAWdance is putting up the premiere of Fallout, a performance based on the breakdown of the nuclear family in today's crazed, sensationalistic political climate. (More about that in our special interview with the choreographers in "Alternative families".)

Meanwhile, local artist Genevieve Chua has been commissioned to create Raised as a Pack of Wolves, an online photo and video series about "wolf spirits" who form a community of their own to survive out in the streets. Although presumably female, the "real gender of these wolves are not yet apparent" as described by Chua. (Look out for an upcoming interview on this site all about her project.)

The Co-Artistic Directors for the Fringe are Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma, familiar names to anyone who's interested in local arts. The two staged some of the country's first gay plays back in the early 90s, and since then they've used their dramatic skills to tackle every social issue under the sun, from safe sex to political prisoners.

This time, Tan says he's driven by a sense of urgency to open up the meaning of the very word "family". "Should FAMILY be held ransom by its traditional definitions?" he asks.

"Is it more meaningful and useful to recuperate the familial spirit from the empty shell of the word, recognising it in a myriad of ways; parents being taken care of by gay children (who may afford to give more attention because they have no families of their own), or children from single parents being looked after by relatives or neighbours?"

"By holding onto the traditional meaning of the word FAMILY, there is no automatic guarantee that the hetero-normative, biological structure is ever going to become the mainstream arrangement like before. Hence the need to look at and come to terms with alternative families."

For the Festival, Tan's also directing Frozen Angels, a play inspired by the effects of stem cell research. I personally reviewed this show while it was under development at the National University of Singapore Arts Festival, and I can assure you that it's good stuff: powerful, strange and deeply moving, one of my best theatre experiences of last year.

One of the reasons for the show's excellence was the involvement of Loo Zihan, a young gay filmmaker who gained fame (and infamy) for his sexually explicit feature film, Solos. In the performance, his chillingly beautiful video images were projected on a butterfly screen, interacting closely with the live actors, haunting them, chasing them across the stage as they switch from character to character.

Loo tells me he's had the chance to re-record the multimedia for the upcoming run of the play, so it'll be smoother and more polished this time. The images are also going to be much, much bigger, since the show's been shifted from a tiny black box to the National Museum Gallery Theatre.

"Of course there are little surprises here and there," he adds, explaining that he's been collaborating with fellow gay filmmaker Brian Gothong Tan on the programming of the video work.

"We're trying to project stuff from the computer direct, so we are reinventing not only what we see on screen, but also new ways of feeding the information to the projectors. Hopefully it'll be a show which makes you go 'how did they do that?'" He also notes that the presence of video creates a sense of "instant intimacy" between the actors - although it''s been tricky, in the topless bedroom shots, to ensure that neither of the players are indecently exposed.

A few of the artworks in the Festival focus on romantic love. The Museum of Broken Relationships, for example, is an ongoing project by Croatian artists Olinka Vi�tica and Drazen Grubi�ić, who ended their four-year relationship in 2002. To resolve the pain of parting, they decided to set up a gallery of souvenirs from failed romances, beginning with a white toy bunny they used to share.

Since then, they've toured London, Berlin, various cities in Croatia and now Singapore. On the way, they've picked up a series of unlikely objects: pink bondage handcuffs, a pair of tight orange underwear, a prosthetic leg, an axe that a woman used to chop off her girlfriend's possessions when she ran off with another woman, and - from Singapore - a frying pan and a bottle of cigarette butts.

Then there's Mutsugoto by the mixed Japanese-Scottish team of Tomoko Hayashi, Stefan Agamanolis and Matthew Karau. It's a multimedia art show supported by Distance Lab that uses technology to allow lovers in long-distance relationships to draw pictures on each other's bodies.

"I met so many people exist in long distance relationships while I lived in London, so I started to question about conventional communication devices," Hayashi explains. "I feel that today's communication systems are impersonal and generic. E-mail, for example, is often read and written on the same computer and at the same desk that one uses for any other kind of communication. Phone calls and SMS messages are sent and received between partners on the same devices used for work and business."

"Even though Mutsugoto is a non-verbal communication device, I believe that it allows distant partners to feel close to each other and opens up their memory of touch, warmth and various histories of each other." The title, she adds, is taken from an archaic Japanese term meaning "intimate lovers' talk" or "whispered intimacies" in a bedroom setting.

There's a bunch of other shows in this festival that bear checking out - from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to Bible stories to catalogues of lullabies. But my personal pick for Fridae readers has to be the dance performance of Fallout by RAWdance. Click on the related article link below (Alternative families)for the juicy interview with its choreographers Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein.

Fridae is proud to be an official sponsor of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

The Fringe Festival runs from Jan 7-18, and a full list of its events may be seen at singaporefringe.com. Tickets are available from sistic.com.sg; all visual arts events are free. 10% discount for Fridae.com readers with password "We are family".

Frozen Angels by The Necessary Stage plays from Jan 7-10, 8pm and Jan 10-11, 3pm at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, tickets $27/$19.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is on show for the duration of the Festival at the Jendela Gallery at the Esplanade. Also see brokenships.com.

Mutsugoto is on show from Jan 8-18 at the Arts House Foyer, with a talk on Jan 8 at 7.30pm on Thursday, Jan 8, at Sinema @ Old School, Mt Sophia. For more information or to register, please email info@singaporefringe.com or call 6400 8115.

Fallout by RAWdance plays from Jan 13-14, 8pm, at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, tickets $27/$19. Tickets are available from sistic.com.sg. Also check out their website, http://www.rawdance.org.

Raised as a Pack of Wolves is on show permanently at http://www.raisedasapackofwolves.com.




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