Marking SG50 in France

Marking SG50 in France

From French performances of the iconic Singapore plays Emily Of Emerald Hill and The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole to a festival of Singapore street food on the banks of the Seine river, the Singapore Festival in France has been bolstered by partner events keen to join in the celebrations.

The three-month festival, which opens on March 26 in Paris, aims to showcase the best of Singapore arts, culture and heritage through more than 70 events in seven French cities. This year, Singapore marks not only its Golden Jubilee, but also 50 years of diplomatic ties with France.

The festival is co-organised by the National Arts Council, National Heritage Board and Institut Francais.

Besides the main slate of visual and performing arts events announced last September, the artistic director of the festival, Mr Tan Boon Hui, says the organising team was delighted by the large "independent interest" in the festival.

There are about 25 core events programmed by the team and the rest were proposed by other artists, organisations and individuals from France and Singapore.

Mr Tan, the heritage board's group director of programmes, says: "France is one of the most cultured nations, it is a nation that really values culture and the arts as a badge of identity, as defining who its people are."

He adds that the French "are curious about Singapore - they really are, they are fascinated by the fact that Singapore is Asian but, at the same time, about the future".

"They also see our art and culture as a way for them to begin to understand Asia at large. We really are almost like a platform and access point."

German curator Silke Schmickl, who worked in France for several years, grew so fond of Singapore that she moved here this year and is organising her own mini festival of exhibitions, readings, performances and discussions titled Singapour Mon Amour (Singapore My Love). This partner event will take place at several important arts institutions, such as the Cinematheque Francaise, Musee du Quai Branly and Centre Pompidou, all in Paris.

Prominent French theatre director and playwright Marc Goldberg has translated two seminal Singaporean monodramas, Stella Kon's Emily and Kuo Pao Kun's Coffin, into French and they will be performed as dramatised readings in Paris, Saint-Etienne, Versailles and Montpellier.

From Singapore, Temasek Polytechnic will set up a street food festival featuring hawker dishes from Singapore on the banks of the river Seine from June 18 to 21. Visitors will also be able to try their hand at kampung games such as five stones and chapteh.

Because the team has been working on the festival for three to four years, "it wasn't a rushed job", says Mr Tan. "It allows a sort of organic development and it allows artists, presenters and curators to have time to decide."

About $6 million has been set aside for the festival by the Singapore side; figures for the expenditure on the French side were not available.

The festival's main programme is multidisciplinary and diverse, whether in the durational scale of theatre director Ong Keng Sen's opening performance, The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris or concerts by the Siong Leng Musical Association, which interrogate the ancient musical form of nanyin.

Experimental music group The Observatory will also tour France together with other artists from Singapore's music underground, including the avant- garde Chinese ensemble SA.

The visual arts exhibitions Secret Archipelago at the Palais de Tokyo and Open Sea at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon examine the shifting identities of Singapore and the region.

And the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir will collaborate with another youth choir in France, the Maitrise de Radio France, to perform Hector Berlioz's rousing Te Deum at the new Philharmonie de Paris concert hall on June 20.

Mr Tan says: "The overall artistic focus of the festival really is on portraying Singapore as a contemporary city that is always looking to the future, it's finding new ways, new possibilities, new cracks in-between to find itself.

He adds that the festival will help Singapore artists to get a toehold or foothold in the French cultural scene and enable them to build networks beyond Singapore.

"The festival is really something for Singaporeans to be proud of, that our artists are flying our flag this year," he says.

This article was first published on March 4, 2015.
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