No Mandarin this year in the language of art

No Mandarin this year in the language of art
Ms Lee Chor Lin, chief executive officer of the independent Arts Festival Limited, and Mr Ong Keng Sen, artistic director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

SINGAPORE - It is branded as a global arts festival that features show-stopping American, Korean, South African and even Spanish acts.

But conspicuously absent from this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts is a production from China or even one that is in Mandarin.

This no-show has come as a surprise to some arts aficionados here, while others staunchly defend the concept.

Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng told Shin Min Daily News that an arts festival in multiracial Singapore should, after all, include performances in Mandarin. Mr Baey chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Community & Youth.

A volunteer of 19 years at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre, who declined to be named, also pointed out it was "a pity" that Chinese opera was not included in the festival.

"I'm sure a lot of people would have been impressed by the colourful art form in Chinese opera, even if they do not understand the language," she told My Paper.

The six-week festival, which which will run from Aug 12 to Sept 21, is a rebranded version of the Singapore Arts Festival, which was organised by the National Arts Council up until 2012.

It is now organised by the independent Arts House, and directed by Cultural Medallion recipient Ong Keng Sen.

This year's festival, themed Legacy and the Expanded Classic, will feature at least 12 productions, including a live installation from India, and an Iranian play.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Ong, who is also artistic director of theatre company TheatreWorks, explained: "We tried our best to find a way to present the Chinese classics in a new and interesting way, but realised that though China has a number of large productions like Impression Sanjie Liu, they were too 'touristy'."

He noted that discussions with artist friends from China also revealed that there were "very few real classic productions" left after the Cultural Revolution.

But Mr Ong added that he will consider commissioning suitable Chinese productions for next year's festival.

Arts House chief executive Lee Chor Lin said: "It was a decision made by the festival's artistic director, and we have to respect that."

She pointed out that there had been little time for planning the festival this year as well.

"In a broader view, the festival has balance, and touches on relevant societal issues. We also cannot hope that an arts festival can cover all grounds for all kinds of performances," she said.

Arts practitioners My Paper spoke to threw their support behind the line-up.

Mr Kok Heng Leun, artistic director of Drama Box, said that the focus of the festival should be on "the language of art, and not on language politics". He added that festivals such as the Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts do showcase various Chinese cultural performing arts.

Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh pointed out that Mr Ong had less than a year to plan the new festival, whereas most major productions are usually booked in advance by more than a year. She said Mr Ong should be given "the freedom to envision and curate a new programme".

Cultural Medallion recipient and composer Dick Lee said excluding Mandarin performances was "neither deliberate nor careless".

"If there was something suitable, I'm sure Ong Keng Sen would have included it in the line-up," he said. "But I don't think he would put in a Mandarin performance just for the sake of it."

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