Sparks in the Night
Having recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, the well-loved Singapore Night Festival has successfully brokered cross-cultural collaborations between local and international artistes, as well as lasting friendships.
BY TERESE TAY
f there’s a secret ingredient behind successful large-scale arts productions, it might just be creativity. For Angelita Teo, the festival director of the Singapore Night Festival (SNF) who has been involved since the inaugural event in 2008, it’s certainly been a cornerstone of her work.
“Creativity has always been at the heart of the Singapore Night Festival, and every year, we challenge ourselves to expand on it and to do better,” says Teo, who is also director of the National Museum of Singapore. “As we work with artistes from all over the world, we continually get different ideas on new ways of presenting Singapore’s arts and culture.”
Presented every August, SNF transforms Bras Basah and Bugis into a celebration of the arts. It features performances by local and international artistes, and showcases global acts such as Close-Act Theatre in 2017, and Compagnie des Quidams and Lord of Lightning in 2018.
AN INSPIRED JOURNEY
Started as Singapore’s first outdoor nocturnal festival to enliven the Bras Basah and Bugis precinct, SNF’s visitorship has grown more than 800 per cent since its first edition, and is now one of the biggest events on the local arts calendar.
“Back then, we felt the precinct had a great amount of potential to grow as the arts and heritage district of Singapore, as it boasts the greatest concentration of historic monuments, heritage buildings, places of worship and arts groups. We thus wanted to draw people to experience arts and culture here,” explains Teo.
But building the festival to what it is today took some time, as Singapore’s arts and culture scene was less developed 10 years ago. “Today, Singaporeans have a greater interest in the arts and heritage, as well as more opportunities to engage in such activities. I would say that the festival has grown alongside Singapore’s cultural scene,” she shares.
In order to stay fresh and relevant, the festival has introduced new highlights over the years. Among its most well-received is a segment featuring interactive light installations – some are projected onto the façade of the National Museum – that was introduced in 2011, and a professional wrestling match that drew crowds in 2014.
And though an earlier effort to expand the festival to neighbouring precincts was unsuccessful due to logistical issues, SNF has grown from seeing 60,000 festival-goers in 2008 to a crowd of up to 500,000.
“Through the years, we have built up a solid base of SNF advocates – be it festival-goers, stakeholders or artists – many of whom have come back for multiple editions,” says Teo.
Championing local performers, and giving them a platform to develop their art, is a priority of the festival. In that vein, SNF has brokered more than 20 cross-cultural partnerships among participating international artists.
While these collaborations make foreign acts more accessible to the public, they also help local artists widen their horizons and skill sets. The festival’s 11th edition in 2018, for example, brought together Spanish percussion troupe Deabru Beltzak and Singapore’s homegrown batucada dance group MOTUS. With compositions by the visiting group, the two collaborators put up a thrilling combination of dance, percussion and fire.
“WHILE IT IS IMPORTANT TO PRESERVE YOUR CULTURE, YOU STAND TO LOSE WHOLE WORLDS WHEN YOU ARE NOT OPEN TO THE IDEAS OF OTHERS.”
While their end product was a rousing success, putting the show together involved challenges such as language barriers, as many members of Deabru Beltzak did not speak much English.
“Both groups communicated through hand gestures, including plenty of dramatic hand flailing, given the dynamic nature of their performance. They also used a lot of Google Translate,” Teo says.
But according to MOTUS performer Siti Nur’ain, there was hardly any lapse in communication during rehearsals. “That’s the beauty of music – its ability to transcend languages, borders and backgrounds, and foster connections between people,” she shares.
Oscar Castano, the director of Deabru Beltzak, attributes this seamless partnership to the open-mindedness and sincerity of the Singaporeans, grounded in a sense of mutual respect. As Deabru Beltzak’s choreography and instruments were entirely different from those used in batucada, the troupe spent a week in Singapore explaining and rehearsing their rhythms with MOTUS. They were also impressed by the dedication of the Singaporean troupe, most of whom held day jobs.
“From the moment we met, we knew that it was going to work. Everyone was willing to accept one another’s concepts,” he shares. Similarly, the MOTUS performers were touched by the big-hearted and uninhibited nature of their Spanish counterparts, who did not hold back on sharing their culture.
“We were ecstatic when they encouraged us to paint our faces for our shows. The mysterious and menacing face paintings that their members wear for their performances is so iconic to their identity, and we weren’t expecting that they would be open to sharing that part with us,” Nur’ain recalls.
Both bands have kept in touch since via email and social media, with the view of potentially collaborating again in the future. Nur’ain shares that the international exposure has inspired her band to keep honing their craft. “The attention that Deabru Beltzak has to even the smallest details is amazing and it’s something we hope to incorporate into our practice. Each member of Deabru Beltzak also has a wealth of music knowledge, and that taught us that we don’t need to be defined by only one genre of music,” says Nur’ain.
But perhaps it is Castano who best sums up the spirit of collaboration. “While it is important to preserve your own culture, you stand to lose whole worlds when you are not open to the ideas of others. Soaking up what’s outside your borders helps you to become more human,” he concludes.
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