Sweet Awaking

No, I didn’t understand most of what was happening–but Yes, I really enjoyed it! And it was nice being back in Victoria Theatre. I hope they don’t pull it down–it’s a really sweet yet dignified space.

This is TheatreWorks’ ‘Awaking’ at Victoria Theatre on Saturday night I’m talking about.

It started very cirque du soleil, because of the lighting it seemed that this figure in full Chinese Opera regalia floated out to a floating chair (yes, I was looking for wires) but no, it was actually an incredible sloping sheet of stage.

And yes, she sang, with graceful turns & flourishes, moving herself (still looked floating) & her long sleeves. (Made me want to carry a pashmina around & do the same)

I knew from the programme that the first section was Death, with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra etc but lost track of the ‘acts’ completely.

There was a huge screen where lyrics/translation occasionally appeared. Sometimes there were just colours splattered on, sometimes intricate patterns. And best of all was what began as a close up of the Chinese Opera performer’s eye which then pulled back to the details of her make up, head piece etc… & then removed all these layer by layer till she was just a woman with a netting over her hair. But then it built up a new image, again layering in one item at a time–contemporary hair, street make up… till it was a beautiful Chinese woman of today… which is when the Opera Singer, who had gone off stage, re-appeared as a contemporary Chinese woman!

Till then the two women had been singing alternate sections. The Chinese sections were taken by (had to look this up, great is my ignorance!) Wei Chun Rong who is apparently a renowned Kunqu actress & recipeint of the 2003 Plum Blossom Award, the highest honour for Chinese opera artists in China.

(note to self: find out more about Kunqu. Even knowing nothing it was fascinating. What we heard was excerpts from The Peony Pavilion)

And the olde English musick sections Joanne Lunn accompanied by the Musicians of the Globe. They were incredible incredible incredible (hark, is that a lute, a cittern I hear & see before me?)

Oh, as I was saying, the modern Chinese woman appeared on stage. And then as the English soprano was singing Shakespeare (yes–& it made up for all my previous nights at Lear Project!) The Witches Dance (Macbeth), ‘O Mistress Mine’ (Twelfth Night) & several in between (& yes, the earlier section with ‘How should I your true love know?’ was shiveringly shiok too) The Chinese lady walked down off the sloping stage, in around the musicians and finally up to the singing soprano.

We wondered, were the two going to duel or duet?
But they did neither.
After circling and suspicious cat eyeing each other (still singing) the Chinese Lady descended into the audience (rats, couldn’t see no more–I was in the circle) and the English soprano faced us and continued into the finale.

I enjoyed it so much. The focus of the work linking The Peony Pavilion & Shakespeare was supposed to be about exploring & contrasting approaches to ‘Love’ beyond the immediate & physical with original as well as commissioned music.

Oh, I also loved the shimmering ‘snow’ glisters falling & the red/orange/yellow leaves. I know, it sounds kitschy here, but in the moment, with the music, with the lights/movement it all worked.

I was both happy/content & stimulated/intrigued by this–can’t ask for more!

Oh yes–it was ‘conceived & directed’ by Ong Keng Sen.
Overheard man to TheatreWorks Admin “Tell Keng Sen I didn’t understand what was happening but enjoyed it very much”
Me too.

And a footnote.
Was talking to some people before the show about The Lear Project.
“Funny, I thought it was so bad, but now looking back–actually okay lah.”
“But I thought it was fine last night. Only now thinking back I don’t like it so much.”
“What were the cameras for?”
“I don’t know.”
“They weren’t even filming. At least not all the time. I tried to look but I couldn’t see the red light.”

But after ‘Awaking’ even I was ready to say The Lear Project was ‘not so bad’. It was a vast & courageous attempt & I respect that. I would also say if it was targeted at secondary school students (used to teachers repeating repeating repeating & wanting Cliff’s Notes sum ups of everything) it might even be considered a ‘pass’.


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