Singapore Arts Festival Opening Show

Alice was getting bored. Glancing at the book her sister was reading didn’t help. “What is the use of a book,” she thought, “without pictures or conversation?”

She started to slip into a reverie, when a white rabbit ran closely past her, muttering to itself. Curious, she followed the rabbit. She saw it slip into a rabbit-hole, and followed it, falling into the opening and deep into her fantasies of Alice In Wonderland.

Reminiscent of the queerness in the children’s story, an elderly man was travelling in a red car on the Singapore River, against the backdrop of the Asian Civilisation Museum and the clock tower of Victoria Theatre. His car soon sputtered and died.

So he got out of his car and stood under a glowing lamp, and started to flip through the newspaper in his hands. Ever so often, people would pass him, and he would raise his hand in greeting.

Down The Rabbit-hole
A Disturbing Unconsciousness
The End

Down The Rabbit-hole

It was starting to get boring, when a cyclist pedalled past him, splashing water at him. His head erupted into the brilliant flames, and he fell right through his figurative rabbit-hole.

It was Ilotopie’s Water Fools, the opening act of the Singapore Arts Festival, a performance that promises to bring you through an evening of phantasmagoric events.

Singapore Arts Festival Opening Show‘With our last show on the water, Narcissus Reflects, we used the water as a mirror of our society; so with Water Fools, we wanted to pass through this mirror and imagine what our unconsciousness holds,’ Bruno Schnebelin, artistic director of Ilotopie, told Business Times.

With thunder and fire building a discomfiting tension in the air, Schnebelin’s portrayal of unconsciousness was slowly brought into the depths of a schizoaffective realm.

A Disturbing Unconsciousness

Two hermaphrodites, characterised by their explicit display of both the phallus and bosom, began to circle each other with their boats, with fire at their feet and spears of fire in their hands. Meeting in the middle, they brandished their weapons. One of them narrowly escaped, shaking off ashes that were once angel wings.

They continue to loiter, leaving spots of fire floating in their wake. A sum of acts that totalled in a discombobulating affair, Water Fools proceeded to dramatically introduce a series of strange characters.

Singapore Arts Festival Opening ShowA woman released a bunch of balloons, which drifted helplessly into the vast emptiness of the sky. A prima donna (A temperamental, conceited person) screamed from her perch on top of a giant wheel, driven by another thespian. With allusion to The Emperor’s New Clothes, a king wearing nothing, except a sheer white thong, floated across the river with his jester on a long platform, draped in red carpet glamour.

A long pirate ship, with hostile spinning pedals, agitated the waters furiously, as it moved rapidly past the audience.

Intense spotlights strip the river, seemingly searching for something, but yet finding nothing.

Singapore Arts Festival Opening ShowMore fires were lighted on the water, as short bursts of fireworks were liberated, aggravating the mayhem of light and sound. Heavy smoke drifted across the watercourse, concealing portions of the scene, leaving only the eerie green glow of the fires. Children floated on the water, releasing flares in the air.
Tension intensified.

Singapore Arts Festival Opening ShowOne also noticed that a sense of time was conveyed in Water Fools. Much earlier in the show, a lady, dressed in red, pushed a pram idyllically, occasionally stopping to coo at her child. She appeared a second time, dragging her son by the hand. When she was sighted for the third time, she was hiding behind a young adult with a gun in his hands. Finally, she carried a limp form in her arms, dead, presumably killed. 

Throughout all these, the old man drifted around the same spot where he first was when the show started, his face burning slowly.

When the climax of the show came, it came in the form of dissonant fireworks that fluttered aimlessly through the sky, setting itself apart from the perfect choreography of a typical fireworks display.

In the foreground, the acts continued their peculiar parade; the prima donna reached out helplessly for her umbrella, which had fallen and is now dangling at the edge of her perch, as she moved past the crowd one last time.

The End

At this point of time, some expressed, to UrbanWire, their struggle to understand the performance.

It’s about the vagueness of life, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. But it’s not worth analysing it – it’s just entertainment,” Juliana Lim, director of public affairs and corporate social responsibility of Singapore Pools, told UrbanWire.
“Things happened too fast,” her companion, Ng Swee Leng, public and cultural affairs officer of the Canadian High Commission, added.

Robert Henru, 26, an Indonesian who was at the show with his colleagues, said to UrbanWire, “The show is okay. It’s hard to understand, but I like the fireworks. I’ll give it 5 out of 10.”

Singapore Arts Festival Opening ShowInstead of conveying clear messages to the audience, it’s this very uncertainty that Water Fools hopes to achieve. 

Ilotopie’s technical director Dominique Noel said to The Straits TImes, “We want to make a magical experience which is open to interpretation by the audience.”

On the water, a huge floating bed was rowed away by its occupant, dragging with it a tree entangled with bed sheets. The red car drove into the distance, a caravan in tow. The river dimmed and fell to darkness, as Water Fools ended.

As you followed the streams of people dispersing from the banks of the Singapore River, you can only empathise with Alice, when Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote in his book –

“‘Wake up, Alice dear!’ said her sister, ‘Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!’


‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Alice, and she told her. When she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, ‘It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it’s getting late.’

So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful (and very surreal, you add) dream it had been.”

Photos courtesy of Valerie Oliveiro.

This article is part of UrbanWire’s 9-week Singapore Arts Festival 2008 special. Get all the latest Arts Fest updates and reviews on UrbanWire.