"When I first engaged with the Asian way of telling stories in 1988, it was strange and wondrous for me. I was a young director wanting to tell narratives that had a magic reality, symbolic archetypes, a different sense of space and time; far from the monopoly of realism that seemed to imprison us all in a singular rationality. Today, this Asian mode is a natural language for me (perhaps its because I never watch television!) though I first had to learn it. I was always aided by an empathy with Noh theatre, an ancient theatre from Japan, which has deliberately kept its cosmos apart from daily life. Unlike, the major ruptures of culture such as Cultural Revolution of China or the malleability of tradition into the contemporary such as with gamelan music, Noh has maintained its separation from life. The space of art is zealously guarded. Art is not necessarily community, is not necessarily pop culture, social media but in the case of Noh, it still has relevance 700 years later. It is definitely food for thought for me living in Singapore.
For perhaps in the ancient is the contemporary - the purity, the minimal, the rigour. I am searching for this art for life, a new way of living in a media-saturated, technological world that is relentlessly impacted by political manifestos and consumer advertising.
Many people have asked why come back to this project from 1997 which I initiated then with 30 performers onstage, mostly actors even though it was an interdisciplinary work of music, dance, theatre. This time, the production is a work of music that has only one actor surrounded by eight musicians. I suppose you can say that I was hailed by Lear to respond once again. We often understand that it is the artist who creates the work but perhaps it is the work that creates the artist?
The 1997 production was gorgeous, complete and very material. How can it be so easy to say something so complex? What faces one at the end of life? How can we suggest the salvation, the humanity in a dictator, an authoritarian father, an oppressor? What has been oppressed? The blood lines that continue, the legacies that we inherit, that we resist – how do we open up a discussion without reducing it to a didactic ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judgment? How do we allow resistance to be ambiguous, real and problematic? How do we manifest this ambiguity in the work? For “The human heart is more difficult to fathom than the bottom of the sea….”
- Ong Keng Sen