Vision for the region
The George Town Festival returns next month with a more regional focus.
WHEN the George Town Festival (GTF) kicks off on July 28, you can be sure it will be done in style and with much enthusiasm for all things Asean. The Penang-based festival, now in its eighth year, will take place in several locations in George Town and Butterworth. It will host more than 100 events, ranging from art, design and photography to film, music, dance and drama. This year, 60% of the GTF programming will have a regional touch.
The GTF opens this year with Svara Asean (July 28-29), a musical tribute to South-East Asian music culture, featuring Malaysian singers Adibah Noor and Sean Ghazi, the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra, the Madrigal Singers from the Philippines, Gus Teja from Indonesia and Thailand’s mezzo-soprano Anchee.
“This year, our focus includes youth, women, community and the Asean region. We have a vision to bring together South East Asian artists onto the world stage. The festival’s opening will also feature Macam Macam Asean, a market full of Asean flavours, art, craft and sounds,” shares festival director Joe Sidek.
GTF started in 2010 to commemorate George Town’s designation as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Joe points out that the spirit of the GTF has always been all about “place-making”, something that is very much influenced by the long-term goal of seeing George Town flourish as a cultural hub.
“George Town is known for its local delicacies, but we also want it to be a place where talent converge. GTF is all about providing opportunities for local artists, giving everyone access to the arts, and building George Town’s (creative) character,” he adds.
Theatre practitioners, dancers and visual artists from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines will come together in Ikat (Aug 11-12) by ArtISM to tell a story about people from different backgrounds who are intrinsically bound to each other by love, hope and dreams.
A similar spirit of unity is also seen in Anthar Agni (Aug 30-31) by Temple of Fine Arts, a music and dance tribute to the sacred fire (Agni) that celebrates the spiritual significance of the integration of various cultures.
Elsewhere, Naohiko Umewaka, a grand master of the Japanese traditional Noh theatre, will team up with choreographer Aida Redza to present a new production of The Italian Restaurant (Aug 26-27). The play makes use of symbolism and metaphors – using the golden Noh mask yakan. The theatre performance features Chee Sek Thim, Hardy Shafii and Mislina Mustaffa.
Experimental theatre piece Riwayat (Aug 31 to Sept 2), directed by Tung Jit Yang, will combine movement, multi-lingual text and original soundscapes, in its investigation of shared memories and stories of living and being in Malaysia.
If you are keen on “retro infotainment”, then the music-filled What Are You Singing? Taiwan Liam Kua (Aug 25-26) is something to investigate. It’s a Taiwanese traditional form of ballad singing and spoken-word storytelling, packed with folk tales, gods and legends, and everyday life themes.
There will be no shortage of family-oriented shows at GTF, especially with the Australian award-winning one-man puppet show The Adventures Of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (Aug 30-31) on board. In this quirky combination of animation, puppetry, projections, live and recorded music, storyteller Tim Watt tells the tale of Alvin Sputnik, a deep sea explorer, and the search for his lost love in the seemingly endless depths of the ocean.
In British-based production Smoking Apples And Dogfish’s Cell (Aug 5-6), you find Ted, newly diagnosed with motor neurone disease, embarking on the trip of his lifetime around the world – with his pet fish. This heart-warming production features puppetry and physical theatre.
Cell, which is a project close to the hearts of those involved as they have lost family members to motor neurone disease, has also been nominated for a Peter Brook Award (a British arts award).
If you think dancing is for everybody, then look no further than one of GTF’s highlight shows, Gala (Aug 19-20), which is choreographed by French choreographer Jerome Bell. Gala is a show to break down borders. It will showcase 20 handpicked George Town individuals, who will take turns in executing different styles and genres of dance.
Elsewhere in the mix, Indian director Roysten Abel returns with The Manganiyar Classroom (Aug 5-6), featuring 35 village children on a four-row bench terrace on stage, dancing and singing to the tunes of their school days.
Beijing-based choreographer Tao Ye brings two of his Straight Line Trilogy series from Tao Dance Theatre to Malaysia for the first time. The mesmerising dance pieces 6 and 8 will play at this year’s festival on Aug 25-26.
8 marks the last dance in this series. This ground-breaking dance – literally – has eight dancers lying on the ground, exploring the possibilities of movement.
Gravity And Other Myths, an Australian acrobatics ensemble, will push physical limits in A Simple Space (Aug 11-12), merging the delicate with the taut, raw and intimate.
GTF activities and performances will take place at several venues, including Dewan Sri Pinang, Loft 29@Gat Lebuh Gereja, Penang Pac, The Whiteaways Arcade, The Star Pitt Street. The GTF will close with Week on Women (WOW) with talks, workshops and a bazaar. An International Women Arts Forum curated by the International Women’s Arts Exchange Association from South Korea will round up the festival.
George Town Festival is on from July 28 to Sept 3 in Penang. Its satellite event, the Butterworth Fringe Festival, runs on Aug 12 and 13. Tickets are on sale at redtix.com and at selected outlets. For more info and the festival schedule, visit www.georgetownfestival.com.
Traditional flute player Gus Teja, from Bali, Indonesia, will lead his group at the Svara Asean (July 28-29) musical tribute at the George Town Festival. — LIM BENG TATT /The Star
The What Are You Singing? Taiwan Liam Kua (Aug 25-26) show features the Taiwanese traditional form of spoken-sung stories.
Livin’ La Vida Imelda on July 28 is a solo comedy about Filipino-born, New York-trained actor Carlos Celdran’s personal experiences under the Marcos dictatorship in mid-1970s Manila. — Photos: GTF
Cell (Aug 5-6) combines puppetry and physical theatre in telling one man’s journey of hope in living life to the fullest.
Hakanai (Aug 18-19) is a French Japanese production that fuses digital and performing arts.