Happy Diwali!

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Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, although the deities, rituals, and stories that are associated with the holiday are different in different parts of India. My family considers the third day of the five-day festival most auspicious*; we believe on this day that Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, visits our home. On this night of a new moon—the last night of the Hindu year—total darkness sets in the night sky.

This year, our toddler painted diyas, tiny clay lamps, to place in our doorway for Lakshmi can find her way.

* Lakshmi Puja is on Thursday, October 23.

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A Diwali greeting from me to you: May this year bring light to your spirit, warmth to your home, and joy to your heart!

da:ns 2014


I spent several evenings these past two weeks at da:ns festival 2014, an annual celebration of dance held at Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay. This year, as I did last year, I opted to attend one of the festival’s “Shift” performances, rather than its “Centrestage” productions. I also attended two free “Rasa” performances, free lecture-demonstrations showcasing Asia’s traditional dances, and one Footwork workshop, an introductory dance classes conducted by professional instructors, with my toddler.

A few thoughts:

Ballet Baby by Shanti Gomes: My toddler and I participated in “Ballet Baby,” an introductory dance class for little ones (ages 3 to 6 years old) and their caregivers. The class took place in Esplanade Rehearsal Studio, a stunning fifth-floor space designed for dance rehearsals and pre-performance warm-up sessions with breathtaking views of Marina Bay. Shanti Gomes of Dance Arts was our lead instructor and she was awesome; weeks later, my child still says, “Mama, I want to go to ballet class again!”

Dances from Mindanao by Integrated Performing Arts Guild: In 2012, Liceo Folkloric Dance Troupe of the Philippines performed dances from Mindanao, the archipelago’s southernmost major island. I didn’t catch that performance. This year, Integrated Performing Arts Guild of the Philippines showcased a sampling of the performing arts from Mindanao, which carry influences from Spain, South Asia, and the Middle East. The dance forms presented were stunningly varied, ranging from rousing celebratory dances to tribal rites, which were often accompanied by an ensemble of gongs and chimes known as Kulintang.

Bharatnatyam: Rhythm and Gesture by Bharathaa Arts: I saw Bharathaa Arts dance school founders, sisters Suganthi and Jeyanthi Kesavan, perform in 2012 in “En Anubhavam: My Inspirational Journey,” a 90-minute recital featuring distinguished Singaporean classical dancers and musicians. In Bharatnatyam: Rhythm and Gesture, the school’s senior students performed the various components of an arangetram, which included an alarippu, an invocation to deities to bless the performance, and a thillana, a virtuosic display of complex rhythms.

Intermezzo by Singapore Dance Theatre: da:ns’ “Shift” segment is, by far, those most impressive of the festival. The platform intends to “shift” audience’s notions of contemporary dance and presents works in intimate spaces, rather than on the “big stage.” Past performances have turned the movement vocabulary of classical dance on its head, questioned the established conventions of modern dance, and presented unique—and at times radical—movement styles.

Singapore Dance Theatre’s Intermezzo was a triple bill of new creations by Toru Shimazaki, professor of dance at Kobe College, Ma Cong, resident choreographer of Tulsa Ballet, and Christina Chan, dancer-choreographer with Frontier Danceland. Ma Cong’s “Shadow’s Edge” was just remarkable. The music from “Aheym,” a collaboration between National guitarist Bryce Dessner and new music string quartet the Kronos Quartet served as the piece’s inspiration, according to the choreographer. Ma Cong trained in traditional classical Chinese Dance at Beijing Dance Academy before he began his training at the National Ballet of China; the influence of both of these styles of dance are evident in his brilliant, energetic creation.

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An observation, with no conclusion:

In years past, many of the Centrestage productions have been European, aside from performances by Japan’s Sankai Juku in 2012 and Brazil’s Grupo Corpo in 2013. This year Centrestage featured two performances from the UK and one from Spain. (The 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of da:ns festival have all featured a Flamenco performance. Now, I love Flamenco as much as the next person, but….)

Centrestage says it brings to stage “stunning productions from around the world,” but has yet to feature an African production or South Asian production, at least in the four years that I have attended the festival. I have no doubt that a blockbuster dance performance from India or China, for example, would draw audiences. But the former seem relegated to Kalaa Utsavam: Indian Festival of Arts and the latter, to Huayi: Chinese Festival of Arts.

The above is largely a “note to self.” Recently, I’ve been paying much more attention to the ways in which the performing arts are programmed, marketing, and covered in the media in preparation for my participation in the inaugural international Conference on Bharatanatyam in Singapore, “The Emergence, Development and Future Directions of Bharatanatyam in Singapore and Malaysia,” on December 6 and 7 at Stephen Riady Centre, University Town, National University of Singapore. As I said, I have no “conclusions,” per se; I need to collect more data!

Previously blogged: da:ns 2011, da:ns 2013.

Bukit Batok Town Park



As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that a short walk near water—the ocean, a lake, a reservoir—calms my anxious mind. The claiming, healing effects of water are well-documented. Wallace J. Nichols, marine biologist, says of the the “blue mind”: “[it is] a mildly meditative, relaxed state that we find ourselves in when we are in, on, or under water.” Here in Singapore, a tiny island nation, I am never more than a short ride from the sea.

Yesterday, in search of water, I explored Bukit Batok Town Park. The park was developed on an abandoned granite quarry site, which now forms forms a scenic—and deep—pond. The park has meandering footpaths leading to look-out points with breathtaking views.

The park is also known as Xiao Guilin, or Little Guilin, as it apparently looks similar to picturesque Guilin in China.

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Where do you go in search of peace in the big city?




I’m overjoyed to have finally visited Overjoyed, an art supply and stationery shop in Golden Wall Centre, near LASALLE College of the Arts and a hop, skip, and jump from Little India MRT Station.

What ever took me so long? Best. Art. Supply. Store. In. Singapore.

Overjoyed has an incredible selection of fine arts supplies and craft materials for artists of all ages. Most impressive is their paper collection—gold foil-accented; metallic-threaded; block-printed. Their paper stock is shelved a bit haphazardly, so I urge you to shuffle through their wares.

Overjoyed’s customer service was second to none. Their team knows their stuff (unlike other art supply specialty shops *cough* ArtFriend *cough*). And I found their prices to be very reasonable. A small SUREMARK cutting mat was only SG$8.00; an A2-sized sheet of handmade paper, SG$4.50.

Connect with Overjoyed on Facebook and follow on Twitter and Instagram.

Tapestry Weaving with Natalie Miller


I finally attended a class in Irene Hoofs’ Bloesem Class space on Seng Poh Road. Bloesem Class is Irene’s second space in Tiong Bahru and regularly hosts visiting master craftspeople from Singapore and beyond. (Bloesem Shop, her first space, on Eng Hoon Road, sells wares often featured on Irene’s popular blogs, Bloesem Living and Bloesem Kids.)

I have recently acquired a rigid heddle loom and have become enchanted with all things woven. When the opportunity to study Tapestry Weaving with Natalie Miller, a talented fiber artist from Australia, in Singapore landed in my lap, I immediately signed up (despite the exorbitant price tag). This sort of education in the fiber arts, or any craft for that matter, is just so rare here, unlike in the United States.

In Natalie’s class, we experimented on a simple frame loom using her hand-dyed and sourced yarns. It was quite fun, and Natalie provided us with enough instruction (and excellent handouts) to continue our tapestry weaving journey at home.

But six hours was much too short! While Natalie shared a few techniques—to tie rya knots, for example—I found the instruction on removal from the loom and finishing to be much too rushed. And I wish I had had more time to socialize with my classmates. We didn’t have a chance to properly introduce ourselves to Natalie or each other!  It would have been nice to connect in a meaningful way to like-minded crafters in Singapore.

And the cost! I suppose I’m used to prices back home for these sorts of things. For example, a three-hour tapestry weaving class at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, which covers the construction of a frame loom and includes all materials, is only US$75. And it’s BYOB ;). Saturday’s workshop was SG$320.00—welp! It was a huge, huge splurge.

Natalie will be teaching another session of Tapestry Weaving on Monday from 10am to 4pm and another session of Knots and Ropes (macrame) on Tuesday from 10am to 1:30pm. Sign up here. Tapestry Weaving was an excellent introduction to this ancient art, and if you have the time and funds, I urge you to go!

(Additional credits: Photograph via Instagram.)

Octoburst! 2014


When #sghaze ruined our picnic plans on Sunday evening, we returned to The Esplanade for Octoburst!: A Children’s Festival. This annual festival stages free and ticketed performances and offers workshops for children of all ages and their caregivers.

We caught “Dance Expressions” by dancers from Chowk, an Odissi dance company founded by Raka Maitra. Under Maitra’s artistic direction, Chowk has developed a movement vocabulary grounded in Odissi and complemented by other Asian physical training styles including Seraikela Chau and Kalari Payattu. Chowk’s professional dance company’s seasonal productions aim to expand the genre of Indian dance beyond dichotomies of classical and contemporary.

On Sunday, the young dancers from Chowk performed traditional Odissi dance pieces such as Mangalacharan, an invocatory piece to the elephant god, Lord Ganesha, as well as stories from the Panchatantra, an ancient Indian collection of animal fables.

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Octoburst! impressed me through and through and I wish we had made time for more performances, both paid and ticketed, and a workshop or two. I won’t make the same mistake in 2015!

On Children’s Books and Race Privilege

Last week, I blogged about Timmy and Tammy, a new series of “Let Me Read” books by Ruth Wan-Lau and illustrated by Eliz Ong.

Today, on Quartz, I expanded that post into a longer essay about children’s books and race privilege in Singapore. Look past the headline and the photo—those were determined by the publisher!

An excerpt:

Years ago, I wrote about how I would search the library shelves of my New Jersey elementary school in the hopes of finding a character that looked like me in children’s books. One day my librarian handed me a copy of The Jungle Book. Though I had never revisited Kipling’s India—it wasn’t about the India my parents knew and loved or the India that I frequently visited on long, hot summer vacation—I remained an insatiable reader throughout my childhood and became a children’s book author myself, telling stories that I would have liked to have read as a young person.

Now, as a parent living in Singapore and raising a third culture kid who happens to be categorized as one of Singapore’s “official” ethnicities or “races,” I had expected my child’s journey of discovery to be easier than mine had been. Given that nearly 9% of Singaporeans and permanent residents trace their ancestry, wholly or in part, to the Indian subcontinent, I’d expected more visible signs and celebrations of Indianness. Moreover, Singapore touts its vibrant and diverse cultural heritage and has often prided itself on being a good example of multiculturalism at work, even though it is nearly 74% ethnically Chinese. So badly, I had wanted my child to experience diversity as I never had.

As I discover more books for young readers, though, especially of realistic stories set in Singapore, I cannot help but notice, and be saddened by, how few commercially-published fiction titles feature non-Chinese children as protagonists in contemporary settings. This speaks to a hierarchy of race that is wholly apparent to those of us who are not at the top. These books are peppered with the occasional non-Chinese Asian character, but these characters represent “diversity” only on a visual level. The characters hardly make it past their function as a visual supplement or plot device.

Read the entire piece here.


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