The Magic Jungle


Yesterday, for what is likely the last time*, The Preschooler and I returned to the Esplanade for PLAYtime!’s latest production, The Magic Jungle. PLAYtime! is an interactive theatre series for children aged two to four. The Magic Jungle, which invites children on an adventure to a very Southeast Asian jungle with a tapir, a sambar deer, a sloth, and a hornbill, is directed by Ian Loy and features memorable music by Stan X Soap.

This production was rather different than previous ones that we have seen—in a good way! The play was wordless for the most part, and the actors’ gestures and movements forwarded much of the narrative. Chelsea Crothers, who played the deer and the sloth, was quite exceptional! Stan X Soap’s compositions featured Asian instruments, such as the slenthem and the tabla, and Asian vocal elements, such as lyrics in Bahasa Indonesia sung by Venytha Yoshiantini. And the cast was truly diverse which, I suspect, kept the offensive “humor” that has plagued previous productions at bay.

The Magic Jungle closed its run today, but do look out for it as I know it will be staged again!

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* She’s outgrowing these productions, nothing more; she was, for the first time, not enchanted by with PLAYtime!’s colorful, interactive elements.

Bhangra Baby, Bollywood Baby, Ballet Baby


Over the past few weeks, The Preschooler and I have participated in three Footwork (Twinkle Toes) workshops as part of da:ns festival 2015. These introductory dance classes are conducted by professional instructors and designed for children 3 to 6 and their caregivers. “Bhangra Baby” with SherePunjab Bhangra, “Bollywood Baby” with BollyBeatz and “Ballet Baby” with Shanti Gomes of Dance Arts (whose class we attended as part of last year’s festival) all 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.

The Preschooler is rather into dance these days (like parent, like child!), and enjoyed “Bhangra Baby” and “Ballet Baby.” From an early childhood educator’s perspective, however, I found “Ballet Baby” to be the most attune to the physical limits and attention spans of young children, and “Bollywood Baby” to be the least attuned. Gomes is an exceptionally skilled teacher and she introduced key physical elements of ballet, such as first position and demi-plié, in a child-centered and playful way, and used props to to scaffold instruction. All children learned in “Bollywood Baby” was to mimic a choreographic sequence to “Aaj Blue Hai Pani Pani” without learning much about the genre’s disparate influences and elements. All this is symptomatic of the fact that it is only mainstream (read: Western) arts that afforded more respect/resources, even in the early years.

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There are still tickets available for two forthcoming Twinkle Toes workshops, and many for  youth, adult, and senior citizen workshops. I’ll be attending an adult workshop in October; look out a post about my own experiences!

World Cultures Festival 2015: Southeast Asian Edition


This weekend I stumbled upon World Cultures Festival 2015: Southeast Asian Edition, a series of FREE performances and workshops over two weekends at the library@esplanade. (The events weren’t well publicized, IMO.)

On Friday, The Preschooler and I watched traditional Thai Lakhon dance, a graceful and sensual form. Here, female dancers depicted folk tales and Jataka stories, and my child appreciated the fairy-tale nature of this dance-drama performance art.

Today, I witnessed a Javanese gamelan performance by NUS’ Singa Nglaras gamalen orchestra. The ensemble, formed in January 2004 and managed by Dr Jan Mrázek of the NUS Department of Southeast Asian Studies, presented a selection of traditional instrumental works and dances of the Javanese gamelan, including Golek Lambang Sari, a dance from the Mangkunegaran Palace in Solo whose performance style combines features from both the Solonese and Jogjanese courts, and Menak Koncar, a solo dance in the Alus or “refined male” style that depicts a character from the Javanese Serat Damar Wulan.

But the highlight of the my day was a two-hour interactive Javanese gamelan workshop conducted by the members of Singa Nglaras. I performed on the Saron Demung, seven bronze bars placed on a resonating frame, a beginners’ instrument! Together, we played “Ricik Ricik” (“Sound of Flowing Water”). Here is a clip from this afternoon:

Not only was the workshop loads of fun, but very informative as well, as its performers (students, alumni, faculty, and musicians from outside the NUS and Yale-NUS community) were so knowledgable about the instruments and the art form. Singa Nglaras holds open rehearsals on campus every Wednesday at 7:30pm, and if I had more time in my life to devote to music and performance, I would so be there! Maybe in a few years.

The Rhythm of Sunda (Wirahma Sunda) by Gamelan Asmaradana


My in-laws are visiting and, earlier this evening, I took them to the opening night of Pesta Raya: Malay Festival of Arts, a weekend-long celebration of arts features dance, music, and theater from the Malay Archipelago. 

We saw Gamelan Asmaradana, Singapore’s only professional gamelan orchestra, and Degung Singalagena, an ensemble led by composer and Sundanese kendang (a two-headed drum) maestro Tatang Sofyan, perform music from from West Java in a free concert at the Esplanade. Degung, or Sundanese, gamelan differs from Javanese or Balinese gamelan as it employs a subset of modified gamelan instruments. (The bulbous gongs and metallophones are slightly altered in orientation and pitch is my understanding.)

I loved the sounds of the suling degung, or four-holed bamboo flute. Gamelan Asmaradana was accompanied by a pesindhèn, or solo female vocalist, from Bandung, who had a hypnotizing and melodic voice. We were also treated to Jaipongan, a popular traditional Sundanese dance. However, the program’s highlight, for me, was “Rampak Kendang,” a composition in which six drummers played in harmony. I was really taken by the performance of Rosmaini Buang, the artistic director of Gamelan SingaMurti, Gamelan Asmaradana’s Balinese gamelan ensemble; she has incredible stage presence!

Interview with Balli Kaur Jaswal at Scroll


I’m over at Scroll, an India-based independent news, information, and entertainment venture published in partnership with Atlantic Media’s Quartz India, with an interview with Balli Kaur Jaswal, author of Inheritance.

An excerpt:

Singapore-born Balli Kaur Jaswal was raised in Japan, Russia, and the Philippines, and is the author of Inheritance, an impressive debut novel that traverses the island-state’s history from 1970 to 1990. In it, a Sikh family wrestles with the unexplained loss of its matriarch, the dismissal from the army of the eldest son under suspicion of homosexuality, and the misdiagnosis of its lone daughter “to devastating consequences” against the backdrop of a newly independent country’s search for identity.

Inheritance is the first English-language novel about Singapore’s Punjabi-Sikh diaspora. “Diaspora fiction is my favourite genre,” Jaswal said. “It speaks to my experience and helps me understand ways of communicating that experience to a wider audience. To write that sort of fiction is such a privilege.”

The novel was published in Australia, where Jaswal lived and worked as a secondary-school English teacher, to great acclaim – she won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelist Award 2014. “Jaswal’s story of one Punjabi family’s efforts to contain the unspeakable is utterly engrossing and ambitious in scope,” the judges wrote.

Jaswal and her partner are leaving Melbourne for Istanbul where she will join the teaching staff at an international school. Scroll spoke to her via Google Chat in the midst of her packing for an international move.

Continue reading “Writing Fiction About Sikhs in Singapore: If You Don’t Know Her, You Should.”

Music and Movement with Chowk


I’m always on the hunt for developmentally appropriate arts education opportunities for The Preschooler, especially those which can serve as a window to and mirror of her rich, diverse ethnic heritage. (Professional-quality Mandarin-lanaguage early childhood opportunities [theatre, for example] are abundant in Singapore, as are the Western arts [ballet, violin, etc.]. Far less so for other art forms.)

This weekend, we attended a session of an ongoing Odissi-inspired music and movement class with the inimitable Raka Maitra of CHOWK and, OH MY GOODNESS, it was good. Raka was cognizant of her very young student’s physical (gross motor and fine motor) limits, attention spans, and creative capabilities. She introduced  hasta mudras to the children in playful ways and encouraged them to “choreograph” as well. And, most of all, I was impressed with Raka’s respect for her students’ sense of self and sense of play.

We hope to return next week despite the fact that The Preschooler was a little shy today and hesitant to participate in the activities. If you are keen on bringing a young person in your care to the next class, contact Raka via Facebook.


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