Destinies of Flowers In The Mirror

I was *inside* Asia‘s largest fountain yesterday. What a sublime experience. This is a fountain about the size of a quarter of a football field, with huge jets of water shooting up about 10 storeys, and a huge ring of water raining down in a circle from a height of about 6 storeys up. Amazing…what a change of perspective. I’ll try to find a picture of it…

The play was produced by TheatreworksSingapore‘s most cutting edge theatre company. This was probably the most avant garde production they have ever come up with…quite an accomplishment for staid/boring Singapore. The whole irony of it was that our very conservative and often-criticised Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA) granted the license for the production, possibly because it was i) high profile; ii) good for tourism. They failed to see what I felt was a very politically motivated (and mostly critical) subtext. I’m glad they pulled it off. Calling what really was a pice of performance art a play was brilliant. They packed the audience in, despite a rather challenging staging and inacessible script. Great PR job, I must say.

Basically, the work was billed as being based in part on the Chinese fable Flowers in the Mirror, but what they failed to mention that it was even more a showcase of Mahatma Gandhi’s treatise on civil disobedience. “Flower” is a woman who decides to go head to head with society’s ills by not eating, and leads a band of women to “paradise” (which was our fountain) where they proceed to perform miracles like enabling men to conceive and give birth to gender inspecific children. The “Establishment” cannot bear this travesty, and proceed to capture these heretics, lobotomising them (“with no brains, they cannot think”), spreading disinformation about the “cult”, and eventually commiting genocide (akin to the holocaust, gassing the women). Draw your own conclusions.

The plot was powerful (and very sad), but the imagery was even more so. Butoh-inspired white linen costumes billowing in the wind, shaven-heads, spastic movements, fluid dances amongst the jets of water. Perspex, metal sculptures, grey PVC tubes, men with computers who answered your questions. It was chaotic (another oxymoron in Singapore), it was interactive, it was everywhere and no where. This multi-layered excursion was impressive in scale, and accomplished in execution.

I’m quite proud that Singaporeans could produce such a piece of work. It may not have gotten to most people, I admit it was quite “out-there”…but this was performance art with a message. It wasn’t a “me-too” copycat gesture. These talented people CREATED something here. Good on them. They slapped the establishment in Singapore in the face, and no one’s noticed. They got away with it, with good press and publicity. But no one’s talked about the subtext. Classic case of self-censorship. Many people probably went home either puzzled, or quietly nodding to themselves in agreement. Perhaps this is but one step towards more vocal demonstrations of our displeasure. An allegory of our frustrations.