>legend alive by practice performing arts centre ltd and the esplanade

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 15 dec 2002
>time: 2:30pm and 7:30pm
>venue: esplanade studio theatre
>rating: *** 1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


>>>>>THE PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST

WORKS FOR PAO KUN: LEGEND ALIVE was originally devised during his period of illness "to make Kuo Pao Kun happy in illness" and to let "Singaporeans know how much the Asian Chinese drama circles respect Pao Kun as well as treasure his friendship," says Producer Vivien Ku. Sadly, Kuo passed away before he had the chance to witness this unique production which brought together directors and performers from theatre companies in Shen Zhen, Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong to work on five new theatre pieces "inspired" by his works and his life. However, the production's second objective certainly remained viable. While there is perhaps little need to remind Singaporeans of Kuo's influence not just to the cultural but also social landscape of our little isle, it was indeed inspiring to witness artists from the Chinese diaspora outside Singapore coming together to mark the passing of this local hero as well.

The fact that LEGEND ALIVE was a tribute performance could have made it difficult to comment on from an artistic point of view. It would seem churlish to criticise works created purely as an expression of someone's love and respect for another. Would you point out a grammar mistake in a love letter you received? Sentimentality and sympathy can excuse many shortcomings. Thankfully, I believe I am being completely objective when I say that in terms of production quality, there was little that required this reviewer to keep one eye closed when reviewing LEGEND ALIVE.

>>' ... [I will remember] Kuo as ... a man with stories to tell that we could all relate to.'


All five works which were performed that day in two separate shows - 'The Night We Go To Singapore' directed by Xiong Yuan Wei, 'In Search of Modern China (Eunuch)' directed by Danny Yung, 'Singapore Impromptu' directed by Stan Lai, 'The Silly Little Girl And The Funny Old Tree' directed by Lin Ke Huan and 'Spring Wind' directed by Hardy Tsoi - were clearly well-thought out and rehearsed. Everything from the music to the lighting had been carefully chosen and choreographed (although I have my reservation about the laser pointers used to represent stars in the sky for 'The Night We Go To Singapore'). Each piece was immaculately crisp and clean in its presentation and every actor was entirely in the moment of the performance. Indeed, the heart and soul infused into each actor's performance was a tangible force on stage. When at the end of 'Spring Wind', the actors invited audience members to scatter flower petals on-stage as a tribute to Kuo, it felt wholly sincere and respectful and therefore moving (if still a little awkward for more reserved members of the audience).

But while the intentions and abilities of all directors and performers were definitely beyond question, I found myself alienated by some artistic choices. For me, Kuo's strength has always been in his narratives and the (melo)drama he infuses into those narratives. 'The Night We Go To Singapore', 'In Search of Modern China (Eunuch)' and 'Spring Wind', however, employed loose or more abstract narrative structures more typical of devised theatre (with actors taking on multiple / indistinct roles) and in the earlier two, heavy doses of multi-media as well. Although these three pieces were indeed well-crafted and showed much imagination (like the image of political leaders exchanging heads in 'In Search of Modern China') in terms of representations of and tributes to Kuo, I personally found myself more attracted to the quieter, subtler pieces, that had more fully realised characters and stories - these, I felt, better captured not just the mind but also the heart of the storyteller.


I was particularly impressed by the tale of mystery and romance that was 'Singapore Impromptu' created by Stan Lai in collaboration with Fung Wai-hang, Ko Hon-man and Eddie Lam. It told a simple story of loss and desire that had me enthralled despite my only basic command of Mandarin and dialect. Even though Lin Ke Huan's dance-drama 'The Silly Little Girl And The Funny Old Tree' was qualified with the subheading 'A Free Sketch' and, indeed, lacked the solid narrative structure of 'Singapore Impromptu' and, in fact, verbal text of any kind, it too had a distinct story - the bare bones of Kuo's original - and characters that were engaged by the circumstances of that story, characters we could empathise with and care for.

These two pieces, more so than the rest, made me remember Kuo as more than a leading theatre practitioner and a voice for generations of Singaporeans. They made me remember Kuo as a real person living within the real world, a man with stories to tell that we could all relate to.