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Created by Shane Thio and Kuo Jing Hong


Deanne Tan






The Arts House



Where Is the War?

This was an elegant work that combined music, dance and installation to explore three artists' ideas of war. It was suitably avant-garde, as befitting a fringe festival performance, yet it remained honest. With a pianist (Shane Thio) playing Schoenberg's early atonal music, a lone dancer (Kuo Jing Hong) and a simple stage setting (designed by Lim Wei Ling ), the three artists resisted over-dramatising the often clichéd theme of war. This in itself made for a surprisingly watchable performance.

However, SCHOENBERG......Prismed failed to deliver on its key conceptual promise, leaving the piece undefined and hanging. Admittedly, the premise the artists had woven was rather elaborate. As I understood it, their aim was to discover their ideas about war, and they would do this through exploring their responses to Schoenberg's music. As they modestly reminded us (in programme notes and festival publications), the artists had not gone through war themselves. Hence, they first sought to develop an understanding of the "war" that Schoenberg waged against the language of classical music. Through this discovery process, they would explore more conventional ideas about war, such as tragedy, entrapment, change, blindness, the healing process, and so on.

A question enticingly posed was "Are we waging a war against Schoenberg in deciding the outcome of the music?" Obediently taking the bait, I wondered if a war was effected in the pianist's defying Schoenberg's performance instructions, in his repeating and changing the order of the six pieces. Was this an act of war on Schoenberg, who had rebelled against the fixed idea of tonality as the only route to musical perfection? I suspected that this was more an interpretative liberty than something destructive and warlike.

I mused if there was war in the physical rendering of Schoenberg's score as black and white gridlines on which little wooden cubes were arranged and later danced upon by Kuo. This was a "spatial music score" where the time of each note in Schoenberg's score was translated into distance on the performance space. Kuo's dance went from a careful non-interference with the wooden cubes to a fever pitch, where the score was trodden on, flung in the air and rearranged. The disordering of the wooden cubes as the dancer "made up" her own score pointed to a destruction of the piece's architecture... thence, war? As a conceptual device, it was disappointingly literal.

I decided to look past concepts, as Kuo was enjoyable to watch and the interplay amongst the different media was interesting. Moving with an organic simplicity, Kuo subtly captured a range of emotions through negotiating physical space, displaying childlike playfulness, then fearful hesitation, then broad sweeping pain. Thio's rendering of Schoenberg's emotionally objective music haunted Kuo's responses, distilling the piece's expression to the bare essentials of a personal response. However, moments of artistic interaction were rare. Thio played on his own and, lacking expressiveness, the pieces sounded flat and structural rather than intense and idiosyncratic. With diminished emotional impact, Schoenberg's aesthetic "war" against musical conventions seemed to be an empty concept, riding the wave of novelty.

The piece was stronger in its concept than in its performance. This lent SCHOENBERG......Prismed the air of an installation piece rather than a production. But the concept was also convoluted, and raised more questions than it could support. At the end of the day, the performance was nothing grander than three artists' interpretations of Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces, Op. 19. When considered apart from its conceptual baggage, this was a modest work with interesting ideas, but ultimately it lacked the conviction and illumination to take it one step above mediocrity.

By the way, although SCHOENBERG......Prismed was admittedly not the main course of the fringe festival, it could have reached more of an audience if some effort had gone into managing its publicity. In all of its publicity materials, the premise of the work (to explore the interaction of the three artists' interpretations of war) was undermined by the unnecessary disclaimer that the artists had not gone through a war themselves. On the Saturday night that I attended the performance, the ratio of empty seats to the approximately 10 people in the audience made me think that the National Day Parade was on that evening. As it turned out, it was Haresh Sharma's new play that was playing at the Esplanade as part of the same M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. This programming fratricide was exacerbated by lukewarm support from the performance venue. A less-than-welcoming security representative at The Arts House main door stopped and questioned every visitor, thus precluding the possibility of curious passers-by coming in. A quick check revealed that the title of the performance on The Arts House web page was "Untitled" even on the day of performance. Lacking big names and a crowd-pulling programme, SCHOENBERG......Prismed could have done with more help to obtain the audience it deserved.

"At the end of the day, the performance was nothing grander than three artists' interpretations of Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces, Op. 19"

More M1 Singapore Fringe Festival Performances
White Men with Weapons by Actor's Co-op

by Pip Utton Theatre Company

Errorism - Flowers of Evil by Zai Kuning and Li Xie

What Big Bombs You Have!!! by The Necessary Stage

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.