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Dreaming of Kuanyin, Meeting Madonna


Mark Chan and The ARTS FISSION Company


Stephanie Burridge






Victoria Theatre



Lost in Dreamtime

Dreaming of Kuanyin, Meeting Madonna began with projected screen images and an introductory text by the multi-tasking artist Mark Chan, leading the audience on a journey involving dreams, Kuanyin – the God of Mercy, later known as the Goddess of Mercy from the twelfth century – insomnia and finding Madonna.

While the musings of Chan, his evocative music and the video projections held the multi-disciplinary work together structurally, the dancers from the Singapore-based ARTS FISSION Company and guest performers seemed unable to find their place in its overall concept. In the end, this production was a disconcerting, arid landscape of multiple narratives. It lacked the dynamics and courage to work at a deeper emotional level.

Storyteller Chan, huqin player Sunny Wong and percussionist Joe Jayaveeran were located on the stage in a triangular configuration in front of the three projection screens. Some memorable images by video artist Brian Gothong Tan included calligraphy that unfolded vertically line by line, and sections of Henri Rousseau’s surrealist/fantasy painting The Dream. This appeared near the end of the work as part of the scene The Dream of Finding Sleep.

But the dancers needed stronger choreography and direction. There was a lot of walking back and forth, finding a spot and doing some brief movement phrases that did not add up to a larger purpose. At times, the movements suggested a struggle between tradition and modernity, the search for spiritual solace in a chaotic world, peace and love. These moments were the most successful, as the dancers moved fluidly between arm gestures derived from generic eastern forms and freer, contemporary movement. However, none of these themes was developed, and the dancers drifted in and out as incoherent, imbalanced episodes in the overall narrative.

A high point was guest dancer Ming Poon’s sensual performance in the scene Genesis. Featuring sinuous, rippling movements of the torso, he gave a sense of a man seeking a path to enlightenment. Scarlet Yu also had an interesting interaction with Chan, where she physically "outlined" him in a movement phrase that used elements of traditional dance. More connections that related the dancers to the other performers would have enriched the piece.

Arts festivals present opportunities for collaborations, and Singapore dance companies have a history of mounting joint productions for the Singapore Arts Festival. In seeking to collaborate, artists often restrict their boundaries to their own areas of expertise, and it is rare to find a seamless, creative work that smoothly integrates multiple performers and art forms. This takes time to develop and requires respect and a deep understanding of each element, be it video imagery, live music, dance, or narrative.

In trying to include all of the above, Dreaming of Kuanyin progressed in jagged chunks of material, each contributed by a collaborator, never gelling into a coherent whole. "I Hear the Cries of the World" was projected onto the screens many times – unfortunately, no one on stage seemed to listen or respond to this call to action.

"'I Hear the Cries of the World' was projected onto the screens many times – unfortunately, no one on stage seemed to listen or respond to this call to action."


Creative Concept, Artistic Direction, Composer, Text, Musical Director, Performer: Mark Chan

Choreographer, Costume Designer, Concept: Angela Liong

Video Artist: Brian Gothong Tan

Dancers: Elysa Wendi, Scarlet Yu Mei Wah, Bobbi Chen Si Yun, Yan Xiang Yi and Wu Yi Xin.

Guest Dancers: Lily Tsai Yi (Hong Kong-based), Ming Poon (Italy-based)

Musicians: Sunny Wong (huqin), Joe Jayaveeran (percussion)

More Reviews by
Stephanie Burridge


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