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The Carnival of The Animals and Peter & The Wolf

May 22, 2010

This is a review which I wrote for the Singapore Arts Festival blog (here).

(Photos from “Peter & The Wolf”, courtesy of NAC.)

Date: 21st May 2010
Venue: Esplanade Concert Hall
Time: 730pm

Picture this:

Old newspapers and cartons strewn all over the Esplanade Concert Hall, on the floor, the seats and even all over the stage, red & white cordon tape draped vertically across the stall seats such that you need to crouch under them to get to your seat, kids and adults alike playfully tossing balls of crushed newspaper at each other all throughout the concert hall, the occasional giant-paper-plane-made-of-newspaper being whizzed from the upper Circles down onto the stalls, a juggler up on stage doing pirouettes with clubs and white beanbags (up to seven beanbags at one point!), the “ushers” playfully leading an audience member up onto the stage and then back down again en route to his seat.

All this for a good twenty to thirty minutes before the actual programme starts.

Sounds crazy?

Why, it’s so…so…un-Singaporean!

Well, that’s exactly what transpired before the start of “The Carnival of The Animals and Peter & The Wolf” featuring the combined talents of acclaimed Kamchàtka Theatre Company (from Spain) and the Singapore Festival Orchestra at the Esplanade Concert Hall yesterday.

This was a fine example of absolutely wacky, zany, out-of-the-box artistic thinking which both delighted and startled Singapore audiences at the same time.

This production was targetted mainly at kids, and they did a fine job creating a world where there seemed to be no more rules as imposed by adults – everyone was a child once again, engaging in newspaper-ball fights, tossing paper aeroplanes around, playing pranks on one another…all this in the Esplanade Concert Hall, no less.

There is something about the Singaporean psyche that is somewhat uncomfortable with seeing something that goes too far out of the box, that appears to stray too far away from the OB markers.

But that is a story for another day.

Truth be told, the way the entire performance was conducted was like nothing else I’ve ever been to.

Fifteen minutes before the concert start-time of 730pm, no one was yet allowed into the Esplanade Concert Hall because of the “surprise” beginning to the concert.

And at around the 715pm mark, a van crammed with what seemed like at least ten or so actors from the Kamchàtka Theatre Company drove right into the front entrance of the Esplanade (the sliding doors that are just in between the Concert Hall and the Theatre) whilst honking incessantly.

This obviously attracted a huge deal of attention, and the crowd watched in amazement as these actors, wearing tweed-looking coats and each carrying an old leather suitcase, began crawling out of the van and started “exploring” the concourse of the Esplanade with a look of great wonder and amazement.

After about fifteen minutes of wandering around the concourse, that’s when they made their way into the Concert Hall, and likewise, the rest of us audience members began to enter the Concert Hall whereby we were greeted with the unbelievable scenes of zaniness and fun as described up above.

Further madcap, slapstick comedy ensued for a good half an hour inside the concert hall before we actually got down to the first programme of the evening – Camille Saint-Saens’ musical suite, “The Carnival of The Animals”.

In keeping with the spirit of the evening, all the musicians in the orchestra wore casual attire, some in t-shirts and berms, whilst the conductor was seemingly “plucked” from the audience when the Spanish actors started “arguing” on stage about having forgotten to employ a conductor for the evening, and then suddenly a young lady from the audience raised her hand, stood up and said “I’ll conduct the orchestra!”

This, we later realised, was obviously planned…but it was a beautiful touch nonetheless.

“The Carnival of The Animals” was accompanied by comedic visuals provided by the actors, with hand-made signs indicating the title of the various movements, to the various comedic actions depicting the current animal being introduced.

The second number of the evening was Sergei Prokofiev’s famed “Peter & The Wolf”, which famously uses distinct instruments to depict the various characters in the story.

The music was played to a 3D animated movie clip which told the story of Peter and his episode with the evil wolf.

All in all, it was a most entertaining and eye-opening evening of madcap comedic art fused with classical music.

Kudos to the Kamchàtka Theatre Company for stretching our minds to the brink and showing to us that an evening of artistic performance does not necessarily have to always begin only when everyone is comfortably in their seats and when the lights go dim.

It can start even before you enter the concert hall, and it can end long after the proverbial curtain falls.

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