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SAF 2012: The Flight of the Jade Bird

May 22, 2012

photo credit: Alex Chan

Event: ‘The Flight of the Jade Bird’ by Mark Chan (as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012)
Venue: Esplanade Concert Hall
Run: 18 & 19 May 2012

The Flight of the Jade Bird tells the story between the Jade Bird and a boy, the bond between them and a tale of loss and choice and sacrifice, and what is important in life. It is a fable set to stage in two acts – “Act 1: The Palace of the Jade Bird” and “Act 2: The Land in the South, Then Return to the Palace of the Jade Bird”, and I would say good fodder for a musical piece. And it was quite a stellar cast.

As the story unfolded, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a strange mix of being a mini orchestral performance, a musical, an opera, storytelling and dance. Strange in a way that it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be out of all these. The artists were great in their own domain, executing the performance with style and precision, but somehow, for most of the 1st act, it felt discordant, as if each were trying to stand out on its own. For one thing, I felt that the lyrics didn’t quite fit in the way it was sung (opera style), or something about it. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was “jarring”, but it kind of made the experience disruptive. At some point, I wondered if having Chinese lyrics would have made a difference. After all, the music and context seemed very Asian. Despite all these, it was a relief that things got a bit better past midway of the 1st act and the performance finally began to take some form in the piece The Long Flight just before intermission.

In contrast to Act 1 which felt a bit draggy (at almost 1.5 hours), Act 2 picked up speed as the storyline progressed quicker along with the music. The discordant I felt in the 1st act was much diminished and everything seemed to fall into place as all the facets blended together and brought the show to a climatic end. A friend of mine commented that the range was not wide enough and indeed, a higher note to the music would have brought the piece to greater heights and reach a better climax, you know, more conjuration of inspiration, adventure and emotions. I would have loved to hear the counter tenor (Phua Ee Kia) reach higher, as I felt he was not optimized to his full potential.

I believe one of the highlights for me was when the dance took centre stage at certain points in the show. For most parts, it was more set in the background, but when Mui Cheuk Yin took the centre stage as the Jade Bird, she mesmerized the audience. Incidentally, I believe these were the points when the story somehow took shape. I remarked to my friend if only we could have seen more. And I believe special mention has to be made of the young Matthew Supramaniam, the boy soprano who sang the Boy part. Although there was unsteadiness initially at the beginning of the show, he warmed up soon enough and performed beautifully with his crystal clear voice and pitch.

To mark it all, a moving thank you speech was given at the end by Mark Chan, who expressed his heartfelt gratefulness for all the artists, and the history behind each of them. I found that very sweet and wonderful to know how the production came together.

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