French Rendezvous

Published on 11 April 2016

The Voilah! French Festival Singapore returns with a mission to bring the best of French culture to  heartlands and public spaces.

BY PAMELA HO

France is a country that has birthed artists known the world over: painters such as Jean Renoir and Claude Monet, classical composer Claude Debussy, writers Victor Hugo and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, just to name a few. Yet, attending a French theatre or ballet performance, or even stepping into a French restaurant, can be an intimidating affair for many Singaporeans.

To demystify French arts, culture and cuisine, the Institut Français of the French Embassy in Singapore is bringing in more than 70 artists from France for Voilah! French Festival Singapore 2016. Held at various venues across the island, the festival will showcase the best of France in the performing arts, visual arts, cinema, science and gastronomy. From 15 April to 31 May, the public can take their pick from some 50 diverse events, of which 80 per cent are free.

FRENCH CINEMAGIC Renowned French film company, Gaumont, celebrates 120 years of film-making with an exhibition and exclusive screenings of its iconic works in Singapore. PHOTO Gaumont

CONFLUENCE OF CULTURES

Voilah! was launched in 2007 to promote French creativity in a large number of fields, including culture, innovation and gastronomy; and to enhance the quality of bilateral cooperation. In 2009, an agreement was signed between France and Singapore to reinforce these objectives. This Franco-Singaporean exchange continued through the years, even when Voilah! was discontinued in 2012.

Last year, there were 140 events involving French artists and professionals in Singapore. While that’s a significant number, the lack of visibility for these events prompted the Embassy to consider bringing back a dedicated French festival; and Voilah! was re-launched in 2015 as an annual event.

“Voilah! celebrates the long-standing relationship between France and Singapore, and serves as a meeting point for both communities to engage in greater cultural exchange,” says Bertrand Pous, counsellor for Culture, Science and Education, director of the Institut Français, and festival director of Voilah! “Since 2015 was Singapore’s 50th year of independence and there was a Singapore Festival in France, we wanted a mirror festival here to highlight our bilateral ties.”

BAY WATCH Lumineoles Ballet, an enchanting dance of illuminated flowers and kites, will turn Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay into a whimsical wonderland.

BONJOUR, HEARTLANDS

Last year’s festival attracted some 275,000 participants, and this year’s hopes to attract even bigger audiences by bringing French artists into the Singapore heartlands. Think French cooking classes organised at community centres or traditional French music filling void decks and public spaces around the island.

The Baudoin Brothers, who are traditional musicians from the Gascony region in Southwest France, will be performing not just at the Asian Civilisations Museum, but in schools, at Housing & Development Board void decks and community centres between 18 and 28 May. “Their music is centuries-old, and will transport people back in time and space. It will be an interesting cultural encounter!” reveals Pous. “By making events free, we hope to reach out to more people and show them that French culture is not intimidating.”

MUSICAL TIME TRAVEL  The Baudoin Brothers from the Gascony region of France will fill void decks and public spaces in the heartlands with traditional music. PHOTO Nicolas GODIN

HAND IN HAND

While the festival is French-focused, there has always been a close partnership with Singapore venues, institutions and artists. Some 120 local and French partners have come on-board this year, including iconic venues like the Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.

The National Gallery Singapore has also collaborated with Centre Pompidou in Paris to curate the Reframing Modernism exhibition (on till 17 July), where Singaporean artist Georgette Chen’s works are displayed alongside important works from the Pompidou collection, including classics by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Singaporean visual artists, June Lee and Pang, will also present their works alongside French artists in Autographic Matters (18 May –  26 June), which will be held at the Intersections Gallery.

“Cultural exchange between French and Singaporean artists, institutions and experts happens year round and is not confined to Voilah! It’s a long-term process,” says Pous of the festival’s impact. “In bringing the best of French culture to Singapore, we hope to kick-start a discovery process where we can find parallels between our countries’ pursuits — be it in food, science or creative expressions.”

Voilah! French Festival Singapore runs from 15 April to 31 May, at various venues.

LEAPS & BOUNDS Twelve of the world’s best ballet dancers will dazzle Singapore audiences in Superstars of Ballet.

Voilah! 2016 Highlights

With close to 50 diverse events, where do we start? Festival director Bertrand Pous recommends.

Opening Weekend: Giant Gourmet Picnic and Classic Ensemble on French Repertoire
(17 April, Singapore Botanic Gardens)

Soak in French culture in a magical outdoor experience, with The Open String Quartet — led by Amaury Coeytaux, a soloist with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France — enchanting you with world-class chamber music, while you feast on fine French food, picnic-style!

Gaumont: 120 Years of Cinema
(19 April–17 May, National Design Centre) 

Iconic French film company Gaumont presents an exhibition on its history and development across the decades, and offers the best of Gaumont and French cinema through posters and exclusive film screenings. Interactive and educational, this exhibition is the first outside France.

Luminéoles Ballet
(15 April, Marina Bay Sands & 16 April, Gardens by the Bay)

Originally commissioned for the Lyon Festival of Lights, Les Luminéoles features brightly-illuminated flowers and coloured kites dancing with the elements as they move. Harnessing wind and light, Luminéoles Ballet injects a dreamlike dimension to Singapore’s public spaces.

Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art & Science of Gems
(23 April–14 August, ArtScience Museum)

This exhibition showcases the intersection between the science of mineralogy and the art of jewellery- making, taking you on a journey that begins with the origin of minerals and culminates in the extraordinary craftsmanship that transforms them into works of art.

Superstars of Ballet
(29 April–1 May, Marina Bay Sands Theatre)

The top 12 principal ballet dancers in the world, from renowned companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet, will perform highlights from some of the world’s most well-loved French ballets, such as Giselle, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

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