That’s Rain-tertainment!

Published on 26 November 2017

A downpour can be a source of inspiration for great art in Singapore.

By Jo Tan

WATER WORKS The soaked and spectacular finale of Floating Mirror, choreographed by Lim Chin Huat, featured dramatic rainfall onstage. (Photo: Melinda Ng)
FLUID MOVEMENTS ECNAD’s site-specific works include the three-act Ontogenesis, where A Wish to Utopia (top) and The Dawning on the Source (main picture) were performed at landmark Singapore fountains. (Photo: Melinda Ng)

I’ve always loved walking in the rain. When I was young, I once deliberately missed the school bus because it was raining and I wanted to walk home in the rain,” says Lim Chin Huat, a multidisciplinary artist best known for his contributions to dance, including co-founding Singapore’s first professional contemporary dance company, the now-defunct ECNAD. “Even now, walking in the rain triggers my creative process,” adds the Young Artist Award recipient.

Composer/poet and Cultural Medallion recipient Liang Wern Fook is likewise partial to wet weather. “For me, rainfall brings a certain poetry in the air, a feeling not unlike watching leaves fall on an autumn day. I believe artists need some sort of change around them to push them to create, and while Singapore has no seasons, we do experience a substantial transformation in our environment when the rain comes.”

So besides soaking our shoes and creating the occasional flood, rain seems to have rendered sterling service to Singapore’s art scene. Lim has choreographed various pieces featuring rain, including Solo, which had water spraying off the costume of a twirling rain-soaked woman. There was also the acclaimed Floating Mirror, which toured to Belgrade and ended with over five minutes of heavy rainfall onstage, thanks to a specially designed pump system and a massive tank.

There’s also ECNAD’s series of site-specific pieces under the falling water of Singapore’s famous fountains. “Of course, there’s always a certain unpredictability working with falling water. In the fountain series, the dancers’ feet have gotten cut, and during one performance, a drizzle began and grew into a downpour. Costumes tore and the audience had to move, but the rain somehow transformed the scene. Rain triggers different emotions — sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes moody and solemn.”

Liang agrees. “We hope for rain when we are tired of the sun’s heat, then when the rains go on too long, we hope for it to stop. People often take rain simply as symbol of hard times, but even weathering the odd storm can be good. As an artist, I welcome events that elicit strong emotions, so that I can turn these into art.”

DECEMBER RAINS THE MUSICAL

Photo: Toy Factory Productions

One of Singapore’s landmark Mandarin musicals, this production by Liang Wern Fook premiered in 1996. It has endured as a classic with a restaging headlined by songstress Kit Chan and in 2015, TV star Andie Chen. The epic tale surrounds an ocean-spanning romance born amidst Singapore’s tumultuous middle-school riots in the 1950s, continuing to the economic boom of the ’80s. Liang used the characters’ attitudes to the monsoon season to symbolise hope for change, as well as the cyclical nature of history. Rain features in everything from the songs to even characters’ names — Liang shares that he even wrote most of the updates for the 2010 restaging during the monsoon season.

CITY OF RAIN BY ALVIN PANG

Young Artist Award recipient and one of Singapore’s leading poets, Alvin Pang published this poetry collection in 2003. The stanzas explore Singapore as an emotional neighbourhood rather than a geographical one, focusing on memories rather than architecture. The poem, Rain, especially, uses this element of weather to tell stories about the city it falls upon. Here’s an excerpt:

Rain the colour of ash,
that beats down like grief,
unkind rain at midnight
that slices the shape
of cold in the hearts
of servicemen on night patrol.
Rain that keeps us in our place,
tapping firmly on the flat tops

of our roofs to remind us
who we are.
The same rain
that used to soak my father
and grandfather as they worked
the long streets: Liang Seah,
Sungei, Rochor, Waterloo, Victoria
(and not the same)

KINETIC RAIN BY ART+ COM

Think rain and air travel don’t mix? ‘Kinetic Rain’ — formerly the world’s largest moving art installation — situated in Changi Airport Terminal 1 is one of Singapore’s iconic artworks. Two clouds, each comprising 608 aluminium droplets coated in polished copper, hang from stainless steel wires, moving up and down in a coordinated 15-minute metallic ballet. The creators, Berlin-based design firm ART+COM, led by the Finnish artist Jussi Ängeslevä, say, “In one moment it’s one continuous surface… then a few seconds later, you see the individual points in space, their individual behaviour like multiple personalities shifting from one to the next to the next.”

SINGAPORE POETRY ON THE SIDEWALKS (SPOTS)

Photo: Sing Lit Station

This initiative by Sing Lit Station began in November 2016 with the literary collective curating excerpts from Singapore poems, then using stencils and a seemingly invisible paint to inscribe them on various sidewalks. These words only became visible when water fell on them and the rest of the ground changed colour in the moisture, while the painted letters retained the sidewalk’s original hue. Called rain-activated poetry by many, the paint has since faded as it lasts a maximum of six months. A new phase of SPOTS is set to return next year in the vicinity of The Arts House to bring more poetry goodness to the masses!

AFTER THE RAIN BY CHUA EK KAY

Photo: Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall

The late Chua Ek Kay was one of Singapore’s leading ink painters, known internationally for his blend of traditional Chinese art forms and Western theories and techniques. He had a clear affinity with water, often featuring watery reflections, lotus ponds or rain in his paintings. ‘After the Rain’ was one of seminal ink paintings, inspiring an exhibition of the same title celebrating Chua’s evocative oeuvres.

RAIN BY TIFFANY ZHANG

This was the only animated film to land among the Top 5 at the Yahoo Fast Flicks competition in 2014, which featured videos lasting a maximum of two minutes. You can see why it emerged first runner-up: atmospheric and charming with Miyazaki influences and beautiful music, this short about a woman dancing in the rain advocates living life to the fullest, and learning to dance in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass. It’s also the perfect length for the attention-deficit generation.

Watch it here

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