The ABC Issue 26

Published on 29 September 2015

COMPILED BY JOEL TAN

ANTONIO VARGAS

Little-known fact: flamenco master Antonio Vargas, widely regarded as one of the form’s greatest dancers and choreographers, has been based in Singapore since 2008. He has spent several years in various cities all over the world and boasts a career that has spanned dance theatre, traditional flamenco and Hollywood.

Vargas’ early flamenco training began with Spanish teacher Antonio Marin, after which he became a lead dancer with the Pilar Lopez Spanish Dance Company and later, the Rafael de Cordova Dance Company.

He formed his own dance company in 1962 with the aim of breaking the form’s boundaries, clichés and conventions, creating a signature style of dance theatre that uses flamenco to interpret literature, plays, traditional ballet and opera. His work as a choreographer, dancer and teacher led him to the big screen, where he served as choreographer (and played the part of Rico) in Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 Strictly Ballroom. He also choreographed the flamenco sequence in John Woo’s 2000 Mission Impossible 2.

Since 2003, Vargas has been teaching flamenco and promoting the form in Asia. He started a flamenco school and dance company in Singapore called Flamenco Sin Fronteras, which has choreographed and staged inter-cultural works of flamenco dance theatre. He also teaches dance at The School of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

VICTORIA CONCERT HALL

This historic building was known as the Victoria Memorial Hall before it was renamed Victoria Concert Hall in 1979. A classic colonial-era design in the Victorian Revivalist style, conceived by municipal engineer John Bennett, the landmark was constructed in memory of Queen Victoria, who passed away in 1901. It was completed in 1905 and, in the process, merged with the pre-existing Town Hall, dating to 1855, which was renamed the Victoria Theatre. A year later, the iconic statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was moved from the Padang to the front of the Memorial Hall.

A major feature in the colonial civic district, the then-Memorial Hall was the site of several significant historical events. During the second World War, it served as a hospital and subsequently, a court to try Japanese war criminals. In the mid-20th century, it became tied to early electoral activity as a briefing and ballot-counting centre. The inaugural meeting of the People’s Action Party occurred at the Hall in 1954.

Today, Victoria Concert Hall is best known as the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Prior to a major facelift to both the Concert Hall and Theatre, starting in 2010, Victoria Concert Hall was also a popular performing venue for several community and school music groups. It reopened last year after extensive refurbishment, envisioned by Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei, with new state-of-the-art acoustic technology and facilities.

 (Illustration Jimmy Lee)

KURT VONNEGUT

Famed for his satirical war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), American novelist, playwright and essayist Kurt Vonnegut became an icon of mid-century American writing for his dark humour and sharp cultural critique.

Born and raised in Indiana, Vonnegut briefly attended Cornell University before enlisting in the United States Army. His early novels met with critical acclaim but not commercial success. Novels like Player Piano (1952) and Cat’s Cradle (1963) established his style that mixes wry humour and satire to make sense of a complicated world. But it was the stark anti-war sentiments of Slaughterhouse-Five, coinciding with public debate on the Vietnam War, which catapulted Vonnegut to fame. His writing, ranging from science fiction to non-fiction, tackles themes of inequality, alienation and the breakdown of society. Vonnegut died in 2007.

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